Level Up’s monthly segment is back! Every last Friday, I will feature one digital starlette by profiling her importance in video game history.
March is my birthday month, so I’m pulling out the arm cannon. Donning a helmet, enormous space armor and heavy artillery, everyone assumed Samus Aran was a dude. However, in the biggest plot twist to ever hit first generation console Gamers, the completion of Nintendo’s Metroid revealed a transformation that surprised and inspired people everywhere: this badass galactic bounty hunter was actually a woman:
I know this looks super archaic to new generation Gamers, but Samus Aran is – in my opinion – the most important female in video game history.
So let’s talk about the origins of Samus Aran and why I’m naming her Level Up’s “Ms. March”.
Pronounced “SAM-us AIR-un”, this young girl was raised on a mining planet when it was invaded by Space Pirates led by a dragon-alien named Ridley (yes, I said dragon-alien). Ridley wiped out Samus’ planet, killing her parents and everyone she loved. Now an orphan, Samus was raised by bird-type creatures called the Chozo. The Chozo trained her to become a tremendous warrior, gifting her with an ancient artifact called the “Power Suit” that intertwined itself with her mind, body and Chozo infused DNA.
The Power Suit allowed her to do things like collapse into a “Morph Ball” to travel through smaller passages, complete with a multipurpose arm cannon. She tried to join the “Galactic Federation Police”, but she was too awesome for them. Samus left to become a freelance Bounty Hunter – employed independently by the Galatic Federation. Samus was called upon to fight these life stealing Metroids and restore peace to space. I’d love to see a battle between Samus Aran and Boba Fett, wouldn’t you?
Until 1986, almost all video games dominating the scene were vehicle controlled (like Space Invaders) or featured male protagonists (like Super Mario Bros.). The only mainstream chick out there kicking ass was Ms. Pac-Man (and if you read Level Up’s Ms. January, you’ll discover that she wasn’t even a female to begin with!) However, Metroid took their female heroine to the next level.
Developer Yoshio Sakamoto said that Metroid’s environment was heavily influenced by Ridley Scott’s film, Alien. The creators were midway through the game when someone suggested that Samus Aran be based after Ellen Ripley – Sigourney Weaver’s iconic role, as the first Sci-Fi / Horror Final Girl. This is worth recognizing, as it was one of the first mainstream attempts by game developers to seep cinematic feminism into gameplay.
One of the most important things to consider in talking about female video game characters is the role they play and their relationship with men in the game. Most of the time, Samus Aran has defended the universe. Typically silent and emotionless, Samus does find love with a Metroid Hatchling during the series. Remembering how she was orphaned after her planet was obliterated, Samus saves the Hatchling only to have it stolen by Ridley. Although Samus fights to save her first “child”, her enemies kill it in an epic battle that Samus, of course, eventually wins.
As far as men are concerned, in the more recent installment, Metroid: Other M, Samus is suddenly and categorically taking orders from Commander Adam Malkovich. It’s clear that Samus is in love with Adam. I have no qualms about love stories. However, this particular portrayal of Samus Aran goes against everything she stood for. I can appreciate the story line about the Metroid Hatchling, her maternal instincts and her own past haunting her. However, I feel like Samus was enfeebled. And maybe this is okay? Maybe Samus can have love; waiting for the day in which she no longer endures significant pain? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with this… I just personally wasn’t that into it. This was not the franchise I’ve come to know.
According to an interview with IGN, “Sakamoto noted that during the course of the Metroid series, developers constantly try to express Samus’s femininity without turning her into a sex object.” Here are pictures of the “Power Suit” and the “Zero Suit”. Do you think Samus has become objectified?
Regardless of what Metroid developers have in store for Samus Aran, I think she’s rad. She continues to be one of the most popular and well remembered females to grace our monitors, paving way for ALL other digital starlettes. I will never forget the first time I saw that a girl could be a badass game protagonist too. Her introduction was a life changer for me. And, because she was orphaned, I even named my adopted kitten after her.
So, congrats Samus Aran for being Level Up’s “Ms. March”.
Featured Image Via: Nintendo / FashionApocalypse