Despite how far video games have come in the past twenty years, nothing will change one of the industry’s biggest mainstays: the foot soldier. Whether your overarching goal is finding a gem, getting your girlfriend back, or saving the world, there will always be a nearly unlimited supply of expendable foot soldiers who take one or two hits to kill. These foot soldiers usually differ by species, name, appearance, and attack style.
The question is, which type is the toughest? And which type is the most satisfying to destroy en masse? Hit the jump to see ninjas, demons, aliens, robots, the undead, and others duke it out.
Controlled by: A passion for killing
Toughness: The bane of video game protagonists and bad eighties martial arts stars alike, ninjas are the quintessential foot soldier. While, on their own, they can occasionally be deadly fighting machines (Tenchu, Ninja Gaiden), more often than not they serve only to slightly annoy your character before dying a quick, flashy death. As Billy and Jimmy from Double Dragon can tell you, ninjas aren’t really such a big deal, so long as they’re coming at you in large numbers.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: Very high. Ninjas, when you aren’t fighting them, seem like the most badass creatures in all of existence. After handing their asses to them as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, you’ll feel much more hard core than you actually are.
Controlled by: An evil mastermind, likely white-haired and wearing a lab coat
Toughness: While robots are typically impervious to the weapons of mortal men, chances are good that if you’re playing a game where robots are the enemy, you’re not playing as a mortal man. Bullets will do nothing, but a high-powered plasma blast, or a slice from an adamantium claw will send the robot back to its maker before you can say “Danger, Will Robinson!” Whether it’s Dr. Doom’s army of robots in Marvel Ultimate Alliance or one of any of the eight hundred Mega Man games, robots are the high-tech equivalent of ninjas, so long as you’ve got the right equipment.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: Minimal, at best. Robots are just like killing people without all the satisfaction. They’re also a really easy way of putting an assload of benign violence into a T-rated game. Destroying things AS a robot, however, equals limitless fun. That should be some sort of Destructoid motto, as far as I’m concerned.
Controlled by: The game developer
Toughness: Whenever a game decides to forego any semblance of plot or believability, you’ll have to fight “monsters.” Yeah, sometimes they’re called aliens, but that’s only so the player won’t have to waste any time in asking why they’re shooting these ridiculous-looking creatures. Serious Sam uses these monsters as its stock and trade (headless suicidal bomber ftw), as did Battletoads, Earthworm Jim, and Super Mario Brothers.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: Depends on how imaginative the monster is and/or how violently it dies. Killing any monster in any Earthworm Jim game is fun as hell if only because Doug Tennapel’s character designs are so incredible cool. Blowing up a less imaginative creature, like a giant pig beast, can only be made fun by how many bits it explodes into.
Controlled by: Territorial and survival instincts, large psychic controlling beams notwithstanding
Toughness: The kind of game that would have you fight against regular Earth animals has probably chosen a protagonist of extremely limited skill. We’re talking Lester the Unlikely here, or Pitfall. So while the occasional sci-fi fantasy game may throw in a real animal just to give the player something to shoot at (eg, Turok), they’ll typically be pretty damn hard to destroy for your average mortal adventurer.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: Very little. Either you’re an animal rights activist and the thought of killing simulated wildlife disgusts you, or you’re a hardcore gamer who doesn’t relish the idea of meeting your end by method of a koala attack. The only real satisfaction in killing actual wildlife is that which comes from your character still being alive.
Controlled by: Either a government, or a Bond villain-esque bad guy
Toughness: Varies in relation to how “realistic” the game wants to be. Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon baddies drop like flies, but can kill you in one shot. Sam Fisher’s enemies are really damn hard to kill without headshots (assuming you don’t have a sticky shocker) , but it takes a good couple shots from them to kill the player. But guards are only formidable opponents in Tom Clancy games. Considering “guards” have been present in roughly every single action game since 1992, ninety eight percent of the time their purpose boils down to standing in one spot, waiting until they see you, and wasting an entire clip on the area behind you before dying unenthusiastically. One has to wonder what guards do when they aren’t patrolling, or standing in a room with their gun pointed at the door, just waiting in case someone comes in.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: In a realistic game, a hell of a lot. You feel like you’ve really killed a person who could have just as easily killed you, and that your own personal wits and reflexes saved you. In a game like Goldeneye or Perfect Dark, there’s very little satisfaction to be had unless you shoot them in the ass and make them go “YOW!” as they grab their delicates. Or, if you plant a hundred remote mines on somebody and then hit the detonator.
Genetically Enhanced Super Soldiers
Controlled by: Nazi scientists, or the highest bidder
Toughness: If created by the Nazis, these things are like mini versions of The Incredible Hulk. Say what you will about their virulent anti-Semitism, those fascists know how to make a mutant. On the other hand, if we’re talking about the genetically-modified genome soldiers made from Big Boss’s DNA, then you’re dealing with an army of goddamn pushovers. While they have the incredible intelligence necessary to ask rhetorical questions aloud (“What was that noise?” “What’s a box doing here?”) and follow the ominous sound of a gloved hand tapping against a wall, their field of vision is pathetic, and their aim worse. Maybe they’re actually fantastic soldiers, but through some weird genetic malfunction, they have 80/20 vision and refuse to get glasses. Seriously, their cone of eyesight only extends like five feet straight in front of them.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: Not much. The satisfaction comes from evading them. Although, standing in front of a soldier in MGS2, going into first person mode, and shooting him in the face gives you a rather nice angle as a literal fountain of blood pours out of the poor bastard’s face.
Controlled by: An Evil Alien Overlord, often times nothing more than a large disembodied brain
Toughness: Depends on how far you are in the game, usually. Headcrabs are child’s play and they’re not much harder when they attach to human bodies, but once you get to Xen and you have to fight the walking testicle, things get a mite trickier. The Covenant in Halo is pretty much the same thing. Pushovers, until you get a lot of them in a room together with really nice weapons. Especially those little ones that look like turtle children. Honestly, if you had to design a terrifying alien race, would your first concept design really be along the lines of “small child with a pointy shell on its back that runs away after being shot a few times”? That being said, the Locust are pretty tough, even if there’s only one of them. Even though they use guns, you have to respect the kind of alien that’ll take a full clip of machine gun bullets to the chest without dying.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: Totally depends on the alien, but all in all, pretty satisfying. Games use aliens when they want a lot of gore but no trouble from Hillary or Jack, so you’re almost always guaranteed a pleasurably gooey death when you come up against an alien life form. Killing a member of the Locust is satisfying just in how difficult it is to do, but if you kill one with a chainsaw? The very definition of “satisfying.” Although pistol-whipping one of the small childlike aliens from Halo to death is listed as a secondary definition.
Controlled by: Hitler
Toughness: Want to give your player the satisfaction of ending a human life, without all that irritating guilt that comes from murder? Use a Nazi! Considering there are about as many WWII games as there were casualties in it, Nazis have become as familiar a video game enemy as ninjas, demons, and robots combined. They’re usually nothing more than cannon fodder as far as singleplayer campaigns go, but there’s something to be said for a group of soldiers whose evil STILL captures the hearts of gamers more than sixty years after their disbandment.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: A few years ago, very satisfying. Nowadays, not so much. Nazis have managed to become old hat, which isn’t particularly helped by the fact that any given WWII game has approximately three and a half models for Nazi soldiers. Did I just kill the fat one with the mustache, or the skinny one with the beady eyes? Do I even care?
Controlled by: Satan
Toughness: Depends solely on how they look. If they’re little floating wraith things, then it shouldn’t take more than one or two hits to kill them. If they’re a huge fleshy monster with spikes coming out of its eyes and fire in its mouth, then it may take a little more doing to bring them down.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: Demons essentially serve as the single creature you can put into a game, kill in large numbers, while not having a single conservative group complain about it. Killing demons in games is basically like simulating Jesus’s work. So if you’re big on doing good in the world, demons are hella fun. If you’re more into violence for violence sake, demons won’t do much for you considering all of them tend to die in the same “RAAAARGH I AM SLAIN, NOW FIRE AND LIGHTNING WILL BELCH FROM MY CONVULSING BODY, RAAAARGH” kind of way.
Controlled by: An insatiable hunger for human flesh
Toughness: Child’s play when taken one at a time, a bit harder when there’s a hundred of them, a downright chore when there’s a thousand. The difficulty in zombies arises not from beating one in a fight, but in controlling your own fear and finding a smart place to take them out from. Yeah, you can run around, haphazardly thwacking the undead with a pool cue, but you’re gonna have to find a good vantage point and maybe some barricades if you wanna survive for the long haul.
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: Infinite. While I have my own personal vendetta against the undead, it’s impossible to deny the sheer fun one can get in ripping a human being’s head off, or disemboweling him, and feeling no guilt whatsoever because the damn thing is already dead. Killing a zombie is like killing every person you’ve ever met that pissed you off, except quintuple the gore factor and remove any semblance of guilt or remorse. They’re a misanthropist’s wet dream.
Controlled by: Someone with a lot of money who sits behind a desks and cracks non-sequiturs while his employees die by the handful
Toughness: They’ll always sound really badass in the cutscenes, but pretty much all gangster games revolve around some semblance of realism and will therefore make bad guys who fall after one or two torso shots (not counting the Big Gangster Bosses who somehow take eight hundred bullets before dying and falling off a building during a cutscene, and even then they’ve only got one clean bullet hole in their sternum).
Amount of satisfaction in destroying them: More satisfying than they should be, really. Were it not for movies like The Boondock Saints or The Professional that made mobster-murder so fun, video game gangsters probably wouldn’t be that fun to take out. But since those flicks, we can all pretend that we’re purging the scum of the criminal underworld with every bullet we fire. Except in Red Steel, anyway. For some reason, every single person who works at a gambling parlor or restaurant or night club, from the security on down, is an honorary member of the Yakuza and is given a gun with which to defend the business with his life. Seriously, I just came into your fish market to kill the guy that runs the place, why do all the cooks have MAC-10’s, and why are they so set on killing me? Does he pay THAT well? Honestly, fish aren’t worth dying for. Just put it down.
Well, there you have it. An analyzation of the most popular game enemies in use today. Now, if they were all to fight each other? Everybody would probably die except for the ninjas and the Locust, at which point it’s anybody’s game. If the Locust could fire fast enough so that the ninjas couldn’t dodge the bullets, then it’s a done deal. Give those ninjas an inch of wiggle room, though, and they’ll slit your throat before you can cry for help. They’re fun like that.