1. Cucco, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past (1991)
The bald eagle is a badass national symbol and all, but on the eve of Independence Day, we have to ask, is it badass enough? Video games have provided a vast menagerie of ferocious birds that might prove to be worthwhile alternatives for a rootin’, tootin’ 21st-century America. These birds can root and toot with the best of them, even when they’re adorable, like the Cucco, a mainstay of the Zelda series. The Cucco—don’t call it a chicken—is a bully magnet. It looks like a ball of fluff with a beak. When you slash it with your sword, it freaks out a little and runs away if it can, but it is otherwise unharmed. From there, you have a choice. You can accept the stalemate and move on with your life, no harm done. Or you can continue to whale on the little bird because you need to torment a helpless animal to make yourself feel big. The twist is that the Cucco isn’t so helpless. It has powerful friends—namely other Cuccos, who will descend on you in a death flurry of flapping and pecking if you persist in messing with one of your kind. The bald eagle is too showy and brash. The Cucco better embodies the somewhat paraphrased philosophy of Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly, and carry a big chick.
2. Balbaroy and Amon, Shining Force (1993)
In the seminal Sega Genesis role-playing game Shining Force, there are plenty of different ways to construct your party. You have countless combinations of warriors, mages, centaurs, archers, werewolves, ninjas, dragons, and other weirdos at your disposal. Air power, though, is underrepresented. Aside from an old man in a helicopter contraption, your main source of flying soldiers are the Sky Warriors, Balbaroy and Amon. These guys look just like bald eagles (Balbaroy is brown, and Amon is gray), but they are fitted in full armor and swords. The game offers a glimpse into humanity’s terrible future, when eagles have evolved into the dominant species on the planet, and they send around viral videos of humans snatching up eagle babies from picnics.
3. Giant chicken, The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings (2011)
Geralt the Witcher is no stranger to chemically induced states, being a master not only of combat, magic, and gentle lovemaking, but also of powerful potions. In The Witcher 2, though, the stoic Geralt gets blotto after he imbibes one crazed hermit’s concoction, and he hallucinates a land of giant mushroom dildos, populated by a single enormous chicken. This silent sentinel towers above even a forest of massive penises. There’s no doubt Geralt is getting the munchies and thinking pretty hard about the world’s biggest chicken tenders. But even the Witcher—the bald eagle of magical human warrior gigolos—would have his hands full taking down a fowl of this magnitude. Against such a monstrosity, a regular bald eagle would have about the same chances as Killer Kadoogan.
4. Crow, Dark Souls (2011)
Everybody and everything dies in Dark Souls, especially you—maybe hundreds of times. And you’re not able to take back any of your actions, either. If you accidentally swing your halberd and knock out a helpful merchant, he’s dead for the rest of the game. There is an unnamed crow, though, who is a key exception to the norm. It appears near the beginning, after your escape from the undead asylum. The crow carries you to a brave new world of death and remains on a perch overlooking the Firelink Shrine—the game’s lone safe zone. You can try to slay it, but the arrows from your bow do nothing. No matter how much damage this crow takes, it simply flies away to taunt you from the skies.
5. Songbird, BioShock Infinite (2013)
Unless the bald eagle could trick this massive part-bird, part-man, part-machine monstrosity into diving underwater, this fight would be a bloodbath. In BioShock Infinite, Songbird is a bulletproof leviathan of the air, capable of downing armed zeppelins with ease. He’s built from technology unknown to our earthbound world, borrowed from more advanced alternate universes. He hurtles through the sky with steampunk wings, but when it’s time to fight, Songbird breaks out the giant man-hands—an anatomical advantage that puts him way ahead of most other birds. Still, it’s what fuels the Songbird’s aggression that makes him so dangerous. He’s motivated by undying paternal love, and there’s no greater force in this universe than love. Well, maybe lasers. But the bald eagle doesn’t have those, so our avian mascot wouldn’t stand a chance.
6. Mordecai’s Bloodwing, Borderlands (2009)
The bald eagle paints a majestic picture. Standing tall, it looks like a bird-thug, ready to spread its wings and scare away any animals who get in its way. But in schoolyard terms, the Bloodwing perched on sniper Mordecai’s shoulder is like the weird kid who keeps to himself and lights frogs on fire with magnifying glasses. No matter how big a bully you might be, that’s the one person you don’t want to mess with. Because he’s crazy. The Bloodwing is prone to similar bursts of mania. Mordecai can send it to attack enemies at will, after which it vanishes and remains safe from backlash. Also, it is on fire.
7. Coo, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 (1995)
Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is full of badasses. Kirby can eat a sentient tire and then turn himself into a wild wheeled death machine. Kine the fish can shoot light bulbs out of his face. But Coo is the king of Dream Land 2. This giant purple owl isn’t content with just having the power of flight. He rocks a full-on David-Bowie-circa-Aladdin-Sane coif with matching eyeshadow. His perpetual smug grin says, “Come right at me, you giant tyrannical penguin in a bathrobe. I will mess you up.” Coo’s also got the skills to walk his talk. He can fly directly into heavy winds and throwing feathers so sharp that they make dancing mushroom people explode. Dream Land is a strange place, but this strigiform tough doesn’t let all the weirdness phase him. Just reading his name out loud lets you know what he’s all about.
8. Chocobo, Final Fantasy series (1987-2013)
Underneath every great adventurer in the Final Fantasy series, there is a proud chocobo. These giant flightless birds are like horses, providing transport for any hero in need. They also sport legs for days—and some serious claws at the end of them. A kick from a chocobo is nothing to scoff at, especially after it’s summoned to the battlefield alongside fire demons and water snakes. Even if a proud eagle could shrug off a feathery foot assault (it couldn’t) there’s always The Fat Chocobo, a titan of the race that, as you might imagine, is rather fat. Though he can’t fly, he can fall out of the sky and squash any enemies with his giant bird butt for massive damage. I’d like to see an eagle even try to do one thing useful with its butt.
9. One of those goddamn birds that swoop down out of nowhere, Ninja Gaiden (1988)
We’ve written about the Ninja Gaiden birds before in terms of their legendary unfairness. They zip into your path and knock your ninja ass into a bottomless pit at the worst possible moment. Yeah, that’s unfair. But on the Hobbesian stage of global geopolitics, there is no “unfair.” There is only power. And what better symbol than a Ninja Gaiden bird to project that power to the world? The Ninja Gaiden bird is always prepared, deceptively strong, and unforgiving to those who would dare to ignore it. Downside: If any other nation ever learns the Fire Wheel move, we’re toast.
10. Blathers, Animal Crossing series (2001-2013)
It can be hard to tell by his cartoonish in-game avatar, but Blathers is a member of the species Bubo watadorcus. These intelligent owls, easily identified by their distinctive argyle sweater-like chest feathers, tend to take up residence in places of cultural learning, such as museums. Despite his meek appearance, Blathers poses quite a threat to the gallant bald eagle. Like most other owls, he’s nocturnal and thus capable of striking when the eagle least expects it. What’s more, he has an extensive collection of insects and fish to use as diversionary tools—and fossils that can double as bludgeons. A most dangerous bird indeed.
11. Pipi & Copipis, Mega Man 2 (1988)
The bald eagle on the Seal Of The United States carries a ribbon in its mouth that reads “E pluribus unum.” The Pipi robot bird in the Mega Man series would carry a ribbon that reads “E unus pluribum.” Because when you encounter Pipi in a Mega Man stage, that one cute bird soon produces many cuter—and more deadly—baby birds. Pipi and her little Copipis are aided by the Mega Man level designers, who are noted for their sadism. In the clip above, a hapless player who’s going for a perfect run of the Crash Man stage discovers that there is no way to avoid the scourge of the Pipis—unless you use a special weapon (which you might not have) or exploit a glitch in the game’s code. It’s overwhelming force with no chance of escape. What better way to intimidate those who might cross you?
12. Storm Eagle, Mega Man X (1993)
X, the hero of the Mega Man X series, has it tough compared to his ancestor Mega Man. Mega Man fought some fearsome foes in his day, but they were always pretty cute at the same time. Who’s really afraid of Toad Man? He shakes his little belly before making it rain! That’s not imposing, that’s adorable. Meanwhile, X has to fight robot masters like Storm Eagle. This bipedal robot eagle, commander of an airship fleet, towers over X, who merely shoots little yellow balls out of his arm cannon. Storm Eagle shoots entire tornadoes out of his. Did you think those little Copipis were intimidating? Well, Storm Eagle vomits giant eggs full of them. He’s an intimidating opponent by any measure, unless you’re equipped with Sting Chameleon’s special weapon, the aptly named Chameleon Sting. That’s a fine plan for the sons of Dr. Light—not so helpful for a bald eagle.
13. Falco Lombardi, Star Fox series (1993-2011)
Although he can give off a bothersome “’90s cool” vibe, at least Falco Lombardi brings some edge to the Star Fox team, an elite squad of spacefaring mercenaries. Its leader, Fox McCloud, is a milquetoast goody-goody. Peppy Hare is a crotchety old coot. And there’s the whiny, co-dependent Slippy Toady. Falco may be brash and overconfident, but he is still the corps’ best pilot. He’s also got fearsome street smarts, having been the leader of a galactic street gang. Plus, even if you take away Falco’s impressive arsenal of martial arts moves, laser guns, and spaceships, he could always talk a poor eagle to death.
14. Option C, Strider and Marvel Vs. Capcom series
Strider Hiryu, the scarf-wearing ninja who stars in Sega’s Strider, is hardcore. He’s got a sword that kills everything within six feet. He can climb walls and do sweet flips. An entire Russian parliament can’t put him down, even after they Voltron together into a giant robot dragon. One thing Strider can’t do is fly, but for that, he’s got Option C, the robotic hawk that helps him out whenever Strider has trouble escaping Eurasia alive. When you stumble on Option C in Capcom’s old arcade game, the cybernetic raptor will circle the air above Strider until he runs into an enemy. Then it’ll swoop down and rip that thug apart. Awesome one-liners such as, “I like to keep my options open!” are sadly left unspoken.
15. Blaziken, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (2003)
Bulls and wolves have it easy. Slap some man legs on them, make them stand upright, and you’ve got a terrifying werewolf or a menacing minotaur. But add legs to a bald eagle and all you get is Eagleman, the famously doofy car insurance sales-creature from the Chicagoland area. On the other hand, there’s Blaziken, a Pokémon that’s half chicken and half Bruce Lee. According to the game’s encyclopedia, it can leap over 30 stories in one bound and spew flames from its hefty wrists. A bald eagle has talons; Blaziken has fire punches. Roasted eagle, anyone?
16. Hawkmouth, Super Mario Bros. 2
Subcon, the setting for Super Mario Bros. 2, is a bird-rich land, unlike the Mushroom Kingdom where Mario and his pals usually rock it. There are giant ostriches that never stop running and bomb-tossing birds of prey. And then there’s Birdo, who’s a bird on the inside. But the birds of Subcon aren’t all that imposing. Except for Hawkmouth. Hawkmouth is terrifying. When boogeyman kids go to sleep, they worry that a Hawkmouth is hiding under their bed. At the end of most stages in Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario picks up a crystal ball that makes Hawkmouth, a gigantic red and blue hawk face attached to a wall, open his beak so the hero can crawl inside. The mouth somehow leads to a desert or a waterfall, or maybe a castle owned by a toad. Hawkmouth lulls you into a false sense of security over the course of the game. It’s just a door, not a horrible bird head waiting to eat you. Then, just before the game ends, you pick up one final crystal ball and Hawkmouth tries to murder you. Hawkmouth is patient.