This post has spoilers for the the Metroid series in general and Metroid: Other M in particular.
On the surface, there seemed a lot of promise for Metroid: Other M (and yes, I’ve already given my hand), particularly in the beginning. When giving her rather loquacious introductory thoughts and history, Samus mentions that she felt pressure on her for being the only female soldier, which led to some of her refusal to fall in line (even if sometimes through childish rebellion). As part of a plot, that could become a rather salient point, and one that could certainly be expounded upon more. However, as the game progresses, this fact gets lost in Samus’s attempt to prove herself to Commander Adam Malkovich, her former commanding officer. Of course, this leads to another problem in that the game tries to give the player so much information to process through cutscenes and internal monologue, that it divorces itself from the gameplay.
In a series where plot has been relatively thin and usually guided bit by bit through the beginning and ending of the game, there was a lot that could not be conveyed to the audience except through playing the game. Therefore, when Samus chokes at fighting Ridley, I sensed that they wanted this to happen way back when, during Metroid. After all, this arch-nemesis of Samus’s killed her parents, and her initial encounter with him might well have been devastating. Her canonical third encounter (counting Metroid and Super Metroid, as somehow the Primes don’t count), should not leave her paralyzed to be saved by a black male who then seems to sacrifice himself for her. Placing such a debilitation on Samus from seeing Ridley (already brought back once after she defeated him) at this point in the series speaks to a problem of wanting to flesh out the narrative they may have wanted in a previous incarnation, but is now a bit late.
I say a bit late because players have had time with Samus, who has fallen into a trap I have witnessed occurring a few times (or have witnessed fans worrying about occurring): giving voice to a previously quiet character. In my mind, having played all the games that led up to Other M chronologically, Samus’s quiet manner was due to a stoicism present in a hero on whom much depends. It has been said that the entire Metroid series was heavily influenced by Alien, and in such a case, it is hard not to see a resemblance between Samus Aran and Lieutenant Ripley. However, as Ripley shed more and more of her absolute terror of her alien menace through her own series, Samus never was allowed that emotional depth on-screen. Given her status as a mercenary, and willingness to hunt down this menace, it is hard to read it as a terror she wished to avoid completely, but was resolute on facing–on top of her military background with which to begin, rather than being a pilot caught in a violent situation.
As I said, stoicism.
In my review on GayGamer, I mentioned one of my complaints was the voice acting in Other M. Samus sounds full of ennui, and has a way of draining the emotion and expression from her voice. She sounds like a stereotypical teenager writing in a journal, to be quite frank. The betrayal here is the lack of meshing with a concept of my play. In my playing of Samus, even in Other M, I never get the sense that she is so full of self-doubt or the need of approval from a father figure. There is a dissonance that occurs when suddenly confronted with this in a cutscene, where I am asked to be passive and fed narrative, particularly in a series that had based itself so much on a sense of autonomy expressed through Samus’s exploration of her environment and eventual mastery of it.
In fact, the sense of loneliness that was present in most of my time spent with the series (excepting Metroid Prime 3: Corruption) helped this fact, and the gameplay for Other M has not changed in this regard, with other characters being relegated to cutscenes or disembodied voices. It is the latter that makes the restrictions Samus is willing to take from Commander Malkovich so aggravating on top of it hampering her capabilities. As has oft been cited, while it might make sense to restrict her use of all her suit’s weapon functions (a convention the game uses instead of losing them), as they might not wish to damage portions of the ship they are exploring, having her run through overwhelmingly hot environments without the use of her Varia suit, which protects her from such environmental hazards, is something done purely out of a game convention–one that clashes with both the narrative (why would her suit’s ability to resist heat endanger anyone?) and the sense of who Samus is.
It speaks to a willingness to subjugate and prove herself to Commander Malkovich. While it might make sense in the plot that Team Ninja and Sakamoto (one of the co-creators of the series) created, it does not speak well for the Samus who is primarily a loner. Given how it is presented, it serves as a parable for the double-bind in which women often do find themselves to receive approbation: Samus must work harder for the recognition of her former commanding officer, but her reward is simply being allowed to stay. Her only autonomy comes at the expense of his death.
Given the earlier statements of her feeling out of place due to her female sex in a male-dominated workplace, it could have even worked so that had she communicated to us, the players, her annoyance at jumping through hoops; she could have remained a consistent character. Instead, she is broken into two parts: the one I control and the one who speaks at me, but not to me.
Of course, as our own Brinstar will state, this is a trend that is not wholly out of the blue, nor presented to us just in this title. From the beginning Samus has been a character who has been painted as a myth, with speed run trials being able to de-armor her to a space bikini. This situation only became more annoying as she donned her zero suit in Zero Mission, a retelling of Metroid that added a bit of story after the completion of the original. While she always had an element of being sexualized, she has now continued on to be mired in the bind of a female character who can stop an entire alien parasite race, but is generally portrayed as weak and submissive otherwise.