Having just recently attended a Kevin Geeks Out show about mad science, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some prominent mad scientists in video games. There are a lot of them, many in games I’m not familiar with. I can’t say I really know anything about Dr. Neo Cortex from Crash Bandicoot, for instance, although it looks like he definitely fits the bill.
Here are a few that I know a little better:
Dr. Lugae – While the most famous inventor characters in the Final Fantasy series are probably the various Cids, they’re generally not mad so much as just cranky, and often more engineers than scientists. One character who very much fits the archetype, however, is Golbez’ chief strategist Lugae in FFIV. He has the glasses, messy white hair, lab coat, and complete disregard for morality. You encounter him in the Tower of Babil working with Rubicante, and it’s said that he created the tower’s cannons and turned Edge’s parents, the King and Queen of Eblan, into monsters. He sends a robot called Barnabas to attack the party, but it attacks him instead, so he tries to control it manually. After Barnabas self-destructs, he fights himself in the form of a skeletal robot capable of using laser beam and gas attacks.
Professor Monkey-for-a-Head – From the Earthworm Jim games, I kind of wish I didn’t know the character designer’s intentions in creating the character, which don’t really show in the games and related media as far as I know. We rented both of the first two EWJ games in the younger games, and I remember my brother couldn’t get too far in the first one, but finished the second pretty quickly. It’s another one of those series where they had to tone down a ridiculous difficulty level, I guess. Anyway, it was really creative and funny, and we also used to watch the Saturday morning cartoon series. The Professor is a mad scientist who has a monkey grafted to his head. They’re able to operate independently, but are also mentally connected, and share a pair of eyes. He has a fancy space laboratory, and is responsible for building Jim’s super suit, originally intended for Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. When he accidentally dropped it on Earth and it landed on a worm, he tried his best to get it back. According to the manual, the reason he couldn’t build another one was because the monkey ate the plans. The cartoon had him say he was fully capable of building another, but he only had one Battery of the Gods, which provides the power. In an example of the absurd humor in the series, he revealed to Psy-Crow that, when he tried to ask the gods for another battery, they turned him into a breadmaker. This didn’t change his appearance at all, but he can create bread under his lab coat, and turning the monkey’s tail will make pumpernickel. He’s also credited as the inventor of the pay toilet. What I didn’t find out until later is that the creator of many of the EJM characters, Doug TenNapel, is a fundamentalist Christian who’s apparently written for Breitbart and supported Focus on the Family, and intended the Professor to mock his own biology professor for teaching evolution, as he’s a Young-Earth Creationist. What grafting a monkey to your head has to do with evolution isn’t clear, although it actually reminds me of one of the presentations at the latest Kevin Geeks Out, which in part was about how movies about turning people into apes or switching human and simian brains were common after the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 (in which no monkeys were actually on trial). It’s in keeping with how it seems to have once been common, and presumably still is in certain circles, to object to evolution not for any scientific reason, or even really a religious reason, but simply because people just don’t like the idea of being related to apes. But I suppose I have to give credit to TenNapel for not inserting his offensive beliefs into his work, at least not in this particular case.
Dr. Fred Edison – The main antagonist in Maniac Mansion, who kidnaps cheerleaders and brings them to his creepy mansion to work bizarre experiments on them with his Zom-B-Matic machine. And he’s doing this on a budget, so he powers it with a nuclear reactor with a “made in Chernobyl” label on it that’s kept in the basement, cooled with a swimming pool. Accidentally blowing up the house is probably the most likely way to lose the game. He lives with his wife Nurse Edna, their son Weird Ed, and his mummified cousin Ted. In some but not all versions of the game, the family members are shown with blue skin, perhaps because of the radiation. It turns out that he’s under the control of the Meteor, a sentient rock who fell from space five years previously. In the sequel, Day of the Tentacle, he’s no longer exactly a villain, but he’s still pretty amoral. He helps you out, but only after he causes the problem with the Purple Tentacle in the first place by creating a machine that does nothing but spew out toxic waste, which mutates the creature and leads to his trying to take over the world. I believe the last name wasn’t given until Tentacle, and the arcade machine in the first game suggests it starts with an S. It does fit with the theme names, and of course Edison is a name associated with inventors. The second game reveals that he had an ancestor named Red who was also an inventor and looked and sounded pretty much exactly like him, and Red had twin sons named Jed and Ned.
Professor Elvin Gadd – I’ve already written about this loony but helpful character from the Super Mario series, but I really couldn’t leave him out. Back when Mario and Luigi were babies, he lived at Thwomp Volcano and researched Thwomps, but he relocated to Boo Woods to do paranormal research. Luigi uses his various models of Poltergust capture ghosts, and he’s invented many other things besides. He speaks in gibberish that’s translated in dialogue boxes, much like everybody in the Animal Crossing games. The swirly glasses are apparently common for nerdy characters in Japanese media, and Fawful and Professor Frankly also wear them. There’s at least one picture of Iggy Koopa where he does as well, but he usually has blue rings around his pupils instead, possibly but not necessarily meant to be irises.
Iggy has sometimes been portrayed as a mad scientist himself, most prominently in the Nintendo Adventure Books. In the DiC cartoons, that role was instead given to Ludwig von Koopa, there called Kooky.
And in one episode of the Super Show, “Koopenstein,” Bowser himself was both the mad scientist AND the monster he created.
It’s pretty similar to King K. Rool taking on the moniker Baron K. Roolenstein in Donkey Kong Country 3.
Those wacky reptilian villains and their aliases.
Lucca Ashtear – I’m not sure if I would have thought of her in this category, but I saw her on a list online, so why not? She’s a young woman instead of an old man, and she’s a force for good, but she does have some of the same traits. She’s the daughter of another inventor named Taban and his wife Lara, and Crono’s best friend. When her mother lost her legs in a mechanical accident when Lucca was just a kid, she vowed to learn all she could about machines. It’s possible to go back in time and stop Lara from being crippled, but fortunately it doesn’t result in Lucca becoming any less mechanically inclined. She wears glasses and a helmet with an antenna, carries a pistol and a hammer, and has a semi-maniacal laugh and a proud, bad-ass attitude that belies a somewhat insecure personality. You probably have to be at least somewhat mad to think of yourself as a genius, right? Then again, maybe it’s justified, as she’s not only built a working teleportation device and robotic battle trainer prior to the events of the game (well, as much as you can say anything happens prior to a time travel plot), but is able to repair a sentient robot 1500 years in the future. In between this game and Chrono Cross, she develops a lot of the technology used in Chronopolis, and starts an orphanage. I always wondered why her creation Gato has a name that means “cat,” but apparently it’s a reference to lightweight Mexican boxer Rodrigo Gonzalez, whose nickname was “El Gato”; the automaton is just called “Gonzalez” in the original Japanese.
Cross has another purple-haired female scientist named Luccia, who’s not the same character but is obviously supposed to resemble her.
And I don’t think she could have been named after Lucca in-uinverse, as their ages indicate Lucca was only eleven when Luccia was born. I guess it’s possible her parents read about Luccia’s deeds in the past in a history book or something, but it’s more likely just a reference. The game also has a character named Glenn who bears many similarities to Frog but clearly isn’t the same guy, and not just because he’s never been transformed into an amphibian. I’m not sure the creators of Cross were totally decided on whether it was a direct or spiritual sequel, so they put in elements of both. Luccia has met Lucca in her back story, however. She specializes mostly in genetic research, and has a laboratory at Viper Manor, where she moved after her brother’s death. Despite her Italian-sounding name, she speaks with an Eastern European accent.
Dr. Ivo Robotnik – Sonic the Hedgehog’s arch-nemesis is this overweight, bald, mustached guy with a penchant for transforming cute little animals into killer robots and trying to take over the world. As I wrote before, his name is kind of confusing, as he’s sometimes called Robotnik and other times Eggman, and some media have indicated his name was Kintobor before he decided to reverse it. In 2001’s Sonic Adventure, he’s said to have had a grandfather called Professor Gerald Robotnik, creator of Shadow the Hedgehog and a space station, so presumably that’s the real family name after all.
He apparently embraces his nickname, however, as a lot of his machines are egg-themed. How serious of a threat Robotnik is seems to vary considerably, but that’s generally the case with villains who show up in a lot of different games and related media of varying levels of seriousness. I get the impression that, even at his silliest, he’s still competent, and not the absent-minded bungler type. His flaws are more his narcissism and childish temper. There WAS an absent-minded scientist and inventor in the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, Professor Dinglehopper von Schlemmer, who was so forgetful he sometimes forgot who he was.
He was a good guy and an ally of Sonic’s, though.
Dr. Albert W. Wily – Pretty much the ultimate mad scientist in video games, at least to my mind, he’s another would-be world conqueror whose specialty is robots. A graduate of the Robot Institute of Technology, he served as a lab assistant to Dr. Thomas Xavier Light, but was jealous when Light receive all the accolades. For revenge, he stole and reprogrammed the Robot Masters he and Light he created, using them to cause chaos. Light converted an earlier creation of his, Rock, into the super-fighting robot Mega Man to battle Wily’s forces. He would later both build his own robots and reprogram those made by others, only to be thwarted every time by Mega Man. The Robot Masters are all numbered, but what’s weird is that, while the DLN series are Light’s and the DWN his, the numbers are consecutive throughout the series. Like, the ones in the first game run through DLN-008, then the ones in MM2 are DWN-009 through 016. Why is Wily continuing with Light’s numbering system? Also, the Masters in MM4 and 6 are DWN even though Wily didn’t make them. Also confusing is how Wily is named after and resembles Albert Einstein, and is given a German accent in some media (well, in Captain N and the Mega Man cartoon, anyway), but was apparently born in Osaka. He’s a villain who never gives up, and even after he dies has ramifications on the Mega Man X series. By the way, he and Eggman have teamed up in the Archie Comics titles.