I spent a great deal of my childhood playing video games; some would say that too much of my childhood was devoted to games, but that’s another discussion entirely. I played what was available to me, mostly Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and PC games. Like any avid gamer, I often ran out of lives, got game overs, and lost save files (Big thanks to my little brother for that one!), but despite these numerous setbacks, at the end of the day I was a fairly adept little gamer. I had beaten most of the games I owned by the age of 10, and counted myself as an above average video game player—you know you’re a dork when you even consider that at that age. In the end, it didn’t matter how inherently skilled I was at the games I played; One enemy, one baddie, one monster could ruin it all.
Game design has definitely come a long way since I was a kid. Sometimes I wonder if game designers were just trying to be dicks back in the 80’s and early 90’s. Were they intentionally trying to punish the player at every turn with insane platforming and an impossibly steep learning curve? There is a difference between challenging a player and being an absolute jerk about the level of difficulty. Good game design should not involve driving a player insane with frustration, but like I said the medium has evolved. It’s strange though, in many ways the obscene difficulty and rage-inducing moments of games of yore make many of them endearing to me. Even if they did confound me to the point where I turned off my console in disgust, those older games will always have a special place in my heart.
As tribute to all those frustrating childhood gaming moments, Dork Shelf present our list of ten of the most annoying video game baddies of all time. Not bosses mind you, just the regular run-of-the-mill enemies whose job it was to ruin the players day, if his skills did not meet the formidable standards set out by the game designer. Feel free to add your own.
10. The Soldier – Contra (Arcade and NES, 1988)
This delightful bastard from the NES classic Contra did little in the way of shooting at you (unlike every other enemy in the game), but man did he run toward you! That was his basic attack, though in later levels he started shooting at you Then there is the issue of his outfit, nothing says jungle warfare quite like a football uniform. The soldier and a bunch of his buddies just ran at you in wave after wave, often jumping off cliffs to their untimely 8-bit deaths, in a desperate attempt to kill Bill and/or Lance. Poor kamikaze soldier, it was his lot in life to be cannon fodder.
Runner-up: Those crazy jumping clown dudes inside the bases.
9. Koopa Troopa – Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)
Coming in green or red variety, the seemingly innocuous Koopa Troopas didn’t do much all that much. Besides getting in your way, they actually seemed to be minding their own business most of the time. Koopas were very easy to kill, stomp on their little heads (so violent when you think about it), and they leave behind their shells. The player could then use the shells offensively; kick them and send them flying at high speed, very useful for taking out other enemies. However, Koopa shells bounce wildly in the opposite direction when they strike a solid object like a pipe or wall. This unexpected bounce can more often than not lead to Mario’s death. Miyamoto-san, Koopa shells are a menace to gamers everywhere.
Runner-up: Hammer Bros.
8. Blue Darknut – The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1986)
My Dad and I both played through Zelda together back in the late 1980’s. We quickly came to realize that we hated the Blue Darknut: the armoured baddie that populated the last few dungeons in the game, the feared level 8 and level 9. Darknut’s only weak point was on their sides and back. Striking these weak points was a difficult feat, when all the bastards did was follow Link with their sword and impenetrable shield very much pointed in his direction. To make matters worse, the NES couldn’t handle too many of them on the screen at once, so the frame rate slowed to a crawl if more than six showed up on screen. I always dreaded level 8 because of the Blue Darknut.
Runner-up: The Wallmaster
7. Fast Zombie – Half-Life 2 (PC, 2004)
What’s worse than a slow, stupid, lumbering zombie out to kill you? A smart, fast, screaming zombie that can climbing buildings and really wants to tear your face off, of course! First seen in the Ravenholme section of the Half-Life 2, these unsettling, skinless bastards come out of the proverbial woodwork pissed off. You’d be angry too if you had no skin. They aren’t terribly hard to kill, a few blasts from Gordon Freeman’s trusty shotgun will dispatch them, but it’s the fact that they come at you in groups that makes them tough.
Runner-up: Poison Headcrab
6. Skelerang – Castlevania Series (Multiple Platforms)
Honestly, who the $%#& gives a reanimated skeleton not one, but two boomerangs? The answer is: Dracula.
I already knew Dracula was an asshole, but Skelerangs, really? These bony fellows threw their boomerangs at the character, often from off screen or from an area that the player couldn’t reach. Not that dangerous, just more of a nuisance to the player.
Skeletons. Reanimated by Dracula… Throwing boomerangs. Only the Japanese could come up with that one.
Runner-up: The Flying Zombie
5. Gran with Thermal Detonators – Dark Forces/Jedi Knight Series (PC, 1997)
In the Star Wars universe there is a species of alien called Gran. Gran have three eyes, and resemble bipedal goats. Hilarious, you say? Thing is, these goat-bastards have a penchant for throwing thermal detonators, the Star Wars equivalent of a grenade. Still funny? Gran will toss them at you no matter the circumstance or distance. Even if they kill themselves in the process, they will always throw a grenade your way. Barring that, they will attempt to fight you using some form of alien pugilism. Persistent, but not too bright: clearly only an idiot would try to punch a guy wielding lightsaber.
4. Garg – Commander Keen (PC, 1990)
Yorps, the small green Martians that Commander Keen encountered would just push you and hop around like the one-eyed idiots they were; The player really had to watch out for the Yorps bigger, tw0-eyed cousin the Garg. These green monsters would charge Keen at tremendous speed, if it hit the player instant death occured. This was what made the Garg annoying; almost every other enemy in the game is fairly docile and couldn’t actually kill Commander Keen. Upon first encountering the Garg, the player often assumes that that maybe the giant Garg is equally harmless—it is not. Thanks a lot Tom Hall!
Runner-up: Vorticon Guard
3. Engineers – Command & Conquer Series (Multiple Platforms)
The Command & Conquer games feature a class called the engineer. The engineer unit has the ability to capture enemy buildings and place them under control of the other team. An Engineer Rush is a battle tactic where you send as many engineers as you can into an enemy base and try to capture important buildings. Naturally, this is a fun tactic to use against the enemy, but having it done to you is extremely annoying. Even more insulting is having a computer opponent engineer rush you. Engineer rushing is the gaming equivalent of moving into someone’s house and then claiming you’ve always lived there. It’s a dick move (also, a little creepy), and because of this C&C engineers make the list.
Runner-up: Tesla Trooper
2. Flying Cheep Cheep – Super Mario Series (NES and SNES)
It really doesn’t matter how adept are at platforming games, run into a Flying Cheep Cheep the wrong way and it’s game over. These flying fish dart across the screen unimpeded by ground, water or geography. If they hit Mario’s body on any other part but his feet, damage will be inflicted. Nothing is more infuriating than nearly finishing a difficult Mario level, only to be struck down by a flying fish a mere jump away from the finish. Cheep Cheeps aren’t particularly fearsome, but the arbitrary and uncaring manner in which they dispatch Mario make them a supreme annoyance.
Runner-up: The Angry Sun
1. Medusa Heads – Castlevania Series (Multiple Platforms)
From the school of thought that brought you the Flying Cheep Cheep comes the Medusa Head of the Castlevania series. First of all, who knew that Medusa had multiple heads? Secondly, why is it that the aforementioned heads have the power of flight?! God damn it Dracula, quit messing with shit for your own amusement! Dude, I know this is probably your hobby, but surely you can do something more productive with your time than designing freakish monstrosities to kill members of the Belmont clan!
Medusa Heads have no attack, they just fly across the screen in a wavy pattern. They can be found in great numbers when ascending clock towers or platforming above bottomless pits. Normally, they could be avoided if you were quick, but often due to the layout of the level they were unavoidable. Some of the most difficult platforming in the Castlevania series takes place with Medusa Heads flying about. If you hit one mid-jump, you would lose all forward momentum and often plummet to your death. Even worse are the Gold Medusa Heads which instantly petrify the player, turning him to stone. I understand providing a challenge for the player is important, but this is a prime example of dickish game design. Konami, why you continue to include Medusa Heads in Castlevania games!? If anger could be tapped as a source of electricity, the collective rage induced by these pesky heads could power a small city.
Runner-up: None. No game enemy could possibly be more annoying than Medusa Heads.