Generally, we like to think that we’re pretty good people, don’t we? Maybe we did that terrible thing with the rat and the shy girl’s schoolbag in fourth grade, but heck, who can defend everything they did as kids? Maybe not as much of our proceeds go to charity as we’d like, but we try. That’s what counts.
Being too much of a goody-goody gets a little stale, that’s the issue. Our favorite heroes tend to be the ones that aren’t steeped in black and white morality, who have a dark side to them. Batman, for instance, is far from a conventional superhero. Not in the sense that he doesn’t technically have any superpowers (let’s not open that can of worms), but in that he’s got that cool, vigilante edge to him.
The villain of the piece is often the far more interesting character if only for the effortless ‘edgy’ points they bring to the table. You see this sort of thing all the time. In Super Smash Bros., most of the roster has a pure black color scheme, and it can be tough to resist picking it. It’s a psychological thing, I guess.
It’s a tricky thing with video game villains, though, because they tend to hit one of two extremes: they’re either ridiculously overpowered or just too weak. It’s hard to find a middle ground there. Today, then, we’re going to take a look at some of the most iconic gaming villains from both the strongest and weakest side of things. From Zeus and Metroid Prime to Team Skull and Bob the Goldfish, we’ve got something for everyone here.
Watch out, though; a lot of these villains are final boss spoilers.
25 OVERPOWERED: Monster Ock (Spider-Man PS1)
Oh, yes indeed, friends. We’re kicking this party off the right way, with one of the most alarming, ridiculous, and super-strong bosses in all of gaming.
In the (pretty darn good, in my eyes) PS1 title Spider-Man, Carnage and Doctor Octopus are the main antagonists. They’re both trying to create an army of symbiotes with which to take over the world, and Spider-Man has all kinds of mixed feelings about that situation. As the game draws to a close, then, he battles both of them in turn, only for the symbiote suit to attach itself to an unconscious Doc Ock, reviving him.
The resultant monstrosity is none other than Monster Ock, an alarming combination of the two villains that Spider-Man has no hope of defeating in combat. The final boss encounter, then, just consists of a chase sequence that sees you running for your life (literally; very grim things happen if he catches up with you) from the exploding lab.
24 OVERPOWERED: Ganondorf (The Legend Of Zelda Series)
Monster Ock may be a little obscure, but surely everybody knows of the menace that is Ganondorf. If you’ve ever fought (or fought as) this guy in Super Smash Bros., you’ll know the drill: He’s super slow, but all his hits land like huge, fist-powered cannonballs.
Remember, though, that’s just Ganondorf’s regular human form. This incredibly intimidating opponent also has an ace up his sleeve: the ability to transform into a ghastly beast known as Ganon. Not only has this made for some of the most memorable boss battles in gaming history, but it also looks fantastic on any megalomaniacal supervillain’s CV.
These are the sorts of abilities that villainous employers truly value.
23 WEAK: Dr. Neo Cortex (Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back)
There’s an important caveat here: I’m not snarking on Cortex as a villain overall. He’s quite an engaging antagonist, actually, with his darn funny moments, animated speeches, and all the rest of it.
Crash Bandicoot is one of my favorite franchises of all time, in fact, and there’s little doubt that Cortex is one of the most memorable characters it had to offer. What’s the issue here, then? I’ll darn well tell you. The final boss fight of Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, that’s what.
Yep, it’s the infamous feeble jetpack chase. In the third game, the Cortex battle was quite interesting; you had to dodge around Aku Aku and Uka Uka who were having their own fight in the same arena.
But this? It’s barely a fight at all. You just steer the jetpack into him a couple of times and spin.
22 OVERPOWERED: Kefka (Final Fantasy VI)
Now, that’s a question sure to spark heated debate: who’s the most canonically-powerful Final Fantasy villain? Some would plump for Kuja, the supposed ‘Angel of Demise;’ who destroyed an entire planet singlehandedly when having a tantrum on learning the truth about his existence.
Another great candidate is Kefka of Final Fantasy VI fame. Bolstered by the fact that he features in one of the most beloved entries in the series, Kefka is a real powerhouse. We see his abilities increase over the course of the game (though we don’t see a lot of him through much of the game), and his eventual rise to god-like status is… well, it’s chilling.
21 WEAK: Bob The Goldfish (Earthworm Jim Series)
Now, granted, Bob the Goldfish is not a villain to take too seriously. Heck, he’s from Earthworm Jim, a series in which absolutely nothing can ever be taken seriously ever. You learn that quite quickly, somewhere around the time you’re bungee jumping on strings of sticky snot.
In the original game, Bob is technically a boss battle, although the only real combat is dealing with all his bodyguards. After doing so, you reach Bob himself.
He’s just a goldfish in a bowl, which Jim casually knocks over and claims victory.
In the sequel, Jim goes one better by simply plucking Bob out of his bowl and eating him.
20 OVERPOWERED: Orphan Of Kos (Bloodborne)
Here’s an interesting question. Can we truly consider the Orphan of Kos a villain, in the conventional sense? Considering the circumstances of its birth and such, and the Hunter stumbling across it at that exact moment, I’m not so sure about that.
Having said that, there’s no time for philosophical debate when a vicious, lumpen man-baby is crushing you into the dirt with its explosive club. After it’s taken you down fifteen times in a row, yes, it’s absolutely a villain.
You encounter the Orphan of Kos right at the end of the fishing hamlet, the final boss of Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters DLC. FromSoftware clearly saved their most fiendish creation for last, as many players agree that this hyper-aggressive, super-damaging opponent is among the game’s most difficult bosses.
19 WEAK: Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)
There’s no denying that Metal Gear Solid was way, way ahead of its time when it first released. It was about as cinematic an experience as video games could possibly muster at that point (not ‘cinematic’ in the sense of centuries-long cutscenes, that came later in the series), and was the kind of game that leaves an indelible impression on you.
Most memorable, for me, was the battle with Psycho Mantis. All of the FOXHOUND members are iconic in their own right, but the whole HIDEO gimmick was a slice of raw brilliance.
The trouble was, it made the fight super easy. Once you’d figured out the swapping the controller ports thing (which took me an embarrassingly long time, but we won’t get into that), Mantis became quite a standard boss fight, offering nothing particularly challenging.
He could ‘read’ our memory cards and tell us which games we’d been playing later on, though, so that’s a neat party trick.
18 OVERPOWERED: Dr. Wily (Mega Man Series)
There can’t be too many villains in gaming who are disliked more than Dr. Wily. The resident big bad of the Mega Man series, this darn guy has been haunting players’ dreams for decades.
I guess you could call him the Tony Stark of the franchise. In and of himself, he’s just a genius with a lot of tech at his disposal, but once he hops into said tech? His enemies are in for a bad time.
The Wily’s Castle stages throughout the series are long, difficult slogs, and he’s always waiting at the end as another fiendish boss battle.
17 WEAK: Penguin (Arkham City)
Of Batman’s various enemies (and there are a whole lot of names on his list, let me tell you), Penguin has never been a particularly formidable opponent. Not as far as one-on-one combat goes, that is.
We’ve seen the Joker stand up to good ol’ Bruce many times and prove himself his equal in combat (at the close of The Dark Knight, for instance), but that’s not really what Penguin’s known for. It’s no surprise, then, that his boss battle in Arkham City isn’t the most taxing around.
As we reported over on Screen Rant, the main challenge of this encounter is foiling all of the traps and henchmen that Penguin has at his disposal. After doing so, the main villain himself only has weak, slow missiles to fall back on, which the player can easily avoid and go on to swiftly take him out.
16 OVERPOWERED: Shao Kahn (Mortal Kombat Series)
As we know, fighting games really aren’t about the story. They tend to have one, yes, but it’s often just an excuse for the action to take place. A convenient fighting tournament, for instance.
One fighter franchise that tries to dial things up a little is Mortal Kombat, which has offered quite a substantial story (especially since the franchise was rebooted in 2011).
The villain of the piece tends to be Shao Kahn, a formidable warrior who has tried to conquer Earthrealm several times over.
He debuted as the final boss of Mortal Kombat II, and has been disliked by absolutely everybody ever since.
15 WEAK: Ghirahim (The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword)
Now, we’ve got to cut Ghirahim some slack here. After all, it’s not easy being a breakout villain in a Zelda game. You’ve got to face up to the fact that, however much you might want to be, you’re not Ganondorf.
Those are some big boots to fill, right there, and I’m not sure Skyward Sword’s Ghirahim was up to the task. Throughout the game, his all-knowing, all-seeing powers were hinted at, but never really used to their true potential (which they couldn’t be, for plot armor reasons, but still).
His boss fight, too, was a real anti-climax. More obnoxious than imposing. Walking very slowly around the small arena, before stealing the Master Sword and throwing it at you? Come on, guy. What even is that?
14 OVERPOWERED: Andross (Starfox Series)
It’s a little hard to say where Andross stands in the pantheon of Nintendo villains. I mean, he’s no Ganondorf or Bowser, but he’s still up there pretty darn high. In fame terms, perhaps he’s no movie star, but he’s definitely a successful reality TV contestant with a fitness video at the very least.
Andross appears in the Starfox series, the arch nemesis of Fox McCloud and company. A brilliant scientist, he has tried to conquer the Lylat system several times, always being thwarted (you know how these things tend to go). If you’ve seen him in action as a Smash Bros. assist trophy, you’ll know that his general battle plan revolves around being a huge, floating head-thing and spitting large objects at his enemies.
Which is probably quite intimidating, if we’re honest with ourselves.
13 WEAK: Team Skull (Pokémon Sun And Moon)
For as much as the Pokémon franchise is criticized for being formulaic and predictable, Sun And Moon made a fair attempt at shaking up the formula. Not only were gyms entirely removed and replaced by a different series of trials, but other familiar Pokémon elements were removed as well.
HMs? Nope. A competent Evil Team™? Nope. Well, the competence of Team Aqua, Rocket and everyone else who’s come before is highly debatable, but Team Skull just did not seem to know what day it was or what they were supposed to be doing.
They existed to push the plot along, try and talk like they were down with the kids and occasionally break things, and that was all there was to them. It was all very aimless.
12 OVERPOWERED: Reapers (Mass Effect)
If you’ve seen the Doctor Who episode "Father’s Day," you’ll know that Reaper is a good catch-all name for an unfamiliar but all-around imposing enemy. The Mass Effect series seems to have caught on to this truth too.
An enormous race of ancient sentient spaceships (yep, that’s Mass Effect for you), these phenomenal beings have just one aim: to wipe out the most powerful civilizations in the galaxy every few Millennia.
The answer to your inevitable question is, we just don’t know, and the Reapers themselves sure aren’t telling. One thing’s for certain, though, they’re not the kind of beasts you’ll want to mess with.
11 OVERPOWERED: Mewtwo (Pokémon Series)
Here’s the curious thing: As far as overpowered Pokémon go, Mewtwo doesn’t really register much anymore. Not without a Mega Stone in hand, at any rate. Since it was first introduced in generation one, all kinds of absurd legendary Pokémon have been added to the roster that are far more fearsome.
Nevertheless, Psychic-types ruled the roost back then (because the game was a mess and they were only weak to Bug, which barely existed worth a darn), and Mewtwo was the very last word in Psychic power.
Gameplay mechanics aside, though, Mewtwo is known for its ferocity, aggression, and lack of mercy. It was the original ultimate Pokémon, and it commands respect.
10 WEAK: Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
Now, this one’s unlikely to go down too well with a lot of you.
Like many long-time gamers, I have strong feelings about Final Fantasy VII. It was the game that introduced me to the franchise and got me hooked on JRPGs in general. I’ll always be grateful for that. Do I think it’s infallible as a result, though? Oh, heck no.
One issue lots of us have is with Sephiroth. Yes, yes, legendary Final Fantasy villain and all that good stuff, but many will tell you that his reputation is largely due simply to his attachment to this iconic game.
Throughout most of the adventure, Sephiroth himself is completely absent, and when we fight the real him (other than the cheesy winged form and the lumpy monster form), it’s just a QTE of a battle within Cloud’s mind.
I can appreciate Sephiroth, I really can, but he’s been just a little overused.
9 OVERPOWERED: Zeus (God Of War Series)
Here’s another interesting philosophical question. Is Zeus a true villain? I mean, we can’t exactly call Kratos a goodly hero who helps poor old grandmas cross roads and volunteers in a soup kitchen, can we? As with Mewtwo’s ‘villainy,’ it’s all a matter of perspectives and moral stances.
It’s a real grey area with Zeus, especially as he’s been both an ally and antagonist throughout the God of War series. Wherever you stand on the whole Titans vs Olympian Gods thing, though, we can at least agree that Zeus was one heck of an enemy for Kratos to face. In a series renowned for its endless string of climactic battles, this was probably the most intense and protracted of all. Still, who expected the head honcho of the gods to go down easily?
8 OVERPOWERED: Dracula (Castlevania Series)
We’ve seen some darn iconic and long-running villains over the course of this list so far, but there are a couple of huge names that we haven’t stopped to appreciate yet. The first predictable-yet-100%-necessary pick is none other than Dracula, of Castlevania fame.
This guy, huh? This poor old guy. I don’t know about you, but if I were Dracula, I’d have been ready for retirement a couple of centuries ago. He’s been revived countless times, been a thorn in the Belmonts’ side for generations and been the main antagonist of an absurd number of Castlevania games. Almost all of them, in fact.
Across his many appearances, he’s taken various beastly forms and shown himself capable of a huge variety of deadly magical attacks.
7 WEAK: Bowser (Super Mario Series)
It’s a curious thing, but Bowser has a whole hecking lot in common with Dracula. They’re the recurring antagonist (many, many times over) of a beloved and long-running series, they’ve got all kinds of sneaky magic up their sleeves, they have fanatically loyal underlings and they just darn well refuse to go down. You can also beat them just by running under them and hitting the switch that removes the bridge they’re standing on.
No, wait. Scratch that last one. That’s just Bowser, isn’t it? The Koopa King might be a huge and imposing foe, but he’s never much of a challenge as a boss battle. Things have advanced quite far since the old days, with some truly elaborate Bowser battles popping up in more recent titles, but he’s always a bit of a pushover.
6 OVERPOWERED: Metroid Prime (Metroid Series)
As we’ve established, one of the hallmarks of a great villain is persistence. If you only appear in one game and are swiftly dispatched at the end of it, never to return, you’ve got to make a huge impact. First impressions are super important, after all, and it’s much better if you can stick around.
Metroid Prime (of the Metroid Prime trilogy) certainly achieved this.
A Metroid mutated by a huge quantity of Phazon, it was among Samus’s most challenging opponents to date.
All but invulnerable to most attacks, it could spawn other Metroids in battle (because throwing a ton of Metroids into the mix is a sure way to make even the dreariest Monday worse) and even take command of Samus’s suit (the Phazon Suit is heavily linked to Dark Samus).
Like all good villains, it just refused to stay down.
5 WEAK: Necron (Final Fantasy IX)
We’re stretching the definition of ‘weak’ a little here, friends. To give Necron its due, it has all the vast, hulking, damage-dealing, infuriating-status-spreading qualities that any Grade A Final Fantasy boss should bring to the table. It’s totally respectable on that score.
The issue here is that the concept itself is so weak. Where did this great abomination come from? It wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the story, all the way up to the conclusion, then suddenly pops up as the final boss?
Later lore explains that Necron was born from Kuja’s terror at the prospect of his own demise, but in the game itself, we’re giving slim to zero context. It’s all very strange.
4 OVERPOWERED: Dr. Robotnik (Sonic The Hedgehog Series)
Earlier in this rundown, we took a look at the nefarious Dr. Wily. He may not have any superpowers, be a hulking supervillain, or any of that nonsense, but he’s got the smarts to make it work. When battling our hero, Mega Man, he’s got a whole array of fancy battle-bots, tanks, and other ingenious contraptions to tear his foes into sad hunks of defeated spam.
Does all of this sound like a certain other beloved gaming villain? That’s right, Dr Robotnik is here. Somehow, this fiend managed to ensnare the cute, fluffy little creatures of the Sonic the Hedgehog world, using them to power his various contraptions. That’s squirrel-powered villainy on a whole new level.
3 OVERPOWERED: Albert Wesker (Resident Evil Series)
That’s right, friends, we’re trotting out ALL of the classic villains from recent gaming history today. Next up, none other than Captain Sunglasses-Indoors-Just-Because-I-Can himself, Albert Wesker.
What a wild ride the Resident Evil series has been for Wesker. In the original game, he was just a strange agent, but by the fifth game? He was teleporting all over the place, performing all kinds of impossible moves from The Matrix and catching rockets fired at him with his bare hands. It was just absurd, and if it hadn’t been for that volcano business, I’d say that nothing at all could stop the monster Wesker became.
2 WEAK: 343 Guilty Spark (Halo 3)
Now, Halo 3 wasn’t the only game to pull some shenanigans with its final boss. Over the course of gaming history, all kinds of titles have done this. Sometimes, the shock value of a real curveball can be a great thing.
Other times, though, things like 343 Guilty Spark will happen instead. This little hunk of artificial intelligence is crucial to the plot, of course, and did not just emerge out of nowhere. At the same time, though, did this three-hit wonder deserve to be the final encounter of the trilogy? The final encounter of Bungie’s Halo? I’m going to go with no.
1 OVERPOWERED: Pyramid Head (Silent Hill Series)
How do you quantify the power of a being like Pyramid Head? Is it a matter of physical strength alone, or something much more cerebral than that?
This iconic Silent Hill menace is a real enigma. It makes its first appearance as an antagonist of Silent Hill 2, popping up throughout the game (in various awful and compromising positions, usually) to torment protagonist James Sunderland.
Pyramid Head features in other series entries, as well as the movies and comics (sometimes there are multiple Pyramid Heads). It’s said to be a creature who punishes the guilty or sinful, and considering the psychological horror of Silent Hill, it’s tough to say whether it’s more a figment of characters’ imaginations or a physical creature. Whatever the case, the power it wields is frightening on all levels.