10. Phoenix (Phoenix)Sure, Phoenix looked a lot like its black and white predecessor, Space Invaders, and didn't seem to stand apart very much from its more widely-known peer, Galaxian. But then Round 5 came along and your starship faced off against just one lone opponent-the mothership. Not only was that encounter a quarter-munching exercise in tension, it was also the first time a player ever encountered a video game boss!
9. Bowser (Super Mario Bros. series)You'd probably expect Bowser to be higher in this list, but the truth of the matter is that he's like Keanu Reeves-an uncharismatic lump who lucked into major roles in a number of very important titles. This giant turtle, who employs mushrooms and turtles in his quest to kidnap Princess Peach, bungles things so often that he admires the batting average of Dr. Claw.
8. Kerrigan and the Zerg Overmind (StarCraft)As spiritual successors to the cinema's Aliens and predecessors to Halo's The Flood, the Zerg were videogames' perfect representation of a sudden, relentless and tactless rush of force. In fact, their importance in video game history has been firmly established by the community itself, since the early rush strategy has been dubbed "zerging" in almost every applicable genre.
Like the Borg, the Zerg simply infect their enemies as they consume them whole. In a fantastic plot twist, Kerrigan, one of the beloved heros of the human forces, is infected by the Zerg and serves as their strategist and spokesman in their battle against humanity and the technologically superior Protoss. In one of the most grueling grand finales in videogame history, the Protoss and Humans must join forces to assault the brutally relentless Zerg. Now that is an enemy.
And...oh...my...God... break out the Kleenex, baby, they just said StarCraft II!
7. Darth Vader (Eleven Thousand Star Wars Games)The Dark Lord of the Sith, probably the most fearsome villain in pop culture history (at least, before he became a Stewie-wannabe in the prequels), has dominated our video gaming hearts from almost the very beginning of the medium. Old school gamers first faced the mouthbreather in his TIE Advanced starfighter (before you even knew that was its proper name) in the vector graphics Star Wars Arcade game in 1983.
Darth Vader became the go-to villain in a zillion Star Wars titles, and you could even play as the big guy in titles like Masters of Teras Kasi and Battlefront II, or in unlockable missions in the Rogue Leader games. The best representation of what it's like to fight the Dark Lord, however, is probably 1993's Super Empire Strikes Back for SNES, a side-scroller where you control Luke Skywalker in a ferocious recreation of Empire's climactic lightsaber duel.
6. Mother Brain (Metroid series)Mother Brain, the final boss of the sprawling, epic Metroid (not to mention several of its sequels), offers an exhausting battle at the conclusion of one of the most notorious and epic final assaults in any video game. She's the brains ('natch) behind the evil Space Pirate, and apparently the head honcho Metroid.
By the time you even reach Mother Brain, you'll have battled your way through a huge laboratory with cobra-quick Metroids and other various bad guys attacking from all angles, while desperately conserving life and missiles because literally every last bit counts in this final confrontation. And then even your victory can't be enjoyed, because it leads to a breakneck race back through the entire game.
5. The Ghosts (Pac-Man series)At the sunrise of video game history, you weren't human unless Pac-Man fever was driving you crazy. And it didn't matter if you were a carpenter, a politician or a kid with dreams of a virtual future, your life's goal was to escape those wascally ghosts-Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde-long enough to get a new high score.
They never rested, never slowed, and just got faster and faster. Even kids crafty enough to learn the fabled patterns (many of which could be found on the inside record sheath of Buckner & Garcia's Pac-Man Fever album) realized there was a point at which the ghosts became impervious to Pac's power pellets. The things that really got eaten in this game? Your quarters.
4. Ganon (The Legend of Zelda series)Like teenyboppers returning to the mall as their ritual Mecca, gamers flock back to the land of Hyrule every few years to experience a new epic adventure as Link, the young hero who must save a world freshly corrupted by the evil Ganon. Almost every Legend of Zelda game pits you against Ganon, or Ganondorf in some cases, a vicious tyrant who has corrupted the magical powers of the legendary Triforce of Power and unleashed darkness upon the land.
Usually depicted as a humanoid powermonger who also takes a boar form, Ganon is given different backstories in every Zelda game. As the wielder of the Triforce of Power, Ganon has caused mayhem in his mad thirst for power, and the young hero Link must follow his footsteps and uncover his path while collecting the remaining two Triforces (Courage and Wisdom), and then confront Ganon in a battle for the fate of the land. The series' consistently strong writing keeps Ganon fresh in each tale, while introducing new mythologies and plot devices, including time travel in titles like A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time.
3. Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)This brilliantly-designed villain was crafted to be so powerful that he could break the fourth wall and reach out to the player, transcending the barrier between player and game avatar. This is the kind of out-of-the-box game design that propels titles like Metal Gear Solid to become classics.
In an eerie twist, Psycho Mantis, a shady telekinetic and telepath with roots in both the FBI and KGB, seems to take over your game console during your confrontation. He reads your memory card, analyzing which games you've been playing and how many times you've saved, and then even makes your screen go blank in a way that feels like your VCR has gone awry. This chilling effect makes it feel like Psycho Mantis is watching you, the gamer, and the battle takes on a far more personal gravity. If only more game designers gave thought to breaking the fourth wall or challenging our standards for interfacing with games-then those inebriated college kids would really have something to ponder.