If you didn't know already, a new Doom landed this year, around the same time Animal Crossing also stopped in to give everybody something to do through the end of the world. While I haven't personally kept up close with this series over the years, I played quite a bit of Doom, Doom II and Doom 64 back in the 90's, and who doesn't love a good Cacodemon?
Yes, Cacodemons! Probably the most iconic creatures in the Doom franchise, though admittedly that's not a very tight competition; most of Doom is populated by rather conventional looking demons and devils when compared to these big, bloated cyclops heads. Like the Beholders from Dungeons and Dragons, a Cacodemon is just a huge, balloon-like sphere of meat with a big, toothy maw a single eye in the center, though instead of a Beholder's many eye-stalks, a Cacodemon has an array of horns and spines. And instead of various eye-beams, a Cacodemon spits purple fireballs, or "plasma" as they call it, and well...that's it, really. It's a big round devil head and it can fly. That's okay, though; sometimes it's the little things in life that really make you smile.
Granted, the most "creative" demon in Doom actually wasn't original at all; besides the similarities to a Beholder, its design is literally just another Dungeons and Dragons monster, the Astral Dradnought, cropped down to its face. How the heck did they get away with this, anyway? This technically means that the Cacodemon was designed by artist Jeff Easley, but I'm pretty sure he never got any Doom money. It's not like Doom was obscure enough for this to slip under any major publisher's radar, either, but get away with it they did; nobody remembers what an Astral Dreadnought is, but everyone thinks of the Cacodemon as a world famous icon of gaming culture.
In case you were curious, The Astral Dreadnought is a monster that lives on the astral plane and eats people's astral projections, which become trapped in a plane of reality that exists only within the Astral Dreadnought, so it actually kind of works as a mobile jail for psychic travelers. I think that's all a lot more interesting than burping fire, but what do I know?
So in Doom II, a creature clearly related to the Cacodemon was introduced, the outrageously named Pain Elemental. Instead of fireballs, this creature spits Lost Souls, smaller enemies resembling flying, flaming demon skulls.
The Pain Elemental also always struck me as a whole lot cutesier than the Cacodemon. Is that just me? It has a sadder expression on its face, smaller horns, those silly little t-rex arms and a much bigger, more soulful eye. It just makes me think of a big, dopey puppy-dog that doesn't really know what it's doing when it tears up a couch or eats a shoe or regurgitates the spirits of the damned all over the floor.
So Nintendo 64 comes along, and I guess they got nervous about the fact that one of their most famous monsters was an unauthorized cut and paste job. So they basically redesigned the Cacodemon, but the redesign looks more like the previous game's Pain Elemental, which is a little confusing. It's not nearly as cute, either. In fact, it looks like a bigger jerk than either demon ever did before, and it has what I can only see as a huge, scaly unibrow for good measure. The shackles dangling from its arms are an interesting touch, I suppose, but otherwise, I'm not a fan.
Now that the Cacodemon looks like the Pain Elemental, however, Doom 64 differentiates the Pain Elemental with a REALLY different design! It's now a pinkish, fleshy blob with one eye and two mouths, which gape to either side of it like a set of bizarre arms. This is one of the most alien-looking designs in the series, and I kind of wish they'd kept going with it. Totally my favorite thing in these games when I was twelve. This also means it can spit TWO lost souls at the same time!
I wasn't paying attention to Doom when Doom 3 came out in 2004, so I completely missed their bizarre, perhaps misaimed attempt to reboot their Aesthetic. I appreciate what this design was going for, a pretty unusual floating space-alien skull with an exposed brain and a weird, webbed hand sprouting out of the bottom. This creature also moves quite fast as opposed to the classic Cacodemon's lazy floating, and emits a buzzing, cybernetic sort of noise.
But...it just plain doesn't feel right. It's just not a Cacodemon!
...This, however? THIS is a Cacodemon. Debuting in Doom 2016, this design is truly distinct from the Astral Dreadnought, yet remains highly recognizable at just a glance. It has a more alien, more crustacean-like quality with its chitinous plates and its multi-directional fang-lined maw, which by the way can flare open in a manner almost similar to the sarcastic fringehead!
This new version also has a full set of four limbs, but they're dangly and vestigial, all malformed just a little different, and it also has an unpleasantly veiny, dangly throat sac that puts me in mind of a pelican. And if you don't think almost anything, especially the Cacodemon, is only made more frightening by an injection pelican elements, then you can get on outta here.
Despite all these changes however, we've still got a mostly round, reddish, floating creature, it still has the enormous, gummy, fangly maw, it still has the array of horns and it still has the single beady, green eyeball, all in an arrangement that still manages to scream "DOOM CACODEMON" without having to steal from a fantasy artist.
It's no wonder, then, that they've kept almost the very same design for the brand new Eternal, the only changes being a slightly more classical color scheme and the readdition of a pupil to its eye.
2016 and 2020 Caco also give it quite a bit more explanation; we now know that these demons are nearly mindless and thoughtless eating machines, aimlessly wandering until they sense living flesh. Their plasma balls have also now been changed to "psychoactive narcotic bile," which poisons prey and slows it down until the sluggish creature can catch up to it and swallow it up! In 2016's multiplayer mode, which allows you to play as the Cacodemon, it also wields a long-range tongue attack to reel in its victims!
Eternal also includes one lovable nod to the Cacodemon's original artistic inspiration, too, stating that the monsters "bear some resemblance to the cycloptic titans of ancient Hell lore."
2020 also marks the sudden return of the Cacodemon's soul-spewing cousin, to boot, and the brand new Pain Elemental isn't too shabby at all! It, too, draws visibly from its very first incarnation, but adds an intricate set of additional jaws and a much angrier scowl to its single eye. I do miss that lost puppy look, which also would have fit into the canon that a Pain Elemental is, itself, constantly wracked with pain, but while the elemental grew meaner looking, I personally see a lot of "gloomy bulldog" in the new Cacodemon's facial expression, so it all balances out.
It's been a funny little trip for the cocoadevil, and I'd say it's been mostly uphill, which is impressive considering how hit or miss a redesign can be for any classic creature. I really think its modern look just knocks it out of the park, separating it from its slapdash, basically illegal origins while still masterfully capturing the same overall feeling.
Perhaps I should have taken the time to review more Doom creatures for the momentous occasion of a brand new game, and actually, that's precisely what I initially expected to do...but once I took a quick inventory of monsters throughout its history, I honestly found that I had very, very few strong feelings about any other designs in the franchise; not even those cybernetic brain spider things! The Cacodemons simply are Doom, and perhaps it would make them feel a little less special, but my interest in the setting would definitely climb if they had even more variations and cousins than the Pain Elementals alone. If you ask me, you can never actually have "too many" big, flying heads.
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