Samus Is A Better Character When She's On Her Own

Metroid games are so much better when the story is as subtle as possible. On this week's Kotaku Splitscreen, we discuss why.

First, Kirk and I talk about the failings of Detroit: Become Human before getting into the news of the week (24:46) on Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Xbox One accessibility, and HBO's Watchmen.

Then, Maddy Myers joins the show (43:20) to talk about her journalism career at the Boston Phoenix (whose founder just passed away — RIP), her love for Metroid, and why Samus Aran is just so much better when she's by herself. We also talk about Maddy's excellent new album, which you can check out here.

Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt:

Maddy: ...I think any time I have a break-up, just because that was the circumstance in which I played those games initially, it's kind of like a sense-memory thing. I'm gonna be alone, but it's OK, because Samus doesn't date anyone either, and she always figures everything out, and she has time management skills, and she continues on, despite her trauma and past. I like that as an idea, and I think as far as video game characters to unnecessarily put on a pedestal and idolise and base your life on, I could probably do a lot worse than Samus.

Jason: So how do you feel about the fact that Samus's creator just like, is ruining her with Other M? He still stands by — I think he actually told me at E3 last year that he still stands by all the story decisions he made in that game.

Maddy: That's really interesting because to me I feel like there are a lot of people who are part of the process behind creating Samus, beside Sakamato.

Jason: Of course.

Maddy: And I don't agree with his take on her. Right before I left Paste, I wrote a story about that. I think it's called "You Don't Know Samus And Neither Do I," and I wrote about all the takes people had on Samus, specifically Other M, which is the pinnacle of the narrative arc of Samus wanting to be a mother and mothering this little Metroid, and also still being re-victimised by Ridley, and just sort of the feminine version of her.

I don't think that's necessarily bad, although the camera also zooms in on her butt all the time, so it's kind of a confused collection of things where you're like, 'Is this the lesson of the game? Are we supposed to see Samus as a sex object? Are we supposed to see her as a mother?' And I feel like Other M's main problem is that it didn't really know which of those things it wanted to do, or be. Not that any of those concepts are inherently bad, but it's just a confused game, and that's sad.

What's interesting there for me is that the games where I like Samus are the ones that do almost no narrative work for you. Like in Super Metroid, that opening scene, it's all just the game telling you the story. You walk into the doomed lab and you see the bodies and you realise the Metroid has escaped. The game isn't telling you: 'Samus is so worried and scared right now.' You don't know how she feels; you have to be like, 'OK, she's going into fight mode, and so am I baby.'

In Fusion, which I think is an early example of the narrative they force onto Samus later, she starts doing these diary entries where she's talking about her commander, and, oh no, all the judgement from all the other people on her team, and she's telling you about her feelings.

I personally don't like it, because I'm like, 'I don't want to know. I can make that stuff up, game.' And then when you get to Other M, you're like, 'Well, this is what they thought she was thinking the whole time? That's not what she was thinking, I know what she was thinking, I was in her head.' What're you doing?

Kirk: The character works as someone you can project onto really well. That's not to say she isn't a character — she comes in strong, her body language is nothing but confidence, she's getting the job done all the time. That says something about her, but it's really subtle and it allows for the player to do more work if they want to. The minute she starts talking and writing diary entries and sharing her thoughts, you're much more beholden to the whims of whoever might be writing her.

Maddy: It's interesting because I generally don't like cipher characters, your Links and your Master Chiefs, where I'm like, I don't know who this is really, I would like to see more. But with Samus, for whatever reason, I'm like please don't ruin this for me. I'm already good on not hearing her speak, really.


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