My excuse for more Samus this time was getting better at painting metal. Also Michelle Rodriguez, b/c blonde Samus is boring… and Mrod is awesome.
Ugh why did they have to go and make Zero Suit Samus a thing. She was one of the few main female characters (period) who also wasn’t sexualized or downplayed as a weak character. Now everything is all Zero Suit all the time and it’s gross and sad and disappointing.
I mean let’s be honest, they…
In response to some of the comments people have added, allow me to elaborate on my point:
1) There’s a difference between being portrayed as a woman/feminine and being sexualized (aka a woman/feminine for the benefit of the male gaze).
Allow me to refer to this article that explains it better than I could articulate:
For example, Samus is one example of a character whose gender is completely irrelevant to the playing of the game. Far from the age of Dead or Alive bouncing breasts or Tomb Raider’s Laura Croft’s “shapely buns,” Samus’s character wears a no-frills non-form-fitting metallic suit that kicks butt. Samus is described as one of the most capable and expert bounty hunters ever. And generally, when someone is purported to be the best, especially in a game that was largely marketed to males (as gaming was generally seen as a “guy” thing), the assumption is that the person is male. After all, it was well known at the time that the only thing female gamers were good for was waiting around in a different castle. As far as those who know Samus are concerned, though, her “ambiguous gender” is one of the things that will enshrine the Metroid series in gaming history forever.
Of course, now that we’ve seen Samus in her (ridiculously not leaving anything to the imagination) form fitting zero suit, no one seems to want to see her in anything BUT that blue spandex nightmare.
A quick Google search will show you more pictures of her in the zero suit than in her traditional outfit, and the “related searches” will include “samus no clothes” and “samus sexy” as some of the most common searches. Once her gender is well known, Samus becomes little more than another sexy lady for gamer nerds to drool over, which does frustrate me a bit. While I do like sexy ladies (and boobies, of course), I think that there is a problem when it seems like whenever a character is female, she is almost always gets turned into a sex object, which often detracts from her innate abilities and character. When her gender is ambiguous, this is not a problem. When her gender is known, this all changes.
Before the reveal:”Samus is the best, most accomplished amazing bounty hunter ever.”
Afterwards: "Samus is a HUGE BREASTED SUPER SEXY WOMAN who also happens to be the most accomplished amazing bounty….oh who cares!?" *DROOL!!*
(Bolded for emphasis.)
2) Samus being revealed in underwear after beating the original game quickly does not justify her (ever-growing) sexualization.
Let’s compare this:
When I can see the complete outline of how a breast attaches to and lays upon the chest, that suit is unrealistically form-fitting. Now ask yourself, why is that necessary?
Yes, Samus is a strong female character and there is nothing wrong with her femininity, sex, or body. She is a woman who kicks ass and takes names while looking great at the same time. But that’s what makes it even more disappointing that her image lately is focused on a skin-tight body suit more so than her skills and abilities. In a male-centered industry such as gaming, in my opinion the suit offered a bit of a buffer to that sexual perception of her, and leveled the playing field somewhat. Continuously emphasizing her presentation as a super-sexy lady in a super-revealing outfit unfortunately invites people who lack the sensibility to see her as more than a sex object (a majority of the young, male gaming population) to overlook her identity as a bounty hunter and strong character first and foremost.
I really hope that this presentation of Samus would teach some people to respect strong women characters the same way they respect male characters, and in a perfect world this wouldn’t be an issue. But the trend I see in her visual development suggests that isn’t the case, that instead the focus has turned to selling her as a sexual image (mainly for the benefit of a male audience), and that’s what bothers me.
The Zero Suit in itself was, unfortunately, destined to induce this treatment of her image. But I want to point out that, in itself, it’s not all that different from, say, male superhero spandex ensembles, and those aren’t interpreted as being for the purpose of sexual enticement. It’s because she is female that the Zero Suit has become an excuse for the industry, the official in-game artists, to contrive her runaway sex symbol status.
I’m a fan of the Zero Suit. It looks sleek and sharp and feminine and there is nothing wrong with that. I’m also more than happy that her Power Suit has been redesigned to show off more feminine curves. A visibly female-bodied person should be perceived as able to wield the kind of power that Samus wields. That the Zero Suit necessitates this kind of character treatment is a sign of both our lingering cultural prudishness and our desire to sell out all female bodies as sex objects.
As one of the older people I’m aware of on Tumblr, I remember when the original Metroid came out. I remember reading about it in the Nintendo Fun Club newsletter, the precursor to Nintendo Power. It seemed really cool. There was a person in a space suit exploring a huge world and killing weird, scary looking aliens. There were lots of letters and blurbs about how much fun people were having playing the game and how many crazy secrets it had.
And there was one big hook that pushed the game into “must save up allowance and buy” territory: if you beat the game fast enough, you would learn Samus’s true identity.
My family didn’t have internet yet. Our computer at the time was a Commodore 64, which was a glorified game console with a keyboard that hooked into our TV. The only way to find out who Samus really was was to either get a friend who finished the game fast enough tell you, or to do it yourself. Since I didn’t have any other friends who had the game, I had to find out the hard way.
The game was hard. The original Metroid didn’t have an X-Ray scope or Power Bombs, so the only way to find secret passages was to shoot or bomb EVERYTHING. There was no mini-map, so I started keeping a little Metroid notebook. It was loaded with (ugly) maps and dozens and dozens of passwords with various different combinations of power ups. I had to spend hours learning how to perfectly time bomb jumps.
Over time, I finally figured out how to find the REAL Kraid since there was a fake one that was hiding in his hideout. I also was able to eventually find and defeat Ridley. The first time I confronted a metroid I had the wave beam and got eaten. I died five times before I decided to come back with the Ice Beam JUST TO STOP the damn metroids. Then I finally beat Mother Brain and escaped Tourian to get the “Bad” ending in which Samus just turns around and shows you the back of her suit.
It took me two more total victories before I was finally able get the reveal. And what was the reveal? Well, everyone knows now, but the big twist is that Samus was a girl.
Of course I told all my friends about it. I had earned the bragging rights to the twist and I wasn’t going to waste it. We all thought it was pretty cool. WE NEVER SAW IT COMING.
Let me re-iterate.
WE NEVER SAW IT COMING.
You see, when we talked about Samus Aran we either were talking in first person, like in the sense of “I fell into a pool of lava between two big pillars I couldn’t jump or bomb my way out and I died,” or we talked about Samus as a “him,” generally thinking of him as a space man or astronaut. The NES manual cheated of course, using male pronouns throughout. But at the time no one saw it coming.
Still the game was so good that I had to go through it again. The game let you replay it with Samus outside of her suit, which allowed me to preserve victory bragging rights for any friends who came over to my house. It also made me very aware that, yes, I was playing as a girl the whole time.
There were very few games with playable female characters in that era. The most notable is probably the under-appreciated Alis Landale from Phantasy Star.
But Phantasy Star was a game on the Sega Master System and almost no one had one. The NES was the console of choice for just about everyone and any of my friends who didn’t have one wanted one.
Now at this point in time I was in first grade and Super Mario Bros. 2 hadn’t come out yet. So when a bunch of my friends were running around during recess pretending to be video game characters the lone girl who hung around in our group was always Princess Zelda. What did Princess Zelda do exactly? She hid a bunch of triforce pieces and got kidnapped. We didn’t have a worthwhile playable female character for her to portray. I wish my memory of that time wasn’t so fuzzy, but I’m hoping she didn’t feel too left out. I mean, all the boys had active characters like Link and the Mario Brothers. But she had a character whose every important action occurred offscreen and was explained in horrible English during a text scroll if you stared at the title screen long enough.
I didn’t finish Metroid until that summer and I was with an all boys group at day camp. So while all my summer friends had fun talking about Metroid, the person for whom that revelation might have meant the most wasn’t with us. I imagine cool space bounty hunter is a big step up from distressed damsel.
Now fast forward to Super Metroid when everyone knew Samus was a girl. No one cared. We were all excited for the game. We all wanted to play it. We all played it. Samus had all sorts of cool new abilities she could use. We wanted all of them. Did we want to get the best ending where she took off her suit? Sure. But that was more about bragging rights than about seeing her suit come off. Remember, in Super Metroid, Samus’s suit breaks when she dies.
(animated gif source: http://animatedscreenshots.tumblr.com/post/40543189974/super-metroid-metroid-fusion-metroid-zero)
I’m not going to pretend that there weren’t people out there who REALLY wanted to ogle Samus outside her suit. At the same time, I doubt many people BOUGHT the game for that purpose.
But I think the major point is this: Super Metroid was a high profile, MUST HAVE game. To play it, you had to accept that you were going to play a female character. At this point, Samus didn’t have much personality, but, during the 16-bit era, outside of RPGs and PC Adventure games, very few characters DID. What we could take away from Samus through the first three games is that she is female, she is incredibly good at what she does, and that she was the star of games that NEEDED to be played.
Now, Samus skipped over the N64 era outside of her appearance in the original Super Smash Bros. and many female characters became iconic during her absence. There was Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series, Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield from the Resident Evil series, the various female leads in many different RPGs, including mandatory leads like Lenneth Valyrie of Valkyrie Profile. Samus’s standing as THE female character in hardcore gaming was gone. But she was still important because people MISSED the Metroid series. I for one skipped the N64 entirely. It’s the ONLY NINTENDO CONSOLE I DON’T OWN other than the Wii U and the Virtual Boy. The absence of Metroid was a major reason for that.
Then came what I will call the split.
Two Metroid games were announced at more or less the same time. There was Metroid Prime for the GameCube and there was Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance.
Metroid Prime was developed by Retro Studios, an American game developer out of Texas. Metroid Fusion was developed in house at Nintendo of Japan. Now, like a lot of people, I was really nervous for Metroid Prime and really excited for Metroid Fusion. After all, Fusion would be a traditional 2D Metroid designed by many of the creators of Super Metroid, one of the greatest games of all time. Metroid Prime was going to be a FIRST PERSON game developed by unproven Americans.
History vindicated Retro. Metroid Prime was a masterpiece, generally in the conversation with Resident Evil 4 as the best game on the Gamecube and one of the best games ever made let alone best for its era. Metroid Fusion, on the other hand, is a minor black sheep of the series. It is still liked and respected, especially in light of what would happen in later games in the series, but it’s generally looked upon as a minor disappointment.
But even outside of the games’ receptions, there was a crucial difference in how Samus was portrayed in each game.
This is Samus’s design in Metroid Prime.
And this is Samus’s design in Metroid Fusion.
Around this time of these games’ released I learned some background information about the series. The Metroid series is much more popular in the West than it is in Japan. Metroid Prime was designed from a Western Studio’s perception of Samus, while Metroid Fusion came from a Japanese perspective.
The Samus of Metroid Prime looks like a realistic, weathered woman who, though in good shape, was not designed to titillate. The Samus of Metroid Fusion, well, look at her.
The portrayal of Samus was also quite different between the two games. In Metroid Prime, Samus doesn’t speak. She emits grunts when she’s in pain (courtesy of the great Jennifer Hale), but she has no dialogue. What Metroid Prime does that, if not revolutionary, is extremely clever is work its butt off to convince you that YOU ARE SAMUS. The HUD in the game is designed to look like the inside of Samus’s helmet. You see EXACTLY what she sees. Further, during flashes of intense light, you see her face reflected back at you.
This is not just a decision that increases a sense of immersion in a game with a deep sense of ambience, it forces male gamers to see a female reflection as their own. While this is obviously no substitute for authentic lived experience, it’s an interesting exercise in empathy. To play ONE OF THE BEST GAMES EVER MADE, you must accept that you will do so as a woman.
As you progress through the game, you find Space Pirate data logs. They are filled with fear. They don’t want you in their bases because they know how dangerous you are. They call you “the hunter,” they try and fail to steal your technology. They consciously pull out the biggest guns they have in the hope that they can stop you. They are afraid of this woman… YOU.
Contrast this with Metroid Fusion which goes to great length to give Samus a character. Whenever you enter a new area Samus talks more and more about her backstory. She talks about a former commander of hers named Adam Malkovich who used to order her around by calling her “lady.” And when you finish the game fast enough you are treated to the most sexualized portrayal of Samus yet, a total contrast from the Samus of Prime.
By the time Metroid Prime 2 and Metroid Zero Mission arrived, Nintendo had decided that they wanted a uniform design for Samus outside of her armor. Enter the Zero Suit.
Every appearance of Samus from this point on would be a variation of this design. The weathered, realistic Samus of Metroid Prime would be gone forever, replaced by this busty, anime-esque aged-up Winry Rockbell.
On the face of it, there was some sense to this decision. Every other major Nintendo character had a canon design, after all. Nintendo wanted a marketable version of Samus that everyone could instantly recognize. To its credit, the Zero Suit showed considerably less skin than the various bikinis and two-piece workout outfits she’d worn to this point. And, though I missed the Metroid Prime design, the initial design of the Zero Suit in and of itself wasn’t much of a problem, though that didn’t stop Nintendo from using it to show off her rounder regions.
Despite this, I was still more or less OK with the Zero Suit…
Until Other M.
Other M is where the heels were added to the Zero Suit. I have ranted about this before, so I won’t elaborate here.
As I mentioned above, Metroid has always sold better in the West than it has in Japan. When Nintendo of Japan decided to create a Metroid Game for the Wii with Team Ninja, it was in part to expand her appeal in Japan. Though I loved the Prime Trilogy, I didn’t mind a change in direction with the gameplay. I still don’t like having to aim the Wii Remote at the screen to shoot missiles and the game was WAY too linear for a Metroid title, but those complaints aren’t why I and so many other really hate the game.
We hate it because it completely annihilates Samus’s character. It took a character who had been independent and fearless and made her dependent and paralyzed with fear. Ludicrously so. It replaced Jennifer “Commander Shepard” Hale as Samus’s Voice actress with someone who spoke in a complete, weak monotone. It made her suicidally subservient to a male commander when she wasn’t even actually under his command. It showed her terrified of recurring foe Ridley despite her never previously having experienced fear at facing him and having defeated him many, many times. As I joked to my wife, Samus shouldn’t have been traumatized by Ridley, Ridley should’ve been traumatized by her! How many times had he been destroyed at her hands only to be agonizingly reconstructed only to be destroyed again? Samus defeated him in every game in the franchise other than Metroid 2 where he didn’t appear.
Samus had never shown much characterization before, yet what was provided here countered what many people had loved about her. Samus wasn’t a talker, she was a doer. Samus used whatever she had at her disposal to defeat her enemies. Samus fought through pain. Samus didn’t want or require help.
And then I thought back to the different character designs in Prime and Fusion. Retro Studios saw Samus as a powerful, fearless bounty hunter who simply got things done. Nintendo of Japan saw her as just some pretty girl who needed to be put in her place so we could sympathize with her weakness.
We play Metroid games to explore, to enter scary alien environments, and to become strong enough to overcome them. We don’t just want to get through these environments, we want to tear them apart, expose their secrets and use those secrets to our advantage. We want to go from strangers in a dangerous place to its rulers. We want to face things that once made us sweat and to make them sweat when we fry them with a new weapon.
Other M occurs so late in the series’ chronology that this regressive portrayal of Samus is not only illogical, it is offensive. We believe in a Samus who conquers, not one who cowers.
But, as seems to often the case with Japanese game companies, the desires of a large Western fan base go ignored. There has been no word of a new Metroid game after Other M had been loudly rejected by the largest segment of the series’s fanbase, and the first time we see Samus in several years in the new Smash Bros reveals that Nintendo is doubling down on the impractical, stereotypically feminine, high-heeled Samus.
But whatever Nintendo does with the next Metroid game, when or if it comes, I’m not going to forget the games where Samus was the most badass woman in the Galaxy. Who, when robbed of her gear, seemed to say “so what? I’ll get it all back, I’ll break into your base, and I’ll kill all your dudes.” That’s the Samus I grew up with, and that’s the Samus I’ll happily play as when Nintendo decides to give her another shot.
This is some great analysis. My two cents:
I also recall getting a sense of the considerable character design split between playing Prime and playing Fusion.
I think Zero Mission was a definite win with regard to the Zero Suit sequence in the Space Pirate layer, which was exquisitely choreographed. I also didn’t mind the comic book-esque character stylings at the time, but unfortunately the Zero Mission character design’s replacement of the original Prime design was a huge loss.
I think I can literally [sic] connect the logical dots between the inclusion of the campy Zero Mission hair in Prime 2 and the emergence of whatever the hell is on her feet at present.
This is still a blog for the appreciation of tasteful Samus artwork, but in light of the last reblog I’m also sharing this to note how oversexualized the official in-game artwork has become since Other M.
Next official release: Samus and Ridley costar in the controversial, juvenile, yet supposedly sexually liberating visual novel Fifty Shades of Brain.
People - just accept that Zero Suit Samus is the sex appeal of the game, alright? She was so in Brawl - she is so in the sequel. Zero Suit Samus is the Smash Bros answer to Ivy. Just get over it, suck it up, and move on. The fact that despite being sexually attractive and feminine she is still able to dominate a battle arena full of men, women, and creature alike without regards to gender is enough to redeem her of any sexual objectification of which one might accuse her design. She is more than the sum of her individual parts - her breasts, her shoes, her hair, and her butt - she is able to take these symbols of female sexuality and subservience to men and transform them into sources of power and overcome the limitations and expectation placed on her as merely a sex object defined by as a blonde, big-breasted woman in a skin-tight PVC suit with glowing high heels. If that’s all you see when you look at her, then you’re the one being shallow. And if this representation of her character is so offensive to your, then just stick with the original armored Samus, but don’t complain about her character developing into something you don’t approve of - you’re not in charge of the Metroid series or Samus’ design. You’re in charge of buying your copy of the game and shutting your mouth or not buying the game while the rest of us enjoy it and shutting your mouth. If high heel rocket boots are enough to ruin her reputation for you, then maybe you need to reevaluate your own principles.
The quality of the unintentional self-parody above is enough to transform it from its composite elements—a homage to the existing subversive social power structures, reinforcement of sexual objectification as the default mode of valuation for women, and a direct order for women to shut their mouths in the face of all of this (any objections?)—into a blonde, skin-tight, buttalicious paragon of irony which would make satire enthusiasts salivate with desire.