What makes a great video game villain? Maybe heroes need to be invincible, but they also need a counterpart to drag them to their extremities. What we want is for an unstoppable force to meet an immovable object. So, whoever it is, they need to arrive with an impact and stir up a chaotic maelstrom of events. Then it’s that swirling spiral of good and evil, which spins those epic rivalries and recurring battles we remember.
In this blog, we’re taking a look at some of those gaming villains who transformed the titles they were part of. Cartoonish creatures, narcissistic cowboys, mohawked anarchists… they’re all here – draped in the charisma that makes you love to hate them and play to destroy them.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and take on the Nerdleaks list of our all-time greatest video game villains:
7. Bowser (Super Mario)
Great villains are iconic and characterful. You should be able to tell who they are from their silhouette – just picture Darth Vader’s helmet. Bowser is unmistakable in shape and physique. Entirely predictable when he swaggers into gameplay, but a shell-shouldered bruiser nevertheless. He also hasn’t changed too much since his first gameplay outing way back in 1985. That’s partly why we love him so much. King Koopa is still a force of nature and one of the earliest video game villains, chasing his arch-nemesis Mario throughout the popular Nintendo franchise.
6. Dutch (Red Dead Redemption 2)
The best thing about Dutch’s villainy was the slow reveal that allowed it to evolve before us. Dutch Van Der Linde was always a mercurial character. At first, he seemed like a quintessential gang leader. A great orator. Daring warrior. Someone who made the hard decisions for the good of the camp. Yet slowly Rockstar drew us into his elitism. In Arthur’s boots, we entered the callous pit of his psychology. It started with bad manners as criminality often does. Then it spiralled into vengeful narcissism and violent self righteousness.
5. Vaas (Far Cry 3)
One thing you can count on Far Cry for is a strong baddie. None of whom had such an impact as the franchise poster boy and tank top wearing nihilist who wreaked havoc in the third game. Voice actor Michael Mando poured a kerosene barrel of crazy into this tweaked drug trafficker and anarchic jungle pirate. His Einstein-inspired monologue on insanity is pure video game genius. We first meet him after our character, Jason Brody, gets punted into a nightmare from the heady thrill of his gap year (soundtrack courtesy of MIA). Before a barrage of expletives is suddenly hurled our way as prisoners are summarily disposed of in the background. It’s unsettling stuff!
4. Robotnik (Sonic Adventure)
You may know him as Doctor Eggman – the world’s greatest scientist – or, more likely, Doctor Ivo Robotnik. Before Jim Carrey ever got his hands on him, this scientist poured his IQ of 300 into mad schemes to build Eggman Empire, with the city of Eggmanland at the heart of it. Okay, on paper, it doesn’t sound all that evil, or compelling. There’s a reason Robotnik has stuck around across the Sonic The Hedgehog series though. Unlike other egg-shaped characters, who struggled to sit upright on walls, the doctor is an inexhaustible genius of sorts. He’s never short of contraptions to hop into. Nor is he above hatching old fashioned evil schemes, like building armies of robot slaves and fine-tuning doomsday devices.
3. Mr Illusive (Mass Effect 3)
Voiced by Martin Sheen, this power-starved billionaire was one of the best things BioWare brought to the Mass Effect franchise. The Illusive Man is full of swagger as leader of the Cerberus group – only his eye implants belie what appears to be a recognisably human figure. Then you grow more aware of his ‘human first’ vitriol and the undercurrent of madness that eventually leads him to resurrect Shepard’s frosty corpse. Like all the best Bond villains, he’s refined and subtle, riddled with complexity.
2. Revolver (Metal Gear Solid)
Revolver Ocelot doesn’t just come with a great name, he’s the dark star of Metal Gear Solid because he brought a rich slickness to the game. A double-crossing Russian-American operative, dressed in cowboy attire and armed with his beloved Colt Single Action Army Revolver. He’s a master of manipulation, with a proclivity for aiming ricocheted bullets and a flair borrowed from the best Spaghetti Westerns.
1. Joker (Arkham Knight)
Maybe you saw this one coming, but who could forget everyone’s favourite maniacal clown? The Joker is a vessel of insanity. A cackling comedian one second. Then a sociopath hellbent on violence the next. Totally impulsive and lawless. And, in many ways, more compelling in his chaotic freedom than Batman, who always treads a very familiar path. Noble, sure. Yet Batman is also calling out for an antagonist to twist and test his heroism. Ironically, Joker was voiced by one of cinema’s all-time greatest good guys… Mark Hamill.
Did we miss any great video game menaces off our list? Let us know in the comments section below…