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Metroid fans have had a difficult few years. Since 2007’s Corruption concluded the Metroid Prime trilogy for the GameCube and Wii consoles, Nintendo has struggled to develop galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran, one of its most popular female protagonists, for next-generation consoles and storytelling. That’s why Rainfall Films’ “Metroid: The Sky Calls,” released Nov. 3, resonated with so many fans and trended across social networks after its YouTube release. Samus fans are desperate to see the character — virtually silent for most of her history — truly develop as a strong female lead in an exciting game universe.
To be fair, Nintendo has tried. The fully voiced Samus Aran of 2010’s Metroid: Other M marked a significant departure for the series, with lengthy monologues and an immersive back story taking players into her days with the Galactic Federation. But this Samus had nothing in common with the Samus fans had seen and imagined for nearly 30 years.
Gone was the commanding, often nonchalant, warrior who scoured the universe taking down Space Pirates and the parasitic Metroid species. During the game’s hours upon hours of cutscenes and flashbacks, the writers wasted their opportunity to develop Samus’s history of one woman against the cosmos — and all the trauma that entails. Instead, Other M gave fans a sentimental, deferential tagalong who oddly ceded her independent streak to cooperate exclusively with male Federation commander Adam Malkovich’s every command. Fans’ response to “The Sky Calls” shows that a well-crafted study of Samus as a female protagonist can do more in 11 minutes than an entire video game did in hours of gameplay.
The Nerdist’s Jessica Chobot delivers a stunning yet subdued performance as Samus, investigating a wayward Chozo signal on an abandoned planet. The mysterious Chozo, Samus’s adoptive species after her parents’ deaths at the hands of Space Pirates, disappeared from the galaxy leaving only artifacts and ruins to hint at their fate. Chobot’s Samus follows the signal to the planet’s surface, and fans can share her suspense as she discovers the meaning behind the signal.
There are moments where Chobot shows a little apprehension, even fear, but her Samus never loses her composure. She takes command of her situation even as Space Pirate raiders descend, searching out the signal for themselves. She dispatches them with the ease fans have come to expect from the bounty hunter.
“The Sky Falls” delivers the balance that a Metroid retelling needs: The emotional complexity of Samus’s personal history with the galaxy and her place in it while preserving the battle-tested mettle of a woman at war with herself as much as she is with the cosmos.
Nintendo could learn much from the short film, although the company appears hesitant to do more with Samus in the short term. A feature film planned since 2004 never saw the light of day. Even Metroid Prime: Federation Force, the latest Metroid game due out in 2016, doesn’t feature Samus as a protagonist. The main player is a marine in the Galactic Federation, and the core gameplay centers on cooperative missions with other marines—with Samus slated to appear as an NPC. The outcry is so significant, a petition on Change.org has even called for the game to be cancelled.
“The Sky Falls” is more than a shining example of fan art. The short film is a wake-up call — even a template — for how Nintendo can save one of gaming’s earliest and most important female protagonists. If the company can let go of Other M’s sentimentality and write a Samus who confronts her past while having agency in her present, then Nintendo will have successfully taken an IP too progressive for its time into an age of gaming where the sci-fi heroine can get the respect and craftsmanship she deserves.
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