With the release of Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS right around the corner, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to talk about something that really bothered me about the game, namely Zero Suit Samus’ dumb high heels. A design choice that makes the strongest female character in the industry into “just a girl.”
Now for readers unfamiliar with Smash Bros or the Metroid game franchise allow me to fill you in. Samus Aran is the main character of Metroid and she is essentially Nintendo’s Batman. After her parents were killed, she took to fighting injustice on an intergalactic level because she just hates to see people suffer. She’s strong, skilled, a quick thinker; essentially everything that makes up an excellent hero despite being bound to a powered battle suit to fight some of the larger than life baddies.
Considering she was Nintendo’s first heroine and probably the best heroine in gaming history, it raises the question as to why Nintendo suddenly decided to “girl-ify” her. I noticed it while playing the most recent Metroid game Other M: upon dying, Samus’ suit breaks off revealing her in a blue skin-suit also referred to as her “Zero Suit.”
In almost every other iteration of the Zero Suit, Samus has flat-soled, practical boots, but in Other M her suit has 8-inch heels attached to them. In the upcoming Smash Bros. release these heels are more defined than ever, appearing like techno-punk stilettos.
The unfortunate reality is that Samus has always been a sexualized character based on the nature of her design; a slender, curved body and blonde hair. The problem lies in introducing a superficial product to make her appear more sexualized for no practical reason other than that “she’s a girl and girls wear heels.” Oddly enough, in the previous version of Smash Bros, the Zero Suit Samus suit had practical flat-soled boots. The Zero Suit itself is only used in stealth segments, so how is she sneaking around while clomping around in heels? The addition of heels came only after Other M, which fans criticized harshly for diminishing Samus’ character to a helpless girl who needed to be rescued by big, strong men.
The climate of gaming is changing and gamers both male and female alike are demanding stronger, more active female characters. It’s bizarre that rather than try to move with the times publishers still cling to outdated ideals not just about gender roles, but gender appearances; even Nintendo went so far as to take their strongest female character and reduce her to a stereotype. It’s very telling, and exactly what female game journalists like Jenn Frank and Anita Sarkeesian are getting crucified for trying to expose, receiving rape and death threats online for daring to suggest there’s a problem of misogyny in the community.
Rather than hear the outrage of their fans, Nintendo chose to ignore these problems, continuing to tack on outdated idealism to their only real heroine. Why this problem continues to exist in the triple-A gaming industry is a mystery. Fortunately it primarily seems to exist in the mass distribution games, as more and more indie developers are cashing in on the dollars big publishers lose by alienating their female fanbase. Hopefully, they’ll feel the sting bad enough to usher in some serious change in the mainstream gaming market or risk fading away into obscurity.