Well? In a way, it kinda looks like that, doesn’t it? No? Okay, hear me out:
First, let’s look at Samus’s own games, the Metroid series. The first game was trail-blazing, ground-breaking, trend-setting (ever heard the term “metroidvania”?), ahead of its time in 1986, all that good stuff. However, the sequel, Metroid II: Return of Samus, was released five years later on the black and white, original Game Boy which, while an excellent handheld system, was clearly inferior to the NES. I love the Game Boy, but everyone and her dog knows that Metroid II would’ve been better on the NES (and it deserves an official remake already!).
The next release, the glorious, heavenly, and discombobulatingly awesome third installment, the perfection we know as Super Metroid, was released three years after Metroid II. It showed a lot of promise: finally a sequel made for Nintendo’s then flagship system: the Super Nintendo. Awesome.
So, what came next for our favorite bounty hunter you ask? Well, to put it simply, she got screwed over. The 4th and 5th installments, Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion for the Nintendo Gamecube and the Game Boy Advance respectively, were released eight years (yeah, eight fucking years!) after Super Metroid. You read that right: the franchise skipped an entire console generation. No, Samus’s participation in the Nintendo 64’s original Super Smash Bros doesn’t count. Nintendo basically ignored the fans who owned the N64.
Now, for a few years onwards, Metroid fans were in heaven: we got three amazing Prime titles, two instant classics for the Game Boy Advance in Fusion and Zero Mission, Metroid Prime Pinball, Metroid Prime Hunters for the DS, and even the first 3rd person title, the infamous Metroid Other M released in 2010 for the Wii. Back then, everything seemed all right – and mostly it was – but did you notice that the only 2D releases were both for the GBA, another handheld device? I’m one of the people who actually prefers the first three games over the Prime series (even though they’re full of awesome too, don’t get me wrong), so I’m biased, but the point remains: we haven’t had a 2D Metroid console release since 1994.
Anyway, here’s where we start moving from discussing the franchise to exploring Nintendo’s treatment of the heroine herself, Samus Aran.
In the latest installation, Other M, Nintendo nerfed the character’s personality and identity in a big way, if you ask the game’s critics. Even those who like the game tend to agree that Samus was uncharacteristically and illogically submissive and a far cry from the solitary badass we had grown to admire as a shining example of a strong, independent manifestation of valor.
That wasn’t all, however: in 2011, Nintendo celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Zelda franchise (also launched in 1986, just like Metroid) with all kinds of uplifting frolic and pomp, including the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword, whereas Samus had to spend her 25th birthday all alone, drifting in deep space in her small, single-passenger ship, sitting in front of a cupcake with a single candle burning on it, humming “Happy Birthday” to herself. The cupcake didn’t even have frosting on it.
All this goes to show Nintendo’s lack of trust in Metroid as a franchise and Samus as the face of the franchise. Recently, though, Nintendo has found a way to sell Samus.
After Samus’s lonely 25th birthday in 2011, she got another kick in the crotch from Nintendo in the Smash Bros series. She was a relatively solid character and a fan favorite in 2001’s Super Smash Bros Melee, but when we moved on to SSB Brawl in 2008, the nerfing she got from Nintendo left her red and raw, dropping her into the bottom tiers inhabited by the weakest characters.
In the latest installments for the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS, she got a slight buffing, but she’s still in the lower tiers even though she’s one of the most iconic video game characters ever. It is generally accepted in the Smash community that Zero Suit Samus, i.e. Samus without her legendary Power Suit, is far superior to the armored version. For example, on eventhubs‘s Smash tier list, ZSS is ranked 10th (as of 1st of August, 2015, subject to change according to votes) on the Smash tier list while Power Suit Samus is ranked… *drum roll* 44th. Yeah, 10th vs. 44th. That makes sense… how?
Is Nintendo really telling us Samus is stronger without her armor and arm cannon? WTF Nintendo? If that’s the case, why the hell does she wear the damn thing in all the Metroid games? You’d think she needed all the advantages she could get in her fight against the space pirates, the metroids etc. Anyone remember how pathetically weak she was in Zero Mission when she lost her armor and only had the Zero Suit and that wimpy little stungun? How does it make sense ZSS is so much stronger than Power Suit Samus in Smash? The answer is: it doesn’t.
One possible answer to this post’s title question is that Nintendo really does hate Samus, at least as long as she’s not showing off her curves. Tits or GTFO, amirite? I mean, by making ZSS so much stronger, they are encouraging players to choose her over armored Samus even though she’s best known for the iconic look of her Power Suit. Why is that? Don’t they respect Samus as a character? Do they really expect the fans to love her more if they get to ogle at the contours of her boobs and butt?
Also, comparing Samus’s treatment to Zelda’s in the Smash Bros games, anyone notice how insanely strong Sheik, Zelda’s more “masculine” alter-ego is? In the latest Smash Bros releases for the Wii U and 3DS, Sheik is arguably the strongest character in the entire game. Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios, currently one of the best professional Smash players in the world, recently released a video where he ranks Sheik as the strongest character in the game.
In a way it makes sense: according to Matthew “MatPat” Patrick from The Game Theorists, while Samus is a whopping 6’3/190cm tall, Zelda is scraping the skies at 6’7/200cm, and in the fighting arts, height is definitely an asset. She also has powerful magic attacks, and she’s a virtuoso in hand-to-hand combat, but… she wears a dress. Yeah, Zelda wears a dress to a fight, so is it any wonder she’s not ranked that highly in the Smash Bros tiers? Apparently not stumbling on the hem of a full-length dress helps you fight better. Whodathunkit?
How does this tie in to what I’m talking about here? Well, when Zelda, as Sheik, wears a practical outfit, she’s the best of the best, but when Samus wears her armor designed for battle, she sucks, whereas when she wears body paint, she’s much closer to Sheik’s level. Video game logic FTW. It’s the age-old armor class bullshit all over again: the less you wear, the higher your armor class. As long as you’re a hot girl, anyway.
Fact is, Samus hasn’t been screwed over just in Smash. She’s been ignored and neglected by Nintendo despite her popularity… in the west. And that’s where I gotta cut Nintendo some slack: Samus and the Metroid franchise aren’t all that popular in Japan, the origin of the series. In fact, Metroid is more popular outside of Japan, particularly in the States and Europe, but, alas, it’s the Nintendo bigshots in Japan who decide Samus’ treatment, and if they say she stays on the bench, she stays on the bench. If they say she doesn’t get a 25th birthday bash, she has to settle with that lone, moldy truck stop muffin.
2016 marks Metroid’s and Samus’ 30th anniversary, so how is Nintendo planning to celebrate their heroine? At the 2015 E3, Nintendo announced a game for the 3DS called Metroid Prime Federation Force.
What’s their latest portrayal of Samus going to be like, you ask? Simple: she’s not even a playable character! In a damn Metroid game! No, instead you play as cute chibi Federation troopers in a game that focuses heavily on the multiplayer experience. Not only is it possible that Samus will be totally absent from the game, all the elements that make Metroid, well, Metroid are gone: if the trailer is anything to go by, you can forget about the dark ambiance, the solitude, the isolation, all the atmospheric cornerstones of the franchise. Even the gameplay seems mostly focused on fun, cheerful, cute action instead of exploring dark, oppressive environments on your own. Sure, Federation Force may turn out to be a good, fun game in and of itself, but to me it doesn’t look like a Metroid title. Metroid isn’t supposed to be cheerful and cute, for Meta Ridley’s shiny posterior’s sake!
To return to the article’s title question, does Nintendo hate Samus, all of the above is a bit confusing because she is easily one of the most influential video game characters of all time. For instance, she was the first female superstar in the realm of video games. Excluding Princesses Peach and Zelda, of course, but they aren’t really on the same level of badassery: Samus hasn’t spent most of her screen time captured and waiting for the guy to come and save her from that other guy. Samus is a prime example (no pun intended) of a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man, and yet she’s treated like a C-lister, someone who should stand in the back of the group photo (which is ironic considering she appears in the forefront of most official Smash art, such as posters, game boxes etc).
Look, I love Nintendo and I love the Metroid and Smash series, but why can’t Nintendo’s head honchos realize that we, the fans, fell in love with Samus before we knew she was pretty, before we knew she had a skin-tight undersuit, and yes, before we even knew she was female? Doesn’t that clearly demonstrate that we, the fans, the people who made Nintendo big by giving them our money, are a diverse crowd of all sexes, sexualities etc, and most of us don’t give a damn about the sex appeal of a video game charater? In fact, many of us like it when companies don’t cheapen their characters by trying to appeal to our base desires to sell more games. Some of us even prefer the 2D titles where Samus spends pretty much the entire game in the Power Suit.
Sure, she was sexualized from the get-go by the armorless endings, but at least the entire game was solely about guiding an armored warrior through dangerous territories. I can forgive the armorless ending (which you only got if you beat the game quickly enough) in the first game due to the 8-bit NES’s technical limitations, and they had to reveal her sex somehow, but come on, let’s be honest: in all the following sequels, it was pure fan service.
One cool thing that particular game mechanic did was force players to question how quickly they could beat the game, e.g. making Super Metroid one of the most popular titles in the speed running community. Speed running, in turn, inspired gamers to explore the myriad of exhilarating possibilities of sequence breaking to be discovered in all Metroid titles from the original NES classic to the Prime games, further solidifying Metroid’s popularity as a fan favorite.
To wrap this up, Nintendo should try to understand that most people don’t like Samus because of her beauty, sex-appeal, or femininity. They like her because she’s a cool, badass bounty hunter (who just happens to be female).
I know it may be scary, Nintendo, but you should place your trust in the franchise, in its ground-breaking games, in the fantastic gameplay, in Samus herself, one of your most famous and beloved characters, and in us, the fans, and you will have another hit in your hands even if you were to treat Samus with the dignity and respect she deserves. At least I’m not quite ready to give up on Nintendo, Metroid, or Samus, so here’s to hoping for a brighter future.
And just to be clear, since it seems this is obvious to everyone but Nintendo, that means Samus should be a playable character in the game, the only playable character in the game.
-T. Trian, a Metroid fan since the ripe old age of 6