Samus Aran is iconic enough that I doubt I really need to go into the back story of the bounty hunter who doesn’t actually do much bounty hunting or really explain too in depth the various events of the game. The most astonishing and wonderful thing about Samus was how she was originally conceived and not necessarily how she was presented.
Samus’s original design was not that of a sex symbol or even really a normal woman who kicked ass. By all means, the 6’3″ (1.9m) tall character had a very realistic weight about her at 198lbs (90kg). She was meant to be far beyond the average, and at weighing so much, it’s obvious she was at least thought of to be very muscular. This was probably most obvious in her Super Metroid ending where she clearly has well defined muscles…. And 80’s hair.
As for Samus’s original personality, not much can be said. She was apparently bad ass enough to be the Galactic Federation’s pick to infiltrate a heavily guarded planet to destroy their super computer and all the metroids. She operates in the same way as Link and Mario, with almost no dialogue and with the plot essentially going on around her. About all we know is that she was rather affected by her parents being killed when she was young, and that she bounty hunts not for fame or money but to kill Ridley and the rest of the Space Pirates.
It wasn’t until Metroid Fusion that we finally started to learn a bit more about Samus’s personality and back story. Until that point, Samus essentially just followed orders sent from the Galactic Federation, Fusion saw a departure from this when she disobeyed orders and destroyed a lot of valuable research, deeming it far too dangerous
Fusion also saw the first glimpse of how Samus deals with other people. The computer’s AI, named Adam by Samus, is revealed to be an uploaded version of an actual Adam, who once sacrificed himself to save Samus. (Anyone care to guess what’s going to be happening in Metroid: Other M?)
Samus’s exploits are another matter entirely. We’ve seen a lot of what she’s done. It seems in every game she’s bad ass enough that she blows up an entire planet. Or, well, at least a fortress or a space station. She’s taken on the Space Pirates all be herself on most occasions, and she otherwise has proven herself to be amazingly competent.
Isolation is a big part of all the games, as in most of them, there isn’t even anyone to talk to. You’re by yourself on some planet or space station having to figure everything out. This atmosphere is rather nice, and though it leads away from learning more about Samus’s personality, it does strike me as almost a bit symbolic of the idea of independence. The fact is, Samus doesn’t seem to need anyone to help her out, and the times when she’s traveled with companions, it’s generally been to save them.
I wish I could stop here and pretend that Samus is a perfect example of women in video games, but she hasn’t escaped all bits of typical treatment of women in games. From the very first game, her body was treated like a sex object. Seeing her in just a bikini was a reward for doing well at the game. Metroid II had a similar victory screen with her in a small bikini posing for the gamer. Super Metroid departed from this just slightly with her in a more neutral pose and having a more muscular appearance. She was covered up a bit more and given broader shoulders in Metroid Fusion, but as soon as Zero Mission hit, we started seeing the Zero Suit, which has been used to show off her body without actually being risque since.
Of course, I making a bit of a big deal out of that when, really, there isn’t any big attempt to turn her into too much of a sex object by the game creators, as a still picture in clothes that usually do make a bit of sense isn’t as cheesecake filled as the vast majority of the other games.
They’re also proving to be rather conscious of this as all early scenes of Metroid: Other M seem to be straying away from any potential love interests and is treating Adam as a father figure. She doesn’t appear to spend much time in anything I’d consider skimpy which is somewhat surprising considering it’s Team Ninja and seems to be along mainly as the enforcer because the Galactic Federation’s squad can’t do it themselves.
Nintendo has managed to make and maintain a female character who, at least from a universalist perspective on gender, is kind of an ideal person when it comes to gender expression. The Metroid series doesn’t want to start a revolution of feminism in video games, but it portrays more of an end product, where a character’s gender simply doesn’t matter all that much besides how we let it.
And I’m always willing to forget about the cheesecake pictures if Nintendo were to send me a 6’3″ muscular woman who is enough of a contortionist to turn herself into a ball.
And let’s just hope Other M does a good job of keeping the feel of the Samus we know instead of recreating her.