The eternal struggle between good and evil, the light and dark, the good and bad. This is what most narratives, in almost every medium, revolve around and we are driven to root for the hero of the piece. However, in order for there to be heroes, there must be villains and for a legend to emerge they must conquer a truly great evil. Here we look at some of the greatest villains ever to cross our paths in video gaming history.
20. Dysentery - The Oregon Trail
A 1971 computer game that was supposed to educate you of the trials and tribulations of those undertaking the perilous Oregon trail, there were many follies you had to overcome in order to survive this game as you tried to get as many of your party to Oregon. Hunger meant you had to ration food in game and river fordings often meant characters getting swept away but, without a doubt, the worst thing to strike was dysentery and this was because there was next to nothing you could do about it. If you slept well and ate well then there would be less likelihood of it happening but it still had the ability to strike at random and at any point in the game. Not a villain in the conventional sense but the bane of all who played this game and so it gains a place lower down on this list.
With the game designed to be education, it was ridiculously hard in order to show the hardship of life on the Oregon Trail during the time period as it was set in 1848. Despite this, its success spawned several sequels including The Amazon Trail and The Yukon Trail with the original selling over 65 million copies, after ten iterations over forty years with versions now available on iOS.
19. Master Hand - Super Smash Bros.
The Super Smash Bros series is essentially an all out party-style beat-em-up where toy versions of your favorite video game characters have come to life and are battling it out against each other to become top dog in the toy box. The architect behind this carnage is a weird, floating, gloved hand that presumably represents a character playing with the toys. In any case, at the end of each game, you have to defeat the Master Hand to become the master of your own destiny.
Arguably then, it could be said that you are the Master Hand all along as you are the playing, controlling these toys. Whether this is the case or whether it truly is just an ethereal hand from another realm, the game doesn't go into such detail but it seems unlikely that it is you since, in game, Master Hand can shoot lasers from their fingertips. Can you do that? Didn't think so.
18. Kefka - Final Fantasy VI
Everyone knows that clowns are fundamentally evil but Kefka just takes it that one step further into full blown megalomania! Starting out as little more than a creepy court mage, he goes on to enslave Terra, burn down a castle, poison a water supply that kills hundreds of people then enacts a genocide of the creatures known as espers just to harvest their magic which he then uses to tear the world apart. He then rules over the chaos for a full year! Basically, it is what would happen if Ronald McDonald became an all-powerful deity and ruled the world with an iron fist!
The fact that Kefka gets away with all of this evil is what makes him so terrifying. He is a success with his plans and so rules a world torn asunder for over a year before you finally defeat him in game and for much of that, his plans go unnoticed making his notoriety all the more impressive when he does ascend to power.
17. Shao Kahn - Mortal Kombat
You know who wears skull masks because it sure 'ain't the good guys? A shirtless brute with a skull helmet who tries to take over various realms via fighting tournaments. His plan is full on nuts, but he is a notoriously hard boss to beat due to his massive hammer and immense strength and the all out, skull wearing, laser eye look is pretty darn chilling. To be fair, there is little else you could do than become evil with a look like that.
A brutal warlord in his own realm, it is not just his strength and knowledge of combat that makes him fearsome but also his use of black magic in an attempt to unite the realms and make himself the supreme leader of them all. It is his voice that announces each of the fights you participate in and it is his nature of mocking and taunting fight opponents that makes the detail of the character far more engaging than other villains.
16. Vaas Montenegro - Far Cry 3
A murdering, pillaging maniac who has very little discernible sanity and thus, entirely unpredictable and it is this very factor that makes his personality so chilling. Really, the whole driving force behind the game, Vaas points out the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result before doing just that. Perhaps, in that sense, the hammering home of just how off his rocker he is becomes a little heavy-handed but still, he's mad and he's bad!
Starting out as something of a pirate, Vaas lures tourists to his island lair and then ransoms them back to their families for large sums of money before then selling them into the slave trade and thus guaranteeing a double payout. Strange since money doesn't seem to be his driving force, his unpredictability means that he seems to preempt attacks on him despite suggesting he knows nothing about them.
15. Dark Link - The Legend of Zelda Series
A mirror to our hero, this dark being seems to crop up from time to time to thwart our hero with his very own moves and attributes. What is interesting, though, is that he seems to have no discernible agenda or quest apart from to be a massive annoyance which almost makes him more terrifying. What do you want from us?!!! Hardly in the same league as some of the more legendary Zelda villains but still up there.
Originally known as Link's Shadow, Dark Link turns the hero's powers on him and mirrors him in almost every way except the piercing red-eyed gaze that suggests something demonic but ultimately he is an enigmatic foe that plagues the character in various games and although never the main bad-guy does appear as a final boss in The Adventure of Link.
14. Pyramid Head - Silent Hill 2
The recurring villain in Silent Hill 2 is chilling in his faceless silence that permeates throughout the game and follows you throughout your quest. What makes him more terrifying is that he is actually merely imagined into existence, a beautifully designed and elegantly executed representation of the protagonist's guilt of the death of his wife. Carrying around an oversized butcher's knife with the implicit threat of malice, this character messed up a whole generation of gamers who couldn't deal with how freaky this guy was. Nightmarish and iconic with it.
Pyramid Head made it to the silver screen when the Silent Hill films were made, but he had lost something of his original fear factor, failing to transfer entirely to cinema although remaining chilling. It was the psychological aspect of Pyramid Head that made it so frightening, and so a literal interpretation seemed to detract from this.
13. Handsome Jack - Borderlands 2
The embodiment of corporate evil, Handsome Jack is the head of the largest corporation on the planet and so has near unlimited resources to get rid of you. Throw into the mix he is a snarky, self-centered, egotistical madman hell-bent on your demise and narrating it at your every turn he really is most irksome, and there is a genuine relief when you do see him off.
With a moon base and an army at his disposal, Jack is a full-on super villain who seeks out stronger and stronger weapons to solidify his position as an all-out dictator. It was an injury to his face from the destruction of one of these weapons that left him without a left eye and with a mark branded onto him so he had a mask grafted over his face and this is how he became known as 'Handsome' Jack.
12. The Lich King - World of Warcraft: Wrath of The Lich King
Undoubtedly inspired by Tolkien's Lich King, the Warcraft makers took the character and made him his own powerful ruler rather than just a cog in the wheel of Sauron's omnipresent evil. This Lich King, however, brings icy frosts and evil hordes to your doorstep and you have to battle them all just to get a shot at him with his piercing blue, eyeless sockets and his even more piercing Frostmourne sword.
World of Warcraft's nature as a Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) meant that it was constantly expanded with add-ons to the base game. This was an expansion pack and few fans would argue that it is one of better ones at that as the game never really reached the same heights afterward although it still garners many millions of subscribers today.
11. Giovanni - Pokemon Red & Blue
In the first of the Pokemon games to hit the West, Giovanni was the head of the most powerful crime syndicate in the Pokemon universe, using his henchmen to steal the very best Pokemon and profiting from their use. What is refreshing about this guy, whom you battle twice, is that he plays by the rules and fights your Pokemon in a proper Pokemon battle format and even gives up his riches when he loses. By no means, the toughest character to beat in the game but the one who lends it a storyline and a level of meaning to your quest.
The head of Team Rocket, the shady organization seems to entirely disappear once you have dispatched with Giovanni's Pokemon after wading through halls of his henchmen and their beasts. They do crop up in other iterations of the game but the shady empire's dodgy dealings are never fully explained.
10. Wheatley - Portal 2
The idiotic A.I that bumbles his way through instructing you through the game before seizing power and becoming the one you must defeat. However, his stupidity makes him twice as dangerous as he doesn't really know what to do with his untold power so his actions become a bit random and unpredictable. However, once defeated he recognizes his poor ways and expresses remorse which is what perhaps makes him such a fascinating character, is that he knew he was doing evil.
Part of Wheatley's genius is that he is his own comic relief, he is not an overbearing, dark and stressful type of evil but more a chaotic evil that has stumbled upon power and does not know what to do with it so enjoys it ith reckless abandon, perhaps somehow knowing it won't last for long. Voiced by the comic mastermind Stephen Merchant, his irrevocable charm also makes his appeal very dangerous.
9. Alduin - The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
In a game about a land infested by fire-breathing dragons, the daddy of them all, the king lizard, is Alduin, the world eater. Not only is he massive and scary but he also wields power that somehow prevents your execution and means previous generations haven't been able to defeat him merely displace him. Also, did we mention he is a massive, fire-breathing dragon?
The intensity and in-depth nature of the Elder Scrolls series means that you don't actually encounter Alduin too often in the game but he is just a lurking presence you know you will have to eventually see off and it is this lingering sense of the inevitable battle that makes him a formidable foe as he prays on your mind long before the reality of meeting him creeps up on you.
8. Rival/Blue/Gary - Pokemon Red & Blue
Your rival in the Pokemon games is the obnoxious grandson of the Pokemon professor who gives you your first Pokemon. Sadly for your rival, his grandfather forgets his name which allows you to name him what you like. This is what made him such a delicious villain as you could name it after the school bully and crow every time you crushed his puny Pokemon, or you could just name him something lewd and chuckle to yourself every time his name came up. Perpetually one step ahead of you, you are constantly chasing his coat tails as he even defeats the Pokemon league before you meaning he is one final and unexpected battle after you have seen off all others.
It is perhaps unfair to even consider our rival a villain as we project all this negative feeling onto him and, although obnoxious, he seems not to bear us any ill will. Perhaps that makes us the villain of the piece for all these harsh feelings we hold towards him, or maybe he antagonizes us because he's had a harsh childhood where his grandfather gives away his Pokemon and can't remember his name. Either way, we don't like him!
7. Majora - The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
A sentient mask with no desire for riches, fame or power, all it wants is the untold and complete destruction of the world, and it plans to do this by crashing the moon into it. This is horrifying in itself, but then it also attributes the moon with a freaky, angry face because it knows it will soon be headbutting a planet. This lends all night-time parts of the game an eerie air as this looming, angry moon watches over you all the time. Stupid mask!
Majora actually takes three forms throughout the game with each one having to be defeated. Although he starts out as the mask, he sources more and more power to become a sort of stick thin incarnation before eventually becoming a form known as Majora's Wrath that is a scary man-beast that is filled with rage and anger that you are trying to prevent it from his overall goal.
6. Sephiroth - Final Fantasy VII
Another Final Fantasy villain who is pretty big on mass murder, Sephiroth also comes into some pretty darn iconic theme music on his quest to wreck the planet. What makes him so iconic though is his straight up murder of one of the main characters in the middle of the game. The middle! Whilst you 've been leveling them up and everything! We didn't see it coming and neither did poor Aeris! Also, why is his sword so unnecessarily long? So he can murder-slay people from a greater distance because surely that thing is unwieldy?
Sephiroth also has an intriguing backstory as a soldier who once fought, or at least trained, side by side with our hero Cloud, who he then reveals never passed training. It is this familiarity as well as apparent superiority in fighting skill that makes him such a troublesome character who knows us best and thus our weaknesses as well.
5. GLaDOS - Portal
An acronym of Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, this computer A.I knows what she has got to do in order to destroy you and deletes certain personality traits of her own and forces you to destroy the one thing you have an emotional attachment to. What makes her stand out from most of the villains on this list is that she knows when to concede defeat. Rather than being an egomaniac who considers only victory, she knows when she is beaten and does her best to preserve herself rather than risk total annihilation.
It is this endearingly humanistic trait that makes the downfall of GLaDOS somehow tragic, despite her constant torture and dark intentions towards you. She returned all too briefly for the second game as the bumbling Wheatley took the reigns as the new villain, and although a great character, he just couldn't live up to GLaDOS in quite the same manner.
4. The Joker - Batman Arkham Series
The Joker is an iconic villain in any media as he is the nemesis to Batman and is not just a muscle-bound thug but an insane yet calculating genius who uses his mind to draw the caped crusader in and wreak havoc on the citizens of Gotham. This is why it was such a let down in Arkham Asylum when, after a litany of brilliant boss-fights, he just uses a super serum to boost himself up to become nothing more than a brute. Granted, it is hard to have a final boss fight that is dramatic and satisfying if the other guy is just using his mind but it was a let down to an otherwise flawless character as the bedraggled, green-haired clown who takes the Dark Knight on at every turn.
Being an icon of many mediums means that the Joker has to live up to his wicked ways so has been known to fall flat when fans of the series expect more. However, his look, trademark cackle, and villainy always remain and it is no wonder the game makers chose him as their main villain of the piece throughout the series rather than go with someone else or one of their own creation.
3. Ganon - The Legend of Zelda Series
A giant, beeping pig-man who uses the ancient triforce powers to kidnap Princess Zelda and try and take over the kingdom, he is brutish and clever all in one and puts forward a series of tests of skill, determination and wit before our hero Link before he comes face to face with the monster himself.His alternate form sees him as a powerful sorcerer known as Ganondorf and when he is imbued with the powers of the triforce he becomes nearly invincible with only certain legendary weapons able to defeat him.
Born the only male of his kind, he instantly became a king and went on to try and expand his rule over other kingdoms. Depending on which game you play, his origin story alters ever so slightly, as does his form, but he remains an almost ever-present throughout the series although Link has been known to battle other foes from time to time also.
2. Dr. Robotnik/Eggman - Sonic The Hedgehog Series
Let's start with where it all began, shall we? Sonic the Hedgehog was born out of a need to compete. Nintendo had a firm grip on the video game market and it mainly revolved around the exploits of a giant Gorilla and a pair of plumbers in red and green overalls respectively. Super Mario had become the first superstar icon of video games with his instantly recognizable red hat and bushy mustache and SEGA wanted to challenge this. They were soon to launch their new console and needed a frontman for it, an icon that would represent them how Mario represented Nintendo and so everyone within the company was asked to come up with a design for a character.
Of the designs that came out on top, one was a friendly rabbit inspired by the popularity of the Disney brand, another a large, affable fat man with a bushy mustache (like Mario) based heavily on former US President Theodore Roosevelt and finally, a superfast hedgehog initially dubbed Mr. Needle Mouse. The rabbit was quickly done away with but the other two characters were held in high regard. It was decided, however, that Mr. Needle Mouse could become everything Mario wasn't. Rather than a character based on trial and error, Needle Mouse could be about speed and reactions and rather than red he'd be Blue. The fat man was re-purposed and soon became the enemy to this hog and after a quick rename to reflect his speed and attitude, Sonic was born along with the evil Dr. Ivo Robotnik (or Dr. Eggman in Japan). After a re-brand for the franchise, the 'Dr.Eggman' moniker also stuck in the West and so the evil genius went on to battle Sonic in every one of his games in some form or another with his plan usually revolving around enslaving woodland creatures and creating a robot army via their life force or the use of the magical chaos emeralds.
Initially just the giant turtle-shelled monster that stole Princess Peach and gave Super Mario something to do, Bowser evolved into a far more fleshed out character over time and became an excellent counterpoint to the plumber bedecked in red and even had his own tongue-in-cheek game focussed around his inner workings (although it still acts as a Mario & Luigi vehicle). He has always been Mario's nemesis and without him, there can be no Mario and so he deserves his own mention on this list.
It is his longevity that makes him such a great villain as, although not Mario's first enemy, he has undoubtedly become his nemesis. The fleshing out of his character in Super Mario Sunshine showed us that he is also capable of a complex relationship with that of his son who believes Peach to be his mother (which raises all sorts of questions which we are not prepared to tackle) but his look and demeanor have come to be the general embodiment of evil on a video gaming platform, and so you may never become ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, you are truly, King of this list.