“He is a Cyborg: His entire body has been surgically strengthened with robotics, giving him superpowers.” Sound familiar? Fans of the original Metroid for NES (Available now from the Wii’s Virtual Console for a mere 500 Points) may well recognise that sentence, as well as those dedicated of Nintendo’s space epics in general. That was the original description of Samus Aran in the manual from her debut all the way back in 1986. And you all know how the story goes: beat the game in less than three hours and, my, Samus, you’ve changed so much! There’s a normal human being in a robotic suit. Not a cyborg at all. And, somewhat more worryingly, it’s not a ‘he’ either. Samus is a woman.
Gaming’s first great twist? Perhaps. (Although we still find the ‘Our Princess is in another castle’ line astounding after all these years.) However, what was more important was that we had gaming’s first great lady. Well, to be honest, we had gaming’s first lady, end of. Never before had a mainstream computer game (Not of Metroid’s calibre, anyway) had a female in the lead role. Samus was to go on and build up a strong, individual reputation. She was the real deal, a proper, bona fide gaming hero (Well, heroine) who could rub massive shoulder pads with the likes of Link, Solid Snake and even Mario himself. Even Lara Croft couldn’t hold a candle to her. (Not that she’d need one- The visor can surely see in the dark, after so many isolated space-missions) Lara is a pretty piece of flesh. Samus is tough as nails. OK, they might be trying to build up that ‘hard’ reputation for Ms. Croft, and with games like Super Smash Bros Brawl destroy it for Samus, but the Tomb Raider icon became famous because, instead of being gaming’s first great lady, she was gaming’s first sex symbol.
Anyway, you probably already know all of that, and don’t want to hear it again. Instead, we’re aiming to do an Other M and delve a little deeper into the question the marketing boards keep asking us: Who exactly is Samus Aran?
We can give you exact figures. We can give you rough character back stories. But we will never truly know who the woman with the huge shoulder pads is. She’s human, weighs in at 189 pounds and is 6’3” tall. She was raised by the human-bird hybrid race of the Chozos after her parents died in a pirate raid. She served under the Galactic Federation, only to leave and become a bounty hunter, still occasionally answering the odd distress call from her old pals at the GF. Ignoring Other M and its heavy flashbacks, that’s pretty much all we know. Why? Because it’s pretty much all we need to know. As we stressed in last week’s article, why give us a story if we don’t need one? In fact, to some extent, the Chozo thing is only there to make her a more rounded character, give her an edge that happy-go-luck Mario and the blank canvas of a character that is Link can never give us.
Speaking of bland designs, that was originally how Samus was designed. She was to forfill the same sort of role as Link in the Zelda games. Not to be a character as much as your own avatar to carry you through the levels. She lives in her cold, orange shell so as to remain faceless, so you can put yourself inside the spacesuit. However, as development went on, these ‘edgy’ characteristics began to break through.
And this isn’t an exception: Throughout the years, Samus’ character has developed more and more as the franchise goes on. What she would probably see as chinks in her bright orange armour are slowly turning into strengths for the marketing team- Every game that goes by, she’ll do something a little more human. She’ll gradually start to turn into someone you could trust with your life, tough and courageous, yet she has a warmer, friendlier side. Samus Aran is tough, she’s not a piece of female flesh for horny gamers to devour, she’s human, she’s not a blank character sheet for you to fill in, and she manages to walk the delicate tightrope between the two very well. She’s not a Master Chief, locked away in his helmet, only ever to see a trail of bullets and hear the crispest of explosions. She is Samus Aran, that’s as far as we need to go.