Bad to the Byte
Heroes are only as righteous as their villains are devious. The world of video games holds no exception to the proverbial rule. Human or creature, malfunctioning machine or ambiguous a-hole, behind every Mario and Master Chief stands, or hovers, a memorable malice that gives us gamers our power. For when we grab that controller and gear on the console, with a flick of the switch, we are the hero. And only via the trial beset by a mightier opponent can we stand on top of our couch and feel like we’re on top of the world. Yes, we are the hero, and these are my own personal picks of the Top 10 villains in video games.
Here’s a villain that never fails to make a Top 10 video game villain list. Why is that? Because Sephiroth is one bad S.O.B. The product of Shinra’s experimentation, the main antagonist of Final Fantasy VII aims to take over the world — hardly redundant, wouldn’t you say. Sephiroth defines difficulty and your final front against the self-proclaimed god is insanely impossible. I mean, seriously, he’s hard, man. Some may think him a stereotype, but not I, for Sephiroth is without a darkened doubt bad to the byte.
9. Darth Malak
Let me provide some perspective. I was six years old, my Dad took to me to see the Star Wars trilogy — the originals, not the crap that followed — in theaters, re-released on the big screen. Darth Vader became an indelibly impressed image of bad-ass awesomeness. Sure, the character may seem cliché and tacky to blooming generations, but as a kid, only Sidious with his lightning proved as frightening. Skip ahead to Knights of the Old Republic, the Bioware RPG set a really, really long time ago. The sovereignty of the stars is sought by a Sith Lord (shocking plot device as any), but not just any Sith Lord; a guy missing his entire lower jaw! Malak makes the list purely for his metal prosthesis for a mouth and his synthezized speech, both attributes as haunting and unforgettable as any a demonic Darth. And like the Skywalker-turned-Sith, Malak actually takes off his mask! Believe me, it’s enough to give you nightmares.
Freakishly Frustrating Fiend
Ninja Gaiden, both the original NES version and the Xbox remake, is one of the most difficult damn pieces of software ever coded. Classic to the last. But just to pick out one facet of frustration from the more recent 2004 rendition, Alma is the fiendishly corrupted twin counterpart of busty blood sister Rachel, who has made it her mission to redeem Alma’s blackened soul by, what else, killing her. Okay, that’s all good for mythos gurus, but this mutated menace makes the list for one simple reason: she is absolutely BRUTAL to defeat! Now, mind you, I’ve played a lot of games in my time, but Alma could quite honestly make my Top 10 list of the most devastingly difficult bosses in video games. When you lay your final strike and the cutscene plays, you’re off to fetch a face-towel. But hold on! Cake’s not finished. How about some icing? How about later on in the game you have to face her again? Have mercy.
The warden of Butcher Bay in the video game adaptation of the Chronicles of Riddick, Hoxie hits Number 7 because, well, quite frankly, his slimy supremacy is unmatched. Notably reminiscent to Bob Gunton’s warden in The Shawshank Redemption, right from the opening sequence he’s a worm to be severed, and Richard Riddick’s the spade. Much like other cowardly cronies, such as Wallace Breen in Half-Life 2, the Hox is protected by position rather than strength; he’s the warden of a massive containment facility, and as such is empowered by the foolish belief that he’s in control. That’s his downfall. Unlike the aforementioned administrator of City 17, however, our wormy warden receives his just desserts in spectacular and player-rewarding fashion. I’ll refrain from any spoilers but, man, it really sucks to be him.
6. 343 Guilty Spark
Evil Electronic Eyeball
Who would’ve thought that something so small would poise one of the greatest threats to all sentient life in the galaxy. Guilty Spark kind of reminds me of the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, an electronic eye that appears innocent enough, but in secret devises his own machinations according to what he thinks is best. Interesting connection: Halo was released in 2001 and you can spell HAL from the word. Anyway, Spark is the ultimate villain of fascination the same way HAL was. Do not be fooled by his comical glance, lest the universe be undone. And if the destruction of every being in the cosmos isn’t enough to persuade you to accept 343′s Top Ten qualification, then consider this: he did what no natural force, not even the relic ring itself, could ever achieve: he killed Sergeant Johnson. ‘Nuff said. Well, at least he went out with a bang.
Simian Space Scientist
A monkey scientist head that floats in space. Result of creativity or substance abuse? Your call. His ambitions may not be as great as notable others – his sole intents seem to be centered on the conquest of the Lylat system (really, Andross, only a system?) – but he’s a monkey scientist head! You don’t get more awesome than that. After being foiled by archnemesis Fox McCloud in the SNES shooter Star Fox and its predictably titled sequel Star Fox 64, Andross made a hugely unexpected return in the final act of Rare-developed Zelda clone StarFox Adventures. I emphasize the surprise of his appearance because next to nothing in that game had anything remotely to do with the Star Fox franchise, so to faceoff with Andross yet again in classic space-shooter fashion was like a breath of interior Arwing aroma. Oh, and he gets taken out like the Death Star in a scene taken straight out of Star Wars. Falco Lombardi even shows up in the knick of time like Han Solo.
It would be remiss of me to disclude Mario’s sex-starved saurus of an adversary – come on, we all know why he’s constantly hounding the young Princess Toadstool. He may fall into that retro rut of the stereotypical and one-dimensional characters, but that’s the way we prefer the King of the Koopas, maniacally blasting his BWA-HA-HA fire breath. Only in the later years of the N64 did Nintendo begin burdening the beast with more of a tragic tone. Paper Mario basically turned him into a goofball, and Super Mario Sunshine furthered the farce by endowing Bowser with a voice! Are you kidding me?! It didn’t even sound good. Er, forgive the generosity, it sounded awful! Farewell, King Bowser.
Imagine an evil so eternal even the purest of paladins could not dissuade. Enter Ganondorf Dragmire, Hyrule’s former guardian who’s got his sights set firmly on acquiring the Triforce and the power to enslave the entirety of existence. Heavy stuff. Ganon’s the adversarial archetype, and no matter the timeline or generation, as long as there’s a legend for Link, the Gerudo leader’s got a reason to return. Ironically, the first image that comes to mind when I think of Ganon is his human form, as he appears in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but his first appearance in the original LoZ was in his pig-like state. Both images of the villain are just as memorable and iconic, making Ganon all the more atrociously awesome.
Governmental God.. Er.. Omniscient Operative.. Uh.. Oh I Have No Idea!
No nefarious nemesis is as enigmatic as the G-Man, the reclusive suit that bookends the Half-Life games. Only clocking mere minutes on-screen throughout the series, he’s the only villain that makes this list because of his mystique. Absolutely everything about the character is left to interpretation and speculation. Despite the term G-Man’s association with government special agent, the ‘G’ in his alias may very well stand for God; it would be no stretch to assume he’s a deity. Voiced by Michael Shapiro, the same voice actor who lends his hilarity to the buy-you-a-beer Barney Calhoun, G-Man might not even classify as a villain, were it not for his unnerving monologues and his penchant for worldly manipulation — at the end of Half-Life 2 he freezes time. It’s clear that G-Man is no simpleton and hardly human. Though his motives are unknown, he seems to utilize Gordon Freeman as some sort of agent, or pawn, or perhaps just plain lab rat in what you can slowly surmise to be a dastardly design. In sum, he’s creepy, he’s powerful, he’s untouchable, and he’s also a complete mystery that easily ranks as the most unique villain in video games. Now, wake up Mr. Freeman, it’s time for Number 1.
1. Albert Wesker
Albert Wesker. Say it to yourself. AL-BERT WES-KER. What an awesome character name, backed by a mythic mythos in the long-running Resident Evil series. First discovered to be an undercover Umbrella agent in the original RE, Wesker’s final act before meeting his demise at the hands of the Tyrant was to infect himself with the equally tyrannical T-Virus, turning the STARS traitor into a superhuman soldier that likens to a cross between a martial arts master and a teleporter. Imagine if you will, Neo from the Matrix infused with the abilities of Nightcrawler, from X-men lore. He’s near unstoppable and, though mainly controlling events from behind the scenes, every now and again he’ll bump paths with Chris Redfield, and that’s when you’re like, ohhhhhh sh**. The character is a genuinely frightening villain because of his perverse power, and his return to the role of main antagonist in the fifth rendition of Resident was rightly rewarded. During our countdown, you’ve probably noticed I’ve mentioned many of our villains’ deaths. That’s because it’s the moment we wait for, the justification and motivation that keeps us at the controller for days at a time. In this category, Wesker outmatches every opponent. In a final showdown, Redfield takes out the Neo-Nightcrawler, who flies out the backside of a plane to his doom. But wait! He’s still alive, and transforms into an ultimate version of villainy, Wesker 3.0! Finally, this monster eats magma as he’s consumed by a fiery inferno. Chris and Jill Valentine make their escape in a chopper, but uh oh, Wesker is STILL alive and has grabbed the helicopter by its hinges. Could they have possibly dragged the cinematic conclusion out any longer?! In one final bid, Redfield reaches for an RPG, and BOOOM goes the boss. Ladies and gentlemen, it may have been over the top, but THAT is one hell of a final farewell to the most devilish and coolest bloodhound around. And that concludes our list. Thanks for joining me on a healthy dose of gaming nostalgia; as I bid you farewell, a healthy tip: you can stop standing on the couch now.