What's in a number?
Every year, the holidays bring to mind sets of 12, and not just because we gain a dozen pounds eating. The 12 Days of Christmas is one of the most painfully omnipresent songs around, and the repetition of counting different groups of things is forever branded in our collective minds. But why boringly count leaping lords or golden rings when you can count off the best gaming groups from two to 12? That's more fun and it provides an excuse to finally decide who those the best teams in gaming are.
Many forms of entertainment have put the group's member count at the forefront (like The Seven Samurai, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas), but games rarely make much out of the number of characters since that can vary by player. However, if you want the definitive answers for gaming's greatest groups of every size, look no further. Oh, and if you're wondering who the top lone wolf is, that's easy. It's YOU, the mysterious individual given praise at the end of every game's credits.
The Most Dynamic Duo: Mario & Luigi
Might as well do the obvious one first, right? Nintendo's iconic plumbing brothers have done it all, and more often than not, they do it together. While there are a few rare occasions where one brother will do the heavy lifting (like most of Mario's fully 3D outings and Luigi's ghostbusting adventures), most of the duo's most memorable quests are done together. Nowadays, Nintendo usually makes an effort to make each sibling distinct. Are you looking for an all-around adventurer? Then Mario's your guy. Willing to trade finesse for higher and longer jumps? Then it's weegie time. Regardless of who you choose, the world will always equate two players with Mario and Luigi.
MVP: Mario - He almost always gets top-billing, and for good reason; he's a singular star that can stand amongst lone star icons like Lara Croft and Master Chief.
LVP: Luigi - Sure, he's carved out a niche as a lovable goofball, but he's yet to prove his worth without a vacuum on back.
The Top Trio: Cody, Guy, and Haggar
Few beat-em-up trios have staying power. In some cases, it's due to infrequent sequels (like Battletoads). In others, a revolving door of protagonists (like in the Streets of Rage) makes it tough to cement a threesome. Even though the Final Fight franchise has seen its share of turnover, three fighters have the most stability; well-rounded everyman Cody, martial artist Guy, and big bruiseer Haggar. Final Fight's original 1989 crew has reunited for three spinoffs, while Haggar cameoed alongside the younger duo starring in Street Fighter Alpha and Ultra Street Fighter IV. Could another Final Fight be in order for this threesome's 25th anniversary?
MVP: Haggar - He's done wrestling, beat up comic book characters, and still curbed crime as Metro City's Mayor. How many other politicians have that resume?
LVP: Guy - When it came to the original trio, it made sense to choose the boyfriend or father in the quest to save Jessica. Guy was a weird third wheel who was jettisoned when the arcade port landed on the SNES.
The Coolest Quartet: Left 4 Dead 2's group
Left 4 Dead 2 is the rare exception to the "the original cast is best" argument. While Left 4 Dead's original survivor quartet is memorable, the follow-up featured an even more-defined foursome with better interplay between zombie-slaughterers. Coach dispenses advice with a bit of an attitude. Nick is the group jerkwad; while he'll warm up to other survivors, there's a tough veneer to break through first. Rochelle is the mediator, but isn't afraid to mock others when necessary. Meanwhile Ellis just wants to be the center of attention and will tell stupid stories to keep everyone entertained. While the already great gameplay didn't change much between games,Left 4 Dead 2's cast was a surprising move that paid off.
MVP: Ellis - We're still waiting on an Ellis-Keith teamup DLC. If any of the adventures Ellis crowed about during Left 4 Dead 2's idle chatter were actually true, this duo could give Mario & Luigi a run for their coins.
LVP: Nick - Tough call, but Nick's brand of jerkiness made him a slight outlier in Left 4 Dead 2's epic quartet.
The Quintet with the Most Win: The Rock Band 3 band
Most bands need to alter their lineup before finding the right combination. Harmonix may have started as a solo guitarist before becoming a Rock Band, but the inclusion of a keyboard in Rock Band 3 brought the biggest accolades yet. In RB3, there's a spot for everyone. Are you the extrovert? Then vocals are for you. Want to show off some fancy moves? Take on lead guitar. Want to really put some physicality into a tune? Go to town on drums. Want to serve a vital role but not hog the spotlight? Then form the song's backbone as the bass. Want some cheese with your rock? Grab the keyboard and put on a show.
MVP: Drums - Out of anyone playing a set in Rock Band, the drummer usually best approximates the real-world musical equivalent. Even with the addition of the keyboard, the drummer is still the most legit-looking person in a Rock Band band, if only because so few bands actually utilize keyboards nowadays.
LVP: Bass - While bass is by far the funkiest, sweet solos are rare compared to every other Rock Band instrument.
The Sexiest Sextet: STARS Alpha Team
While I question the judgment of those pencil-pushers at STARS for sending the inferior-in-almost-every-way Bravo team into Spencer Mansion first, they redeemed themselves by putting together the crack Alpha team (pictured above with Bravo) that's proven instrumental in putting down the zombie threat (even if one or two members are responsible for it, too). Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine are excellent leaders and even greater peacekeepers. Barry Burton can grow a sweet beard but can also find the right weapon for the job. Brad Vickers is an ace pilot who always knows when you need a rocket launcher. Albert Wesker is one of gaming's most sinister villains and can recruit the most unlikely of allies to his cause. Joseph Frost er... found a cool severed arm.
MVP: Jill Valentine - Jill has had the most RE starring roles AND fighting game cameos. If you need someone to kill both a zombie and a superhero, she's your Valentine.
LVP: Joseph Frost - Can we just pretend Rebecca Chambers was promoted when you died?
The Superior Septet: The Kooplings
While the first two Super Mario games hold up, the final NES and first SNES outings were leagues ahead when it came to fleshing out the fiction, due in no small part to creating a rogues gallery of foes in the form of the Koopalings. Bowser's children or not, you can't deny that each of the siblings have serious staying power. In their platforming appearances, their distinct appearances were reflected with different boss fight tactics. While recent appearances in racers and brawlers didn't present individual personalities as well, they're still more welcome than Wii Fit Trainer, Baby Rosalina, or Tanooki Mario.
MVP: Wendy O. Koopa - The lone lady already stands out, but her memorable design works alongside her strategy, as the hoop-wearing sister shoots rings. Also, she's got one of the cooler namesakes; punk rock legend Wendy O. Williams.
LVP: Morton Koopa Jr. - Roy is the better big Koopaling, and he has the worst real-world counterpart (TV talk show host Morton Downey Jr, who was irrelevant within months of Super Mario Bros. 3's release).
The Most Outrageous Octet: Street Fighter II's originals
The entire fighting game genre wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't for Street Fighter II and cast. While the four final bosses certainly play a part, there's a bit more love for the eight originals fans have always been able to play. Ryu and Ken, are the flashy yet noob-friendly karate-fighter archetypes. Zangief brings brute force. Chun-Li has the unparalleled grace and speed. Guile gives an all-American twist to some hard-hitting moves. Blanka's monstrous attacks make him a wildcard. E. Honda shows how you can mix speed and size. Dhalsim similarly proves looks can be deceiving with a variety of physiology-defying moves. They've all remained series staples. Plus, they're not involved in the weird Japan-US name mixup that didn't bestow the Mike Tyson homonym name on the boxer.
MVP: Ryu - Even if his original moveset barely differed from Ken, Ryu's slightly more interesting look and focused backstory have made him a series standout.
LVP: Dhalsim - Stretchy limbs and fire-breathing are nice powers, but try coming up with a suitable strategy when facing faster and bigger opponents.
The Nonet with no Rival: Final Fantasy VII's good guys
Sure, two of Final Fantasy VII's nine characters were technically optional, but the only people who didn't bring Yuffie and Vincent into the fold were folks who were simultaneously strategy-guide averse and bad at exploring. From a guy with a gun grafted onto his arm to a revived vampire to to a wise talking lion, each of the almost-double-digit playable cast had enough characterization and cool moves to star in a game by his, her, or itself. While not all of the cast manages to make it to the end, and subsequent follow ups have rarely done right by FF7's legacy, the playable cast of this game will always have an amazing adventure they shared together.
MVP: Cloud Strife - Even if he is a whiner with an identity crisis, Cloud is still a good leader and his Buster Sword remains one of gaming's most iconic weapons.
LVP: Cait Sith - You'd think a cat riding a sentient stuffed doll would be far from the bottom of the game's character rankings, but the end-game twists ruin this character.
The Decet that Can't be Beat: No More Heroes' Top 10 Assassins
Even post-arcades, it's tough to deny the allure of leaderboard. There's no better list in games than the ten best killers, which Travis Touchdown must take down to impress a girl. When you put that level of importance on your bosses characters, that's setting a pretty high standard for the actual battles, and fortunately No More Heroes delivers. Almost every encounter with an assassin in the surprise Wii classic is a great fight with a well-designed enemy, whether it be the lavish and laid-back Death Metal, the delusional superhero-wannabe Destroyman, or the sado-masochistic bat-swinging Bad Girl. Almost every time you finish mowing through the rank-and-file of No More Heroes' stages, you can be assured you'll meet a cool-looking character that will give you a fun fight.
MVP: Bad Girl - While there are plenty of offbeat attacks thrown at Travis Touchdown during No More Heroes, Bad Girl launching leather-clad men off a conveyor belt with her bat is probably the weirdest (and best) one.
LVP: Letz Shake - For as cool as Letz Shake looked, this one went down like a chump.
The Only Ones Worthy of Eleven: Killer Instinct's original cast
Fighting game casts aren't known for showing restraint or utilizing nuanced design, but when Rare put together a brawler with higher combo counts than anything before, they included a similarly over-the-top cast. The original eleven combatants in the first Killer Instinct touches on top archetypes from previous brawlers while introducing a few oddities all its own. Why use Ryu or Liu Kang for martial arts when you can wield a sword as Jago? Sick of the peaceful ways of T. Hawk and Nightwolf? Chief Thunder brings a bit more aggression. Forget milquetoast boxer Balrog; TJ Combo's got cybernetic implants and better ring attire. Looking for something completely new? I'll point you towards the fighting raptor, the werewolf, and the creature with two heads and two eyes total.
MVP: TJ Combo - In a game that's all aboutgetting triple-digit combos, the flashy boxer with the word in his name is an enticing choice to bring into battle.
LVP: Spinal - It's a skeleton holding a sword. How can he possible match up against something that looks like the Predator?!
The Duodecet that Kicks the Most Butt: Super Smash Bros' core dozen
I probably shouldn't have worried when I didn't spot Ness and Jigglypuff amongst Super Smash Bros. for 3DS' immediately-selectable characters. That's because they've been there from the very start alongside ten other fighters that have never missed a melee or brawl since. With just 12 characters in 1999, Nintendo still managed to find a nice balance amongst its (even back then) many franchises. More important brands like Mario and Pokemon had larger representation while franchises that were comparatively dormant like Earthbound and Metroid still had someone there. While there are definitely some big hitters left on the sidelines in the Nintendo 64 original, it's a testament to SSB's cast that it's tough to remove anyone in their place.
MVP: Link - If any Nintendo character was made for a series like SSB, it's the sword-wielding, arrow-shooting, bomb-throwing Legend of Zelda star.
LVP: Jigglypuff - Okay, BESIDES Jigglypuff, it's tough to think of a character we'd boot from SSB roster. Out of all of the Pokemon Nintehdo had to choose from, they picked the one that puts people to sleep.
A Group Thing
Disagree with any of the group picks or the MVP/LVP choices? Sound off in the comments. And be sure to tell your friends to check out this article. As the characters in this feature will attest to, everything's better in groups; even reading articles!
Here's a group of more team-focused features. Check out 11 groups that successfully invaded America (in a video game) 9 video game teams that should star in their own games, and the Top 7... badass boss teams in games.