I’ve got a theory about the Metroid series, and it’s pretty simple.
Samus Aran’s butt is the harbinger of the apocalypse.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic. Let’s tune that one down to…
Samus Aran’s butt means you’re gonna have a bad time.
There. That works.
There is overwhelming evidence for this hypothesis. Let’s, naturally, start with Metroid, the first game featuring Samus Aran. Take a look at that opening screen.
See? That’s the stuff. Samus Aran is a front-facing lady. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in the series (probably because most people never got past Kraid). From then on, Samus is always facing left or right, running around, exploring Zebes in side view or as a ball. We do get to see Samus face the camera again during every transition from area to area, though. Given these trips are usually the result of careful exploring, Samus facing the player is always a good thing. Sure, it’s also what you see when Samus respawns after defeat, but that’s not the Game Over screen, it’s the “I’m trying again” screen. And don’t forget, in the days of 8-bit sprites, even Mario went through a game or two before he never gazed outward.
But you can see Samus’s butt in Metroid. Once. It’s what you see when you completely fail.
That’s the ending “reward” for taking ten hours to complete Metroid (or five if you’re just in bailey). That is not a happy Samus Aran. That is an ashamed Samus Aran, and you know it. Seeing her backside is a mark of disappointment and failure.
Metroid 2 is buttless. Samus once again reprises her forward facing habits, and even the worst of her endings simply feature her hustling through the void. Metroid and Metroid 2 are both very much products of their time, but they get a lot of slack thanks to their contributions to one of the greatest games in history, Super Metroid.
Super Metroid? The last butt is in captivity, the galaxy is at peace. Inarguably the pinnacle of the franchise, Super Metroid granted Samus a much smoother “turn” animation, but Samus always flips from side to side while facing front. Samus’s rear is not even glimpsed in any sprites from this 16-bit powerhouse.
Then, an excruciating eight years later, Metroid 4 aka Metroid Fusion was released. And the butt was unleashed.
Metroid Fusion made a number of changes to the Metroid formula. For one thing, it transformed Samus’s iconic spacesuit into something oddly… blobby. This was a very strange choice, as you don’t see Nintendo shifting Mario’s overalls or sticking Link in a bunny costume. No, I want to say changing the iconic look of an iconic character is maybe not the best choice, particularly when relaunching the series after a lengthy sabbatical.
But more importantly than Samus’s fashion was the massive change in gameplay. For three games, Samus journeyed through her adventures in complete silence. Samus did not speak (once introductions were all finished), and she did not have to listen to anyone, either. In fact, once the player has control, Samus never encounters a verbal ally for the entirety of the original trilogy. Metroid Fusion changed that, and made Samus a pawn of a Galactic Federation that had previously been pretty hands-off. Now Samus is forced to check in with a guiding AI after doing practically anything. Just acquired a powerup? Time to listen to the AI. Want to go to a new area? Time to listen to the AI. New boss monster stalking the halls? Time to listen to the AI. Everything is on fire and the station is about to explode? Welp, better listen to that AI, because God knows Samus can’t deal with an exploding space station on her own. It’s annoying, and, what’s more, it’s completely unnecessary. Samus has always been able to find her way on her own, and Metroid Fusion still features level design that guides the player to where they should be going. Sure, a first time player might get stuck on some random puzzle, but it’s not all that hard to figure out where you might want to go next when the areas are sequentially numbered. That’s right, AI, three does come after two!
And the kicker to this nonsense? Every time you talk to the AI? Here’s Samus, facing away from the screen, and what do we have here?
Samus Aran’s butt is integral to the worst part of Metroid Fusion.
And, while you’re considering Samus Aran’s badonkadonk, consider what Samus facing away from the player means. Three Metroid games begin with Samus facing the player. She has no real reason to do such a thing: she’s descending into a hostile environment in every case, and threats always come from the left or right. Facing front is going to get her killed, and, if the “fourth wall” wasn’t there, she’d probably be looking at exactly nothing. However, it is an ideal nod to the player. Right from the start, Samus has choices, and she is looking to you, player, for advice. Should I go left or right? Back to the ship or forward to danger? This elevator is kinda boring… seen any good movies? Now here’s a new area. I’m facing you again, player, where do we go? In time, the difference between “player” and “Samus” is broken down, and, in the super conclusion to a super game, Samus doesn’t need to utter so much as a word to express her loss during a climactic battle. The player and Samus have become one mind, and no looks or words are necessary.
Metroid Fusion, though? Samus turns away from the player. Sure, she’d like to take your advice, but, ya know, got this whole AI Commanding Officer thing going on, and it’ll tell me what to do. You are not in control, player, the AI is, and you’re along for the ride. I’m sure you could make a decision about which way to go, and, eventually, you get to do just that… but it’s only because any routes back to the AI have been destroyed. You and Samus are only working together because the AI is incommunicado. You, human, are the second choice.
And there stands the butt, towering before you, reminding you that you are no longer needed.
Metroid Prime went in the complete opposite direction. The player and Samus are fused more than they ever have been, as you can only see Samus’s world through her eyes. Obviously, this creates a much greater bond between the player and whatever world Samus happens to explore. Your choices are Samus’s choices, and the game is better for it. Also, even though you get glimpses of Samus when rolling through tight passages, she experiences these areas only in ball form, so her butt is almost permanently hidden. It’s no surprise that this series got a full trilogy and two spinoffs.
Even later 2-D Metroid games seemed to learn from Fusion’s misstep. The sequel to Metroid Fusion, Metroid Zero Mission, eschewed the talky AI route for Chozo statues that provided general tips for your next destination. These statues were also mute, like good statues. And, since Samus interacted with these birdbrains in ball form, her butt was nowhere to be seen during gameplay. Of course, freshly added “cinema scenes” were another story. And then there’s this nonsense, heralded by the booty…
But legends tell of a dark time. A time when the Metroid story is stunted and ignored. It is predicted that the butt will return, and when it does, Samus will be trapped for years, lost to the butt’s terrible gravity.
Beware the butt, gentle reader. Beware the butt.
FGC #128 Metroid Fusion
- System: Gameboy Advance, though also currently available on the WiiU Virtual Console. It may also be available on your 3DS if you are a complete sucker (like me).
- Number of players: One Samus Aran, forever controlled by one generally annoying AI.
- Powerup: I really like the way the X-Parasites make health/missile powerups practically mandatory drops, and that Samus may have to “chase” said drops for acquisition. It’s an additional gameplay quirk that you’d think you’d see more often in 2-D.
- Favorite Boss: Nightmare wins this one, predominantly because I love a good melting face. Aside from that, I appreciate the gravity effects causing Samus’s missiles to plummet to the ground on launch. It’s always the little things that stick in my memory. Oh, I guess it’s good that the boss is super hard, too.
- He’s Too Big: Neo-Ridley is my second favorite battle, and also my favorite Ridley redesign. Sure, armor plating is fun and all, but give me a Ridley that’s a big spikey monstrosity any day.
- Retconniving: By all accounts, when Samus speaks of her old beloved commanding officer Adam, it sounds like Samus is reminiscing about times long past. According to Other M, though, Adam’s noble sacrifice happened… pretty much last week. Yet another sin for the pile…
- The Circle of Life: There’s also something to be said for the fact that Metroids were apparently keeping a random parasite in check. A random parasite that can apparently duplicate any living thing and then grant it superpowers. And it’s the size of a basketball. SR-388 is a land of wonder.
- Did you know? According to the related manga, the reason SR388 has so few inhabitants is entirely the fault of the X Parasites. Not because the game was on limited, ancient hardware. Nope, it’s the X.
- Would I play again: Yes. Duh.
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures! A new adventure? Oh boy! This is gonna be fun! Please look forward to it!