What if Nintendo let us play as the villains?

Nintendo villains - Ganondorf Bowser

Dracula, Darth Vader, the Joker… Everyone loves a sinister villain. They come in all shapes and sizes and have differing motivations. As Batman’s faithful butler famously put it, “some men just want to watch the world burn.” But others simply have a more destructive perception of heroism. Or, in their own twisted way, they are seeking justice that is simply vengeance at its core.

It’s easy to see why villains resonate with audiences. Naturally, they pique our interest mostly because they operate outside the societal norms of the majority. They’re rebellious and rarely have rules or limits. That idea of freedom strikes a chord with people — even though that brand of freedom tends to be evil by design. True, we don’t all wish to wreak havoc on the world. But we do share the same feelings of envy, anger, and even sadness. As individuals, our feelings are just more subdued and manageable, whereas villains become radicalized based on those very feelings.

Personal philosophy aside, villains can also just be downright fun in the entertainment medium! Everyone wants to see someone unleash the powerful Force used by the Jedi. Vader gives us that outlet. And you know what? Maybe it’s time that Nintendo shakes up the status quo and offers games from the perspective of a villain.

He probably can’t fit down a pipe…

Instantly, I bet that your mind went directly to Bowser. How could it not? Mario is synonymous with Nintendo and is likely the first thought in most minds when you hear the company’s name. But of course, Bowser isn’t like the complex villains I just described. Or is he? A new story could always change that. While Mario games aren’t huge on storytelling, perhaps there is a simple tale that defines Bowser and why he came to be the ultimate princess kidnapper in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Bowser could also bring different gameplay elements to Mario’s world. If the end of Super Mario Odyssey was any indication, we could feel the raw power of this dragon-like beast putting his spiky shell and fiery breath to good use. Perhaps players could also take control of any member within Bowser’s large family, allowing for co-op action. Maybe the Toad and Yoshi populations would replace the Goombas as the standard enemies. Developers could also create enemies and challenges that are entirely new to the Mario universe. Flipping the script on its head like this would naturally encourage creativity and fresh ideas.

Scourge of Hyrule

The Legend of Zelda is another series rich in lore. If you’ve ever read the official Zelda timeline from Nintendo, you’ll know there are multiple timelines that stem from Ocarina of Time. The original timeline fractures due to the possibility of three different ending scenarios. One of those scenarios is that series villain Ganondorf defeats Link.

Imagine a Zelda game that told that specific story, culminating in a final showdown with Link. It could begin with Ganondorf being raised among the Gerudo as the sole male in that community. We saw a bit of depth for him in The Wind Waker, but here he could become a multi-layered villain that creates real sympathy towards his drive for power. Maybe he was cast out from the Gerudo community. Or maybe Ganondorf envisioned himself as a champion that would “save” Hyrule – only to see it decay further from his selfish actions.

Nintendo Zelda Ganondorf

Ganondorf/Ganon has almost always been relegated to serving as an entity of evil that Link is destined to confront. While that lust for power and control has done the series service for years, removing its simplistic approach to evil by deepening the legacy of its villain could change the landscape of the series in a good way. Fans simply crave Zelda lore and love reading into the subtle yet profound implications behind its stories. And the gameplay possibilities are endless. The Zora and Goron races could become your enemies, while the sages – and Link, of course – serve as bosses. And Ganondorf himself would likely command a very different attack strategy compared to Zelda‘s usual protagonist.

Too K. Rool for school

King K. Rool recently received some much-needed attention thanks to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The plump reptilian king is clearly a fan favorite. In fact, fans were so elated, they reached out to Sakurai to show their appreciation for the character’s inclusion.

So what would a Donkey Kong Country game look like with King K. Rool as its primary star? Developers could keep the experience grounded to the sidescrolling platforming style we know and love; they’d simply need to inject new traversal features and actions. Or they could take King K. Rool in a separate direction with three-dimensional worlds that King K. Rool must conquer. Think Super Mario Odyssey, but each world is an island and K. Rool must combat different members of the Kong clan to claim their territories.

Like Mario and Zelda before it, the style of Donkey Kong Country is tried and true. But let’s not forget that there are other ways to experience these characters that could be revolutionary. Giving K. Rool that Odyssey-like adventure, for example, would certainly provide a new gameplay structure for the series. Of course, the risk of failure in trying something new is always there. But villains like King K. Rool might be the key to making them work.

Nintendo has been making games for over three decades. The company has done well in creating memorable, lasting icons that champion their first-party titles. Nintendo should take a shot at breaking free of its safety net, of releasing similar games with its flagship heroes. It’s time that we recognize the power behind villains in both storytelling and creating new gameplay experiences.

Nintendo has a great catalog of villains that could use the spotlight. And I’d like to think that fans would respond positively to such a development. Remember, every good hero deserves a great villain.

Chris Hinton
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night.  Somewhere in between all of that, I'm a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too.  If a game is all about action, there's a safe bet I'm playing it.  I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin' on the ol' Atari and haven't stopped since.