Despite becoming one of gaming’s greatest twists, and a defining moment within the industry, it may or may not come as a shock to learn that Samus Aran’s female gender was not a foregone conclusion. Development in fact began with Samus Aran as a male hero, albeit still in the suit, as was the standard at the time. The development team at Nintendo R&D1 in fact only decided on this right at the tail end of Metroid’s development. This is explained by Metroid and Samus co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto:
When we were almost done with the development of Metroid, one of our staffers casually suggested, ‘Why don’t we make Samus Aran a female character to surprise the player?’ Back then I thought it was a nice idea, but I couldn’t foresee what a huge impact this would have on the future of the franchise.
Despite this decision coming in the final moments of development, a great deal of thought and influence still went into the characterisation of Samus Aran. Given that the iconic sic-fi horror Alien was one of the primary influences for the overall game, you can easily see the influences that the film’s lead character Ellen Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver had on the character. In fact Sakamoto in an interview within the Japanese strategy guide for Super Metroid stated of Samus Aran:
Of course she’s a bit like Ripley from Aliens (Sigourney Weaver), but a little more extravagant.
The influence of Ripley was key to the development team, as like Ripley the development team wanted to express the character’s feminity without turning her into a sex object. This is something that has stayed with the developer’s throughout the series with this being reiterated by Nakamoto during the development of Metroid’s remake, Metroid: Zero Mission. In fact the original designs for Super Metroid had the character appear naked when she died, and a more feminine voice. Two decisions the team chose to remove in order to avoid the sexualisation of the character. Moreover, Ripley hasn’t been the only Hollywood influence R&D1 at Nintendo had when creating Metroid, with Sakamoto also stating that the character’s general appearance was influenced in some capacity by Kim Bassinger from 9 1/2 Weeks and My Stepmother is an Alien.
The decision to make Samus Aran female, and its subsequent impact, ended up being humongous to the gaming industry. In the final moments of the game when the twist is revealed, gamers around the world found their pre-conceived notions of the hero challenged, and were introduced to one of gaming’s first heroines. Arguably paving the way for the many leading female characters we still see today. Moreover, this decision has been a massive contributing factor to not only making Metroid the success it has become, but also to making Samus Aran one of the industry’s most loved characters. Despite this being a decision that came towards the tail end of development, this was a decisive and bold creative choice from Nintendo, one that bucked the trend of females in video games only being damsels in distress.