How does Samus Aran turn into a ball? An investigation

With Metroid Dread bringing intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran back into the hearts and minds of the public, Metroid fans like yours truly have been fielding a lot of questions about her. I recently summarized Samus Aran’s career prior to Metroid Dread, but one question has proved particularly difficult to answer, and that is the nature of Samus’ morph ball mode. How can this muscle-bound Amazonian woman contract herself into such a tiny sphere?

I’m here to tell you that it’s completely possible. Or at least, it used to be.


Metroid Dread fans are celebrating when they finally get the morph ball

Way back in the original Metroid, Samus Aran’s morph ball form was precisely half her height. Every human body has slightly different proportions, but on average, most people are half their height when curled into a ball. (This stock image of a businessman doing a somersault illustrates my point well enough.)

In these screenshots of the original Metroid (courtesy of a YouTube playthrough by naswinger), you can measure Samus’ height according to the building blocks of the game’s walls. A corridor for a morph ball is one block high, whereas a corridor that’s tall enough for Samus to walk through is two blocks high. In other words, the morph ball is the right size.

  • Screenshot: Nintendo via YouTube
  • Screenshot: Nintendo via YouTube
  • As for how the morph ball would actually work, that’s another story, and it’s not a question that any Metroid game has answered: How can Samus see well enough in morph ball mode to navigate an underground maze? And wouldn’t she get dizzy? My personal theory is that the morph ball operates similarly to a glide eyeball toy, meaning that Samus is curled up but always upright while in morph ball mode. This would still mean, once again, that the morph ball would need to be at least half the size of Samus Aran standing at full height in her armor.

    The original Metroid fulfills that requirement. At least some of the other Metroid games, such as Metroid Prime, also appear to fulfill it. In-game text in Metroid Prime describes morph ball corridors as about one meter tall, and Metroid Prime game assets collected by a fan also show the morph ball to be half as tall as Samus in her armor. Samus is 6 feet, 3 inches tall, according to the Super Metroid Nintendo’s Player’s Guide, although there’s some dispute among fans as to whether that figure refers to her height in her suit or not. Regardless, one meter is a little over three feet, so Samus’ height and the morph ball’s height seem about right in Metroid Prime.

    The situation gets increasingly confusing when we factor in Metroid: Other M. The 2010 Team Ninja game depicted Samus as roughly 5 feet, 2 inches tall outside of her power suit, but it still depicted her as over 6 feet in the suit, resulting in a bizarre discrepancy that has been highlighted by fans in diagram form. Other M made Samus’ morph ball about half her size in the zero suit, but not the power suit, which … well, it would make sense if she weren’t so tall in the power suit, but sure.

    And then there’s Super Smash Bros., perhaps the biggest source of confusion out of all Samus’ appearances, in no small part because it’s the one with which most people are familiar. It’s also the smallest her morph ball has ever been, to a point that’s ridiculous. In Super Smash Bros Ultimate, her morph ball barely comes up to her knee, as you can see in these screenshots I took of Samus Aran fighting CPU Dark Samus via YouTube user Choctopus:

  • Screenshot: Nintendo via YouTube
  • Screenshot: Nintendo via YouTube
  • How does Metroid Dread stack up in all of this, as the most recent iteration of Samus Aran’s morph ball? It’s certainly better than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but the morph ball still isn’t big enough; it’s about a third of Samus’ height in Dread, rather than the half that it should be.

    At this point, the morph ball has been normalized as being less than half of Samus’ height. That’s too damn small, and for no reason. It wouldn’t make the morph ball puzzles and mazes any less fun if Samus were just a little bit bigger when she did them. The only reason I can imagine for why Samus’ morph ball is so small now is because the size difference looks funny, especially in something as cartoonish as Super Smash Bros. Or perhaps it’s because Samus became a lot more waifish and diminutive in Metroid: Other M, leading to the height discrepancy between her zero suit and power suit-wearing selves in Ultimate. Is the morph ball supposed to represent half her height at 5 feet, 2 inches, as she is in Other M (and Ultimate, at least in zero suit form)? Or is it supposed to represent half her height at her muscular Super Metroid levels?

    I can’t speak to any of that. But I do have some consolation in all of this: Researching this post allowed me to find a massive fan community of artists who have chosen to illustrate taller versions of zero suit Samus — in particular, the artists who’ve decided to pair up this taller version of zero suit Samus with the diminutive boxer Little Mac. In Ultimate, they’re about the same height, but in this fan art, she towers over him. It’s great.

    Let Samus be big, Nintendo! In her zero suit, in her power suit, and in her morph ball. It’s only right. And it’s what the fans want.

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