I have never thought about this before, but shapeshifting can actually lead to some creative projects. Using another form’s features for exploration or morphing your body into a weapon of mass destruction, are cool concepts that I wish I got to see more often! For this list, the entries have to at least change parts of their bodies. Costumes are not viable, but I will allow using items like power-ups or masks if that means one character will transform completely into another creature. Sorry, Mario!
#12 The Inklings (Splatoon series)
Possibly my favourite multiplayer shooter, Splatoon provides a world filled with paintball enthusiasts that can turn into adorable squids! With this ability, you can swim or hide in your own ink to take out enemies by surprise or traverse both vertically and horizontally around in a fast manner. This is such a fascinating setup that makes the objective of painting the entire battlefield in your colour, exhilarating and tense! Especially, when everyone has the same moves as you with only the equipment offering some preferences to a playstyle.
There is not a single character that comes to mind here though, which is why this entry is so low on this list. In fact, since the only memorable cast members are the commentators of these fights, I can only put the combatants with this mysterious feature on this spot, despite that none of them truly stick out from one another. Although, they are still included for a good reason: their squid powers are important to the gameplay.
#11 VectorMan (Vectorman series)
While there is another Sega series that is known for its protagonists shapeshifting, this creature is more of a neat take on this concept in my opinion. Set in the year 2049, you play as VectorMan, a mechanical “orbot” who is tasked to clean up the toxic sludge destroying Earth and ends up having to also save it from an evil tyrant named Warhead. This robot can shoot energy units as his main attack, but his most exciting ability is certainly to change his form.
Included in his morphing capabilities, is to turn into a helicopter, tornado, and even a tank to name a few. All of these serve varied functions, but they make VectorMan an entertaining character to play as. Not to mention, seeing the insane effects the Genesis/Mega Drive can muster is impressive and provides VectorMan with a cool and hypnotic look. A chill robot superhero that I wish got another chance in the spotlight, but is definitely solid enough to be worth remembering.
#10 Kameo (Kameo: Elements of Power)
The first game I ever played on the 360, Kameo was an interesting title. I cannot say I have overall fond memories of it, but one part I did enjoy was the protagonist’s key gimmick. She could quickly transform into elemental creatures by pressing one of the four face buttons, with the shoulder bumpers being dedicated to specific actions of the different beasts. This was a really neat idea and with each having unique strengths and advanced techniques that could be unlocked, it made exploration and combat somewhat fun.
Despite that this colourful adventure is commendable, Kameo is a forgettable lead. The minimalistic plot with a sister being jealous and causing trolls to emerge back to the land of the fairies offers a lighthearted tone, but that is no excuse for how bland this universe is. I also am questioning why these humanoid inhabitants with fairy wings are called elves, as it seems more like a marketing tool. Still, this game focuses on the hero’s shapeshifting ability and I do believe a bit of polish could have transitioned Kameo into something more than just the star of an underwhelming launch title.
#9 Ruy (Breath of Fire series)
Breath of Fire has plenty of characters that can morph into different animals, such as giant birds, huge fishes, and even fuse their bodies together to become surreal beasts. However, Ruy is my favourite for simply being capable of changing into varied elemental dragons, with one hidden type that is downright a demigod. This is the most powerful entry on this list without question, so why is he not higher?
The problem really lies in that Ryu is a good avatar, but not necessarily a memorable protagonist. He is iconic to fans and one I love, but I am more mesmerised by the stories around him and his quests, rather than him as an actual person because he is meant to represent the player and not much else. Luckily, thinking of how this makes you into a dragon master that can use diverse forms of magical attacks, is nonetheless amazing!
#8 Link (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask)
Even if I am more fond of the Twilight Princess Link who can change into a wolf, there is no denying that the masks in Majora’s Mask are a much more fascinating concept. Turning into a cute Deku who can float using flowers, a fierce Goron who rolls through anything or a rocking Zora who can swim as fast as possible, are all exciting ways for making the playthrough intriguing. I just wish the level designs were better and that most masks were not basically context-sensitive, but I digress.
Although, while these masks give you new abilities, who these faces belonged to are just as interesting. Some inhabitants will recognise you as a familiar person when you take on their likenesses, which always is someone believed to be long gone. These meetups are consistently bittersweet, as you can tell that the characters are happy to see their loved ones again, but you are holding onto a lie that is never told: they are all still dead and you are not them. This is where Majora’s Mask shines; making the main mechanic have depth outside of the gameplay.
#7 Torque (The Suffering)
This horror title offers a chilling setup where you play as a man who is accused of murdering his wife and children, putting him on death row. However, despite that Torque is unable to remember what happened that night, he continuously struggles from uncomfortable visions and fights against his literal inner demon. Because of the fantastic immersion provided by having the protagonist’s rage and sorrows being mirrored through both story and gameplay, this is honestly the entry that I am the most invested in on this list.
Every part of his journey presents an unnerving atmosphere, with the monster you turn into after killing enough enemies being the biggest reflection on the anti-hero himself. This abomination with a blade for an arm and grotesque figure where the spine almost leaps out of his skin, is equally horrifying and satisfying to play as. Even if he never says a word, it is easy to relate to Torque’s feelings while trying to escape this cursed prison and hearing the voices inside his head. This is basically an action take on Silent Hill done well, with the main character being the biggest reason for why that is.
#6 Shantae (Shantae series)
Wayforward’s little metroidvania game for the GBC is a commendable one that I am happy became a solid series! Playing as a half-genie with magical powers, including transforming into other animals, is a great idea for an explorative platformer. It is just a shame that her core ability is a constant pace breaker, as you have to stand and choose what to shift into for a segment before changing back to your original form, making this mechanic quite situational. Granted, this aspect got improved by each instalment, though not by much.
That being said, Shantae is a charming guardian! She is a spiritual and energetic woman who dives headfirst into action and has a ton of expressions, creating a wonderful protagonist to root for! I will also admit that it is hard to not love someone who fights pirates for a living and her other skills are also impressive, such as her fire spells and hair whip. Even if I primarily enjoyed the third title due to showcasing what a cool privateer Shantae could have been, her powers are always getting tweaked and it makes me excited to see what potentials she has for future projects!
#5 Nights (Nights series)
Described by the creator as “a hero from the nightmares”, Nights is basically Yuji Naka’s creative take on Peter Pan. This is a jester that I adore by their design alone, as it beautifully represents their personality by being both lively in style and simultaneously containing relaxing colours, offering a soothing look that is easy to associate with dreams! Which is perfect when you will be taken to bizarre circuses and whimsical mountains to name some examples, with you soaring around as this genderless character. Their English voice actor is also excellent for giving Nights a nice sassy tone while being calm and collected.
This Nightmaren can fly and transform into different creations for traversal, such as a dolphin and a rocket, but also has a lot of acrobatic capabilities like using ziplines or shooting off enemies. This is where I hope for a third game to be in the making, as their powers easily lend themselves to ingenious stage layouts and a gorgeous rush that rivals Sonic’s! The most imaginative entry on this list, this protagonist truly deserves to be remembered as more than just a dream.
#4 Alucard (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)
Castlevania is home to plenty of shapeshifters, but probably the most recognisable one of the entire cast has to be Alucard. This dhampir cannot only turn into fog or a bat, but has plenty of magical spells, is quite the diverse fighter, and can summon creatures to do his bidding. The ability to change form is more for exploration than combat, but it just goes to show what multiple possibilities this man has.
Although, I also admire how memorable Alucard became after Symphony of the Night. Not only is his design sophisticated and detailed to give him an iconic look, but his voice actors have always been impressive, with direct lines that are as impactful as they are smooth. This instalment also gives insights into his troubled childhood and complicated feelings about taking down his own father in order to save humanity. There is something about playing as a character that is not just mesmerising and a force to be reckoned with, but also deep and relatable at the same time. Best half-vampire ever!
#3 Jin (Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom)
Here is a great blueprint of what I wish from the Shantae series. Monster Boy is a spiritual sequel to the Monster World series, where you play as Jin who wants to stop his uncle from transforming everyone into animals. Luckily, by being able to take control of this curse, Jin uses it to change into multiple creatures, like a pig, frog, lion, snake, and even a dragon! These forms do not come with just a few capabilities, but multiple ones to make sure none of these beasts become too situational, such as the frog’s tongue letting you swing off objects or grab enemies and the lion’s charge being for both mowing down obstacles and taking huge leaps!
These mechanics are always fun to play around with, thanks to the diverse levels this world contains that use all of your moves to their fullest. What also helps is that Jin has a neat visual design and is only headstrong when he needs to be. He might not be a deep or the most personal protagonist out there, but is a true hero who fights for what he simply believes is right and wants to become stronger, without any of this being for egotistical goals. We truly need more shapeshifting warriors similar to Jin, both for gameplay and as role models.
#2 Kirby (Kirby’s Epic Yarn)
A cute pink marshmallow who can devour his opponents’ souls and take their skills for his own benefits, obviously deserves a spot on this list. However, despite that his main concept is creative in itself, there is one particular title where this setup came with a twist that I adore. In Epic Yarn, he is able to transform entirely on the spot due to being made out of yarn! Even if this makes it impossible for him to swallow enemies or fly, this is actually a good trade-off!
This incredible design offers so many opportunities, which this entry brings to the table by providing an imaginative world to venture through! All of Kirby’s forms will come into play in some fashion, be it when he is turned into a parasol, a fire truck or a skater to name a few examples, making sure the journey is enjoyable from start to finish! This is further enhanced by Kirby being as endearing as ever with his cheers and dances, keeping up the jolly mood while saving a universe that is nothing short of magical.
#1 James Heller (Prototype 2)
Shifting your limbs into grotesque weapons, seeing your victims’ memories flashing by as you take over their bodies, and gaining superhuman strengths, all thanks to a dangerous virus, is a wonderful and terrifying concept. Prototype 2 was an overshadowed game, which is a shame due to how exhilarating it is to play as this suffering protagonist who can easily cause mayhem or silently blend into the crowd of military units.
This is definitely a B-movie setup where the main character seeks revenge for the loved ones he lost with silly dialogues that are cheesy and effective. James is simply an angry action anti-hero who is going to destroy anyone who stands in his way, which is topped by having a stylish and dark voice and taking sanctuary within his local church that is placed inside this doomed city he is stuck in. However, what makes him my favourite shapeshifter, is really how engaging it is to play as him. When I can easily take this setting both seriously and laugh at it while having a grand sandbox to use all of his diverse abilities in, it is a special form of entertainment, with Mr. Heller stealing the show!
I kinda like shapeshifters as a solid alternative to summoners, due to both using other creatures’ strengths for their benefits. Because of this, I want to hear your top list of the latter, my dear friend Casper. How they summon their underlings is all up to them, but their subjects must be under their master’s control completely. If they have a time limit for how long they can be present due to balancing the gameplay, then that is valid.