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Halloween: Gaming’s Greatest Mimics

Halloween’s just around the corner, and that means big, fun costumes! Of course, it’s not just people who like to dress up; monsters in games are huge fans of it. Whether they’ve got full-on costumes like the Luigi-dressed Koopa Troopas of Super Mario World or the recolors of generic enemies to accompany different levels, clothes can often make the baddie. But one of the most exciting examples of that, not to mention iconic, is the mimic. Though they go by a litany of names and designs, the mimic – first conceived by Dungeons & Dragon’s Gary Gygax in 1974, though mythological or fantasy equivalents have existed forever – has one clear goal: make the safe unsafe. Brave adventurers, weary from battle, suddenly find a treasure chest deep within a dungeon…only for it to reveal itself as a slathering monster! Often with big chompy teeth, they’re a great way to unsettle players and make it clear this level ain’t screwing around.

But truthfully, there are hundreds of different kinds of mimics. Some transform, some explode, some are low key (Resident Evil 4, for instance, just has wooden boxes with a nasty snake inside), and many don’t even take the form of chests or items. But they all have that same purpose, and collectively have done so with more than enough facility and quality for them to be one of the most notorious of enemy types. So, the SG team has come together in the spirit of Halloween to think up just a few of them for you!

Mimic – Dark Souls

There are many types of mimics, but the Dark Souls version is a respectable baseline example. After hours sneaking through caverns, hallways, and spires just to find a single bonfire, chests are some of the nicest things a hollowed warrior can find. So opening one up, only for spindly limbs to emerge, a tongue to pop out, and its teeth-rowed halves to start noshing on you is startling and horrifying. It’s a near instant kill, but even when savvy players lance it from afar first it still moves with disturbing speed. While Dark Souls III deployed them a bit too liberally, some of the trilogy’s great moments involve players stumbling upon them right at the moment they feel they can take a break. One in particular is hidden in a secret room behind an illusory wall within the spooky depths of Anor Londo, a hilarious commitment to the series’ shaggy dog sadism. And in keeping with that, some actually still carry treasures in their bodies that can be destroyed if you attack them. So that’s nice.

Mimicutie – Kid Icarus: Uprising

Image from Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. It’s the highest quality in-game image of them.

What happens if you put the Super Crown on a regular treasure chest? I’d imagine it would be something like Mimicutie, Kid Icarus’ take on the mimic archetype. It’s even in the name. But unlike most mimics that are terrifying in looks, Mimicutie has legs for days that give it a more… feminine touch. But don’t let that fool you; they are still really scary thanks to their incredible leg strength. Many an angel has fallen seeking the treasure they hide, proving that the scary and cute can sometimes be one and the same. – NantenJex

Teethalon – Shovel Knight

Traditionally, games have mimics as normal, optional enemies. Shovel Knight instead goes about it by turning one into an entire boss fight. Throughout the game, the eponymous hero gets bonus items and help from treasure chests, until he gets to this one near the bottom of the underwater submersible, the Iron Whale. Except the chest is only the lure of a massive, horrific anglerfish who begins to chase Shovel Knight through a bottomless chasm in an homage to Mega Man 2’s Mecha Dragon. A rare giant boss in a game where most are around its hero’s size, the Teethalon is a wild and instantly memorable terror, and one that honors one of nature’s greatest and most disturbing tricksters.

Mimic – Prey (2017)

Most mimics – and by that, I mean both “enemies that disguise themselves as things that help players” and “enemies explicitly named ‘Mimics’” – take that comforting treasure chest form. It works; that’s exactly what scared or nervous players are going to want after a grinding or exploring. But what if these creatures could be…anything? That’s part of the premise in Prey, where the weakest monsters in the game can hide in any room or space as a nearby small object. They can be coffee cups, office chairs, garbage cans (which themselves can analogous to treasure chests, as they typically have items inside), actual items, or the corpses of other Mimics. It leads to some fantastic moments as you circle back through a room you think has been cleared but seems to have one too many things strewn about, or when you try to grab an “item” stuck in a useful machine. The most disturbing is an office where, in an effort by two doomed scientists to find the monsters, almost every object smaller than a desk has a post-it note reading “NOT A MIMIC.” The few things in the room that don’t, though…

Mad Piano – Super Mario 64

A Source Gaming favorite, this guy is a testament to how wonderfully weird Super Mario 64 was when it came out. After a bunch of expansive, open sandboxes, the fifth world is the interior, claustrophobic Big Boo’s Haunt. The Boos are annoying to deal with, the camera gives these creepy shots like Resident Evil (which came out the same year), and unless you’ve mastered wall kicking upward movement can be tough. And then there’s the Mad Piano. It’s one of a scarce few decorations in the manor, so you’re pretty inclined to check it out. And once you do, it starts leaping and scrambling after you on its barely movable legs, with their teeth-filled lid raising and closing to the tune of terrifying keys. And like other mimics, there is an actual treasure; one of the stage’s Red Coins is behind it. Like most jump scares (and most mimics), seeing it again is far less intense, but that first moment is so, so good.

Fake Item – Pokémon

It’s a comforting sight in the Pokémon games, the small Poké Ball in the overworld. The series often has items strewn about its forests, caves, and mountains that look like that, and getting a Super Potion or a special new item can be exciting. Unless it’s not. In virtually every game in the series, there’s some location riddled with items that turn out to be not an item, but a Pocket Monster in disguise. While multiple Pokémon have been used for this (as well as other trainers in some games), none have topped the original. Voltorb is perfect as both a monster that both literally looks like a Poké Ball and is aggressively annoying to deal with; it has both incredible speed and the awful Self-Destruct attack, which can just ruin your day. It’s unpleasant and frustrating, embodying part of the ideal of the mimic.

Mimikyu – Pokémon Sun & Moon

Truthfully, it’s not fair to give Pokémon two spots, but the series is just filled to the brim with copycats – there’s even a human character with the same name in Red & Blue – and tricksters. Ditto is the shapeshifter, copying the Pocket Monster it fights. Kecleon can change its colors to blend into the background…except for its stomach stripe. Zoroark’s Illusion Ability makes it appear like another Pokémon. The shape of Sudowoodo’s rock body makes it naturally look like a tree, and it can even learn a move called Mimic. But while Mimikyu is not the most fitting, it’s by far the most Halloween themed one. It’s a creepy, horrifying ghost who goes unloved (possibly because its very image can kill). So to get affection, it wears a ratty, ugly Pikachu doll, holding a small branch as a tail. It’s on here both for how instantly memorable it became and as an example of something that painfully fails in its job. We’re sympathetic to Mimikyu, scary though it is, because it has all the reason to carry the disguise but no way to ever pull it off.

Fake Trevor, Sypha, and Grant – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

While Castlevania has had its share of mimicking enemies, from the classic Mimic chest monster to Aria of Sorrow’s literal head-swapping Headhunter, Symphony of the Night has to take the cake. Alongside Alucard’s recurring Doppelgänger (which takes his form and several of his powers), one late-game boss fight pits the vampire again zombies which take the appearance of his three partners from Castlevania III: Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Grant DeNasty. They each fight with corrupted versions of their subject’s fighting styles and moves, such as bloody crosses and uncontrolled fires, and teaming up at the same time keeps Alucard from relying on a single strategy. They’re not plot relevant at all, but they’re valuable for the themes of the game. Symphony of the Night is a story about conquering a greater legacy, so having the hero fight literally corrupted copies of his old friends and teammates carries a lot of power. Plus, they’re challenging in a much different way from the game’s other bosses.

Doopliss – Paper Mario: the Thousand-Year Door

Outside of the friendly Pokémon, all the mimics on here so far have been mindless, instinctive monsters; they disguise themselves to catch prey. The villain of The Thousand-Year Door‘s fourth chapter, by contrast, is a neat example of a shapeshifting monster operating only on petty cruelty. He’s a Duplighost (a minor Paper Mario shapeshifter) tormenting the citizens of dour Twilight Town, but his real trick comes after he turns into Mario’s shadow for an oddly easy boss fight. The chapter seemingly ends, the heroes leave his Creepy Steeple, and…then you start playing as the shadow, only afterwards realizing that Doopliss has stolen Mario’s body. While the hero’s severed shadow has to regain his identity with the help of a shadow demon, Doopliss lives it up by cashing in on the heroics you’ve been doing. Even his weakness is distinct, albeit derived explicitly from Rumpelstiltskin: you have to say his name aloud. Of course, writing that via text does require that oddly missing lowercase “p…”

Phantom Ganon – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Zelda’s got these guys out the wazoo. Breath of the Wild featured Octoroks wearing fake treasure chests on their heads. The Armos statues throughout the series seem normal but may become violent once you have to push them on switches or away from stairs. A few games even have rooms where the actual floor tiles try to kill you, or even possessed versions of the jars Link likes to smash. But while Ocarina of Time has the series’ most famous doppelgänger, the perfectly matched (and irritating) Dark Link, the fourth dungeon has a better example. Because the boss of the Forest Temple, the first one explored by adult Link, is…Ganondorf! Admittedly, the disguise of “Phantom Ganon” falls almost instantly, quickly revealing its skull and horns, but it’s a wonderful fake out from a game that’s been picking up the pace. Its actual first phase does at least keep some of that sense of trickery in mind: Phantom Ganon rides his horse in and out of paintings that wall the boss room, requiring you to shoot the right one – and not the duplicate Phantom Ganon who turns back before jumping out of the artwork. A mimic of a mimic; will wonders never cease.

X Parasites – Metroid Fusion

Samus has fought against many hostile creatures; some, from her Phazon doppelgänger Dark Samus to the possessed Chozo statues of Super Metroid, are even mimics in their own right. But it’s fitting that the X parasites from Metroid Fusion served as her chronologically final opponents. The X can infect any living organism, allowing them to copy their host’s DNA and in turn recreate themselves in the host’s likeness. They initially have a limited pool of potential hosts – nigh harmless zombies and a glorified armadillo are the first X duplicates Samus personally encounters – but they escalate in ferocity as Samus regains her strength. However, the SA-X – copies of Samus herself that represent her at her peak – steal the show. Samus encounters the SA-X throughout Fusion while being informed that they eclipse her in her weakened state, giving the game an impeccable sense of tension and dread. Samus, Nintendo’s beloved, iconic bounty hunter, was now being hunted by… herself. – Cart Boy

Fake Save Point – Chrono Trigger (and elsewhere)

There is literally nothing else I can add to that. It’s a save point, that’s fake. They don’t show up much, and truthfully they’re far from the most memorable things in the Fiendlord’s Keep – if anything, they’re a distraction from one of the 16-bit era’s most iconic boss battles – but that doesn’t matter. They’re fake save points. It’s genuinely hard to think of something more comically malicious. I should note that Chrono Trigger isn’t the only game to try this, but I don’t want to mention the other examples; those are exciting enough that you should stumble on them yourselves one day. Because seeing the sweet freedom and safety of a save point melt into some monster with murderous intent is a feeling impossible to capture anywhere else. That’s what makes mimics fun, and why they’ve endured.

Of course, those are far from the entirety of mimics. Which are your favorites?