ScreenCritics Shaun explores what makes Metroid’s Samus Aran so special among video game heroines. Do you think she’s a gaming icon?
For Nintendo, creating iconic video game characters is part and parcel of their business. From Mario to Link, the company has managed to cultivate a stable of well-known characters. Yet there’s one who’s fate seems to be dreary than others – that of Samus Aran. The bounty hunter with attitude, who’s fronted one of Nintendo’s longest running series. She’s appeared in numerous titles, kicked more ass than Mario and yet still finds herself on the fringes of Nintendo’s affection.
The sad thing among all this, Metroid has proven itself to be highly versatile over the years – taking many forms while amassing a passionate fan base. Her adventures and battles have become the thing of video game legend; epic and memorable. It’s just a shame that this passionate fan base has been given no reason to believe that their beloved franchise is anything but an afterthought within the hallowed halls of Nintendo. 30 years haven’t been kind to the series, despite there being much love for Nintendo’s leading heroine.
For most of her first outing – gamers didn’t even realize they were playing as a female bounty hunter. The mysterious bounty hunter presented before them was a blank avatar that the gamer could immerse themselves with and share the experience on Zebes. All those acts of heroism and all those deeds weren’t performed by a man – but instead by a women who didn’t need a man in a red cape to save her. She kicked ass on her own and I feel that Nintendo have (Until Metroid Fusion and Metroid Other M at least) managed to handle her with grace and dignity.
Unlike the likes of Link and Mario though, Samus wouldn’t always be prevalent at the forefront of Nintendo’s mind. Gamers haven’t been exposed to her in quite the same way and thus she hasn’t taken on the mythical form that Mario and Link have enjoyed. However much like those two other Nintendo icons, Samus has proven that she’s more than capable of competing along the second and third dimensions – a rare feat in gaming.
Super Metroid to this day is held up as one of the greatest 2D games of all time; it’s legacy unquestionable and popularity a continued sign of the appreciation gamers have for the game. It’s the perfect blend of difficulty, atmosphere and fun game play that allows the game to remain just as enjoyable now as it was back when it originally released onto the SNES. Getting lost in the game is more opportunity to discover secrets and hidden items – a rare treat for gamers to enjoy.
Then we got Metroid Prime, unquestionably one of the finest games of its generation. In an age where first person shooters were getting dumber and more linear – here was a game that successfully bridged the gap between atmosphere and action perfectly. The combat was sublime and while some decried the backtracking; the game at least was proud enough of its setting to make gamers fully explore it. Everything from the subtle ambiance of the over-world to the intense flare that occurs when combat kicks in – this game wanted you to live every aspect of the Metroid Prime experience.
What I appreciated most about these games – Samus is just treated like any of Nintendo’s other stars. She’s a vessel for the gamer but it’s never made a huge point of interest that she’s a female. It’s not even a relevant discussion in the games. It’s a problem that Metroid Other M (And to a slightly lesser degree Metroid Fusion) ran headlong into – deciding that her gender was a bigger issue than it needed to be. The reason her character resonated so widely in her heyday was because she was everything Princess Peach and Zelda were not – a tour-de-force that didn’t need to be that kind of heroine. She was her own hero and she wasn’t going anywhere without a fight.
Much like Link – Samus doesn’t really talk and the emotional responses are designed to be appropriate across the board. Shock, anger, horror are all delivered through vague expressions. Samus is a badass. Gamers know this and they don’t need to coy with her. If space pirates are itching for a fight, you’re given the tools to jump right in. If you need to explore; the game makes you explore. You’re never left feeling inferior – Samus can not only go toe to toe with the best of them; she could probably beat them. And that’s why we think she’s great – she doesn’t need destiny or princess to save. She makes her own way in the galaxy.
In conclusion – Samus is a great video game character. Certainly one of the best and certainly one of the most iconic. It saddens me that she’s being shunned in favor of generic foot soldiers in Federation Force. Nintendo should understand that gamers have a connection with Samus – one that should be allowed to continue in the right form and shouldn’t be manipulated to try and change the core essence of the series she helms.