Gaming's Heel/Face Turns That Inspired WRECK-IT RALPH
“Just because you are ‘bad guy’, that does not mean you are bad guy,” intones fictional World Warrior and semi-professional bear wrestler Zangief to the eponymous star of Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, the second biggest item coming out of the House of Mouse this past week.
This animated movie tells the story of the villain of an 80s era arcade game who is tired of his role as the heavy and sets out across the gaming landscape to find a new path in life. The idea of a villainous character in fiction ‘seeing the light’ or seeking redemption for the error of his or her ways is not new, in fact it is as old as stories themselves. From Heracles’ labors to Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Zuko, the path from ‘evil’ to ‘good’ is rich with the kind of drama that stands the test of time.
However when this kind of “heel/face turn” happens in video games, there is a special benefit in addition to the twist in the story, access to the cool powers or abilities that had probably sent your blood pressure soaring on the way to the game over screen.
Therefore for your and Ralph’s benefit, here are ten of gaming’s most famous moral compass turnarounds to model your own ‘come-to-Mario’ moment.
Game: Chrono Trigger (1995)
The wizard Magus waged war against the peaceful Kingdom of Guardia in the 'Middle Ages' of the fictional world of the classic time-travel action RPG Chrono Trigger, using dark magic and an legion of summoned creatures. Apart from his twin goals of conquest and the accumulation of magical power, he also was the cause of the swordsman Frog's seemingly permanent transformation and perhaps even the man behind the creation of the world-devouring parasite Lavos.
Why He Turned: Magus' campaign of evil was in fact spawned out of desperation, due to the betrayal of him and his sister at the hands of his mother, and revenge on Lavos who he blames for setting everything in motion. If the player shows restraint when given the option of finishing off Magus after their first battle, Magus allies himself with the heroes, seeing common purpose in destroying Lavos and the prospect that their flying time machine will aid him in recovering his time-lost sister.
Game: Donkey Kong Country (1994)
A thorn in the side of plumbers and construction sites for decades, the giant gorilla Donkey Kong used his barrel throwing skills to crush any opposition to his policy of kidnapping blonds and climbing things.
Why He Turned: DK learned the hard way the frustration of having things taken from you, in his case a mountain of carefully harvested bananas by an army of lizards. Taking a page from his Italian-American nemesis, Donkey Kong (and his brood) jumped and climbed his way through several smash hit games and now enjoys a mostly peaceful life style of engaging in a vast, vast array of trendy sports and tech demo-like activities.
Game: Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (1994)
The anti-Mario incarnate, Wario is the living embodiment of greed and selfishness. An amoral thief and swindler, Wario is not beyond stealing entire kingdoms when their heroes are off saving distant lands, looting the treasury and placing himself on the throne. Not objectively evil, Wario instead uses his own set of jumping/stomping skills (and a special resilience that makes him very hard to kill) in the service of himself instead of the forces of darkness.
Why He Turned: There is no honor among thieves, and as long as Wario doesn’t learn the lesson that crime doesn't pay, he'll continually have his ill-gotten fortune stolen from him by other criminals when his back is turned. When this happens, woe to the criminal that gets in his way, for they will feel the (literal) weight of his brand of justice (any actual world-saving that occurs at the same time is purely coincidental).
Game: Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (1990)
Some fathers can be controlling, others can be mind-controlling. Under the spell of his father Dracula, Alucard sought to defend the evil vampire lord's castle against another assault by a member of the Belmont clan. Fireballs and a transformation into a swarm of bats were his weapons of choice in that effort, but he would ultimately just be a warm-up act for his (very) old man.
Why He Turned: A series of sharp blows to the head was all it took to free Alucard of his father's influence but discovering that his mother was a human, the Dhampir Alucard would commit the long centuries of his life to being a vampire hunter himself, after she made him swear to protect humanity from his father. To accomplish that goal, Alucard developed an astonishing array of powers including the ability to dash short distances extremely quickly (but only backwards).
Game: Abobo's Big Adventure (2012)
Distinguished from the litany of palette-swapped bad guys who populate the streets of the Double Dragon franchise by only his larger size and shaved head, Abobo has used his above average strength, reach and endurance to pester the Lee Brothers for as long as it took the player to discover a technique to defeat him. Sadly for a long time not much was known about Abobo, and he fell into the trap of being stereotype as a big, dumb meathead despite the fact that he was actually probably only two of those things.
Why He Turned: Another side of Abobo was revealed shortly after it was uncovered (albeit unofficially) that he was in fact the doting father of the freshly kidnapped Aboboy. Messing with his family would prove to be an extraordinary ill-advised and an ultimately fatally gruesome mistake for the kidnappers. Abobo's love for his son is expressed by his uncontrollable rage which builds constantly and can result in Earth-shattering, bone breaking and organ bursting attacks on any one in his path, friend or foe.
Game: Final Fantasy IV (1991)
The Dragon Knight Kain Highwind was a loyal friend to protagonist Cecil, using his powerful jumping in the service of the king and even standing by Cecil when he fell out of favor with the ruler of the fantasy Kingdom of Baron. However, his jealousy over his crush Rosa's love for Cecil opened his heart to darkness and turned him against his allies.
Why He Turned: Now Kain would not be the first person to claim he was being mind controlled when he betrayed his best friend, but the number of times he 'breaks free only to be turned again' starts to strain credulity. It finally takes the moment when the true source of evil is discovered (behind at least two layers of cats' paw) for the control to completely break and have Kain finally leaping off screen for two rounds on the side of justice.
Game: Golden Sun: The Lost Age (2003)
Isaac, the protagonist of the original Golden Sun struggled in order to try and stop the return of the destructive magic of alchemy to the world of Weyard. Felix, another boy from his destroyed village instead sought out the elemental lighthouses that kept the power in check at the behind of forces seemingly bent on the world’s ruin. The former neighbors battled again and again, each never fully defeating the other.
Why He Turned: As it was revealed in that game's sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, both Felix and Isaac were in fact working towards the same goal, but from different directions. With the benefit of being the protagonist of the second game, Felix's view was proven right, and Isaac was brought along to his way of thinking.
Game: Metal Gear Solid (1998)
The consummate solider, Gray Fox's unique and interesting ideas about duty and loyalty had him turn from friend to foe to cyborg ninja over the course of his career in the Metal Gear universe. An ally and mentor to protagonist Solid Snake, Gray Fox true fidelity lay with Big Boss and his dreams of walking tanks and a homeland for mercenaries
Why He Turned: Suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of Solid Snake destroyed Gray Fox's body and mind. He was transformed into a cyborg ninja that quickly turned on his creators (and anyone who came into view) and sought out one final battle to sate his lust for battle and end his life. Solid Snake seemingly obliges, but Gray Fox appears alive again (for the last time...maybe) at a critical moment to aid Snake against Metal Gear REX.
Game: Halo 2 (2004)
The Supreme Commander of Covenant Fleet, an Elite by the name of Thel 'Vadamee, was the one deemed by the High Prophets of the Covenant to be responsible for the alien alliance’s catastrophic defeat at the hands of their enemies, the humans (in particular the Master Chief) at what they called the Halo Installation. Thel 'Vadamee’s punishment was a promotion to the position of Arbiter, an elite agent of the High Prophets who's missions are purposely extremely dangerous as to create a ready source of martyrs for their 'holy cause.'
Why He Turned: Having your worldview shattered by betrayal and deceit can open anyone's mind to new ideas, like the truth. When the Arbiter learned that his former master's goal would not be a path to galactic salvation, only galactic annihilation, he began to use his one-hit-kill energy sword and stealth armor to aid the Master Chief's cause.
Game: Portal 2 (2011)
After acing her own version of the Turing Test by wiping out her creators, the malevolent artificial intelligence GLaDOS took control of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center and proceeded to do her programmed job of supervising the testing of human subjects with ruthless and deadly efficiency.
Why “She” Turned: Is the enemy of my enemy my friend, or just a jerk I have to put up with so that a third party doesn't kill us both? In a shocking twist, you are forced to seek the aid of a crippled and reduced GLaDOS in order to save each other from your previous ally in order to save you both; even if her 'aid' is merely a few directions and a plethora of verbal abuse.