Monster Mania: Serious Sam’s Beheaded Kamikaze Is No Laughing Matter
Monster Mania is a weekly column celebrating the unique and varied monster designs in horror gaming.
If you were to describe Serious Sam in a word, “Serious” would be at the very bottom of the list. As if it wasn’t apparent from the beheaded kamikazes and cannonball-hurling bone monsters, developer Croteam has never exactly been concerned with being taken seriously. To be fair, the series protagonist, Sam “Serious” Stone, has little on his plate other than mowing down the seemingly never-ending hordes of bizarre monsters that cross his path. And there are few monsters in the series as iconic and indicative of Croteam’s commitment to their wholly singular approach to monster design, such as the beheaded kamikaze.
My favorite of the beheaded brethren enemy types, beheaded kamikazes are just that: a headless body with dual-wielding Acme-era bombs (that would make Adam West jealous) who are concerned with one thing, and one thing only: Blowing Sam the hell up. Easily one of the silliest-looking enemy designs in gaming, but this monster quickly proves its existence is no laughing matter. An utterly ridiculous design and being relatively easy to kill hardly sound like attributes fitting a Monster Mania entry. Still, the magic of the beheaded kamikaze is that it represents Croteam’s knack for making even the most laughable seeming creations viable threats.
In almost every conceivable way, Serious Sam is as simple as a shooter could be: Point and click until everything on the screen is dead. That isn’t a knock against the series, either, as Croteam has impressively made a 20+ year legacy out of that simplicity. And as with most games that rely on simplicity, there is far more method to the madness than is initially apparent. Given this legacy, it is surprising that Croteam doesn’t regularly receive more praise for its creative and varied monster designs that have always stood out.
Typically, monsters found within a game share some semblance of genealogy. For example, while Doom’s demons have unique and defining characteristics, players can still see how they are cut from the same demonic cloth. Serious Sam’s monsters have always been a randomized array of design and combat styles whose only connection is their desire to kill the player as quickly as possible.
The ingenuity of a monster such as the beheaded kamikaze comes from its combat role within the pantheon of Serious Sam baddies. As the name implies, the monster runs at the player and proceeds to explode in their face. A shot or two will drop them, no problem, but how they are deployed displays their combat effectiveness. The headless kamikaze’s knack for self-destruction can be used to the player’s benefit. Rather than killing the kamikazes outright, waiting until they bunch up near other groups of enemies and then killing them, prompting them to detonate, is old reliable regarding ammo conversation.
Given the series’ arena-based approach to throwing waves of enemies at the player, combat can become quite hectic at the drop of a hat. Dozens upon dozens of enemies fill the screen at any given time, and this is where the beheaded kamikaze’s sound design shines. While some monsters benefit from towering over Sam (some quite literally filling the screen), the beheaded kamikaze’s small stature can become lost within the hordes. The developers are conscious of this, and to avoid enraging players (and sparing their keyboards in the process), they given this beheaded foe a….voice?
In yet another silly but smart facet of design, the beheaded kamikaze is iconic for announcing its presence by simply yelling. Clearly, some beheaded horseman ass witchcraft is powering these fellas, but this is done for more than laughs. Given the chaotic nature of combat, their yell gives the player an auditory queue that they are near. The player can also derive which direction the kamikazes are approaching, which is imperative to surviving more than a few moments. Given how common this enemy is, their knack for being an exploding thorn in the player’s side is something players must be mindful of.
The beheaded kamikaze’s coveted design was slightly tweaked in Serious Sam 3: BFE, as they were given a small camera where their head used to be. I assume this was done to explain their ability to run in a straight line and track Sam. And truthfully, I think this design tweak stinks as minor as it is. Trying to explain away the lunacy behind any of Serious Sam’s monster designs is like trying to explain how Sam can carry 15 guns simultaneously. This design tweak doesn’t tarnish its legacy by any means, but an example of how the identity of a monster can be altered through further series entries.
Throughout Serious Sam’s 20-year history of delightfully deranged monsters, I consider the beheaded kamikaze to be the explosive through the line. A series icon that best represents what Croteam has accomplished and continues to do so with each new iteration of chaotic carnage.
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