Some believe the universe is all about a delicate balance. There is no light without dark, no yin without yang, no good without evil.
Therefore it follows that your favourite gaming heroes would be nothing without their opposite numbers: the villains. Without the baddies most games in your collection would probably not exist- or at least be terribly dull. (Mario’s adventures in plumbing wouldn’t be quite the same now, would it?)
This list is all about them. However today we’re not talking about the ‘Big Bads’ of the gaming world, your Bowsers and Dr Robotniks. On the contrary, this is all about the little (bad) guys. We’re talking henchmen, minions, hired goons, footsoldiers and cannon fodder. They don’t get a lot of attention but these are the guys that evil empires are built on. They are the true unsung heroes of villainy (if that’s not too much of a contradiction in terms). So let’s hear it for the baddies, as we salute the top 25 enemies in gaming (in no particular order). The list features some of our favourite gaming bad guys going back more than 30 years. Have we forgotten your favourite? Let us know in the comments section:
From: The Mario series
Pity the humble Goomba. Often overlooked in favour of his reptilian colleague, but the noble Goomba is often the first on the scene to face the Plumber Menace. In fact, Goombas are the very first enemy Mario encountered in the first Super Mario Bros game, which in itself earns them a place in the pantheon of bad guys.
Goombas are actually another form of Mushroom, (inspired by shiitake mushrooms, no less) which makes them distant cousins of the Toads. The poor Goomba is designed to be easily beatable, so his life-span tends to be tragically short. Add to this the indignity of being turned into some kind of tiny-headed Lizard in the infamously bad Mario Bros. movie. Surely nobody deserves that?
From: The Mario series
Easily the most iconic of Mario’s foes, Bowser’s personal army of troops are the definitive villains in a half shell. They’ve been fighting for Turtle Power since the first Mario game and show no signs of going anywhere. Their ability to be killed by their own shell being flung back at them may have been an evolutionary mistake, but it hasn’t done them any harm in the long term. They come in numerous varieties – red, blue, yellow, green and even a winged breed – the Air Force of Bowser’s military. Also thanks to the New Super Mario Bros series, we also know that they are awesome dancers.
It may look primitive today, but ID Softwares’ hugely influential FPS was a big deal back in the day. It was no coincidence that for many years after, FPS games would be referred to as “Doom Clones”. For many gamers it was one of the first games to actually feel scary to play. And the reason for that? These guys. The demonic hordes you faced in Doom were as far away as you could get from the more cuddly villains gamers of the time were used to facing.
From Resident Evil series
Hard to imagine it now, but there was actually a time when zombies weren’t completely overdone in gaming. When Capcom’s classic survival horror came out in the 90s, we hadn’t seen anything like it. Bringing the undead from George Romero” Dead Series to (un)life, it was a revelation. The first time you encountered one of the shambling flesh-hungry beasties it was terrifying. The fact that the clunky control system made it hard to run away didn’t help. The series later turned its back on zombies (for a few games at least), but to most fans, zombies and Resi will be forever linked.
From Dragon Quest series
Dragon Quest may be Final Fantasy’s poor relation in the West, but in Japan it’s simply huge. However, even among Dragon Quest agnostic Westerners the Slimes are the most iconic characters to emerge from the series. Despite their friendly looks (courtesy of Dragon Ball Z creator Akira Toriyama) they are the game’s most numerous foes. Sure they’ll kill you given half a chance… but how can you stay mad at that face? So popular in their own right that the Slimes have actually starred in their own spin-offs.
From: Tomb Raider
Lara Croft clearly wasn’t a member of PETA, as the tomb raider spent much of her time fighting off wolves and other large carnivores. However, there were few more memorable moments on the original PlayStation than when the buxom adventurer first encountered this big fella. Making quite an entrance, this was was a stand-out moment in a classic game. The sense of achievement when you finally took down the dino was quite something.
From Space Invaders
No list like this would be complete without the original and most iconic of gaming enemies. Imagine just how many coins were inserted in the effort to take out wave after wave of these blighters. These guys (or gals, or sexless individuals, who can say?) are on a short list of gaming icons that are recognisable even to non-gamers. They came in a few subtly different varieties but the basic model is iconic – even to those of us who weren’t even born when the game was first released.
In contrast to most games that were available at the time, the enemies of Pacman had considerably more personality. Despite the technical limitations of the time, the different ghosts were easily identifiable by their differing colour schemes. The four spectral beings went by the names of Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde, although whether most gamers were aware of the fact was another matter. The ghosts are simply trying to stop Pacman from taking pills – and get eaten for their trouble. Charming. Just Say No, kids!
Poison and Roxy
From Final Fight
Final Fight, as a classic scrolling beat-’em up, featured wave after wave of generic thugs for our heroes to punch in the face. These two however stood out, as being among the first female enemies in games at the time. However when Capcom discovered Westerners considered hitting women to be bad manners (to say the least) they were tuned into crossdressing males. Except if you played a Nintendo version of the game, where they were entirely replaced by generic male punks.
As a million game and movie makers will tell you, Nazis make prime enemy material. But when Wolfenstein did it, it had not yet become a cliché. Blasting the scheiß out of members of the Third Reich was a lot of fun, and not only because of the high-pitched scream they did if you shot them in the schnitzel. Amusingly, when the game was converted to the SNES, due to Nintendo’s family- friendly policy, all traces of Nazi iconography (including Hitler’s moustache) were removed.
From Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
Oddworld Inhabitants created a whole wonderful world for their Oddworld series, a beautifully created planet with numerous species. Sligs were the first hostile species Abe the Mudoken encountered, in the first game, seeing at they were running the meat-packing plant Abe and his fellow captives were “employed” in. Sligs (sometimes accompanied by dog-like Slogs) are unpleasant and violent creatures, resembling a cross between a slug and octopus, with cybernetic legs and a gas mask.
From Call Of Duty: World At War
Not a lot needs to be said more than this, really. What could be better than not Nazis or zombies, but Nazi Zombies? First appearing in World At War, it was an unexpected and welcome addition, and Zombie modes are now part of COD tradition.
From Resident Evil 2
In the second game in the series, events spread to Racoon City. The game also introduced some other freaky-as-hell creations of The Umbrella Corporation’s meddling that went way beyond mere zombies. This delightful chap, with his massive tongue and attitude problem had to be the most bizarre of the lot. Has a fondness for hanging on ceilings. And murder.
From the Silent Hill series
Silent Hill is easily one of the creepiest games around, with its spooky atmosphere and freaky creatures. The dark and foggy streets of the God-forsaken titular town hide some truly nightmarish creations. Aside from Pyramid Head (who I’d consider the game’s primary antagonist) the most memorable are the nasty nurses. These unpleasant supernatural beasties are relentless, and come after you, in flagrant disregard for the Hippocratic Oath.
From The Legend Of Zelda series
Coming from a long line of sinister skeletons, these boney bastards are among Link’s most frequent and most iconic foes. They don’t present too much of a threat, it’s true, but when you spot “dem bones” you know you’re in familiar, comfortable Zelda territory. Skeleton warriors with swords and shields give off a real Jason and the Argonauts vibe – and that can only ever be a good thing.
From the Gears Of War series
These great big towering reptilian hulks are the primary threat in the Gears Of War series. With no apparent motivation other than to kill, these guys are delightful company and the heart and soul of any party. Emerging from beneath the surface of the planet below, they cut quite the imposing figure.
Genome soldiers/guards/ assorted soldiers
From Metal Gear Solid
Basically gaming’s equivalent of the nameless legions of disposable soldiers in private armies – the kind James Bond would take out without a second thought. Employed by various Evil Organisations depending on the game in the series, they are pretty much your bog-standard grunts. However Hideo Kojima’s team imbue even such minor figures with real character, to the degree that you can imagine them having a life outside the game. At least until you sneak up behind them and stealthily snap their necks, you heartless bastard.
From Star wars: Dark Forces
The cinema world’s definitive foot-soldier, but they also featured in many Star Wars games – thereby earning a place on this list. Their most prominent role was in the Star Wars: Jedi Knight series, which kicked off with Dark Forces back in 1995. When all is said and done, there’s really no more iconic blue-collar bad guy than the hapless Stormtrooper.
These enormous fellows are easily the stand-out foes from the Bioshock games. Genetically engineered (‘spliced’) humans with heavy steam-punk armour, they make sure you get quite a welcome to Rapture. They will stop at nothing to guard “Little Sisters”, little brainwashed human girls. Whereas so many enemy’s motivations are somewhat muddled, Big Daddy is driven by something we can all understand.
From Rayman/ Raving Rabbids Series
These manic alien bunnies first appeared as an enemy for limbless wonder Rayman in Rayman Raving Rabbids. To say that they stole the thunder from the titular hero would be putting it mildly, and Rayman was subsequently dropped entirely from the subsequent sequels. The games might have seen a dip in quality after numerous sequels, but these mental mammals have real character, and are genuinely funny. They have been extremely popular with a load of merchandise and a TV series in the works.
Fun fact: they are known (brilliantly) as Les Lapins Cretins in their native France.
The alien race that Metroid’s Samus Aran must face time and again. Under the command of Mother Brain and Ridley, the pirates crop up in every Metroid game and cause trouble. Disappointingly they refuse to speak with the correct pirate accent, and I have never seen any evidence of them drinking rum, but then I guess you can’t have everything.
From the Half-Life series
These loveable critters from Valve’s legendary FPS are clearly inspired by Alien’s Facehuggers. However rather than implanting eggs in their victim, Headcrabs stick around and turn their unfortunate victims into zombie-like creatures known as Necrotics. If you see one coming towards you, run like hell…
From Sonic The Hedgehog
Among Dr Robotonik/Eggman’s robotic soldiers, Buzz Bomber is among the most memorably. Not only can he kill you with his powerful stinger, but he can seriously ruin your picnic. Powered by a poor innocent animal that Sonic’s nemesis has turned into a living battery, taking this pesky flying fiend out was a challenge for even the most nimble-fingered Sonic player.
From Dead Space
Coming in a number of varieties (all thoroughly unpleasant) the main foes in Dead Space are also able to infecting corpses and turning them into more Necromorphs. Worshipped by some, feared by all, they go a long way to making Dead Space an unsettling experience. Part zombie, part something that stepped straight out of The Thing or a Clive Barker story, whatever they are they’re not nice. Luckily, in space no-one can you scream like a little girl. Right?
From the Warcraft series
Orcs were the main threat posed to Azeroth throughout most of the Warcraft series. When Blizzard first brought them to life in game form, it was years before the Lord Of The Rings movies. The orcs are perfect high-fantasy villains, with their imposing looks and warrior attitude. By the time World of Warcraft rolled around, most Orcs had become more civilised, and the whole species was no longer classed as the enemy. Luckily, the likes of the Blackrock Orcs keep their villainous end up, flying the flag for dark Orcs. Even better, not only are they Orcs, they’re also pirates, giving them double bad-guy cred.