Sorry I’ve been gone a couple weeks folks. We’ve been doing the final push on renovating the basement, which means I’ve been doing all the heavy work (even after loss of T in my system, I’m still stronger than him). This has resulted in several days of soreness and pain and tiredness. Additionally, I’ve been wondering where next to go with my series on diversity in gaming, as well as looking at a potential project to do with it. However, Monday starts the summer semester, and I’m taking a class called “thinking the body” taught by the same professor as my activism class, so I may have to do a journal again for it. All of these combined have led me to decide that today I will do a post I’ve been promising since the start of this series, and we’ll see how it goes from there. Namely, I’m going to talk about Metroid and how Other M ruined Samus’ momentum as the most badass, respected woman in gaming.
But first, let me just say something pretty controversial here. Other M is bad, but it’s not THAT bad. It’s salvageable. A lot of the problems it faces aren’t the ones people are always bringing up, as those are merely symptoms of the underlying issue. That underlying issue is this: the fact that this is a single game rather than two, and that they put it near the end of the timeline.
Ok, so what do I mean? Well, let’s look at some of the more common complaints the game faces. First off, the monotone voice Samus uses all the time in discussion, rarely showing any signs of emotion. Interestingly enough, that’s the designers getting something they were trying for RIGHT but went over the heads of others. See, in this version, Samus has PTSD from witnessing Ridley kill her parents when she was just a child. Some would also argue that she’s having a flare up of it, or that it’s been worsened, by seeing the baby metroid sacrifice itself to protect her at the end of Super Metroid. Difficulty feeling/expressing emotions is a common symptom of PTSD, called “flat affect,” and is in fact my most prominent symptom. So in this regard, they’ve actually implemented her PTSD pretty well. However, the problem comes up with the much maligned Ridley scene.
As Gaijin Goomba mentions in his rant here about the Other M issue, Other M is based on a manga timeline where Samus witnesses Ridley killing her parents in front of her and she has PTSD from it. He remarks “if the monster that killed my parents, that I actually killed, came back from the dead after me, I’d probably be freaking out too.” Here’s the thing, at the end of that manga, she kills Ridley and says that she’s gotten over her PTSD. And then proceeds to kill him in some form or another in almost every Metroid game since. Seriously, he shows up in Metroid/Zero Mission, Prime, Prime 3, and Super Metroid (plus Metroid Fusion, but that’s the only game that canonically comes after Other M). So she killed him once in the manga, and once again in each of those titles. That means that prior to Other M, she’s killed Ridley FIVE times, not to mention all the times they’ve fought where he escapes. PTSD or not, she’s not going to be freaking out over his return as a clone yet again, especially after already seeing that there were Zebesians (a.k.a. space pirates) cloned on the ship as well. Samus would have been expecting him, as he shows up wherever they do. Had they put this game earlier in the timeline, like right after the first game/Zero Mission, her freaking out would have made more sense, but by this point in time, it doesn’t.
And here comes the issue of why this should have been two games: the story of this one hinges on it coming after Super Metroid, as the entire ship is made possible by the Galactic Federation taking off remains of DNA from Samus’ armor, including that of the baby metroid that died for her at the end of Super Metroid. Plus, dialog that occurs in this game conflicts with events of other games, such as Samus stating this is the first joint mission she’s worked with the Federation since becoming a bounty hunter (something she did in the Prime trilogy), plus the fact that this game’s basic premise is that the Federation is trying to clone metroids as weapons, after they’ve been made extinct by Samus, at their command. Guess what the premise of Fusion is… they didn’t learn from their mistake here, obviously. Any way you look at it, the story here wants to be in two different places in the timeline, and contradicts other games that have been done better.
Oh? But what about the stupid authorization system? It’s what’s called a voodoo shark, a device that attempts to close up a plot hole by creating a bigger one. Simply put, they needed an excuse to come up with some way of explaining why Samus doesn’t have access to all of her upgrades from the start. Rather than coming up with some reason for her not having them, they decided she has them, but since she’s working with Adam and his unit, she has to restrain herself, being authorized to use certain weapons. A lot of people take this as sexist, but you see Adam making authorization commands for the members of his unit as well, such as authorizing freeze weapons during the first boss fight, and then later telling his demolitions expert and heavy weapons expert that they have authorization to use their best judgement when using their specialty weapons, as they’ll be out of radio contact. Samus even starts unlocking her suit’s abilities later in the game just because she can without his authorization, once he goes missing. The first time she does so, she even jokingly says “any objections, Adam?” So this is less an issue of sexism, as he’s a military officer and doesn’t want her destroying the entire ship or killing his men with the sheer power of some of her weapons, and more an issue of them making Samus a bit of an idiot. Plus, contradicting her already established character.
Samus starts Fusion off by telling us that she doesn’t like authority, doesn’t like taking orders. And yet here, we see her blindly following the orders of a guy that the story makes it clear of that she challenged back when she was under his command with the Federation. Not only that, but exceeding his orders. When he finally asks for her help, he says he’s going to have to restrict the use of her weapons until authorized, for the safety of his team and any survivors, specifically mentioning the destructive power of her power bombs. Nowhere does he restrict the use of her defensive or mobility gear, which leads to the infamous Varia Suit incident. At first, in there, he tells her to stick to areas her suit can handle, but when that becomes too much of an issue (as those areas become destroyed, leaving her in magma filled rooms, she herself neglects to equip the suit. Adam continues along with his weapons authorizations, authorizing her to use freeze weapons on these flame creatures, yet finally when he authorizes her to use the Varia Suit, it comes off less as him being an asshole who enjoys watching her suffer and more of a tone of “Samus, you stupid bitch, quit killing yourself to impress me, use your damn Varia Suit!”
I could keep going on and on, but I’ll leave it at this: Other M is sexist, but not for the reasons everyone harps on. Yes, the game is so full of motherhood symbolism that it’s hammering it in more than MC Hammer and that one Pink Floyd music video combined. Yes, the relationship between Samus and Adam is jacked up, but less so because of gender and more because of poor writing. No, this game is sexist because it takes gaming’s original, badass woman character, and turns her into a simpering little girl at the END of her career, rather than at the beginning where such melodrama would make more sense. When Tomb Raider got rebooted, we got to see Lara in that less confidant stage of life, going through the harrowing trials that make her the woman we all know and love. Other M tries to do this, but also tries to do it AFTER Samus has already fucked up the space pirates’ shit on a regular basis. The best fix for the story would be to ditch the baby metroid aspects of the story and put this back near the beginning, immediately following the events of the first Metroid/Zero Mission, as those are the story of her first mission ever as a bounty hunter. Or better yet, place this before then, having this be the end of her time with the Galactic Federation, before setting out to be a bounty hunter. That would fix a LOT of the story issues, and give this game the credit it deserves. Well, that and fixing the wonky 2D to 3D controls. Until next time, when I’ll let you know what’s going on with the class, and maybe have another controversial game to look at.