One of the biggest points of both joy and contempt in the comic book world is when a character is redesigned. This is a fairly common practice; costumes and physical features will receive an update depending on the current market or the artist handling the series. A perfect case study for this is the evolution of the X-Men since their first appearance in 1963. From yellow jerkins to shiny armor to black leather, every character in this series has had several make-overs, and not always for the better (see: Kitty Pryde’s various incarnations).
These sorts of updates occur in the video game world as well, often during a console generation shift. Better resolution and processing speed provide developers with stronger tools to render characters and their outfits. Classic armor and accessories can be further detailed, and the designs from concept art are better translated to the screen. Nintendo’s bevy of beloved characters has been through some changes over the years, but these iconic designs have remained mostly stable since their inception. One odd exception is the heroine of the Metroid series, Samus Aran.
Since her debut in 1986, the armor that Samus wears has gone through several minor upgrades, but nothing too drastic as to change the basic design of her suit (the sole exception being the Fusion Suit). However, underneath the power armor that so many players have come to recognize as Samus (or “Metroid” for the less informed), the woman at the helm has changed considerably.
For the first three Metroid titles, players were only presented a clear glimpse of the heroine if they completed the game in record time. Despite each of these games providing a progressively more detailed look at Samus, she was always presented as a fit blonde woman in some sort of two-piece. Virtually none of the merchandising or supplementary material presented Samus outside of her armor. In fact, the very idea that Samus is a woman was kept as a secret in the original Metroid. But in the hallowed pages of Nintendo Power, readers were given plenty of time to look at a rather different Samus Aran.
A comic based on Super Metroid made its debut in February 1994; the first part of five hitting in Issue #57. This story was illustrated by Benimaru Itoh, the same artist who handled the Star Fox comic for Nintendo Power (along with plenty of other character designs throughout gaming history). Remarkable for its colorful and detailed artwork, this story features plenty of Samus’s previously unknown past. This comic also had the distinction of frequently showing Samus without her armor.
Within the first pages of the story, Samus can be seen getting ready around her (rather spartan) home base. Unlike the bikini-clad blonde of the past, this version of Samus has purple-hued hair and wears an athletic body suit beneath her armor. She is presented as a very headstrong and forceful woman, who will fiercely defend the things she holds dear. This redesign of Samus would also appear in the Super Metroid strategy guide, where her listed height and weight(6’3″-198 lbs.) would further illustrate her as a female powerhouse.
Since that time, Samus has gone through other updates; returning to her blond hair and fair features in Metroid Prime, and gaining a new bodysuit in Metroid: Zero Mission. The aptly named “Zero Suit” has become the default design for Samus outside of her armor, even beyond the Metroid series in Super Smash Brothers. Speaking personally, I much prefer the more athletic-wear look of the Super Metroid comics to the skin-tight latex of the Zero Suit. It seems more functional (not to mention comfortable) and a bit less like fan-service than her Smash Brothers counterpart. Then again, what do I know? Maybe space-high-heels are the way to go.
Many thanks to the Metroid Database for the wealth of great images that are featured in this post. Additionally, they have hosted the entire Super Metroid comic for your reading pleasure. Check it out!
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