“All combat units are instructed to terminate Aran on sight, preferably in a fashion that will allow salvage of her powered armorsuit and weapons. A considerable bounty will go to the unit who delivers Aran to Command. Dead or alive, it matters not.” —Alert issued by Pirate Security Command, from Metroid Prime
Out of curiosity, how many of you remember how when Metroid was first released in the U.S. in 1987, Samus’s gender identity was kept a secret? For the first months after the game was released, NES players believed Samus was a man in a cybernetic suit or even a robot. I guess even the game’s instruction booklet refers to her as “him.” It wasn’t until players started beating the game in less than an hour and being treated to the ending where Samus stands waving with her armor off that everyone was like, “waaaait… that’s a girl.”
In a way, I suppose that could be added to the list of possible qualifications for effective women’s armor: if it’s not immediately clear it’s a woman wearing it. Maybe?
I’ll confess that I was never very good at the Metroid games. I played Metroid II on the Game Boy most extensively, but I died a lot and never could quite beat the final boss. But I always found something compelling about the heroine Samus: a badass bounty-hunter girl with awesome battle armor and a big gun, hunting down space pirates and alien bugs. I think my favorite aspect of her character was that she never had anything to prove—she’s serious and businesslike about every mission, at no point attempting to righteously justify her battles nor show that she’s tougher than all the guys. I appreciate that in a heroine.
As one of Nintendo’s most popular heroines, a quick Google image search will provide a myriad of images of Samus’s various battle suits, but this digital painting by Ivan Flores is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. The detail work in the battle damage, as well as the trickle of blood from her head injury make for a compelling image of a strong warrior woman.
The armor depicted here is the Varia Suit, which is easily the most iconic of Samus’s battle suits. Indeed, as best I can tell it shows up in every game Samus has been featured in. I poked around a bit, but couldn’t find any information on what Samus’s armor is made from nor the various technical specifications (the later possibly being because so much about the armor varies in each game). I like that the armor covers every part of her, with no attempt at sexualization in any way. No boob-plate, no cleavage window, no bare midriff: this is about as all-around protective as armor can get.
How strong and durable the Varia armor is varies from game to game (as does its appearance). In general it offers greater damage reduction than the base armor as well as protection from extreme temperatures (and possibly against the vacuum of space, trying to confirm that one). With the right power-ups, it also allows Samus to morph into a ball, stick to walls, or space jump (power-ups also vary from game to game).
The massive shoulder pauldrons are likely the most recognizable feature of the Varia, offering protection of her head as well as shoulder joints (in the schematics for Super Metroid, they almost look to contain power sources). Despite their size, these appear to be situated as not to obstruct her peripheral vision nor range of arm movement. The rest of the armor appears solid where it needs to be solid and flexible at the joints for superior freedom of movement. Similarly, the segmented plating at the waist offers an effective balance of protection and flexibility.
The second most iconic feature of Samus’s Varia armor is the gun arm over her right hand (as before, these vary depending on the game). This bad-boy could do it all. It had numerous energy weapons, such as the freeze beam, wave beam, wide beam, and countless others; plus it could be charged to fire an extra-powerful beam. Additionally, it could reconfigure instantly to house various missile weapons. In Super Metroid and other games, it also had a grappling beam power-up that allowed Samus to cling to or swing from various surfaces.
Samus’s boots and helm incorporate some pretty cool gadgets as well (also varies depending on the game). The boots gain power-ups that allow super-high jumps as well as super-speed sprints. On top of keeping our huntress’s pretty head intact, the helm allows her to breathe in hazardous environments, and offers a heads-up display, enhanced vision, x-ray vision, infrared vision, and night vision. All excellent features for raiding pirate bases or exploring subterranean catacombs on alien worlds.
I’ll admit that the Varia’s coloration makes me wonder if Tony Stark’s Iron Man battle armor was part of the inspiration behind Samus’s battle suit. (And I’d not be surprised if Iron Man/Samus cross-over slash-fiction exists.) But all in all I think Samus Aran’s armor remains one of the most impressive and most iconic examples of mechanized armor out there.