I realize I’m about a million years late to the whole Metroid: Other M storyline controversy. The game released almost two years ago, most of the major voices have said their piece and to some extent settled down. Every once in awhile, though, I see the debates surrounding the story creep up again, and one of the most recurring of those is the “authorization” issue, especially as it pertains to Samus’s Varia Suit.
Many have walked away from Other M with the conclusion that for Adam to send Samus into a super-heated area without first instructing her to activate her Varia Suit is tantamount to neglect and abuse. They extend this sentiment across the entire Samus-Adam relationship, and find Samus’s submission to this seemingly illogical command inconsistent with her character. I’m not so sure I agree with that conclusion, however…
Let’s start with the big question: What’s up with that Varia Suit thing? How can the story justify sending Samus into lava-filled areas without her heat shield?
The problem I have with many of the arguments against this particular point is that they oversimplify the issue. A common analogy that I’ve seen is this: if you reach into a hot oven and try to take out a casserole without wearing appropriate mitts, you’re going to get burned. I can’t argue with that. It’s just common sense. But critics see Samus as going into Sector 3 without her Varia Suit active as if she’s going in “without protection from heat” - as if she’s picking up a dish without the gloves.
In the world of intergalactic space warriors who wear armorsuits basically everywhere they go, it’s not so cut and dry. Samus’s suit certainly does come with basic protections, even without the Varia feature. I mean, for one - it’s a suit of armor. And that her “health” is actually “energy” suggests that somehow that “energy” fuels her protective gear, which I can only assume would involve some kind of basic shielding to resist damage from enemy fire. The way I see it, the scenario’s more comparable to using a towel to remove your dinner from the oven instead of a pair of mitts. It’ll offer enough basic protection to get the job done, but if you aren’t careful and wind up holding onto the dish too long, the heat will eventually get through to you. Does this mean it’s stupid not to use the mitts, because they offer the better protection? Not necessarily.
This seems to be the logic proposed by the game. Before Samus enters Sector 3, Adam instructs her to move only through areas she can access with her current equipment. Since some of the superhot areas fall into this category, then according to the logic of the story it seems to be the case that her basic shielding is deemed sufficient for quick detours through lava-filled rooms.
At this point, critics usually bring up an objection: “But obviously the player can still die during these parts, so it’s not really safe.” That’s true, of course, but obviously players tripping up on their own isn’t part of the game’s storyline. A player might fall into the lava and manage to scrape by, but when it comes to the plot itself the implication is that even with the Varia Suit, lava means death. This isn’t one of those games where players’ successes and failures influence the outcome of the story. This is a game where there is a pre-set plot with only one (favorable) outcome. To say otherwise is to project fantasies onto the game; within the logic of the story we simply don’t know what would happen had Samus’s standard shields failed - this isn’t a possible scenario in terms of the plot.
What we do know, however, is that when for the purposes of the story it becomes clear that Samus’s standard shields will be insufficient, Adam authorizes the Varia Suit immediately.
“But why wait until that definitive moment?” critics ask. Why, indeed? But this isn’t a logic that’s unique to Adam - Samus is guilty of this as well. When escaping from the detached Sector Zero, Samus waits to activate her Gravity Suit until the very last second before getting sucked into space. I don’t think there’s anything nonsensical about this. Apparently space warriors are badass like that. (Perfectly consistent with the historical image of Samus Aran, by the way.)
But in all seriousness, maybe using these features requires some form of unseen, unmentioned energy that doesn’t really factor into the gameplay (and is therefore not important to the player), and Adam and Samus just want to conserve that fuel for when they really need it. We don’t know exactly why it’s okay to wait until abilities are absolutely necessary before using them, but suffice to say that when both Adam and Samus are independently guilty doing so, it must make at least some sense in the context of the story - not the “no sense” that Other M critics famously profess.
Stay tuned for more dissection of the debate surrounding Metroid: Other M! Which topic will I take on next? You’ll have to check back if you want to find out!