‘Screw Attack’ by Allie Merritt (@alliearts)
In the original Metroid for NES in 1986, the instruction manual referred to Samus Aran with male pronouns and (charitably) Samus wore a bikini only to make it inarguably clear the character wasn’t a man considering the hardware’s limitations in pixel count.
In the NES game, Samus had green hair, brown hair, yes, blonde, but neon, too, and the Nintendo Power comic for Super Metroid made the hair purple, as well as famously establishing a body size of 6′3″, 198 pounds (190 cm, 98 kg).
Subsequent to that, Nintendo decided to have a more standardized portrayal of Samus outside of the suit, which is blonde and blue- or green-eyed, and they released Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion simultaneously in 2002. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s limiting compared to the other options that existed when Samus could be many different things.
After Metroid: Zero Mission in 2004, Samus started down a road of bimbo-ification, for lack of a better term. The games with more explicit plot and characterization tended to follow Japanese stock tropes of magical superheroine, while in the West, the focus on a skin-tight flight suit had predictable results. Heels and generous breasts, hair that became more ornate even in situations where it would seem unlikely that was suitable.
Between the Smash Bros games and Metroid: Other M, a character that had been different, flexible in interpretation, a sci-fi action star with agency and presence, and notable for all these things, turned into another sex object whose feminity was only highlighted in service of being desired or desiring babies. ‘Smash Bros’ tells you a lot about the intended gaze, and MOM the game is ‘doesn’t look like anything to me’ bad in the choices it made.
Maybe it’s just rose-colored glasses, but I swear Samus didn’t use to be the subject of quite so much tentacle-based sexual assault in the past.
So I don’t think the ‘Screw Attack’ portrayal is definitive or should be the only interpretation of the character that exists, but I deeply miss the time, especially between 1994 and 2002, when Samus was more likely to be seen doing something in their suit than out of it, and, while out of it, they could look like nearly anything and anyone’s idea of them could be valid. Somehow, this actually made the character less interchangeable instead of more.
The past 15 years or so for gaming culture have in many ways been a regression when, for some reason, I expected progress instead. But I guess that’s true of a lot of other things in the culture, generally.