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Samus Aran: The Woman Behind the Visor
A Critcal Theory Essay on the First Woman of Gaming
by Infinity's End
DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING IS A PERSONAL, OPINIONATED PIECE AND DOES NOT NECESSSARILY REPRESENT THOSE OF THE METROID DATABASE STAFF. --IE
Fittingly, I will end this essay with a look at the ending sequences to the game. Since it was such a big surprise in the first game to unveil that Samus was a woman, the continuing theme in all the following games would reveal Samus's true identity after you beat the game in under a specific time.In the original NES version, if you were to beat the game again after playing back through the game as suitless Samus, she would become even more unclothed,leaving her only in a bikini. This caused a lot of excitement during recess conversation with schoolboys throughout the world, who would then create falserumors with their friends that the next step would be able to see her completely naked. Of course, Nintendo would never be able to let something like that slide, yetthe depiction of Samus in her undies was probably pushing it.
In Metroid II, Samus strips down to just a tank top and underwear, and takes her hair down. This is arguably the raciest depiction of Samus, and it is also something they probably couldn't get away with in today's games. One must wonder, however: how else can you show that Samus is female? At the time, most of the gaming population was still male -- so Samus in her underwar something they probably wouldn't have minded at all. And an insignificant striptease such as this was embedded in the videogame history books, albeit slightly surprising for Nintendo's white glove policies.
Super Metroid's graphical upgrade gave Samus an anime-styled look and a black sports bra-type outfit. Although people had known Samus as a blonde for years due to her appearances in the Capt. N comics, this was the first time one of the games had shown her with this hair color. Surprisingly, Benimaru Itoh of the NP comic decided to give her purple hair, yet she's clearly blonde in the Shonen-OH! comic, settling on Samus's hair color once and for all, and not the brown or Varia-green shown in the original Metroid. Like in Metroid II, she also takes down her hair, and puts her hand on her hip. This pose was once again carried on in the ending of Metroid Fusion, but there was no animation of her taking her hair down.
Metroid Zero Mission brought about the first appearance of the Zero Suit, and was the first game to divulge from the classic "hand on one hip" pose. Now, we are shown Samus with a clenched fist, an empowering pose indeed. Both Fusion and Zero Mission also graced us with nicely drawn images that panned up, as can be seen on their respective ending pages on the MDb. Due to the Metroid manga never being released outside of Japan, the Japanese version of Fusion also benefitted from having extra endings that reflected on the story of Samus's past.
To discuss this fact for a moment, I find it pretty frustrating that Nintendo decided to not give us this artwork in our copies of the game. Metroid Fusion was released in the US almost a full 4 months ahead of the Japanese version. There is also no doubt that the Metroid manga was being created around the same time that Metroid Fusion was being developed. It is also felt that American game players enjoy the Metroid series much more than Japanese gamers do, and is thought to be one of the main reasons why Nintendo chose to go with an American studio to make the Prime games rather than a Japanese one. Why the Metroid manga was never translated to the American market will never be known, but it would have been very nice for Nintendo to tell us about the origins of Samus through the use of these ending images rather than interested fans of the series having to research it on their own. To this day, the only "official" way that Nintendo has told American gamers about Samus's backstory is through the Nintendo Power comic (widely regarded to be non-canon), the trophy screens in the Super Smash Bros. games, and the "engraving" ending screen in Zero Mission. (But I sincerely hope the MDb has helped you fill in the rest of those gaps.)
The Metroid Prime games have all been culprits of disappointing endings. The first in the series graced us with only showing Samus's helmet being removed, which was a staple for those who were not able to finish the game quick enough. Though many fans tried to do all they could to beat the game as quick as possible, the Prime endings are only based on completion percentage, and unfortunately no image of Samus without her Power suit can be seen in the game.
Fortunately, this was remedied in Echoes, where upon getting 100% completion you are graced with a full pan-up of Samus shown in the Zero Suit. Although this was a welcome edition, Samus does nothing more than stand look around, not to mention the model of Samus was not quite great. If you're going to take the time to model, rig and animate such a detailed 3D model of Zero Suit Samus, you'd think they could do a little more than that... but I also wonder if Nintendo was holding Retro back in this regard.
Surprisingly, the ending of Metroid Prime Hunters was actually quite good, and the prerendered cutscene featuring Samus is one of the best depictions of the character, in my opinion. Maybe it was because they had more polys to work with, but I think this look fits our girl quite perfectly and I almost wish they had used this one instead of the way she looks in Brawl. Zero Suit Samus appears once again in the ending to Prime 3. Her face was improved over Prime 2's, giving her a thinner, more anime-styled look, but again, she just stands there and looks around (but did end up putting her hand back on her hip).
It is again frustrating to see a complete lack of creativity or originality when it comes to the endings to these games, but on the other hand, it's not really why we play them. We play Metroid to get lost in them. We play them to traverse new worlds and go spelunking in their dark, undiscovered caverns. To interact with alien technology. To battle strange and powerful creatures. We play them to become...
...the woman behind the visor.
And that brings this feature to a conclusion. I had a great time writing this article, so if you'd like to give me some feedback, please, by all means, let me know in the feedback thread in our forums! I thank you very much for reading! --IE
Metroid Prime ending screens courtesy of Metroid Recon. Used with permission.