Weekend Hot Topic, part 2: The best video game villains

GameCentral readers discuss their favourite video game bad guys, from the iconic Ganon and Pyramid Head to the Ghost Pirate LeChuck.

The subject for this weekend’s Inbox was suggested by reader Cranston, who asked what bad guy do you love to hate the most? It can be anyone from the main villain of the story to a cannon fodder grunt, but who makes the biggest impression through the storyline or the gameplay?

We had plenty of good suggestions, including classics like GLaDOS and Bowser, as well as at least two Far Cry bad guys and less obvious choices like Undertale’s Flowey.


Eternal enemy

It’s got to be Bowser, hasn’t it? One of the most recognisable characters in all gaming and such a loveable idiot I love to see him turn up. He can be a real threat in gameplay terms but in story terms he’s a lot more… fallible. How he manages to continuously take over the Mushroom Kingdom only to be driven back time and again by Mario I don’t know. All I can say is that Bowser’s kingdom (does that even have a name?) must have a very strong economy because he seems to be able to come back every game with huge fleets of ships and bad guys and never seem to run out of resources.

But seriously, Bowser is a great enemy. It should be annoying that he’s always the bad guy in a Mario game but Nintendo always find a different way to use him, they usually don’t overdo him until right at the end and by being completely different to Mario he’s a good opposite: he’s huge, slow, and it’s usually impossible to jump on his head.

I think he’s better than Ganon because him always coming back is treated as a joke, whereas with Ganon it just makes him seem slightly incompetent and nothing to be feared. With Bowser that’s part of the joke and I’ll be happy to battle him forever.


One-off performance

The immediate answer that comes to mind for this is Pyramid Head from Silent Hill but I’m wary of mentioning him because the reason he isn’t scary any more is because he’s so overused. He was terrifying in Silent Hill 2 because you had no idea what he was, what he was capable of, or even what he was doing as half the time he didn’t even seem that interested in you.

Then of course they realised that everyone liked him and he ended up in a bunch of games and movies and the mystique slowly faded away. Horror films are always at the best the less you understand of an enemy and that’s why Pyramid Head worked so well and why he should have never been seen again, especially as Silent Hill being different for everyone is baked into the mythology of the series.


Story shock

Andrew Ryan from Bioshock is one of my favourites but it also illustrates the difficulties of making a good villain for video games. For the first half of the game he’s a fairly constant presence over the speakers but there’s actually a good reason for that and the halfway point twist is excellent, one of the best ever in gaming.

But once that happens the game has nowhere else to go and they have to bring in a bad guy that’s a physical threat and he ends up being one of the lamest boss fights ever. And that’s the problem for games: the need a big bad that’s both interesting from a story and character point of view and a physical threat you can have, ideally repeated, fights with.

I’m not sure if there’s any game that gets both side perfect and just getting the story side right is very rare, which is what makes Bioshock stand out.


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Ghostly presence

He’ll probably be largely forgotten nowadays but the one that came to mind for me is the Ghost Pirate LeChuck, later upgraded to zombie and demon. The Monkey Island games were a great part of my childhood and a lot of the appeal came from them having a strong bad guy who was a threat (the ending of the second game was super hard the first time!) but also funny like the other characters.

Thinking about other games villains rarely make much impact as far as I’m concerned. They usually appear and cackle a bit about whatever their thing is at the beginning then you get one or two updates as the game goes on and then it’s just straight into a monologue at the end and a boss battle.

That tends to make them not much of character and LeChuck works a lot more like a movie villain who appears throughout the game and feels like he’s in the world with you rather than someone just sidling on stage now and again.


Computer error

The simple and correct answer for this (only half joking) is SHODAN from System Shock. She is hands down not only the most evil character in gaming but she combines this with being intelligent and highly sadistic. She’s constantly taunting you and seems to enjoy the carnage and misery she causes. In terms of an AI gone rogue that has absolutely no shred of sympathy for humanity she’s probably the most realistic in all fiction and obviously that makes her a great villain and opponent.

I’m still doubtful that we’ll ever see a real System Shock 3 but I hope so because the idea deserves to be updated for the modern era. Whether they can get SHODAN right though is another thing. They’ll probably try and make her sexy or something but the way she was originally was perfect: scary, competent, and completely evil.


Straightforward fight

One villain that stood out to me was the Electrocutioner ‘fight’ in Batman: Arkham Origins, I just found it amusing how quickly it ended!

The enemy that made be angry though was Vaas from Far Cry 3. I didn’t really pay too much attention to the plot other than the start, so for me it was a straightforward revenge mission. Finally catching up with Vaas felt satisfying.
Will N


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Continuous gaming bad guy

Good topic to discuss. A good bad guy really just needs to leave a big enough impression on you to make you excited for them to make an appearance again through a single or series of games.

Take for example Saren from Mass Effect and Liquid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. These two guys have a background that will satisfy most book readers and their moral codes are very complex. They believe in a greater cause and a way of life which makes them seem correct in their own minds, but blinds them to any moral boundaries which may get in their way. They will do anything to get that goal for a future of their making, believing it to be the correct way forward.

Now another two complex characters are Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII and Kefka from Final Fantasy VI. Like Liquid and Saren, Sephiroth does have some sort of a moral code which we could take as heroic, but also like the above this is then blurred or lost when a different mindset is used. This then twists them all into cruelty and the destruction of things around them without a second thought. Kefka on the other hand is basically evil and a true psychopath who wants to end life, consciousness, and the meaning of existence entirely! What a nice guy.

Another true psychopath who uses a power called Psycho Power is M. Bison, the dictator of Shadaloo from the Street Fighter series. When also watching anime and reading the lore of this guy, you’ll learn that his way of thinking is similar to other evil people like Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious from the Star Wars saga. They basically want to rule everything and control everyone in their possible grasp.

They’re not only hyper intelligent but also very cruel in how they scheme with others to get their desired goal. But they are also physically powerful too and a threat in every possible way. Like Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, they can destroy absolutely anything that gets in their way. But it’s the respect and huge armies they muster, and have at their command, which makes them quite a force to behold and to try and stop.

But enemies do not all have to be complex like the above, take Bowser and Dr Robotnik from the Super Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog series. No complexity but a sheer delight to try and stop their nefarious plans with great gameplay and fun gaming mechanics. Add the Kooper Kids from Super Mario Bros. 3 and you basically have some of the best boss battles in gaming history, even if the actual battles don’t last that long – short but sweet.

To get a good nemesis or a continuous gaming bad guy through a series of games it has to hit a few different areas of success. The best are talked about for years and the rest are a take it and leave it type of thing. The above are a few of my favourites and most nostalgic to come back to again and again. I even forgot about another of my favourite psychopaths: Albert Wesker from the Resident Evil series and Ganondorf Dragmire from the Zelda series. But I’ll save the rest for another time and to see if another character or entity ticks all the boxes to become a classic gaming villain.


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