Back in the day, Metroid was my game. I loved jumping into the power suit and taking Samus for a spin. Part of what I loved about Metroid was that it wasn't just a standard side-scroller, there was some actual thought that had to go into the game to succeed.
I spent countless hours and days playing and re-playing until that fateful day when I finally succeeding in beating the game in less than 3 hours and discovered that my beloved hero was in fact a woman.
You're probably thinking to yourself "dude, that's not news, we already knew that...." But did you know that the truth of Samus' history isn't quite that simple?
When the team at Nintendo began developing Metroid, they took inspiration from several different areas of pop-culture with a primary focus on the world developed by the film, Alien. The goal was to create a game that set players in a nonlinear adventure-based game. This was accomplished by making exploration a key to succeeding, often requiring players to retrace their steps and progress both left and right to complete the stage.
After Nintendo pioneered the idea of tool acquisition to strengthen your character thanks to The Legend of Zelda, Metroid was quick to follow in the same vein. The game allowed characters to keep the power-ups through the entire game; even going so far as to require certain powers to finish the game. Then at some point in the game's development one of the developers asked a simple question, and it would eventually rock our understanding of reality. The question was, "Hey, wouldn't that be kind of cool if it turned out that this person inside the suit was a woman?" From that point on, the idea was incorporated into the game.
It was all dependent on completion time how much you learned about Samus when the end screen rolls. If you couldn't complete the game in under three hours, you wouldn't know that Samus was a woman, as you would only see Samus in the standard power suit either facing forward or backward waving (depending on if you completed in under 10 hours or not).
By completing the game in under 5 hours but more than three, you would see Samus was a woman by her face. By completing the game in under 3 hours, you would see Samus in the 'Justin Bailey" suit (this could also be seen by entering a specific cheat code "JUSTIN BAILEY" and would allow you to play the game without the standard power suit). Completing the game in under an hour would bring Samus out in a pink bikini.
This reveal was a shock to many fans, but it remains one of the greatest character reveal for generations of gamers. So we know how the developers chose to make Samus a female character, but why was it such a big deal?
This is where it gets confusing. The game was initially developed in Japan, and when the game manuals were being created they contained pronouns like "it" rather than "he" or "she". At the time, the Japanese language focused on gender-neutral pronouns which when translated into the American manuals was written as "he." Now, nobody is really sure whether this was an attempt by the development and distribution teams to keep the truth of Samus a secret from the mass populace until the game was completed quickly. Yet, it could simply have been a simple translation error.
So what is Samus, really? Well, that's honestly still a highly debated topic. In the mid '90s there were a collection of biography cards published about each member of the development team released as a part of the Japanese Super Metroid official guide. Inside, one of the original character designers, Hirofumi Matsuoka, was asked if there was any secrets that he knew about Samus and his answer was:
"Samus isn't a woman. As a matter of fact, she's actually a newhalf."
The term 'newhalf' is a Japanese slang term that refers to a transgender woman or transvestite, which roughly matches 'shemale' in English. This comment has raised a heated debate as some fans cite this as proof of Samus being a trans woman, while others dismiss it as a crude joke thanks to a contradiction from Yoshio Sakamoto, one of the series co-creators, when he said:
"Metroid was as likely to come to PS2 as Samus was to be a transvestite."
What is the Truth?
Whether we'll ever know what's really going on with Samus and his/her orientation, but it's fun to have the conversation.