In August 1986, Nintendo would release Metroid for Famicom Disc System in Japan and for the PlayerChoice-10 Arcade machine in North America. Metroid would go onto to be known as the first video game featuring a female protagonist. I would go onto to say this fact is wrong right now. The release of Ms. Pac-Man on February 3rd, 1982 predates Samus’s appearance by over 4 years. I don’t know if Ms. Pac-Man is the first female video game protagonist, but I do know that the first human female playable character is Kissy from Baraduke from 1985. Despite historical inaccuracies, Metroid likely is the first video game that’s a work of feminist literature.
Metroid is an important but flawed feminist work. Metroid analysis has been done to death, but it’s important to the point I’ll eventually make about Super Smash Bros. melee to go over some key points. In Metroid, Samus’s reveal at the end to be a woman subverted many 1980s players expectation that the cool armor suit person was a man. The manual for the NES version of Metroid explicitly states Samus is a man. This reveal causes players to think about all characters they play as and how their assumptions of their genders might be wrong. Who’s to say the square from Adventure wasn’t a girl? This reveal makes Metroid have a criticism on the gender expectations of video game characters. Metroid isn’t without it’s flaws though. The fact that only players who beat the game learn Samus is a girl means that the amount of players who actually learn of this reveal was small compared to people who played the game. This is especially true as Metroid is a hard game and many people likely played it either at an arcade or through renting the NES cart. Metroid also “rewards” players who complete the game quickly with having Samus wear less and less clothes. While I do enjoy small bonuses to reward speedrunners, I don’t enjoy how this objectified Samus. This taints the reveal changing it from ground breaking to extremely flawed.
Super Smash Brothers Melee does what Metroid wanted to do but better. Samus is, of course, a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Many people who played Super Smash Bros. Melee did not know Samus was a girl. This includes myself. Super Smash Bros. Melee has a single-player, event mode. Event 15 is called Girl Power. In this event, you fight Samus, Peach, and Zelda. When I played this event, I wondered why Samus was in this group. I then realized that Samus must be a girl, and it made me think critically about the genders of all characters: perhaps even my own. This reveal works significantly better than Metroid’s reveal because it isn’t even a reveal, and there’s no objectification of Samus. Super Smash Bros Melee demands you think Samus being a girl is expected. Anyone unknowing of this fact still gets the impact of the original Metroid reveal, but the game just moves on. This event match is one of the most memorable and difficult ones, up there with along with Space Travelers and Time for a Check-up (featuring Samus and Peach respectively).
This should be the end of the discussion. Super Smash Bros. Melee is better than Metroid at being Metroid. Super Smash Bros. as a series, including Melee, definitely has a female representation problem. The rest of this post is rambling about female representation in Smash and is not thought out at all. Proceed with caution.
This chart shows the representation of characters in the Super Smash Bros games. As you can see, there’s a significantly large bias towards male characters. First lets go over the problems with this chart. I counted Pikachu as male until Ultimate despite that Pikachu was only given gender differences between Melee and Brawl. I counted Pichu in Ultimate as unidentified even thougn there is an explicit female costume because the others aren’t explicitly male, it means it’s not both. I counted the three playable pokemon and not the Pokemon Trainer themselves who were given a female alt. I counted Miis as both despite technically your Mii being able to be non-binary because Nintendo puts Miis into strict binaries as seen in Tomodachi Life. In fact, of all the genderless and unidentified characters, none are non-binary and almost all are pokemon (Duck Hunt and Dark Samus are the exceptions). I counted both R.O.B. and Megaman as male. I also likely miscounted or messed something up, so I’m glad you really can’t tell the exact numbers from this graph.
The problem with male over representation in Super Smash Bros is interesting because it both sucks and says that the video game industry as a whole. Since Super Smash Bros. draws it’s roster from gaming’s most iconic characters, it means gaming as a whole needs more iconic women. Super Smash Bros Brawl added 18 new characters and only one was female. This is significantly fewer than Super Smash Bros. 64 adding 12 characters with only one female rep. They were also both the same character: different versions of Samus. In fact, it wasn’t until Smash 4 that we got a female character that wasn’t Samus, Zelda, or Peach (not counting Nana from Ice Climbers). They definitely have been getting better about female reps, with many characters having alts like Wii Fit Trainer, Inkling, and Robin for both male and female versions. Smash Ultimate adding 3 out of 23 female characters to newcomers is worse than Smash 4s 4 to 21. Smash Ultimate also added more exclusive male characters (10 to 7).
All this math is basically pointless because you can just tell from a glance that there’s a problem. Nintendo needs to pick better characters and video games need to offer better characters. According to various polls and heresay from around the internet, basically all of the most wanted characters to get into Smash are also men. You’ll hear names like Sora, Dante, Crash, Doom Guy, Master Chief, Ryu Hayabusa, Rayman, and Waluigi over and over and over again. There have been popular female character picks, most notable Reimu, but the popularity of characters like Shantae and Arle seem to ebb and flow with leaks rather than consistent popularity. Even the character I probably want in the most, Phoenix Wright, is not a girl. I would want Trucy Wright over Phoenix Wright, but that’s not happening unless Capcom has a Trucy Wright: Ace Attorney game they plan on making. There are plenty of female characters I desperately want in Smash such as Ayumi Tachibana from Famicom Detective Club (bring the remake to the west Nintendo) and Female Golfer from Rhythm Heaven (or any character from Rhythm Heaven, there’s plenty of good girls to choose from and we need a rep). According to this poll 2B is the fourth most popular female character in terms of Smash DLC request, and the second most popular DLC character that does suck (sorry Shantae and Dixie Kong). Put 2B in Smash Sakurai. You love NieR Automata. Who knows how many DLC characters Square Enix demanded be from their company to include Cloud in the base game. There’s already two, I would be very unsurprised if there were 3. Heck include 2B and A2 as well as echos boom Square Enix can sell 3 characters for 1 moveset.
So Super Smash Bros. needs more female reps. Super Smash Bros Melee does do something interesting with it’s event mode, and I appreciate that. Games as a whole need to step it up.