You don't get to call a gun-filled, action video game "feminist" or "matronly" every day. But today is the day.
In "Metroid: Other M," we portray a super soldier (a bounty hunter, actually) in outer space, blowing away evil beings who are bent on power or anarchy.
The feminist rub is, we portray Samus - a woman who is not dressed like a hussy, and who outwardly stands up against a pandering, male military system, literally turning her thumb down against a male commander (and romantic interest) who gives her orders.
We already knew Samus was a strong she. But in previous "Metroid Prime" games, we didn't see her face or body, or hear her voice or story. While portraying her, we just ran forward, scanning rooms for evil lurkers, then shot them to bits.
In "Other M," we see behind the mask and outfit in many cinematic scenes. And bear with me here: Samus has large hips and small breasts for a video game character.
In the cannon of video games, female protagonists and antagonists come in two shapely sizes: A) Angelina Jolie-esque Lara Crofts (big up top and firm below, plus impossibly thin); and B) the Japanese anime-influenced waif, the stick figure (possibly with ample bosoms but possibly boy-flat).
Top Ten New Games
Here are the Top 10 best-selling video games, based on Amazon sales charts. Games are listed by title, company, gaming system, and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Most games are priced $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $40 for PSP; $30 for DS and PS 2.
1. "Halo: Reach" (Microsoft) Sept. 14 pre-orders for Xbox 360; rated "M" (blood, violence)
2. "Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep" (Square Enix) for PSP; rated "E 10+" (fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes)
3. "Call of Duty: Black Ops" (Activision) Nov. 9 pre-orders for Xbox 360, PS 3, Wii; also available for PC; rating pending
4. "Sid Meier's Civilization V" (2K Games) Sept. 21 pre-order for PC; rated "E 10+" (drug reference, mild language, mild violence)
5. "Halo Reach: Legendary Edition" for Xbox 360
6. "Final Fantasy XIV Collector's Edition" (Square Enix) Sept. 30 pre-order for PC; rated "T" (alcohol reference, animated blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)
7. "New Super Mario Bros." (Nintendo) for Wii; rated "E" (comic mischief)
8. "Call of Duty: Black Ops" for PS 3
9. "World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Collector's Edition" (Blizzard Entertainment) winter pre-order for PC; rating pending
10. "Battlefield Bad Company 2: Ultimate Edition" (EA) for PS 3; also available for Xbox 360; rated "M" (blood, strong language, violence)
(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone"; "T" for "Teen"; "M" for "Mature 17+")
Samus walks with more of a real woman's body (heavy thighs and booty, average chest), although she is fatless and strong, and cute.
And here's the matronly part. In the narrative, Samus enters herself into battle because she hears a "Baby's Cry," also known in the game as a distress signal from another spaceship.
"It was as though it was crying specifically for me," Samus says in voice-over narration.
The "cry" doubles as a literal baby's cry, because in the beginning of the game, Samus is saved from an evil monster (Mother Brain) by a mystical baby-in-a-womb whose death gives Samus great power. Yes, that is morbid.
These feminist, motherly (and romantic) themes (well-written) add gravity to the space game, as Samus kills many awful creatures in order to save people (even guys who call her "princess").
All this plot is fresh to "Metroid." But as fans of the series know, the bigger deal is "Other M" alters "Metroid's" actions, too. In previous "Metroid Prime" titles, all the shooting came in first-person viewpoint. We ran, we scanned rooms with super goggles, we blasted things with lasers, and we rolled through tunnels in the form of a ball (akin to a human pinball).
These actions remain intact but in a third-person viewpoint, making "Other M" seem like a glorified side-scroller, though we still use first-person views to scan rooms and fire missiles at big boss villains.
This one game retools the whole "Metroid" franchise into a more complete "Metroid" experience. It's less cumbersome than predecessors to play, though the action can bog down in same-same. And it's finally engaging, with its serious narratives and tones. More games could use such a woman's touch.
("Metroid: Other M" by Nintendo retails for $50 for Wii - Plays fun, though it can bog down in same-same. Challenging. Rated "T" for animated blood and violence. Three and one-half stars out of four.)
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at www.lvrj.com/columnists/Doug_Elfman.html.