Is Zero-Suit Samus sexist?

Samus Aran combines sensuality and femininity in one hell of a sexy package.

In the latest Nintendo Direct, Metroid fans were given a great look at her updated new design with the Zero Suit appearing even tighter and a pair of 6″ heels to help power up her kicks.

Ever since Samus Aran‘s debut in Metroid, players have demanded to see the sexier side of her character. And let’s be honest, no one really cares about her personality or her back story. As Nintendo’s hottest character it’s great to see her finally getting to show off her sensual side to fans.

Yeah…, we’re not doing this anymore and I wouldn’t even be surprised if most readers stopped right after the top three paragraphs.

Body suits have a way of messing with our heads, and Zero Suit Samus reappearance in the new Smash Bros brings up all kinds of issues with her design and character. It isn’t that the designers gave her a pair of rocket-powered heels to power her up or that they actually made her bodysuit tighter, it’s that the Samus we know has been replaced by this.

The Zero Suit made its first appearance on the GameBoy Advance in Metroid: Zero Mission as the bodysuit she wears underneath her power suit. Without any of the power, ability, or strength of her larger shell, the skin-tight suit leaves her vulnerable. There’s nothing between her and the world outside making her physically weaker than she is in the armor.

Samus Aran was once a colonist, but when her mother and father were killed she turned to a life of intergalactic bounty hunting. However, the journey of self-discovery she goes through is a long one. Inside of the armor, Samus is one of the most powerful fighters in the universe, but her power extends beyond the technology enveloping her.

Entering into the Intergalactic Police soon after her colony was destroyed, she found herself quickly rising through the ranks. Only one in a million people are able to join the police force, and Samus is the youngest person to make the cut. Ever. Samus has a kind of power few others possess, but does sexualization undercut that?

A pretty cool background follows Samus, but a lot has happened to undercut her independence as a character.

A pretty cool background follows Samus, but a lot has happened to undercut her independence as a character.

Sexuality Vs. Utility

Can someone be sexually attractive and keep their authority? In video games, the two usually don’t go hand-in-hand, but there are some exceptions. Bayonetta is horribly powerful and can use her powers to destroy your face, but she’s a character that is heavily, heavily sexualized. However, does her sexualization have utility?

Some may argue that Bayonetta cannot be a sexist character as she was designed by a woman, but anyone who engages in critical thinking about characters knows this is no defense. During the game, she uses her dark powers to defeat enemies and in doing so strips away her bodysuit made of living hair. While she becomes more powerful, the loss of control takes away her defenses leaving her vulnerable to attack. The point being, her fashion has utility and its sexuality is more a function of gameplay than it is of blatant eye-catching.

When Samus has her power suit taken away, she remains a powerful individual; however, her skin-tight bodysuit plays no role improving or increasing her functionality as a bounty hunter.

Design documents of the Zero-Suit.

Design documents of the Zero-Suit.

Unlike Bayonetta, Samus’s Zero Suit mode, however skimpy it is, has little to no use other than giving players something to look at. This is even something the Smash Bros. team had noticed and they attempted to power her up with rocket-powered heels. Seriously? Heels?! That’s like empowering a Women’s Rights activist with a battle apron.

It becomes less a question of the Zero-Suit’s blatant sexualization and more a question of whether it’s actually viable for her – a human – to use during battle. It makes her faster, but it provides no defense, no abilities, and no real use. Bayonetta’s suit is part of her character and she uses it to form the creatures that help her defeat bosses. The Zero-Suit has Zero-Use, excuse the pun.

This is the Zero Suit's new appearance in Smash Bros. on the Wii U and 3DS.

This is the Zero Suit’s new appearance in Smash Bros. on the Wii U and 3DS.

Male Vs. Female

There’s also a question here about the sexualization and utility of sexuality in male characters in video games. Unlike female characters, when male characters are sexualized they usually find ridicule as the main reaction from audiences.

The characters of Muscle March, for example, elicit this kind of, “Oh, they’re so buff and naked LOL”. This kind of sexualization of male characters is seen throughout video games with muscle-laden individuals giving their young players insane expectations for how they should look.

Can't say I've ever wanted to look like these guys, but that alien costume is rather fetching.

Can’t say I’ve ever wanted to look like these guys, but that alien costume is rather fetching.

The problem is that male characters get away with simple ridicule while female characters can have their entire identities changed by their sexuality. Think about Samus Aran. It’s hard to imagine her just with the power armor facade. The image we have of her now – instead of the able bounty hunter dawning a suit – is of the powered-down tightly-dressed female below.

By undressing Samus and making her look like the image below, her characters has been damaged by sexualization without a purpose. The problem for Samus is that she has no way of co-opting this sexualization either. As noted during the Nintendo Direct presentation, she’s weak and had to be powered up in order to keep up with the other characters.

Did Zelda need a pair of heels? Does Princess Peach need a beach costume? Does Nana from the Ice Climbers need a sexy, new parka? It’s only Zero-Suit Samus that required tuning up and it was in the form of a pair of heels that would change her posture and give her bigger breasts.

Imagine the uproar from players if any of the game’s characters were changed without a real purpose?

This is the first apperance of the Zero Suit in Metroid: Zero Mission on the GBA.

This is the first apperance of the Zero Suit in Metroid: Zero Mission on the GBA.

Whether Zero-Suit Samus is sexist remains a debate that can be contested, but fans of the series must admit that the changes to her character serve no real utility other than sexy-ing up her character.

As empowering as her character’s story can be and as powerful as Samus is on her own and within her power armor, game designers are still focused more on her looks than her actual character. It’s kind of disheartening to see her becoming more and more sexualized throughout the years.

The moment players reached the end of the first Metroid and discovered the protagonist they were controlling was female must have been a startling moment, but unfortunately soon enough our brains stop thinking about her as a female character and more of a pinup model in a space bikini.

Yep.

Yep.

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9 thoughts on “Is Zero-Suit Samus sexist?

  1. “Samus’s Zero Suit mode, however skimpy it is, has little to no use other than giving players something to look at. […] fans of the series must admit that the changes to her character serve no real utility other than sexy-ing up her character.”

    As a bit of a space nerd, and huge fan of Samus besides, I feel the need to contest this.

    TL;DR: Consider where Samus spends most of her time when not busting up Space Pirate bases: if you’re aware of the nature of space’s atmosphere, the Zero Suit actually makes perfect sense, and it’s difficult to see it as eye-candy unless whoever’s portraying it at the time is intending to do just that. (Looking at you, Other M…)

    Basically, without some sort of pressure being placed on the body, the combination of zero gravity, zero degrees, and vacuum exposure will cause the human body to swell rapidly as any superficial moisture from the body evaporates, all the while decompression is robbing it of oxygen, followed in seconds by loss of consciousness; what oxygen and fluids do remain in the body will cause blood to “boil”. That’s about the limit of my knowledge, but I’ve no doubt there’s more to it than that. All in all, nasty stuff happens, and without something compressing the body, a person will be very lucky to be alive after 90 under those conditions.

    Today’s spacesuits are good at avoiding all of that, but they have a major flaw: they use air pressure which is maintained from within the suit to do so. If even the topmost layer is punctured or torn, which may not be difficult depending on how much debris is floating around (and it need only be the size of a pebble to pose a threat) or the nature of whatever work an astronaut is doing outside their shuttle, all of that air and pressure will be lost in an instant. Combine that with how much the suit hampers mobility, and the prognosis of an astronaut with a damaged suit outside their ship isn’t pretty.

    As an alternative, skin-tight spacesuits actually are being designed – and they are intended to be *completely* skin-tight, as any gaps between the suit and the skin will cause the swelling effect to kick in until the gap is filled, courtesy of the decompression effect outer space provides. Presumably they are also being designed to be highly tear- and puncture-resistant, and they are definitely designed to mitigate the effects either would have. As far as I know, modern spacesuits actually do have a skin-tight suit as an under-layer, but I believe it’s to maintain body temperature more than aught else. I have a link regarding these suits, as described by their designers, if it interests you; I’m just withholding it in case the message system mistakes me for being a spam bot if I post a link without approval. 😛

    I won’t pretend to know what exactly Samus’ Zero Suit is used for, but I think it’s safe to say it does have some protective qualities, probably even more so than what these new skin-tight spacesuits would have, on account of Samus having access to better tech than we do. That, and it’s hard to imagine how, in Zero Mission, she could survive getting shot repeatedly by Space Pirates and not have it torn at all (which would be easy to just handwave if the ZS designer did want to go a fanservice route for it).

    All that said – and thank you for putting up with my nattering, if you have – I will admit that the addition of high heels to her design is…bizarre, to say the least. I think, again, it has more to do with Other M being a problematic portrayal of Samus all on its own; I know the original designer of the ZSmade a point of *not* adding high heels to it; a translated version of the “Development Room” pic you posted mentioned they would be impractical, and instead went for a subdued padding that didn’t seem to go any higher than, say, hiking boots. I’m very confident that the original designer never intended the heels to go as high as they do now. (Which makes me wonder where on Earth Yoshio Sakamoto was when the games were being developed….)

    But, with the Zero Suit itself or Samus’ wearing it, I have no problems at all–only with those who treat it as little more than some fetish tool. It’s certainly far more practical than the bikini she *used* to be in! xD

    • That’s a lot of science, but
      1. The skin tight space suits being considered simply don’t look like the latexish suit Samus was given (for that matter, diver wetsuits don’t look like what she wears either). They’re tight against the skin, but they have more obvious thickness, and they’re constructed in a heavily segmented fashion (that’s sort of the point). Samus simply looks like she was dipped in latex. People have modeled the various skin-tight proposed suits, and it’s fair to say… no they do not hug the buttocks and breasts the way Samus’ current suit does.
      2. While engineering can perhaps be used to try to excuse the Zero suit, let’s not kid ourselves that it was introduced because someone was thinking about aerospace engineering. The original designs up above have a note in Japanese that points to her rear end saying (translated) “I’m going to enjoy drawing this!!!” It was Sakamoto’s intent sexualize her from the moment he thought up the Zero suit. With none of the others that worked on the original games still around, he was allowed to do so. Meanwhile Retro Studios’ desexualized Samus completely mopped the floor with him in sales numbers. But Sakamoto was a part of Metroid off-and-on from the beginning (although it’s absolutely incorrect to say he was Samus’ creator), and Retro Studios was just a bunch of Americans, so even though his attempts to push her sex appeal resulted in games that sold worse than Retro’s more respectful fare, Nintendo appears to be still siding with Sakamoto. Pity.

  2. Yeah I’d agree, its the heels that are weird. If I were to choose a definite unnecessary sexist thing about her costume, it’s that.

  3. I don’t understand how going from a bikini to the Zero Suit is a sexist move. They’re covering up more parts of her body. That sounds more like personal taste then an out-and-out sexism problem. I personally don’t think Samus in the Zero Suit is particularly sexy. Attractive perhaps but that’s more because I like Samus as a character overall, not just because of the way she looks.

    The heels have been pointed out as powering up her kicks and jumps. Samus has no problem in terms of speed – she’s very athletic and presumably she has training regimens to keep her physical condition on top form. The fact that she’s less powerful in terms of physical strength actually does have a decent explanation. her Power Suit relies almost entirely on projectile weaponry like Plasma Shots and Missiles. There’s very rarely a need for her to go toe-to-toe with any opponent and if she even tried it they’d simply mop the floor with her. Her Power Suit is also implied to be fairly thing and hollow, meaning it’s light enough for her athletic abilities to be useful. The Rocket-Heels actual design may simply hint that they’re not actually part of her normal Zero Suit and that she’s specifically wearing them for Smash Bros. I don’t think they’re going to be in future Metroid games unless there are WAY more missions where Samus decides to forgo her Power Suit. Even if she did, I seriously doubt that kicking and jumping on her enemies would suddenly become a viable means of attack.

    The Zero Suit itself is also implied to be connected to her Power Suit. At the start of Other M she is already in the Zero Suit and she seems to “summon” her Power Suit from seemingly nowhere, suggesting that without her Z-Suit she either can’t summon it or it’s simple personal preference. In addition it probably gives her some ability to better adjust to different atmospheric conditions and also has comfort uses. The Power Suit is made of several seperate moving pieces, these will tend to chafe and catch, so the Zero Suit reduces that by providing an extra surface for the Power Suit to catch instead.

    In terms of what the designers were thinking? I’m assuming Sakurai added the heels because if Samus’ feet suddenly started shooting flames people would be thinking “wtf”. Fantasy characters can simply say that they’re using a specific type of magic, whereas Samus is from a Sci-Fi universe and those sorts of universes demand an explanation where possible. Plus it means adding the heels makes it seem like a more minimalist alteration – she’s functionally the same character as previously just with the extra boots.
    in terms of the Other M heels choice I can’t say. It’d be nice if we could actually talk to the developers and just ask what they thought.

    Just to reiterate my thoughts, I like Samus as a character and I don’t care what she looks like. Other M rounded her personality a bit by revealing that, yes like us, she has feelings and gets scared sometimes. I think it makes her all the stronger when she does overcome these moments of weakness. And I don’t care how she looks either, so long as she kicks ass.

  4. The jet boots aren’t boots they’re heels and the creator of samus said specifically to not put heels on her and they put heels on her Nintendo needs to remember that kids play this game

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