I’m not a prude. We’re apes. Humans like sexy things, and anyone trying to remove sexuality from entertainment is not only doomed to failure, they’re likely to make things worse – and, what’s more, they deserve to fail.
But I do think that sexualization is more inappropriate in some works than others. Things like Bayonetta, Dragon’s Crown (up to a point), Art Adams’ Monkeyman and O’Brien, Fred Perry’s Gold Digger, or Adam Warren’s Empowered are for the most part works that embrace sexuality in a fun and healthy way that’s appropriate for the work’s tone. They’re not all to my liking, but I think it’s a good thing that there are books and games like that out there. I think ideally the “fanservice” should be a little more “equal opportunity” (which absolutely requires more effort than just “drawing a guy with muscles,” sorry), and I think it would be more healthy to celebrate a greater variety of body types, but trying to repress and deny sexuality just isn’t psychologically sound. People need appropriate outlets.
That said, I think it’s unhealthy for heavy sexualization to become a go-to default in a whole entertainment medium (particularly a type of sexualization that’s bad for the body image of the audience – both male and female). I think we’ve reached a point where people are reflexively attacking works where sexualization is actually appropriate, and it’s happening in part because sexualization has become so ubiquitous in the mediums. It’d be much easier to say “oh it’s just a little harmless fanservice” if we weren’t expected to say that so often.
And I’m especially critical when sexuality is shoehorned into a work without regard for the tone. From its inception onward, the Metroid series excelled at creating a sense of isolation and impending dread. Players found themselves alone in a creepy maze, and the developers have used a wide variety of tricks to create an eerie gloomy atmosphere. The increasing sexualization of Samus is absolutely at odds with the series’ tone.
Obviously, from the first game onward there were scenes featuring Samus outside of her armor that were intended as “fanservice,” but those were initially confined to the very end of the games, when Samus had completed her mission. In terms of tone, those scenes were not inappropriate, because there was no longer a need to maintain the suspenseful mood. In terms of characterization they didn’t undermine Samus – after she’d finished everything she’d set out to do, the hardened space bounty hunter shed her heavy suit of armor and relaxed. After completing her mission she could take off her armor to play volleyball on a beach, and that’d be fine. Since it’s Samus, she can even be the ball. To maintain an air of professionalism you have to wear an appropriate and serious uniform while working, but you don’t have to wear it 24/7.
But that professionalism has been seriously undercut in recent years, to the detriment of the series. As I pointed out before, Samus was introduced in the story mode of Brawl in a way that accentuated her “sex appeal”. In Other M, the final scene between Adam and Samus - a scene that would have rubbed many people the wrong way no matter what - was given extremely jarring undertones due to the fact that Adam was presented as a grizzled manly warrior (he looked like what you’d get if you distilled the essence of The Expendables) while Samus had been reduced to an enfeebled and heavily sexualized woman stumbling around in high heels and a latex-ish skintight suit. During the scene where Adam has to make the choice to leave his brother to die, we get a better view of Samus’ butt than anyone’s face. And in Zero Mission, when Samus crashed and she had no ship and no armor, how did Nintendo try to set the mood? What image did they use to conjure a feel of bleak isolation and nearly-impossible odds?
I think some people looking at this might have felt something other than dread at the upcoming mission or sympathy for Samus.
So, those alt-costumes? Vaguely good in the sense that they’re clothing that isn’t the Zero Suit, and the more variety we get in Samus’ non-armor wardrobe, the better the odds they’ll stop using the Zero Suit so heavily.
But at the same time the bigger problem is that they’re pushing Samus more and more as the company’s “sex appeal” character, to the detriment of Samus and the Metroid franchise. It doesn’t really matter if she gets some variety of what clothes she can wear while sporting the new high heels and beauty mark.