The greatness of heroes is somehow limited. After all, their heroic acts can only be as big as the problems they have to solve. A firefighter will not win many medals if all he does is save kittens from the top of trees in some small town; only the very rewarding gratitude of the pets’ owners. However, put him in the middle of an enormous fire with endangered lives and, thankfully, greatness will rise to the surface.
Villains are different, though. Other than ambitions and eventual resources, the extent of their evil plans knows no bounds. That is why, when transposed to the gaming realm, where nearly everything is possible, we are sometimes confronted with megalomaniac plans that include either world domination or its darker and more twisted counterpart, universal destruction. Although some of the villains that have appeared on Nintendo-exclusive games do hold such goals, the wacky nature of many of those major titles has allowed the creation of some quite extravagant and noteworthy individuals.
Bowser has the odd obsession of kidnapping Princess Peach endlessly. His motivations, however, are never quite clear. Does he want to conquer the Mushroom Kingdom? Does he envy that she lives in a gorgeous castle surrounded by lush gardens while he mopes in a fortress of rock surrounded by lava? Is he expressing frustration, a feeling that grew so intense he decided to conquer the universe in Super Mario Galaxy, regarding feelings that are not mutual? Is it a sick hobby? Does he crave for attention? It is hard to know. The fact of the matter is that our inability to understand him, plus his willingness to aid Mario whenever Peach is taken by somebody else, turn him into an angry-yet-lovable goofball.
King K. Rool is another personage of equally foggy motivations. There are no biological researches that link crocodiles (especially those that walk on two legs) to bananas. Yet, he and his Kremling Krew have gone to great lengths in order to steal the Kong family’s hoard. Regardless of the existence of a palpable catalyst, though, watching the reptilian army storm DK Island is a true joy given the amusing ways through which the creatures attempt to halt the simians’ advances, which include using mighty bazookas and turning themselves into helicopters.
Meanwhile, reason is not something that is missing on Wario’s radar. His goal is clear: he wants to get filthy rich, and his greed is so unstoppable that, aside from collecting gold and other assets like a mad man – something that put him in a collision course with Mario on his debut, he has also ventured into other fields like sports (even those that are not very suitable to his protuberant gut), gambling on board games, and mini-game designing. The ultimate use of all that cash, however, remains mysterious, and any guess ranging from food to the building of a mighty world-destroying machine is plausible.
Similarly narrow, but more harmful, aspirations are held by the wicked Gruntilda. As a means to mock the standard evil witches that populate pop culture, she is offended by the fact someone could be prettier than she is. Therefore, she constructs a needlessly elaborate plan to capture Banjo’s cute sister Tooty and steal her beauty away. Ironically, the fate she meets ends up making her an even uglier version of her former self.
Of equally colorful, and dubious, nature are the famous bad guys inhabiting the wonderful Dream Land. King Dedede’s good will is certainly questionable, for he seems to be more worried about besting Kirby than ruling, but most of his purely evil deeds can be traced back to him being possessed by malicious spirits.
The furtive Meta Knight has a similar dual role to play. As a noble being that works independently, his feelings towards Kirby can be either positive, leading him to help the pink hero when their goals are the same; or negative, making him engage the puffball in fair duels when their intentions diverge. The fact he is basically a dark version of Kirby clad in armor and sporting bat-like wings makes his awesomeness blow through the roof.
On a not-so-light specter, lie the iconic heads of the Space Pirate army, the grandest enemies of Samus Aran and the most visually threatening creatures on the Nintendo lore. Mother Brain is the sentient machine turned evil that plans to recreate the universe with beings whose intellect she deems worthy. To do so, due to the restrictions being a brain in a bowl (but a very badass one, mind you) naturally carries, she decides to enlist the help of the pirates.
Ridley and Kraid are two of the group’s most prominent leaders, and although their bestial forms indicate otherwise, they are intelligent creatures that are actually highly ranked officials. Ridley is especially remarkable not only because, differently from Kraid, he has not been missing for over a decade, but also because he is directly responsible for the murder of Samus’ mother and indirectly accountable for the death of her father. Such brutality, plus the fact a naïve three-year-old Samus tried to befriend the dragon when he invaded her planet with killing on his mind, make their rivalry and mutual hatred the most intense within the Nintendo canon.
A parallel link is shared between Fox McCloud and the maniac Dr. Andross. A brilliant scientist that engaged in productive and beneficial works, he eventually begins to lust for power and perform dangerous tests. One of them fails badly and triggers massive destruction, causing him to be exiled on the deadly planet of Venon. His surprising survival prompts an intergalactic war that culminates with the death of Fox’s father, James, making the young – and newly appointed – leader of the Star Fox Team wish for revenge. In Wolf, the head of Andross’ own band of ace pilots, Fox finds his greatest dogfight rival; one who will stop at nothing to halt the hero’s progress through the galaxy.
The Zelda franchise has also yielded villains with that same dark demeanor. Ganondorf is the king of the Gerudo; the only male to be born in the desert tribe in a hundred years. As he manages to break into the Sacred Realm and obtain the Triforce, he gains power that further increases his hatred and thirst for destruction. Those feelings are so extreme he finds a way to survive across generations in order to constantly torment the descendants of the original heroes that defeated him, and repeatedly engage in acts of genocide.
Less recurring, but perhaps even more beloved, is Skull Kid. The star of the gloomy Majora’s Mask is inherently good, albeit a bit mischievous, and the touching nature of his backstory resonated loudly among players. Thinking that his four closest friends had abandoned him, he buries himself in so much sorrow that his spirit and will become vulnerable to the influence of the devilish spirit Majora. Completely controlled by the evil inside the titular mask after having stolen it, he provokes an impending apocalypse that is miraculously averted in the nick of time.
As somber as he is, and although the darkness of Majora’s Mask – Nintendo’s most ominous game – derives from him, he is not as bleak as Giygas: a villain so evil and corrupted his attacks cannot be grasped, making him worthy of the title “Embodiment of Evil”. An alien raised by an abducted couple, his race is eventually betrayed by the curious male and Giygas is sent to earth to stop vital information about his people from spreading and, through the possession of Porky, finds a human ally to pave the way to his glory. Conflicted between the deep love he still felt towards his human mother and the need to save his race, his repression of the former in benefit of the latter leads him to a violently broken mental state, mutually turning him into diabolical and tragic.
For a company that is known for its quirky family-friendly games, Nintendo sure has built a cast of villains that is impressive and varied, falling under categories that go from silly to disturbing. Heroes and videogame icons would never truly exist without them, and as Fawful, the most completely insane and grammatically challenged bad guy a virtual hero has ever had to face, has gloriously stated, these guys “have fury”, are rarely “beefless”, do not have time to “sample the sprinklies in life’s salad bar”, plan to “fold their enemies like napkins who are crying”, are “high-fived on their faces by power”, and crave to “have victory”. They are “on the TV show of our tears” and want to “spit on our lives that are now but a caricature of a cartoon drawn by a kid who is stupid”. They are the “mustard of our doom”.