Monsters in games vary from gruesome and scary to cute and cuddly. How does the cuteness of enemies keep games like Kirby’s Dream Land family-friendly?

In Stubbornness of Turtles I explain how the developers of Super Mario Bros. for the NES designed the enemies as removable obstacles. Still, these enemies appear as living creatures such as the turtle-like Koopa Troopa. The NES is not quite able to show, whether Koopas are supposed to be scary or cute. In their early artwork, Koopas appear as rather confused turtles. Starting with Super Mario World for the SNES, Koopas walk upright on two instead of four legs and give a carefree impression. They only look angry, once we jump on them and throw them out of their shell. (This is not how turtles work in the real world.) However, since they run around in their underwear outside their shell, their appearance subverts their scary facial expression.

Nintendo definitely went with cute for later Super Mario games. In the New Super Mario Bros. series, that started on the DS, Koopa Troopas regularly dance to the background music. Whenever the music plays a riff, the two-legged turtles stop their stubborn sideways walk, look into the camera, and do a little jig.

With the Kirby games, Nintendo reinforces their image as a child-friendly game company. Not only is the titular hero a cute, pink gumball. The developers at HAL Laboratory turned the cuteness of enemies up to eleven and designed nearly all enemies that roam Dream Land as rather stubby creatures with big, round eyes. Most of them do not have a torso, but instead feature a large, round head with arms or legs attached directly to it. Often, they are smiling or carry an expression of child-like wonder on their faces. Most of the time, they do not look, as if they want to attack us, but rather play with us – even if the game is “Catch the Bomb”.

If you want to develop a family-friendly game, express it in the cuteness of enemies. Many animal babies in the real world feature big heads and round eyes. Us humans perceive this baby schema as cute. So, if you have difficulties designing cute enemies, draw some monsters as usual and then add some monster children. Then, scrap the mature monsters and use the child-versions with their stubby arms and legs as your default version. For boss monsters, you can use teenage-versions of your monsters, that are a little more grown-up. Accentuate their aspired maturity with a bowtie, a pair of oversized gloves, or another single piece of clothing, that makes them look like a cool adult in their minds.

What are your favorite experiences with the cuteness of enemies? Share them in the comments below! I look forward to reading them. In the mean time, I will dance with the Koopas.

(Photo by Art of Hoping on Unsplash)