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May 8, 2014

Ruminations on the Big N’s Blondes

Hey guys!  Want to see me whack a beehive with a hockey stick?  Then let me ask you a question: how do you feel about Zero Suit Samus’ new design?

I’m going to come right out and say it: I think it’s all right.  The high heels are an interesting addition, and one that I wouldn’t have made, but hey.  It’s there, and it’s just a tweak to a character that’s already pretty cool.  But I think the best part of the redesign is ZSS’s face, and head in general; HD graphics have served her well, and believe it or not that’s the part of her I keep zeroing in on.  Now, if only the rest of the internet could do the same, we’d be set.

Then again, it seems like these days there’s always something to rally behind -- some trivial, others…not so much.  Given that I buried my face in my hands and shook my head when I heard that there’s going to be a movie reboot of Power Rangers by the dark forces behind movies like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, I’m probably no better than anyone else out there.

Though in my defense…really, Hollywood?  Really?

(See?  They don't like it, either.)

I was thinking about saying “Didn’t we already have this discussion with Dragon’s Crown?”  But thinking back to that, I don’t think there was ever a definitive conclusion to that argument.  The problem was brought up, and despite opinions being fired everywhere at everyone, it’s safe to say that nothing really came from it.  Hell, one of my posts on the subject ended up on Destructoid’s front page (before getting buried under news on the then-irredeemable Xbox One), and I still don’t know for sure if it had an effect.  Or if everyone who read it got the point. 

So it’s only natural that it would show up again, and you’d see stuff like “the new ZSS is sexist, and here’s why” all over the internet.  I’ve already made my peace with the subject in general, but as for the character’s look in question?  Let me just say this: ZSS is not the first fighting game heroine to be a tall, blonde, ponytail-slinging, skintight blue suit-slinking, high heel-kicking martial artist.  Why is it an issue now?  Pardon me for being an apologist, but I guess I see something different than others.  Apparently, something besides boobs.

Actually, I can answer that earlier question myself.  It’s an issue now because it’s being done to Samus…if you believe that something has been done to her (read: ruined or besmirched) in the first place, but let’s not get bogged down by semantics.  The first question that needs to be asked in this situation is “Does the Big N want to sexualize ZSS?”  I’d like to say no to that almost immediately, but then I look at some of the official screenshots that go out of their way to remind us that, yes, she’s got lady parts, and I just think to myself “Oh, that’s unfortunate.” 

But if they really wanted to make her any less of a character, I would think that they’d strip her of her style and ability, and leave her tucked away in a corner somewhere.  I was under the impression that sexism implied treating someone worse because of their gender.  And however many missteps have been made, I don’t think Nintendo has any direct intentions of treating their premiere bounty hunter worse.  Especially now that she can apparently do a Dragon Kick.

That’s still some seedy-ass territory, though (being able to fight =/= strong female character, as FF13’s Lightning has long since proven), but there is one thing that I have to ask: what do we really know about Samus?  I’m not trying to be facetious here; speaking personally, I don’t know anything about her, because my first (and last, incidentally) Metroid game was Metroid Prime. All I know for sure is that she’s a freakin’ tall blonde taken in by bird aliens, and went on to become a bounty hunter who fights aliens and doesn’t afraid of anything. 

And even that’s pretty suspect; how do we know for sure that during her adventures on Zebes or Brinstar or whatnot, Samus wasn’t panicking like crazy?  I sure as hell would have in her situation -- but then again, a bug buzzing by my ear is enough to make me leave whatever room I’m in.  So given that the dreaded Metroid: Other M was one of, if not THE first dedicated instance where we heard Samus’ thoughts, dialogue, and emotions, AND given that its story was penned by the Metroid mastermind himself (NOT Team Ninja, as so many would believe), what if we’ve had it wrong all this time?  What if the unbeatable, unflappable bounty hunter we’ve imagined since Day One all those years ago isn’t quite as perfect as we imagined?

I know I asked, but there’s already a pretty clear answer.  Samus was never perfect to begin with.  There’s no such thing as a perfect character, and it’s definitely not going to be her.

Even if you’re a master of the Metroid canon, there have to be gaps and blanks that can’t be filled with wikis alone.  That should seem obvious, but this is actually more critical than you think.  If we don’t know everything about Samus, then how can we be so certain that Samus herself would never wear those heels?  Okay, sure, her creators and designers are the ones with the ultimate control over her looks -- and her fate, though that’s hardly as important, amirite -- but by now I’d assume you know or have heard that “characters can take on a life of their own.”  They can do things in accordance with their beliefs and opinions that his/her creators wouldn’t even think of -- or to put it a different way, consistent characterization makes certain options viable or impossible. 

So what if, underneath that cool exterior (and Mega Man cosplay), it turns out that Samus actually LIKES wearing heels?  Setting practicality aside -- because, you know, video games -- what if she had them made to fulfill a function (rocket boots), but went an extra step and gave them a form that suits her fancy?  What if she enjoys putting on the Zero Suit, and that’s why she keeps popping up in it in games?  What if she’s got a passion for fashion?  What if she’s actually a heavily-armed, ridiculously-skilled version of Veronica from the Archie comics?  Can we really say with any clarity what she wears in her spare time, and how she feels about it?  I’ll tell you what we can never say: “She’s a cool, no-nonsense, badass bounty hunter…and nothing else.”  Not even this:

I guess that’s the problem with a canon, especially one that so many people have invested their hearts into.  People the world over may love Samus, but there’s always going to be a wall between what we think she is and what she really is.  That wall, I bet, is the creator solidified; so long as he and his cadre have control over the character, they get to decide what’s shown and what isn’t, all while making definitive statements on what counts and what doesn’t.  (Boo and hiss all you want, but Other M isn’t going to go away anytime soon.) 

I would think that by this point, a lot of thought has been put into Samus.  A whole lot -- all sorts of things that won’t even leave the creators’ minds, let alone consumer hands.  And there’s more; if the intent from here on out is to give gamers a glimpse into the character, and offer up the story Metroid…well, I won’t say needed, but it would still be appreciated…then the creators are going to have to bring more info and more revelations about their property into the light of day.  Even then, there are going to be some unknowable details -- well beyond the mechanics of her Power Suit, or the glimpses into her personal life.  We can make credible assumptions about what she is, but that wall is something we have no choice but to acknowledge.  And as long as that’s there, we’re going to have to accept with nervous smiles whatever the cadre throws our way.  It can’t be helped.  Usually.

Which brings me to the real subject of this post: I want to write a fanfic.

Those of you familiar with my posts -- at least those that are immune to the curse of TL;DR -- may know that in the past, I’ve made a very…interesting set of theories about the nature of Princess Peach. (Both of which, incidentally, made it to the front page of Destructoid.)  In hindsight, it was kind of a proposition made in jest, a la A Modest Proposal.  Honestly, I know damn well there’s no way Peach is some towering superhuman warrior princess, and it’d be crazy to ever think that the Big N would ever make a game like that.  I’d even think that they’ve got snipers on their payroll to keep dissenters in check.

But for one reason or another, people found my “interpretation” to be pretty great -- good for a laugh, I hope.  And that’s good.  I like that.  I want to be able to entertain people with my writing.  And beyond that, I had fun considering the possibilities; I even thought about making a third post about the relationship between Peach and Mario.  (I sure hope you guys aren’t thinking of what happens when Skitty and Wailord get together.)

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many opportunities there were.  See, the creator holding so many details close to the chest has a secret benefit: a beloved canon full of mysteries + a dedicated audience willing to ask perfectly logical questions + a willingness to venture into balls-out insane speculation and reimagining = narrative gold.  There Will Be Brawl did it once upon a time, after all -- with sexy results.    

Beyond that, it’s a chance to strike back at “selfish” creators; however slight, a fanfic is a chance for a mere peon -- the lowly, put-upon gamer -- to seize power, if only for a moment.  To take control, and do what no one else has the strength, skill, or wit ever would.  And that’s what I want to do -- admittedly, for my own selfish reasons.

Nothing would make me happier than being able to make as many people happy with my writing as possible, to the point where you could pretty much call it my dream (to a fault, no doubt).  Sure, I’ve got a blog -- though if you’re reading this, I’d like to think that the only other way to do so would be to tap into the darkest of dark magicks -- and some stuff written up there and elsewhere, but I’m not satisfied.  And I don’t see a reason why I should; I want as many people as I can to be entertained, and I’m more than willing to reach out to people to make that happen. 

But I’m not about to just scramble over the internet and shout “Hey guys!  Read my blog!” or “Guess what?  I’m writing ______!”  I’ll do that occasionally, but I’d prefer to avoid the shameless self-promotion if I can, unless I want to make a joke or try to end on a “funny” note.  I know I have to make people want to come see my stuff, by offering up something to draw them in.  And if people enjoy my cockamamie theories, then taking it up a notch might be the way to do it.

I will be up-front, though.  I don’t plan on starting this fanfic anytime soon, if at all.  Emphasis on if at all.  I want to write it, no question, but that’s something that would HAVE to have to stay on the backburner for a good while.  Months, at the very least.  (Novels and web fiction don’t write themselves, guys.)  I hope I can reach a point where I can put some real time into it, and go from keeping it in my head to putting it to virtual paper; maybe somewhere down the line, I’ll toss chapters of it over on Destructoid, and the fabled fanfiction.net.  But that point is still a ways away, no matter how much imagining I can do.  So until then, I want to do something constructive with the rest of this post.  I’ll spell out a few ideas I’ve been tossing around and see how you all react to it.  And after that, I’ll see if I can open the floor for some discussion.  More on that later.

For now, it’s probably best to focus on the facets of the currently (and perhaps indefinitely) hypothetical fanfic -- well among them, reconciling it with the canon.  Much like Metroid, there are plenty of things we don’t know about the Marioverse, mostly because the games have never put too much stock in telling a standard-fare story.  Details on some of the particulars are pretty scant (my brother once asked me if the Toads are mushroom people or just tiny misshapen Arabians in hats, and I couldn’t answer him). 

The only “canon” that one can go by, without resorting to wikis, is to follow the line of progression from game to game.  Mario 64 is one story arc, Sunshine is another, Galaxy adds more, and so on, be it forward movement (3D World) or backward (all the way back to the game that started it all).  If we think of it like that, there are plenty of opportunities -- ways to work the events and areas of those games into a single cohesive narrative.  Or elements from each can be picked and chosen, and used as needed.  They’re assets to use and adapt for a potential “reimagining” of the games we know.  Or think we know.

In any case, it’s safe to say that the fanfic won’t exactly be bound to the canon, and not just because of the obvious reasons.  The games offer up guidelines -- lines to trace and fill in with color and style.  Like I said, they’re assets, and they can be a springboard to help wild-eyed nutjobs get closer to making a rewarding -- if over-the-top -- story.  If the games left behind holes, they can be filled with theories.  We may not know everything, but we can sure as hell make interpretations, however silly, that can offer up some possible (if improbable) answers and scenarios.

And that’s especially true of Princess Peach.

I can tell you right now that not everything I said in those theory posts from before would go into the fanfic -- partly because some of them wouldn’t fit, and partly because I’ve thought of some better things in the time since.  She’s the same person on the outside, sure, but the critical part of the fanfic -- what would make it any good, if at all -- is that it’s important to be able to get a good insight into her; that’s especially true, given that A) as a character we know almost exclusively for getting kidnapped, she hasn’t made a good impression, and B) some real effort has to be put in to try and shift public opinion, as well as set the alternate story apart from the real one in an enjoyable way.  That sounds like a pretty tall order for someone who’s written a whopping twelve words of fan fiction.

But I think I can manage.  Taking a page out of Kamen Rider OOO’s playbook (which you should watch if you like good things and happiness for more reasons than this one), the core element of Fanfic-Peach’s character is “desire”.  It defines her weaknesses as well as her strengths; on one hand, she’s a person who’s never satisfied with the way things are, and always wants more out of life.  More challenges.  More accomplishments.  More glory.  More, and more, and more, to the detriment of others.  On the other hand, her desire lets her climb to higher plateaus, and be the best princess she can be.  And that rubs off on others; she wants them to be the best they can be, and she’ll gladly go out of her way to make that happen.  Like a royally-mandated race track.

Theoretically speaking, I don’t think I’d have to make a lot of sweeping changes for Fanfic-Peach’s personality.  Maybe a few tweaks here and there, sure, but as-is, she’s not a broken character.  Besides, it could offer up a huge contrast to what she could do; instead of making her some stoic super soldier, imagine if she was just the same general person -- cheery, easy-going (to a fault, at times), kind, and spirited. 

She’s a girly, pink-wearing, tea-sipping princess with a little sass to her; she just has to reconcile all that with the incredible disparity between her and her subjects.  How do you think it must feel to be surrounded by people inferior in every way?  How much frustration would Fanfic-Peach be saddled with, knowing that she’s responsible for people who just can’t keep up with her?  There’s potential in there, I’d say…even if those concepts have been explored elsewhere.

And on that note, there would probably be some mix-ups to some of the world-building elements.  One of the questions that would have to be answered is “Okay, how do the power-ups work?”  I might have come up with a solution, speaking solely in terms of a fanfic reinterpretation.  Imagine this: most of the Mushroom Kingdom’s people (Toads, Piantas, and whatnot) can’t use things like the Fire Flower.  But then you’ve got guys like Mario and Luigi -- branded “Supers” in-universe -- that can use them as you’d expect.  Change slightly, get to throw fireballs, can’t anymore when they take a hit. 

But Peach is different; by default, she’s got most of the power-ups stored up inside her, albeit a weaker version of them.  So on one hand, that could explain why she’s so friggin’ huge -- she’s been munching on a diet of Super Mushrooms for years, and that’ll happen, I guess -- and why she can do the things she can in the Smash Bros. games, like make the best of a highly-volatile ass.  But IF she were to, say, grab a Fire Flower out on the battlefield, it would give a drastic shift in her abilities and tool set…but only temporarily, and if she’s not careful she could leave herself exhausted.  The benefit, of course, is that she’d practically turn into the Human Torch.   

I’m not going to commit to that element just yet, but again, it is a possibility.  Tonally speaking, the idea would be to play as much as I can straight while adding in some much-appreciated humor; characters like Peach and Mario wouldn’t even flinch at the sights and insanity, but Luigi -- playing the role of straight man/audience surrogate would be one of the few characters to point out that there’s something unusual about a derrière that doubles as ordnance.

In a perfect world -- in a world where the fanfic was already written, and I could start scattering it across the internet -- I’d like to think that the appeal would come from just how absurd the story is.  If I can get people to shout “Oh snap!  No he didn’t!” or “Ahahaha!  No way!  Did that seriously just happen?” then it’s my win.  It means I’ve done something right.  The readers’ happiness -- laughter, excitement, and sudden inspiration to push out their own works and theories -- is what it’s all about. 

And the best way for me to do that, via this little project, is to make the unbelievable believable, but paradoxically making it even more unbelievable.  We’ve seen the characters and the world dozens of times before, and typically in the same slotted-in positions.  A fanfic is the chance to break the mold, and do what no one else would ever think of doing.  Even though there’s probably a reason why nobody would ever think of it, presumably following rationale beyond Nintendo’s elite gunmen. 

In any case, I can think of plenty of things I could do to break the mold -- way more than I’ve named here.  I could see myself giving Peach an objective she’s had her entire life, and an objective that would form a story-spanning arc: getting herself and the people of her kingdom into space, and as such trying to create the Mushroom equivalent of NASA.  (The Mario canon in space.  Think about what -- or who -- that would entail.)  I’ve got a revamp of Yoshi in mind that wouldn’t just make him a cute little dinosaur; he’d be a real-ass dinosaur with the mind and spirit and skill of a shaolin monk…as you’d expect from the one who saved Mario, once upon a time.  And Daisy?  I finally figured out what Daisy’s supposed to be.  And let’s just say it’s not exactly ideal.  So hopefully I can get to that someday.

Until then?  I’m still free to at least imagine the possibilities.  (Worst case scenario, my poppycock will make good fuel for future posts.)  So in the meantime, I figure this is as good a chance as any to open the floor.  Ask me questions that’ll help get me thinking, or just toss in your own observations.  Any suggestions on what I could do or use?  Has there been some piece of the Mario canon that’s always left you scratching your head?  Still thinking about Zero Suit Samus by virtue of me opening wounds left by Other M?  Then you know what to do.  Go ahead and leave a comment.  Say what you think needs to be said, while I get some ointment for all these bee stings.

And after that?  Well, the plan was to talk about boobs some more, but recent news is still on my mind.  So I guess I’d better expel this demon before it eats my soul and bends my carcass into a necklace.

All right.  Let’s see if I can say anything intelligent and not rage-fueled about a perfectly viable topic for a healthy discussion on


But not really.  I just generally disapprove of your strategy.


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  1. As a woman, I pretty much gave up arguing about how female characters are "supposed to be designed". I do think Zero Suit Samus' added heels look absolutely stupid, not on the basis that it's objectification or impractical. It's an added accessory that pretty much exists for aesthetics... and it looks stupid. The colors match her attire for the most part - minus the neon yellow, but the redesign is just a redesign. It adds no value to the character or gameplay style, unless Nintendo is going to say that the detachable-looking-heels give her kicks ultimate strength to split a planet in half.

    Another thing to consider: there are far more female characters who look so much worse. female characters who look like strippers, who are designed outrageously for fanservice, who are forced onto players without giving them other options. But this new Samus? You don't have to play her. Plus, she still looks like a lady who can blow your head off if you look at her funny.

    The most important thing is how the character is written. Both your discussion of creating a fanfic about Princess Peach and questioning Samus' personality are on the nose with that point. It can be serious or often comedic. Honestly, I'd like more fiction to have crazily designed female characters, who are very likable, and mock/make fun of the art design of their appearance. It would work best in a tongue-in-cheek or humorous genre so such self-awareness can be appreciated, called to attention, and laughed at lightly. Because the last thing we need is more of the continuous, never-ending waterfall of shit-talk and bitching in debates with no willingness to come up with solutions or ease the pressure.

    Power Rangers reboot? What an awful day. Not to mention Oblivion made you nearly murder your brother. Hang on, man... *pats back sympathetically*

  2. In all fairness, I think the news of a Power Rangers reboot bothers me a lot more than Oblivion ever could. Granted I've only watched about 1.54 episodes from the more recent seasons, but when I think of what Power Rangers could/should be, I -- if you'll let me be THAT GUY -- look to the Super Sentai counterparts (and Kamen Rider, natch). Those are what a theoretical reboot should aspire toward...but something tells me that's not what we're going to get.

    I could be wrong though. I sure hope I'm wrong. Either way, I hope they give the movie a great theme song, and not just an "epic" orchestral/dubstep remix of the Mighty Morphin' theme. It's good, but it's time to let that bow out -- especially when there are some absolutely GODLIKE themes to draw inspiration from. Like so:



    But back on topic. I hear you on the whole "stripper design" front; I may be a guy, but I prefer good character design, and I'm not about to let some scanty ladies throw me off my game...since I'd argue that you shouldn't be paying attention to a character's looks unless you want your ass peeled like an onion (AKA why it's easy to look past the chests in a Dead or Alive match). On the other hand, take the character out of an action sequence -- show off some art or whatever -- and it's not as easy to look past the...well, looks.

    I've got more to say on the subject vis a vis a couple of posts, so I'll hold off on saying anything else for now to avoid repeating myself. Incidentally, most of my examples are from fighting games. It's almost as if I've played too many of them over the course of my life!

    Though for now, I'll say this: I see what you're getting at when you ask for more crazy female designs. I see this a lot in 3D animated films; the guys can look as abstract or unusual as you can imagine, but get to a CG lady and they're comparatively...bland. Good-looking, sure, but not all that visually distinct compared to the others. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a good example of this; one Google search will tell you plenty. Same goes for Monsters vs. Aliens (to the extreme). Same goes for a number of Pixar and Disney movies, no doubt. And going back to video games? I will argue till the day I die that there need to be more female grapplers, a la Zangief or Tager. It's a real issue, and it's clear that I'm not the only one who's noticed it.

    Now, actually doing something about it...

  3. I think one of the biggest strikes against the rocket heels is the fact high heels are effectively a fashion torture device. Though Samus is already a tall girl to start (and most women use them ascetically to gain a few inches in height at the cost of crippling discomfort)

    There aren't a lot of equivalents for guys, we don't make habit of discomforting ourselves for the sake of fashion. We simply aren't that dedicated. Thing is Samus doesn't strike me as a Fashionista. I think Low heels have been proven to aid in staying light on your feet (the theory being your foot is in a perpetual state of 'half sprung'. Think of Ballet and how dancers work on the balls of their feet.)

    High heels though? Not likely. That's just mouth-breathing devs thinking she looks hawt in them. As for the rest of Samus? I've always had the head cannon she was a bombshell that could kick anyone's ass. The armor less code of Metroid for NES made that clear. There's a lot of speculation flying about they 'padded' her a bit more. I'm dismissing this as new model, new engine, new design. Are we gonna start thinking too much into Peaches measurements now?

    I agree with you on one point though, the important past is Samus in motion. As long as she isn't sticking her butt out in a saucy way whenever she fires her holdout pistol and doesn't 'tee hee', we're golden. Samus don't play that, she leaves the tea parties to Peach.

    There's actually a good triad in Samus, Zelda and Peach. All three of them are feminine in their own right but they approach it in different ways. Zelda, since her showing in Brawl has defined herself as serious and regal and I'm glad they separated Sheik and her as characters.

    I didn't hate Other M as much as most did, because it did manage to demonstrate Samus isn't a puppies and butterflies sort of girl. Peach is one and there's nothing wrong with that. In and out of their natural games all three of Nintendo's leading ladies have had time to shine. (Peach you have to go into Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi) Not gonna complain till I see the finished products.

  4. Fair point on the heels. I can't imagine what it must be like to wear them -- maybe like walking on knives? -- but if they're as impractical as I hear, I can understand why people would take issue with Samus suddenly donning them. Beyond that, I've seen concept art that points out Samus' feet in the Zero Suit, i.e. that she should NEVER wear heels...but then again, Other M supposedly reversed that, even if they didn't draw as much attention vis a vis bright yellow highlights.

    You know, it's weird, though. People are up in arms about Samus' look and apparent sexualization in Smash Bros. Soooooooooo...has everyone just overlooked the fact that Peach has been fighting in heels since she made her debut in Melee? And she might as well be Mademoiselle Panty Shot, especially considering that using her taunt on Icicle Mountain takes ALL the guesswork out of what she's packing?

    I hold the princess in higher esteem than most, but I wouldn't mind it if she got her own game (again) to -- negative implications aside -- fix her standing in the public eye. Just imagine: a character action game by Platinum Games starring Princess Peach. Boom. Everyone wins.

    Buuuuuuuuuut back on topic. Yeah, you've got a good point; part of the beauty of Smash -- and fighting games in general -- is that the characters can express themselves as well as, or even better than, a string of words. Samus is cool, Zelda is classy, Peach is flirty; two of the three may be princesses, but they're as different as their games of origin. As long as the Big N doesn't lose their heads, then they're always going to be worthy of respect.

    Real talk, though? I gotta play the crap out of Wii Fit Trainer. And Villager. And Rosalina. I am quite literally choking on my hype.