[Disclaimer: yes, I am very late to be discussing this but I’m way behind on gaming news…]
Later on this year, Nintendo will be hitting us with another killer app for the Switch in the form of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fifth installment in the fan-favourite smash ’em up which celebrates all things Nintendo while also managing to be a hot tournament favourite for competitive gamers. The game looks set to really live up to its ‘Ultimate’ suffix too thanks to the inclusion of every character that has ever been playable in a Smash Bros. game no matter if they are obscure, a relative clone of a more popular combatant or a licensed guest fighter. Everybody is in for the throwdown.
As you can probably imagine, there is a lot that can be discussed about such a game but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly if you’ve been around the videogame community long enough) the biggest talking point that I have seen cropping up across the internet is how Nintendo have decided to tone down the sexuality of Zero Suit Samus and…Solid Snake? The ACTUAL surprising element to this is that there appears to be greater outrage towards the smoothing out of Snake’s butt than there is for Samus losing a few cup sizes since the Wii-U/3DS Smash Bros. Yes, I have just typed that and no, I can’t quite believe it either.
While I would love to talk about Solid Snake’s butt definition, I’m more interested in the fact that the fan outrage to this change hasn’t been as fierce as I’d expected. After all, I’d like to think I’m pretty familiar with the gaming community having being a gamer since the early 1990’s and in that time, I have seen a lot of anger directed towards developers who censor their games or tone down specific aspects in order to not offend. To name a recent example, it wasn’t too long ago that Street Fighter fans were pretty pissed when Capcom manipulated the camera angles for Cammy and Rainbow Mika’s intro animations so as to hide a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it crotch shot for the former and an ass slap for the latter.
I should know because I was pretty annoyed about it. Not because I demand games to be as gratuitous as possible for no good reason but because I am 100% against the act of censoring or modifying existing designs/products/artwork in order to pander to the easily offended “won’t somebody think of the children?!?” brigade. In the case of Street Fighter V, I felt that this is what had happened: Capcom hastily commissioning a scrappy edit to a couple of harmless animations just in case somebody, somewhere would create negative press born of the crazy idea that a bit of mild sexuality is obviously the devil incarnate. Let’s overlook the fact that Street Fighter is built upon general violence, brutal holds and genuinely evil characters like Bison and Akuma. All of that is fine but Mika giving her big butt a provocative smack is just not on. Oh no.
But I’m going off-track here. My point is/was that I have seen enough of these kinds of scenarios over the years to be genuinely surprised that the reaction to Samus becoming less chesty wasn’t as volcanic as it might have been. Sure, I have read comments of outrage and dismay but the change does seem to have been accepted more willingly than I’d anticipated.
With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to discuss it. Was Nintendo right to tone Samus’ anatomy down and does it even matter anyway?
I feel that the place to start this discussion/debate is at the point just before Samus’s Ultimate re-design. The character had steadily grown more and more busty when you look at Metroid: Other M and also her appearance in Smash Bros. for Wii-U/3DS, the latter being particularly notable considering that her breasts were pretty damn big when the rest of her was reasonably slender. The game also included an alternate costume that placed Samus in a swimsuit-like outfit, further emphasising her sexuality and giving the Deviantart crowd much to cheer about. There was nothing inheritently wrong with any of this but it has to be noted that the character of Samus Aran had changed dramatically in a short space of time.
Samus is meant to be a tough-as-nails intergalatic bounty hunter. The fact that she turned out to be a woman beneath her externally masculine Power Suit was one of gaming’s earliest twists. The fact that she was also an incredibly attractive design was inevitable in a visual-orientated medium of entertainment. However, by the time we were playing Smash on the Wii-U/3DS, Samus was less about her action-packed exploits in space and more about her skintight bodysuit and physical appeal. The problem that many have pointed out is that Samus’ design has become less and less suited for her profession and background and had begun to border on daft. After all, those Smash 4 bunker-buster boobs can’t exactly aid her agility and it’s improbable that a hardened veteran of countless cosmic adventures and deadly battles against the likes of Ridley and Kraid should resemble a flawless supermodel beneath the armour.
So when we see that Nintendo have decided to tone Samus’ figure down, should we be less concerned about meddling for the sake of satisfying Nintendo’s traditional family-friendly audience and more interested in the fact that they might just be trying to get their heroine back to being more believable? It certainly seems to me that this process already began with Metroid: Samus Returns, looking at the concept art below:
In the Samus Returns art, the character has a flatter chest but is still an attractive design with a more than ample, womanly figure. This to me is getting closer to what a I believe a realistic Samus should look like beneath the armour. I’m all for the sexy-sexy in videogames (as my love for DoA confirms) but even I think that Samus should be an athletic woman in terms of build with some musculature. I would personally go even further with a shorter, more functional hairstyle and an even more athletic figure with more muscle.
Swinging back to the other end of the figure scale, it’s interesting to note that Nintendo originally described Samus Aran as a 6″3, 200 pound muscular woman (source: Nintendo Power) which would put her firmly in the amazonian category where you would expect a woman to perhaps have a more curvaceous, striking body. This was allegedly later re-conned to say that Samus is only that tall when wearing the Power Suit but even if we were take the original description of Samus as how she should look sans armour, the outgoing Zero Suit version from Smash 4 still wouldn’t make much sense. She wasn’t depicted as a mighty amazonian or an athletic girl – just a slinky blonde that had been given large, prominent breasts for pure sex appeal.
In this sense, it’s actually surprising that Nintendo had let us have this rendition of Samus for so long because they are traditionally a family-friendly company not known for sexualising their female characters, especially in Western releases of their games. They have also been quite strict in recent times when it comes to censoring games e.g. Tokyo Mirage Sessions (upskirt views blurred/blacked out, certain costumes edited to remove cleavage) and Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water (lingerie-style costumes removed). So you could say that this change for Samus is not surprising at all, especially when the Switch is doing so well and being marketed at an all-inclusive age range.
The flipside of the argument for greater realism is that gaming is meant to be pure escapism so if Samus has bigger boobs and the face of a model then…so what? Not much else in gaming is grounded in reality so why do we need to pick up on certain characters or games and ask for them to make more sense? Gaming is meant to be fun and it is meant to be fantasy so a push for greater realism on any level feels like a direct contradiction. A lot of people like to slate the Dead or Alive games for how their women are designed/depicted and while I am aware of a much larger and more complex debate behind the criticism, the games are ultimately daft and just harmless fun. I can only speak for myself but I don’t play these games and then have an expectation of real women to resemble the likes of Kasumi or Tina. It is escapism and fantasy.
Of course, cynical character design and sexy for the sake of sexy is never a very clever thing. I don’t however believe that Nintendo ever set out along this path when they designed Zero Suit Samus. Obviously they must be aware of the reasons for the character’s popularity but do I think that they (or associated developers) have intentionally set out to gradually increase her bust size in order to sell software? No, I really don’t.
Ultimately (pun 100% intended!), I am fairly neutral about what Nintendo have decided to do with Samus. On the one hand, I can’t deny that I like the bustier rendition of the character and I would certainly be aggrieved if Nintendo have actioned a reverse boob-job purely to appease the easily outraged. However, they have given Samus a slightly more realistic figure while maintaining overall attractiveness so I think to get too angry about this would be a bit silly provided the reasons are genuine and not born out of a desire to sidestep potential lashbacks from pressure groups. And as I detailed a little earlier, I would happily go even further and design a sexy, athletic/muscular Samus that strikes an even greater balance between looks and believability.
Besides, there’s always Deviantart for your E-cup (and beyond) equipped Zero Suit Samus…