Well folks, it’s October and that means it’s time for the monsters to come on out. However, instead of the typical creepy-crawlies and zombies that fill up most games, we’re going to talk about skeletons. Skeletons are usually the wimpiest enemies in gaming and even when they’re not they rarely leave a lasting impression. Whether it’s Castlevania’s menagerie of skeletons, the inhabitants of the Giant’s Graveyard in Dark Souls, or any RPG ever, you’re unlikely to see anyone say “oh wow, did you see those skeletons?” That’s not to say there aren’t cool skeleton enemies (once again, the Castlevania franchise is littered with creative skeletal enemies), and we will talk about those another time, but today I want to look at something even more interesting: Skeleton player-characters.
What happens when skeletons take on a role other than low-level mook? What happens when the spotlight is on their bleached skulls and the fate of the world (/tournament/race/restaurant) is in their boney digits? Which skeleton would you like to play as? Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments below but for now, here are my thoughts on the top five skeletons to play as.
Dawww, who’s a cute wittle undead koopa? You are! You are! I love Dry Bones. You think an undead skeleton would be scary or at least grim in some way, but Dry Bones is completely adorable compared to his Super Mario World days. The fact he has a skull face makes him have a permanent smile and he communicates with adorable cartoon bone noises. Additionally, he’s got some serious props on the kart racing circuit as well. While he may not be the fastest kart racer among Mario and his friends, Dry Bones has some great acceleration, to the point that he can even go off-road without losing much speed.
So why is he not on the list? Well, while I love the guy, he’s not really a protagonist. Sure, you can play as him in most of the side Mario games (Mario Party, Mario Kart, etc.) but he doesn’t take the lead or even a side role in any of the games he appears in. So sorry Dry Bones, you just don’t make the cut.
What kind of list of playable skeletons would be complete without Killer Instinct’s own ancient skeletal warrior? Spinal has a pretty ridiculous backstory in the first Killer Instinct: Ultratech found the bones of an ancient warrior and managed to resurrect him, but then grew bored with the magic skeleton warrior (seriously) and carried on with other projects like Fulgore and Eyedol. Jealous, Spinal enters the tournament to get attention and a movie deal (seriously). The second game is even worse: the first Spinal died, but the new final boss has a new Spinal because… because.
No, the reason Spinal is on this list is because of how brutal of a fighter he is. When I used to play the original Killer Instinct in the arcade or on my SNES against friends, I always picked Spinal. While other fighters in the game had one or two gimmicks for their fighting styles, Spinal had several. Not only does this big bad bonedaddy bring a giant sword to fight werewolves, aliens, and giant killer robots, but he also is more than happy to whap fighters with his shield, use his quick but effective slide kick, or use magic to teleport around the arena, blast fiery skulls at opponents, or even summon lightning as a finisher. Back in the day, Spinal was a great fighter for beginner’s to pick up for his quick techniques and for veterans to pick up for his more complex magic attacks and finishers. While he hasn’t been confirmed yet for the new Killer Instinct, it’s almost a sure bet that this sword swinging skeleton will be issuing some beat-downs in the near future.
I’ve been a fan of Zeboyd games for a few years now and the game that got me started loving them was Breath of Death VII: The Beginning. The game is a great parody of 8-bit role-playing games, fantasy RPGs, and post-apocalyptic narratives. I highly recommend it. Probably one of my favorite things the game pokes fun at is the silent protagonist jokes of which Dem here is the victim.
See, Dem is a very honorable, talented, and pragmatic knight. However, he has one big problem: he has no tongue, which keeps all of his dialogue as internal monologue. Not only does this make him one of the few justified silent protagonists in all of gaming, but it also forces him into the straight-man role of the team. Considering that his team consists of a love-struck Naga, a quick-tempered vampire, and a princely zombie, that’s a pretty tough role to fill. To make matters worse, Dem lives in a world where cartoon cars wander post-apocalyptic wastelands, final bosses can appear out of nowhere, and the most dangerous monster of all is a rubber ducky. So for taking his insane world and teammates in stride, Dem silently climbs his way onto the #4 spot.
Speaking of skeletons who have to put up with a lot of insanity:
In case you’ve never had the pleasure of playing this Sega Saturn gem, then let me share the game’s story with you (as ripped from Wikipedia):
“DaGoulian, a mad philosopher who believes that one can only “ensure the survival of good by making evil thrive”,sets out to purify the world with evil. By playing a special set of drums powered by science and alchemy, he is able to tap into a primal power which he calls “skeletal magnetism” (or “skeletism”) and summon the dead from their graves as his skeletal soldiers.
One inmate of the cemetery, however, is pure of heart and is thus resurrected not with red (evil) skeletism, but with blue (good) skeletism. Because of this, he retains his free will. This fact is quickly noticed by DaGoulian, and he orders his newly created army to destroy this rebel, who calls himself simply “Mr. Bones.”
Mr. Bones soon becomes determined to stop DaGoulian’s plan. He must find a way to counteract the evil of red skeletism before DaGoulian’s minions catch up to him.”
Skeleton magnetism and raising the dead by using percussion instruments that have been infused with the darker aspects of science and alchemy? The insanity has only begun. For you see, Mr.Bones has one of the most varied gameplay challenges in all of gaming. Not only does the well-intentioned skeleton have to go through platforming levels where he must literally risk life and limb dodging DaGoulian’s minions (seriously, if you take too many hits, you can find yourself forced to travel around with nothing more than your spinal column and skull), he must also help free his skeleton friends by telling jokes, playing Breakout or Simon, and rocking out with the guitar he was given by none other than Ronnie Montrose (who also worked on the game’s sweet soundtrack). This culminates in an epic final boss fight with DaGoulian, where Mr. Bones has to keep pace with the mad philosopher’s drumset until dawn, when the sun’s light banishes him (because DaGoulian was also a vampire… I think?).
So let’s hear it for Mr. Bones, the nicest skeleton you’ll ever meet. He might not be the toughest character on this list, but he is probably the most skilled. After all, I’d like to see you tell jokes while jamming out with a guitar that can also shoot objects and dodging berserker skeletons while battling a philosopher/vampire who has a set of evil drums.