Transformations are just one of hundreds of game mechanics available in a game developer’s tool box but transformations can be one of the most identifiable aspects of a video game as they allow players a memorable change of pace. Over the years, there have been a number of transformations that have stuck out to me for various reasons, whether they helped to develop the lore, make my character more powerful, or were just plain cute.
Transformations, as a game mechanic, can have a wide versatility that often might be overlooked when compared to other gameplay elements, so I wanted to share some of my favorite transformations of all time. The only rule is there can only be one entry per series so Banjo and Mario will not be dominating this list. With that, let’s sink our teeth into the first entry on my top ten transformations of all time in gaming.
Castle Crashers- Beefy Mode
Castle Crashers’s move set is a lot of fun with a party of four and one of the most show stopping moves is the beefy mode. Nothing beats feeling overwhelmed and channeling your inner Joey Chestnut by quickly chowing down on a sandwich in one bite to gain the strength of the Incredible Hulk. The sandwiches in Castle Crashers cause your character to transform into a absolute unit of its former self, which is perfect for taking out other beefy characters.
The only issue is that you are a much larger target so it’s often best to pair this transformation with a party of people who can help cover the massive target you have become. Even if it might not be the most practical transformation all the time, beefy mode sure makes you feel powerful for a few moments.
Pokemon- Ditto Transform
This one might be a little bit of a copout but, with all the different evolutions in Pokemon, it’s tough to choose any one evolutionary line. Ditto is best of all the worlds because its whole gimmick is transforming into other Pokémon. Whether it’s Mewtwo or Magikarp, Ditto can copy its form and moves to fight back but most people don’t try to catch a Ditto for battling purposes, instead choosing to use Ditto for…other things.
Super Smash Brothers- Minecraft Kirby
One of the most exciting moments of a new Super Smash Brothers character announcement is the reveal of what new version of Kirby we will be seeing. The new Minecraft Kirby has to be the cutest version of the the character, yet, and with a new cube body and building abilities, Kirby is ready to bury the competition. I just wish we had some opportunities to see this version of Kirby outside of Smash Bros because I feel a little cheated by Nintendo that a Kirby game can’t star this blocky pink menace.
Prototype- Mercer’s Disguise Ability
This is a throwback to a game that most people have probably forgotten about over the years but Prototype offers some of the most twisted transformations for a game character. Prototype’s Alex Mercer whole schtick, much like Kirby, is to transform his body but the difference here is Alex transforms his body into sharp objects, hardened armor, or even other people.
The disguise ability is the best of the bunch just because it allows Alex to secretly infiltrate enemy bases without causing havoc right away. Nothing feels quite as good as blending in with the crowd and transforming into a battle form, catching the enemy with their pants down and causing untold destruction to Blackwatch’s soldiers and facilities.
Fable 2- Morality Morphing
The slowest transformation on this list, Fable has a mechanic where your character’s body will change to reflect the choices you make during your journey. When I first played Fable 2 as a kid, I had no idea the game worked this way, until I was fat, scarred, and had horns growing out of my head. I guess you could say that was a formative experience for me as a kid because I took one hard look at my character and thought, “Time to make some changes.”
I enjoy this transformation for being different than so many other transformation and morality mechanics in other games. Fallout 3 made me feel bad for making evil choices by writing interesting characters that helped reflect the inhumanity of my choices but Fable 2 made me feel bad by making me reflect the evil I put in the world.
Twilight Princess- Wolf Link
Wolf Link is one of the rare instances where Link is transformed completely in the games from his normal Hyrulian appearance and is also one of the few old mechanics I wish would make a return in a new Zelda game. The transformation gives Link increased speed and heightened senses while at the same time taking away item use (because he is a essentially a big dog). Link has never looked so fierce and fluffy and hopefully one day we can see a return of the form, maybe in BoTW 2??
Skyrim- Vampire Lord
When Skyrim first released and I was wandering the streets of Whiterun, I heard a villager talk about vampirism, which obviously peaked my interest. “Oh boy, I want to be a vampire!” a younger and more naïve Chris once thought, only to get vampirism and be treated with disdain by everyone I met without much benefit. It wasn’t until the release of the Dawnguard DLC did a form of vampire become available that gave me the power I sought.
The vampire lord transformation turns your character into a full fledged vampire with wings. The new form comes with new powers and perks and completely makes Skyrim’s other beast form, the werewolf, irrelevant in my eyes. Nothing feels better than transforming into the vampire lord after being slighted by a passing Nord on the street and quickly putting the fear of Alduin into him.
Mario Odyssey- Lava Bubble
Okay, this one might be controversial because there are so many great transformations in Mario Odyssey that it is hard to choose just one. However, I have to say the lava bubble transformation, from the Luncheon Kingdom, is my personal favorite. The lava bubble allows Mario to swim in the soupy lava of the kingdom which makes it way easier to get around and it also allows Mario to use the canons that are spread throughout the map.
The canons can shoot Mario hundreds of feet in the air and make you feel like mortar shot honing in on its target. Some of the most intense moons in the Luncheon Kingdom require Mario to fall from the top of the soup volcano and land in a small cauldron of ingredients, like an extreme high diver.
Bioshock- Jack Becomes a Big Daddy
The hulking deep sea diving monsters from the original Bioshock are one of the most fearsome and tragic characters in gaming. They inspired fear from the moment they appeared on screen and even the splicers would whisper the terror that the Big Daddies commanded. Throughout the game, the player hears about the origins of these “monsters” through audio diaries and NPC conversations and learns they were both experiments and slaves to Rapture’s society.
So when at the end of Bioshock, after numerous twists and turns, the game says that you too must become one of these creatures, you feel the awful tragedy of each and every one of them all the more poignantly as you don the Rosie helmet and maul your own throat to sound like one. This transformation might not make you more powerful but it does enhance your perception of the world of Rapture and I couldn’t ask for a more narratively appropriate character transformation.
Banjo Kazooie- Pumpkin
Each level in Banjo Kazooie offers a themed transformation for the bear and bird to turn into and every single one is fantastic in its own right but the pumpkin from Mad Monster Mansion takes the cake in my opinion. Though this little guy isn’t as versatile as some other transformations on this list, he is definitely the cutest transformation.
Banjo uses his pumpkin form to hop around in sewers and drain pipes to find the hidden Jiggies and Jinjos in those areas, but the best part is when the little pumpkin jumps its carved top flies up and then lands back on top of pumpkin Banjo; the animation for this character is just perfect for Banjo and Kazooie’s cartoony vibe.