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The 10 Greatest Versus Rivalries In Video Games

by Matt Miller on Mar 26, 2016 at 08:30 AM

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This feature was originally published on March 22, 2016.

The upcoming release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has us thinking about some of the memorable confrontations in gaming. We’ve chosen these one-on-one contests not just because they made for great fights, but because the conflict between the two individuals in each case defines our memory of the game. Sometimes a powerful rivalry is as potent and engaging as the most romantic of love stories or enduring of friendships. Here are our picks for the greatest video game match-ups in history.

NOTE: Most of the games on this list are older classics, but they do discuss SPOILERS about the major conflicts and characters of those games. You have been warned.

10.   Little Mac vs. Mike Tyson (Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!)

Little Mac has fought his way up through one boxer after another, learning their moves and mastering different offensive strategies. At long last, the Dream Fight beckons, and the diminutive Mac steps out into the ring opposite the greatest fighter of his generation: Mike Tyson. Dynamite punches begin to fly, and the David vs. Goliath battle is on. Mac’s confrontation with Mike Tyson was the definitive video game battle for a whole generation, and the dynamic between the two boxers is a classic underdog tale, presuming you can ever land that final punch.

9. Mario vs. Bowser (Super Mario Bros.)

It’s a conflict born out of the very roots of the console gaming scene, and even in this first game, the battle comes back again and again. It’s hard to count how many times Bowser has kidnapped the hapless Princess Peach, and Mario has leapt up in pursuit, and that all started in the original Super Mario Bros. Bowser’s need to stop Mario extends out through every moment of the game – whether it’s his minion Koopas that threaten progression, or Bowser’s fireballs flung across entire stages to keep Mario at bay. The overall-wearing plumber jumps and sprints past it all, and flings Bowser down into the lava time and again. But the giant dragon-turtle king always finds a way to come back and disrupt the Mushroom Kingdom yet again. 

8. Kratos vs. Zeus (God of War III)

Don’t mess with Kratos. That seems to be the point driven home as we see the one-time god of war clamber over the murdered bodies of gods in pursuit of vengeance against his father, Zeus. The king of the gods feared that his son would usurp his throne just as he once did to his father, so he struck down the blade-wielding warrior to preemptively halt the inevitable succession. Big mistake. Kratos besieges Olympus with the angry Titans at his side, and eventually goes head-to-head with Zeus in a truly godlike confrontation. Father/son relationships turn out to be much more complicated when you’re an immensely powerful mythological figure – a lesson Zeus learns all too well as one bloody punch after another settles the matter once and for all.

7. Alucard vs. Dracula (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)

Video game characters must have rough relationships with their fathers; this time, it’s the complicated dynamic between the lord of vampires, Dracula, and his prodigal son. Alucard’s identity as Dracula’s progeny goes a long way to establishing his awesome powers, and he needs all the help he can get to survive the many dangers in his adventure. The fortress of Castlevania is a living edifice and representation of Dracula’s evil and power, so Alucard is effectively fighting against his father in every battle he tackles within the cursed castle. In the final conflict, Alucard is forced to confront a decision between his human nature and his cursed heritage, making for one of the most epic head-to-head exchanges in games.

6. Link vs. Ganon (The Legend of Zelda series)

Most of the entries on our list are focused on a confrontation that unfolds in a single entry of a series, but Link and Ganon make the list for the timeless nature of their confrontation, echoing through the Zelda timeline in a seemingly endless series of interactions.  Every time Ganon rises to threaten the world, a hero named Link arrives to save the day. The origins and backgrounds of Link and Zelda vary in minor ways between entries, but taken together, the story often comes down to the triumph of courage over power – a theme that helps this versus contest stand the test of time.

Next Page: Check out our picks for the five greatest versus contests in video games. 

5. Dante vs. Vergil (Devil May Cry 3)

There’s nothing like a good prequel when you already know the tragedy waiting for the characters in their own futures. Anyone who has played the original Devil May Cry knows the grisly fate waiting for Vergil as a horrific demonic being. But years earlier in Devil May Cry 3, the two brothers are just getting started on their intense sibling rivalry. Dante’s flippant and rogueish demeanor is at odds with Vergil’s calculating nature, but only one of them has the fortitude to use his powers to protect humanity. The conflict between the two equally matched warriors sets the stage for later adventures, and serves to drive the drama and excitement of this third installment in the stylish action franchise.

4. Naked Snake vs. The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

Amid the geopolitical wrangling and Cold War backdrop of Metal Gear Solid 3, it’s the conflict between a student and his former mentor that defines the game. Naked Snake was trained by The Boss, a formidable tactical commander and soldier in her own right. But after following her orders in the opening hours of the game, The Boss’ betrayal sets the stage for everything that follows, including an escalation of Russian and American rhetoric that could lead to nuclear Armageddon. During a final showdown in a flower-strewn field, we learn that the dynamic between the two characters is far more complicated than first imagined, but fate has already demanded that only one can leave alive. 

3. Batman vs. Joker (Batman: Arkham Asylum)

The compelling juxtaposition of Batman’s dark heroism and Joker’s anarchistic insanity has been explored in many mediums, from comics to film. But until Arkham Asylum, we’d never seen the two mutual nemeses confront each other on such a memorable and dramatic gaming stage. From Joker’s escape as the game begins to his disastrous dosing of the Titan drug in the conclusion, every new disaster in the asylum arises from Joker’s machinations. Only Batman has the wherewithal to put it all to an end. And while Arkham Asylum plays out the Batman/Joker conflict for gamers, it also serves to set the stage for a physical and mental conflict that will stretch across all the subsequent games in the series. 

2. Cloud vs. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)

A complex web of cloning experiments gone wrong, ancient alien beings, and the life force of the planet all play a part in Final Fantasy’s complex and challenging plotline. But holding the many disparate plot threads together is the conflict between protagonist Cloud and the seemingly unstoppable Sephiroth. Sephiroth is a shadowy figure looming over the early hours of the game, but later revelations reveal the villain’s connection to Cloud. When Sephiroth murders Cloud’s friend and possible beloved, Aerith, in one of the most surprising moments in gaming, he seals his fate. The final confrontation between hero and villain is cosmic in scale. 

1. Chell vs. GLaDOS (Portal)

Fistfights and sword duels are all well and good, but triumphing over the mind of an all-seeing computer artificial intelligence – that’s a real trick. The opening of Portal finds a seemingly hapless human test subject breaking free from containment and setting out for her freedom. But Chell’s passage is blocked by the fickle whims of GLaDOS, leading to a puzzling contest of wills and wits. Chell’s (and by extension, the player’s) cleverness is enough to prove human intuition and observation still has a chance to defeat our inevitable computer overlords. 

What are your favorite video game versus contests? Share your choices in the comments below.