Probably ever since video games existed, there have been monsters. After all, where would we be without monsters?
We’d be stuck in sports games and titles like ‘Kelly’s Club Playhouse’, which is fine for some gamers, but what about the RPG, action, platformer, first-person-shooter, war, etc.? Monsters are an important, and often underappreciated part of some of the best games out there. After all, if it weren’t for monsters, where would everyone get cool items, power ups and weapons? Cool stuff would just have to rain down from the sky or be scattered all around the ground like weeds, which is no fun at all. Especially if there wasn’t anything to USE the cool stuff on. Which is where monsters come into the picture, and I don’t mean just the traditional image of monsters-- stuff like zombies, slimes and killer robots; this includes thugs, regular animals and sometimes even forces of nature gone awry. (How about that sun in Super Mario Bros. 3?) It could even be said that in some games, it’s not the hero that makes the game, it’s the monsters. After all, what fun is a hero who has nothing to fight?

Now, if everything in the world of gaming was perfectly fine, this article probably wouldn’t be here. However, I have noticed an annoying trend in video games lately, probably brought on by the advent of 3D games. Most games lately pale in comparison to their early counterparts in terms of different monsters. These days, a game may have about twelve different monsters total, where older games might have somewhere in the hundreds. The different types of monsters provided a variety of challenges to over come, while increasing re-play-ability. The benefits of monster variety are probably almost as varied as the monsters themselves. It is most likely the difficulty of programming 3D games that keeps the current level of monsters fairly low. Designers just don’t want to bother with creating so many completely different types of enemies in 3D.

Tactics Exposed!

In order to try and make the game still look fun, interesting and loaded with challenge, designers resort to several means of re-hashing monsters. You can probably spot at least one of these tactics in almost every game in your library today.


The first and most obvious tactic of the ‘E-Z Monster Makeover’ scheme. This is where programmers will simply change the colors of the monster of choice to say that it is a different one. Ex. “Oh no! It’s a thug in a red shirt, and not a blue shirt like those other five guys, he must be different and more fun to defeat!”

Augmented Pallet-Swapping-

This is tactic no. 1 with a little upgrade. In this case the monster may have more HP/shots required to kill/method to kill or a slightly different method of attack. They can also try to vary it by making it faster or altering a pattern. In essence, the abilities or difficulty on the monster may change, but it is still the same monster. Ex. This slime may spit a fire ball instead of trying to poison you.

Skin Swapping-

The most advanced form of trying to disguise the same enemy and repeating it multiple times. Phantasy Star Online is especially guilty of this. Essentially, a Skin Swapped monster is the same basic enemy ‘skeleton’ with a set of movements, AI and attacks that remain the same while the enemy looks completely different. It may be a woman instead of a man who shoots you, or an abominable snow man instead of a grizzly bear, but it’s still the same darn thing. In PSO, the base monsters to nearly every level are the same monster. Every Booma, Shark and Dimenian and their version 2 counterparts are just clones. They all walk around and use the over-head slash maneuver. This may be fun to look at for a while, or fool reviewers in screenshots-only previews but once you realize you’re always fighting the same thing, the fun wears off as the battles turn to boredom.

Without the above suspicious tactics to fall back on, game designers would have to come up with more creative solutions to keep the game fun while not over-doing the difficulty of design. Challenge, variation, visuals and tactics of enemies are all a part of game enjoyment and re-play ability. It is the goal of great game designers to make games that the buyer can play through multiple times and still have fun. After all, most games are a 40$ + investment and should not be played once and then forgotten because it would be too boring to try it again, or there is no different way to go about beating it. To this day, I still like to go back into Castlevania: Symphony of the Night occasionally to do a run of Castle Dracula. Why? Because the game is so huge, and yet you hardly run into the same enemy twice. Game designers could take a hint from the great games of the past (even to titles like Super Mario Bros. 3, or Sonic3+Knucles) to make the games of tomorrow even cooler.