What are video games really for? Why do we play them? This is far more philosophical than I tend to get on a Monday morning, but they’re interesting questions to consider. For many gamers, it’s about filling a little free time, giving us something to do on that soul-crushing morning commute, but everyone’s answer will be different.
Escapism is sure to be a huge factor too. Here in 2019, the real world is becoming ever more confusing and scarier, so who wouldn’t want to hop into a fantasy realm like Hyrule for a moment? Here in reality, we may not have a great hulking beast like Calamity Ganon tearing things up, but it sure does feel like it at times.
Part of that escapism is feeling accomplished and powerful. Lots of video games bring us tales of mighty warriors, who single-handedly smite the legions of Beelzebub and send them back down the underworld sewage system from whence they came. Let’s be real here: that’s always a fun thing to be.
In the real world, you’re a middle-aged stockbroker with a receding hairline, but in games? You can be a revered and unstoppable hero like Mario. The trouble is, though, the heroes and villains of gaming are not created equal. This is an industry where Final Fantasy IX’s Kuja has destroyed an entire world by himself, but also an industry where Magikarp exists.
Let’s celebrate that great discrepancy with some of the very strongest (and very weakest) characters in gaming history.
25 Too Overpowered: Kuja (Final Fantasy IX)
We’re going to dive quite deep into spoiler territory here (these details may still be spoilers to some of you if you’re playing the recent Switch port), so avert your eyes if the ending of Final Fantasy IX is still a mystery to you.
Final Fantasy IX’s Kuja is an interesting and multi-faceted villain. Yes, he had that whole clichéd megalomania thing going on, but there was also a bit of exposition there after his defeat. I don’t know about you, friends, but I almost felt just a shade of sympathy for him.
Sure, he set out to shatter the crystal that was the heart of all existence, but everyone has their little character flaws.
The important thing here is that Kuja, on unleashing his Trance form, was able to overpower his own creator (not by magical means, but simply by kicking him in the face) and destroy his whole home planet (not by kicking it in the face).
24 Too Weak: Pichu (Pokémon)
Of course, when the whole baby Pokémon mechanic was introduced, it was just inevitable that Pikachu was going to get one. Pikachu always gets everything. There may be around 1000 different ‘mon in total, but Pikachu is still absolutely Game Freak’s favorite child.
Hey, Trubbish, Pikachu’s dropped its ice cream cone. You’d better give it yours. Stop crying, trash bag, nobody likes you.
All of that aside, though, Pichu has historically been awful. It has terrible stats in its home franchise (as it would, of course, being a baby Pokémon), and was added to Super Smash Bros. in the second game as a joke character. It’s super weak, super light, and it damages itself with its special moves.
It wasn’t until Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that anyone was ever able to take Pichu seriously.
23 Too Overpowered: Ganondorf (The Legend Of Zelda)
Speaking of characters that are suddenly a great deal better in Smash Ultimate, here comes Link’s nefarious nemesis himself.
As we know, Ganondorf is the wielder of the Triforce of Power, and he certainly lives up to that title in Smash. He might run like my grandpa (fitting, considering the popularity of his Oldmanondorf color scheme), but his attacks land with thunks so heavy you can hear them from three states away.
Smash aside, though, Ganondorf (and his beast form, Ganon) is infamous as one of the biggest and most powerful threats in all the Zelda universe. Link just cannot keep him down.
22 Too Weak: Ashley Graham (Resident Evil 4)
Resident Evil 4 remains one of the most controversial entries in the series. It was the game that tipped the scales towards a more TPS-style route, and fans around the world have all kinds of colorful things to say on that subject. It’s a can of worms you really don’t want to open.
It’s a good game, that’s a tough one to argue, but a good Resident Evil game? That’s another story entirely. If there’s one thing lots of us can agree on, though, it’s that Ashley Graham can be one heck of a pain in the behind.
Leon Kennedy’s objective in the game is to deliver her to safety, and he’s got to endure a whole lot of piercing LEEEEEEEEON! HEEEEEEELP! In order to do so.
Mercifully, the player only has to directly control Ashley for one ten-minute section of the game, and throwing those lanterns at the enemies is slightly satisfying.
21 Too Overpowered: Isaac (The Binding Of Isaac)
As anyone who’s played The Binding of Isaac will know, this entry’s definitely one heck of a curveball. Stick with me, though, I know where I’m going with this.
If this cult classic title is known for anything, it’s for… well, a whole lot of jokes. If it’s known for anything else, though, it’d be its wild unpredictability.
With everything being procedurally generated, you never know which power-ups you’re going to acquire. Certain combinations can doom a run to failure, while others can make it effortless.
Isaac fans know how very satisfying it can be to breeze through a run, armed with a hilariously broken set of abilities. Until you’ve seen the true potential of the power-up system in action, you have no idea how overpowered the unassuming Isaac can be.
20 Too Weak: Bayonetta (Bayonetta Series)
Speaking of curveballs, here’s a character that you wouldn’t often expect to see on the ‘too weak’ side of the rundown. After all, Bayonetta is a formidable Umbra Witch, who spends most of her time in her home series tearing through angels, demons, and mythical beasts.
In Smash, too, she was notorious for being overpowered when she was first introduced as DLC. You’ll have noticed, though, that nobody seems to be playing Bayonetta any longer. Why? Because she’s been nerfed to oblivion, that’s why.
It’s always good to see a previously-problematic character being dealt with, but to this heavy-handed extent? Ouch.
19 Too Overpowered: Albert Wesker (Resident Evil Series)
Crossing back over to the Resident Evil franchise for a moment, it was super tempting to include our old buddy Chris Redfield here. After all, the man’s become a huge meme in his own right, what with his boulder-punching shenanigans and the gigantic Greek demigod arms he suddenly grew out of nowhere.
For me, though, series stalwart Albert Wesker takes the title of strongest character in the franchise. Forget the Tyrant, Mr. X, Nemesis, and other nigh-unstoppable beings, this guy’s got all the moves.
His appearances throughout Resident Evil 5, in particular, show off all the Matrix-inspired moves, rocket-catching, and other absurdity Wesker was capable of.
18 Too Weak: The Cleric Beast (Bloodborne)
I know what you’re thinking: look at this darn thing! It’s not often that you get to call a vast, towering, horned abomination from the depths of Hades’ undergarments hamper ‘too weak,’ but there’s something we’ve got to bear in mind here: the Cleric Beast is more of a tutorial boss than anything.
The first boss that most Bloodborne players will encounter, it’s an optional battle that occurs on the far end of the Great Bridge. It’s an incredibly intimidating opponent, and is capable of bringing you to a swift and intense end if you’re reckless, but still. Its purpose is to teach new players the art of Bloodborne combat: watch your enemy, be observant, take your chances when they’re presented to you.
17 Too Overpowered: Bowser Jr (Mario Tennis Aces)
Mario Tennis Aces was intended as one of the big-hitters of the Switch’s sometimes-questionable 2018, but it managed to really rankle some players. Firstly, there was its shockingly barebones content, and secondly, there was the menace that was Bowser Jr.
This little guy just had it all. He had the reach of a Defensive character, the strength of a Power character (being able to move while charging helped there)… there was little doubt that he was the best character in the game. As we reported at the time, he was nerfed soon enough, but it took lots of players registering their discontent (that’s putting it mildly) to make it happen.
16 Too Weak: Glass Joe (Punch-Out!!)
Now, as is the case with the Cleric Beast of Bloodborne, Glass Joe isn’t supposed to be super tough. The first opponent of Punch-out!! is also all about trying to break you in gently, teaching you the ropes.
The poor Frenchman has become synonymous with weak characters in video games. He’s just too predictable, and unlike later opponents, he doesn’t try to hide his glaring weakness at all.
It’s right there in his name. One well-aimed punch from Little Mac, and he’s down for the count.
On the plus side, Punch-Out!! Does have some famously super difficult opponents to offer later, with a certain iconic and notorious boxer making an appearance.
15 Too Overpowered: Doomguy (Doom)
Over the course of gaming history, we’ve been introduced to all kinds of super strong role models. Female ones like Lara Croft, male ones like Marcus Fenix… it’s all about being empowered around here, friends.
Among the first of these strong, inspiring characters was the protagonist of Doom, which launched way back in 1993. He doesn’t even have a name, beyond ‘Doomguy,’ but there’s no need to get persnickety about that.
It takes a special kind of chutzpah to descend into a portal to the Underworld armed only with a pistol and a furious, scowling face (this guy permanently looks like he wants to see everybody’s manager), but in Doomguy went.
In the end, he singlehandedly dispatches the demonic threat and uses some formidable firepower like the legendary BFG to do so. It’s just all so inspiring.
14 Too Weak: Pink Gold Peach (Mario Kart 8)
Here’s another interesting one. There’s more to being weak than simply not being an effective and powerful character choice.
Pink Gold Peach certainly isn’t fundamentally bad. She debuted in Mario Kart 8 and is one of the heaviest characters in the game with the bonus of having the size of a middleweight (making her marginally more difficult to hit). A super solid pick for sure, as she is in Mario Sports Superstars (the only other game she’s playable in, to date).
The issue here is that… dang it, is she hackneyed. Did the world really need a Pink Gold Peach? It’s the age-old Smash Bros. clone argument: wouldn’t that development time have been better spent on a more deserving character?
13 TOO OVERPOWERED: Mega Kangaskhan (Pokémon Series)
As was the case with Bowser Jr in Mario Tennis Aces, Mega Kangaskhan was recognized as a monstrous threat as soon as players got their hands on it. It completely dominated competitive play.
Introduced in Pokémon X and Y, Mega Kangaskhan’s stats themselves were nothing too frightening. All-around solid and powerful, absolutely, but broken? Only in conjunction with its ability, Parental Bond, which added a second hit (dealing 50% of the damage of the first) to its single-target attacks.
Throw in the fact that it gets a double boost in a single turn with Power-Up Punch, and you’ve got a real problem here. Luckily, Mega Kangaskhan was nerfed in the transition to Pokémon Sun and Moon; the additional hit now only deals 25% of the damage of the first.
12 Too Weak: Slippy Toad (Starfox Series)
Yes indeed, friends. I hear you. It certainly has become cool to mock Slippy Toad. The poor guy has more disgruntled fans than some celebrities
The simple fact is, though, he deserves to be. While he’s a –supposedly– able pilot and the tech whiz of the Starfox team, Slippy is disliked for his grating voice and infuriating, repetitive soundbites.
Think of him as the Navi of the series: he has his occasional uses, but he’s irritating and far more of a pain than he’s worth.
11 TOO OVERPOWERED: Pyramid Head (Silent Hill Series)
We’ve already touched on some of the classic, lingering threats of survival horror. The infamous Nemesis of Resident Evil 3, for instance, had one simple mission in mind: eliminate the members of S.T.A.R.S. An ever-present threat, you never quite knew when he’d come barreling through a wall towards you, and when he did, you had little choice but to run most of the time.
The Silent Hill series took a more cerebral, psychological approach to horror, which was personified by Pyramid Head.
Is this malevolent being real? Is it a figment of the protagonist’s imagination? Is it something in between? There’s no clear-cut answer to that, which is precisely the power that the various Pyramid Heads hold over the protagonist and the player alike.
10 Too Weak: Sandbag (Super Smash Bros. Series)
While Pyramid Head treads a fine, mysterious line between reality and imagination, Sandbag of the Super Smash Bros. series has been both an item and a character in its own right. With that being the case, let’s talk about the poor soul’s fate.
Doomed to be beaten around by the whole cast in the pursuit of high scores, Sandbag doesn’t have the happiest lot in life. It's Super Smash Bros. Melee trophy description highlights the short straw that the poor guy has drawn, but is also quite reassuring:
“Sandbag exists for one reason only: to get smashed in the Home-Run Contest. Pound on Sandbag as much as possible in the time allotted, then swing for the fences as you compete for the longest home run of all time. Getting hit doesn't hurt Sandbag at all. As a matter of fact, it loves to see players wind up and let loose.”
9 Too Overpowered: Shao Kahn (Mortal Kombat)
Ah, yes. Historically, fighting games have enjoyed messing with us with their final bosses (Tekken 3’s True Ogre is one heck of a furry, fire-breathing sight, let me tell you). Several of these characters have had ridiculous combos, unfair moves, excessive power, too much HP, or some combination of these things.
They tend to be pretty darn infamous as a result. None more so than Mortal Kombat’s Shao Kahn, who made his series debut as the final boss of Mortal Kombat II. As a recurring series antagonist, he’s tried to conquer Earthrealm several times over. As a combatant, he’s one tough (and often unfair) customer.
8 TOO WEAK: Bob The Terrible Goldfish (Earthworm Jim Series)
Oh, Earthworm Jim. There are a lot of video games and TV shows that wear their nineties sensibilities on their sleeves, but for my money, none do so quite like Earthworm Jim.
With all its edginess, shoehorned ‘cool’ and jokes, Earthworm Jim had all its nineties bases covered. It also had one of the most (intentionally) laughable boss battles in gaming history.
In the original game, Bob the Goldfish is supposed to be one of the big bads. Sadly, once you reach him, the climactic fight consists of… well, knocking over his goldfish bowl. When he returns in the second game, Jim simply plucks him from his bowl and eats him. It’s just not the stuff that great boss battles are made of.
7 Too Overpowered: Seven Force (Gunstar Heroes)
If you’re a gamer of a certain age, you might well have been the proud owner of a Sega Genesis. If that’s the case, you’ve probably at least dabbled in Gunstar Heroes, one of the system’s standout titles.
This run-and-gunner was the first game from the much-revered Treasure, and is chock full of many classic Treasure features: intense action, screen-filling explosions, and some of the most creative bosses around.
My personal pick of those bosses would be Seven Force, a transforming mech piloted by the brainwashed brother of the heroic Gunstar siblings. You first fight this magnificent machine at the end of the mine cart stage, and its various forms (from a gigantic floating gun to a bird, dog-like creature and more) each have their own health bars.
Think of Seven Force as a boss with up to seven different completely unique phases. Fantastic stuff.
6 Too Overpowered: Kratos (God Of War Series)
Ah, yes. It was just inevitable that God of War’s super surly protagonist was going to appear somewhere here. Unlike Nintendo, PlayStation doesn’t have a big roster of iconic characters to call on (hence the deeply underwhelming PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale), but Kratos stands tall as one of the most formidable and powerful in the Sony stable.
Lots of us may know him as a bit of a meme these days (BOY!), but in his time, he’s torn apart such foes as Ares, the previous god of war, the legendary Kraken, and Zeus himself.
The God of War games are an incredible power trip, and Kratos just personifies all of that.
5 TOO WEAK: Dan Hibiki (Street Fighter Series)
You’ve got to feel sorry for Street Fighter's Dan Hibiki, you really do. To be in the cast of a fighting game, after all, you’re expected to be pretty darn powerful. A quick, nimble fighter, a huge, hulking powerhouse, a more balanced combination of the two… these are the sorts of traits we expect.
Dan just doesn’t seem to have any of this. He’s got a similar build to Ryu and Ken, but totally lacks their professionalism and disciplined style. Everything from his animations to his moves suggests that he’s a joke character, and never to be used in actual competitive matches. Even his backstory is super sad, with his failing martial arts dojo.
Dan’s had quite a few buffs of late that bring him (more or less) up to par, but his reputation as a joke precedes him.
4 Too Overpowered: Sentinel (Marvel vs Capcom 2)
More than just about any other genre, fighting games are accused of having overpowered characters. Balancing in these games is always such a delicate art, and something tends to emerge that makes some characters far better than others. This is what tier lists are all about.
If Dan Hibiki of Street Fighter is notorious as among the worst characters ever, then Sentinel in Marvel vs Capcom 2 represents the other end of the spectrum. As a heavy fighter, he’s a huge, hulking hitbox with titanic HP, but his moves aren’t super slow to compensate. They’re shockingly fast, in fact, which means that this great beast didn’t really have too much of a weakness to exploit at all.
3 Too Weak: Luigi (Super Mario Series)
I hear what you’re saying, I really do. At this point, it’s just become fashionable to snark on Luigi. It’s like shooting fish in a big green cowardly barrel. The fact is, though, that’s become his persona, his USP over his brother, and we’ve just got to embrace that.
Luigi’s eternally-frightened nature has its upsides, after all. Luigi’s Mansion wouldn’t have really worked without it, and those are some fantastic games in my eyes. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is sure to be a treat on Switch, despite the wimpy nature of its protagonist.
Besides, it’s endearing, right? The whole hero thing gets a little stale after a while.
2 Too Overpowered: Oddjob (GoldenEye 007)
If you played GoldenEye 007 on N64 back in the day (which you absolutely should have), you’ll probably remember what a menace Oddjob was.
Now, it’s true that he wasn’t overpowered in the technical sense, but still. When the game’s lead environment artist Karl Hilton comes forward over two decades later and states, "We all thought it was kind of cheating when we were play-testing with Oddjob, but it was too much fun to take out and there was no impetus from any of us to change it," you know you’ve got a problem.
The issue was a simple one: Oddjob was just too darn small!
Stopping and adjusting your aim to hit him was quite fiddly, and he’d usually gunned you down in return before you’d managed it. Many players added a house rule to ban Oddjob, and quite right too.
1 TOO WEAK: Magikarp (Pokémon Series)
For our last entry, I’m going to go with something a little more conventional. After all, how can you put together a list of laughably weak video game characters without giving Magikarp its moment in the limelight? You can’t, that’s how.
This harmless little Water-type has been the laughing stock of the Pokémon franchise for over two decades. Even the Pokédex relentlessly snarks on the poor little thing, with Pokémon X and Y reporting, “It is virtually worthless in terms of both power and speed. It is the most weak and pathetic Pokémon in the world.”
As we know, Magikarp gets the last laugh when it evolves into Gyarados and proceeds to crush its naysayers into sad little chunks of defeated spam. Still, things are pretty rough for it for a while there.