Nightmare Mode: Metroid Betrayed Itself
Samus Aran is Nintendo’s third-most popular character, which is like being the third person to be made immortal: you’re not quite as famous, but you’re never ever going away. She’s the original ass-kicking female video game character, and still the coolest power-armored anyone in any fiction.
Like most shooter video games Metroid is about one person against the entire universe. Unlike most shooter video games, that universe includes her own allies, videogames, and creators. The last person to be betrayed this completely was born 2013 years ago. Bowser has fewer games based on the complete destruction of everything she’s ever stood for:
Metroids: an enemy so all-consuming the game is named after them instead of the hero. They can drain pure energy, so armor can’t stop them. But they have great big teeth anyway, because they’re horrible.
Samus spent several games exterminating them as a threat to the Galactic Federation, then found out they were being kept alive by the Galactic Federation. Metroid: Fusion revealed the Federation’s experiments with creating faster-breeding super-Metroids, and when Samus was injured they injected her with a serum made from dead baby Metroid. We know heroes risk becoming what they fight against, but that’s meant to because of the darkness of war. Not because they needed urgent medical attention.
In the first Metroid: Prime, Samus discovered Phazon, a toxic mutagen which poisoned an entire world and created her evil clone. In the second game Phazon was so poisonous it split reality itself in two. So by the third the Galactic Federation had adopted it as their standard power source, and when her evil Phazon clone shoots her up with poison, the very second she’s unconscious they install the Phazon system in her armor.
If Samus said she was in favor of breathing the Galactic Federation fit her with a gag and suffocate itself just to spite her. No one’s job has so relentlessly confronted them with things they hate since Simon Cowell.
Every game turns Samus into something she stands against. The Galactic Federation made her half-Metroid, Phazon generated a Dark Samus, and then Nintendo turned her from the most empowered female in videogaming into an anatomical model. Samus Aran was a walking tank. She dressed about as sexily as Master Chief, and was kicking ass fifteen years before he found a way to turn his entire face into douchebag mirror shades.
The revelation that Samus was female was one of the biggest surprises in videogaming history. Unfortunately the real lesson — “You’ll succeed more if you treat people the same regardless of gender” — was wasted on many early gamers. All they knew that inside that alien videogame tank was a girl, and alien videogame tanks were the only kind of obstacle their adolescence had trained them to overcome.
She was a cautionary tale about the internet years before it became an issue for the rest of us: there were some scantily clad pictures of her on the computer, and from that moment on that’s all everyone cared about. Since then she’s starred in every depressing “Top Videogame Babes” list ever made. So Nintendo gave her the Zero suit, which couldn’t have revealed her gender more clearly if it was a gynecologist’s certificate.
Being A Strong Female Character
Samus takes on the entire universe, by herself, and dresses up in bright colors to make it easier for everyone to shoot at her. Because otherwise her vs the entirety of existence would be unfair.
One of her hands is an armored missile launcher. She’s the only person who could win a high-fiving competition with Ashley J. Williams. She’s so busy kicking so much ass she needs an onboard computer to scan and take all the names. Even without her armor she was still a badass female bounty hunter with a gun-lightsaber-whip.
Which is why Nintendo went full Mega Man: going to get the right weapon to destroy this bizarre “Wo Man.” They gave Metroid: Other M to the Team Ninja, the studio behind Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
The result was worse for video game women than an octopus dating simulator. A beloved female character hasn’t been so brutally eviscerated since Final Fantasy 7. Darth Vader looked better in his prequel, and more competent.
In other games Samus loses her advanced armor abilities due to crash landings and exploding space stations. In Other M she turns them off because a man told her to, and spends half the game burning to death because Commander Fatherfigure McYesDaddy refuses to let her use her own heat shielding suit.
At the rate they’re removing her original qualities, the next Metroid will be a quicktime musical game where Samus has to go undercover in a Space Pirate bar as a stripper. And it’ll reveal she’s not a natural blonde.