The life of the mook is a humble one, in which the poor cannon-fodder must look like everyone else, act like everyone else, and get their butt kicked by the hero like everyone else.
But becoming a mook is much harder than it looks. On TV (and in video games), humility is only the first step in a fighting code of mooks's honor, as complex and rigid as that of the medieval knight or the samurai. This is why most mooks fare about as well as a bunch of knights or samurai would when faced with a modern army. The principles of the code are:
Ganging up is unsporting and dishonorable. Mooks must always attack the hero one at a time; to gang up would be to destroy the principle of war.
Interrupting someone - even an enemy - is bad manners. If an enemy obviously needs a few moments to prepare before he can fight back, give it to him. If he starts talking to you while you are charging at him, you are supposed to stop and listen. If he exploits this to lay a punch on or drive a weapon through one of you and it's not you, you need to wait until he finishes with your comrade before you can launch a desperate attack at him. And you must always leave time for transformations.
A Mighty Man Fights Alone. Even if some common mooks disobey the rule above and attack in twos or threes occasionally, any Giant Mook present must always attack the hero one-on-one, preferably after all lesser mooks are down so that the Giant Mook can't call on them for help. A really big Giant Mook (e.g. the Cave Troll from Lord of the Rings) may attack a whole group of heroes alone, he's just that tough! And if The Dragon or the Big Bad joins the fight, any remaining mooks must simply stand by and watch. Forming a circle around the fight is encouraged. note Possible Truth in Television in that getting near an earth-shaking ally might be a good way to get trampled by accident.
Taking cover is for cowards. A true mook must charge straight forward; victory is meaningless if it is achieved by surprise. It is acceptable to attack the hero from different directions at once, as long as each attacker reaches the hero at a different moment (thus being neither surprised nor ganging up).
Masters may overcome any terrain. As a corollary to the previous two principles, tactics must be the same in all places and times, no matter what the terrain is. A mass rush works just as well in the open field as it does in a cramped cave where only one warrior at a time can physically get to the hero (Not that any true mook would ever get involved in a mass rush, see above).
The true warrior cares not what his enemies know. Minions must shout commands to each other where the hero can hear them, or communicate by radio when the hero can intercept. Who cares if the enemy knows all your plans? A true plan succeeds whether the enemy knows it or not.
Let the enemy know who is going to face him. Like the knights and samurai, mooks must shout out a formal challenge when the battle begins. Each group of cannon fodder has their own challenge - it might be shouting out their names, or baring claws and roaring, or just saying "you will die!" True, the pause does let the hero sucker-punch them. But victory is hollow if the defeated foe does not know who beat them...if the foe is ever defeated, which will surely happen someday. As a result, they may sneak With Catlike Tread, but the attack is nowhere near sneaky.
Attack as rarely as possible. A truly great warrior doesn't need to attack all-out. Try to do other things, like roaring, taunting the hero, jumping about, or just sitting back and watching the battle. When you do attack, make sure it is as slow and choreographed as possible.
Retreats are a sign of defeatism. Finally, preparing for a retreat is disgraceful. It does not matter how many of you the hero has beaten — keep rushing. If fifteen out of sixteen orcs are down, the sixteenth orc must charge exactly like the first fifteen. Unfortunately, this principle is not as adhered to as the others - many mooks have decided to retreat, especially if they are the last mook standing after a grand battle (bonus points if the hero looks him in the eye to make him run). Fortunately, they are never defeatist enough to prepare for a retreat, so they always wind up making suicide charges or panicked routs.
The samurai and yakuza in Samurai Champloo have the same tactics — charge! Sometimes they attack from multiple directions at once, but they never actually manage to close ranks with Mugen or Jin all at once. Mugen even tells them "Forget all that formal crap 'bout comin' at me one at a time. I'll take all you bitches on!".
Mazinger Z: In the anime adaptation, the Iron Masks were pretty pathetic. They always attacked Kouji Kabuto -or his friends- in the same way- noisly charging from the front-, never tried to overwehlm him with sheer numbers and stood quiet when he was making a pretty obvious attack. They wore weapons -swords and rifles- and helmets and Kouji fighting bare-hand still kicked their butts. Subverted in the manga, though, since sometimes they could be competent. In one of the first chapters Kouji nearly got murdered by only three of them that sneaked into his home overnight (and while two of them engaged Kouji, the third remained hidden to launch a surprise attack when The Hero was distracted). Kouji actually got to be rescued by a secondary character that pulled a Big Damn Heroes moment.
In Naruto, the titular character regularly duplicates himself by the dozen then takes on his enemies one or two at a time. This may simply be a function of the Inverse Ninja Law, however. Of course he also has an attack that involves attack with one thousand of them at once.
Most of the time there's just isn't enough room to attack with any more at once, especially when you run the risk of them running into each others attack and dispersing anyway. When all his bunshins attacked Kakashi during his test, Kakashi just replaced himself with a Naruto bunshin and let them beat each other up in the confusion.
Averted with Killer Bee much later, when Sasuke and his teammates attack him simultaneously. Not that it helps them.
Lampshaded in the Vagabond manga's two-volume fight between Miyamoto Musashi and the Yoshioka school, where he intends to get this trope ("instead of seventy against one, it should be one against one, seventy times"), while the leadership of the Yoshioka try to avert it (Ueda Ryohei, Fujiie, and Nanpo Yoichibe all having lines specifically encouraging mobbing). As a whole though the Yoshioka are not able to follow through due to a mix of Musashi's sheer skill (he usually manages to avoid getting mobbed by mentally "flowing" between enemies), physical advantage (his strength and physical toughness protecting him from being incapacitated by the few hits that manage to sneak through), and their own mentality being too used to this.
Completely averted in Musashi, the book it was based on.
In End of Evangelion, the mass-produced EVA units seem to mostly just stand around while Unit 02 goes ripping through them. However, when it runs out of batteries and they all recover from their injuries, then they decide to descend on it like vultures and stab the remains.
During the battle with Big Bad Aizen, the heroes adhere to mook chivalry at first, attacking one at a time, often charging in a blind rage straight at him, usually after announcing their attacks with predictable results. Finally, they get tired of this and dogpile him with 3 Captains and a Vizard/Captain all attacking him at the same time using 3 Shikai and 1 Bankai. Aizen says a bad word. Though that didn't really work anyway.
Anime episode #14. While Ichigo and Uryu are talking, the hollows surrounding them politely stand around, allowing them to finish their conversation.
Anime episode #156. While Uryu Ishida and Pesche Guatiche are fighting the Arrancar Cirucci Sanderwicci in Las Noches, she calmly stood there and waited for them to stop bickering, only attacking when they finished.
In one of the early episodes of the Tales of Symphonia OVA, a dozen or so Desians attack Lloyd in neatly-organized ones and twos.
In YuYu Hakusho the members of the Triad attack Yusuke and Kuwabara one at a time. This is nice of them since Tarukane is betting on the outcome and they don't seem to be Noble Demons.
Averted in Berserk, where mooks usually attack Guts in groups of four or five at a time. For allthe goodit does them. However, it can be considered that "rushing in all once" isMook Chivalry in this case, as they're facing an opponent who uses a weapon that can blow down multiple people in one swing, but leaves him open during the (relatively) long time it takes him to make another swing. Serpico even points this out.
In Identity Crisis, the heroes suffer from Mook Chivalry while fighting Deathstroke. They all attack him one at a time. Even then, it took a huge amount of Handwaveing to justify him lasting as long as he did against the group of heroes he was up against.
In the end, they gain the upper hand by just deciding to Zerg Rush him.
In the Shattered Glass universe, the heroic Slugslinger has an overdeveloped sense of fair play, in contrast to this main universe counterpart, a vainglorious soldier who loves dominating his opponents. In any case, it's a personality quirk that directly lends itself to this kind of thing. For instance, when the bumbling evil Autobot Star Saber dropped his spear, Slugslinger thought it was the least he could do to let him pick it up before continuing the fight.
Sin City averts most of these. Mooks often attack at the same time and in the case of Dwight reloading during Big Fat Kill, are more than willing to blow him up while he's doing it.
Bafflingly done in Green Lantern. When Hal went insane and decided to steal the Central Battery's energy, the Green Lantern Corps members decided to fight him one at a time, each one waiting for him at different point of the road to Oa. No explanation was given as to why they didn't all tackle the strongest Green Lantern at once.
In Jackie Chan's Who Am I?, as the two accountants turn out to be ridiculously sturdy and accomplished martial artists. At first they attack one at a time, timing each other before switching around, but when Jackie starts winning they fight two on one and whup some serious ass. Jackie is only saved because he notices they have very flashy clothing and are wearing earrings, so he targets those instead, using their clothes to bind or blind them, and tearing their piercings off. Even still, it looks like it's going to turn out bad for the hero, as while Jackie beats on the Korean accountant, the Dangerously Genre Savvy lanky British contortionist begins removing the clothing he sees Jackie use on his partner.
The ending scene of Jet Li's The One is a classic example, with mooks attacking one by one, getting knocked to the bottom of the ziggurat they're fighting on, then getting up and climbing back up without having learned a thing.
In Kill Bill Vol. 1, when The Bride is fighting the Crazy 88. Justified, though: the build-up to the fight makes it very clear that although they outnumber her by a ridiculous degree, every single one of them (with the possible exception of Johnny Mo) is scared to "go first" and die by her blade. Those who are not currently fighting her can be seen in the background, apparently fighting each other, possibly as some sort of warm-up exercise.
Parodied in the third Austin Powers where Nigel Powers tells Dr. Evil's henchmen:
Look, here's how it goes: you attack me one at a time and I knock you out with one punch, okay? Go.
The Smiths battle in The Matrix Reloaded does a good job at averting this trope for the most part. In Revolutions, however, they get so chivalrous that they deliberately do not gang up on Neo, leaving all of the fighting to that one Oracle-infused Smith. This is mostly because his new Oracle-powers included foresight, and he foresaw that his victory was a Foregone Conclusion ... sort of.
Strangely inverted in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. The heroes battle Shredder on a rooftop, and proceed to fight him one at a time. Donatello and Michaelangelo even have an impromptu game of Rock-Paper-Scissors to determine which of them has to go next. Later in the fight they do try to rush him all at once.
Gymkata: A particularly egregious example. In the pommel horse fight scene, all the mooks look somewhat menacing with their pitchforks and such, but they're not even making an effort to appear as if they're aching to jump Cabot if not for his combat skills. Most are quite literally just standing still until its their turn.
In Ip Man, the titular hero's fight against ten Japanese pugilists demonstrates this, seeing as none of them interrupt his Rapid-Fire FisticuffsFinishing Move. However, in Master Liu's 3v1 fight immediately beforehand, the Japanese pugilists disobeyed this and worked to prevent Master Liu from finishing any one of them off. Although it may be a Justified Trope if you believe that martial artists can sense intent, as Ip Man's being on a Tranquil FuryRoaring Rampage of Revenge would have given him enough violent intent to make his opponents hesitant about bumrushing him.
In Undercover Brother, while Sistah Girl and White She Devil are fighting the enemy Mooks in the island fortress Communications Room, each Mook attacks one at a time. While the fight is going on, the uninvolved Mooks are standing in line with their arms folded, waiting their turns.
Ultraviolet: Forming circles around the heroine, attacking one-by-one, charging forward with guns at ready - it has them all.
The Mask of Zorro demonstrates why the first part of the Mook Code of Conduct, while not necessarily smart, is still not an entirely stupid idea. At one point in the movie, several dozen mooks rush the new Zorro at once, and in the ensuing dogpiling confusion, Zorro gets away cleanly.
Subverted in Batman Begins. The DVD commentary said that one of the hardest fight scenes to choreograph was the prison fight near the beginning because the director wanted everyone to rush Bruce at the same time, which served to show how Badass he was. Towards the end, an entire crazed mob nearly ran Batman over. Oh and he fights four ninjas near the climax, all at once. Took a Level in Badass indeed.
Alfred: I counted six, Mr. Wayne.
Subverted in the movie version of V for Vendetta. Weapons raised, Creedy's men form a circle to confront V just after Chancellor Sutler is killed. Creedy orders two of his men to forcibly unmask V. V kills them, after which all the men open fire at once, including Creedy. V survives due to a combination of being not quite human and makeshift body armour, although he is heavily wounded. He goes on to take out all of Creedy's men and Creedy himself before any of them can reload. Shortly after this, he dies.
The Two Towers. About a dozen knights rides straight in the midst of a ten thousand strong-enemey horde. Naturally, they should've been immediately pierced by multiple bolts and spears, dragged off their horses and torn apart, and the horses themselves should've been hacked to pieces, but nope. They stumble around killing those orcs closest to them and at one point even stop to look at the arrived reinforcements, and none of the countless orcs around them bothers to shoot or hit them.
Played straight in DOA Dead Or Alive, when Hayabusa is infiltrating Donovan's HQ, and when Helena is fighting off dozens of Donovan's security guards who are only armed with swords. Granted, there are times when Helena has to fight two at the same time, but it's never more than that at a time. Averted with the heroines who all gang up on Donovan at the end, seeing as how they can't beat him (his glasses, actually) on their own.
Exploited in-universe during the fight against the Baseball Furies in The Warriors, when one of the Warriors sneaks up on and takes out one of the Furies who is inexplicably waiting off to the side and watching the battle unfold as if waiting his turn.
Zigzagged in the hallway fight in Oldboy. There are moments where the mooks are clearly hanging back and waiting for their cue, but on the other hand Dae-su takes more than a few hits (including a knife in the back) because mooks keep attacking him from behind and knocking him down and gang-stomping him.
In the Star WarsExpanded Universe, a Jedi named Ganner takes advantage of the Yuuzahn Vong's Mook Chivalryto stall them and buy time for Jacen. Eventually the highly honor bound Vong get fed up and try to swarm Ganner. He still holds them back until the Yuuzhan Vong finally decide to just shoot him with a giant cannon—and even then, he uses the Force to bring the building down on them...and himself.
This results in Ganner being posthumously worshiped as a god by the Yuuzhan Vong.
Justified in A.K. Dewdney's The Planiverse, in which all battles are one-on-one...because the combatants live on a two-dimensional planet, and fighting many-on-one would require flying.
Justified in Death Or Glory when Cain engages an Ork Warboss in a duel while a group of Ork Nobs (lieutenants) just stand there and watch. However Cain's aide, who is somewhat of an expert on Orks, explains that for them to interfere would mean to imply that their Boss is unable to deal with Cain on his own, and that is a gross transgression punishable by death. This is why when Cain asks for help, the aide doesn't intervene; that would make it a free-for-all.
In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Beyond the Black River" Balthus wonders why their enemy sent only one leopard after them; in this case, it appears to be limitation in his ability to command animals.
This trope is lampshaded/justified in Starship Troopers; In the boot camp combat training, the instructor states that a trained combatant will always have the advantage against multiple attackers unless they have been specifically trained to fight as a group, because they'll get in each others' way. See the "Real Life" folder for more on this.
Played for pure horror in Roger Zelazny's Amber series, when two armies meet in battle on a long narrow staircase, so it's a series of one-on-one battles — with a line of hundreds more waiting to kill the winner of each combat. As the narrator puts it: "They died and they died."
Disappointingly, they then proceed to do exactly that, playing this trope straight.
Notably averted in the Dollhouse episode "Stop Loss", when the three soldiers sent after Victor attack in unison and one strikes while the other two's blows are being blocked. Apparently the only way to overcome Mook Chivalry is to bind people's minds together into a single entity.
Subverted in Hyperdrive. The Shiny Red Robots of Vortis attack Sandstrom one at a time and she is easily beating them. Henderson comments about this, the robots hear it- and the crew of HMS Camden Lock get captured.
The mooks of Power Rangers take these to an extreme: they actually form a circle around the heroes and attack at rates of one to each hero present at the time (perhaps as consideration to the absent hero). Strangely enough, each mook within a series is identical, so they could really be the same group every time.
There's a bizarre instance in Power Rangers RPM. When the military is shooting at the Grinders, the Grinders are ducking behind cars and firing their own weapons... and then the Rangers arrive. The Grinders pop out from behind cover, run in, and fight with the usual grunt tactics, and with the usual results.
Parodied in the Saturday Night Live sketch "The Plucky Ninjas", where action movie ninjas (after one of their many losses at the hands of just one guy) are berated by their leader for, no matter how many time he tells them, always attacking one at a time. Their spirits lifted by his inspirational speech, they proceed to... get their asses handed to them every time anyway.
Lampshaded in an episode of She Spies when the girls were attacked by ninja. One of them notes that ninja are terribly polite combatants, only ever attacking one at a time while the rest just stand back.
Goons in Xena: Warrior Princess love this. They will stand in a circle, attack one by one, and always go down in a few strikes as if they read the Austin Powers grunt handbook.
In early published adventures for Dungeons & Dragons, goblins and orcs were famous for attacking in cramped cavern passages where only one goblin could face a hero at once — so one by one, they got killed. This has been dubbed the "Conga Line of Death."
Averted in D&D 4th edition, where many mooks have mechanical advantages to attack en masse and combat usually occurs in more open areas.
An optional cinematic rule for GURPS, called Melee Etiquette, does this.
If a PC chooses to fight unarmed or with melee weapons, his opponents always face him one-on-one, one at a time. Unengaged NPCs can dance around the fight uttering shrill cries of encouragement, but wait their turn to attack.
In Peter Pan and Wendy, the stageplay that was the first work to feature Peter Pan, this is played for laughs — Captain Hook sends two very nervous pirates into a cabin one at a time to separately fight the "Doodle-doo" demon (a not-so-disguised Pan) that haunts it.
In games of the Dead Space franchise, close enemies will eventually grapple, resulting in quick-time events of several seconds, during which remaining creatures will patiently wait for Isaac to complete his sequence before continuing their attack.
Performed masterfully in Metal Gear Solid, where four invisible mooks that are on the elevator with Snake, literally close enough to reach out and touch him from the moment he steps on, must sit and wait for our hero to riddle out what's going on in an absurd fashion over the radio despite the fact that all four of them have machine guns. Conforming to the mook code even further, one of the mooks announces their presence after the hero has already figured out what's going on with a hearty, "Too late, Snake. Now you die!" Of course no, no he doesn't. This is almost a direct reference to the previous game Metal Gear 2, where four assassins announce their presence before attacking Snake in an elevator, and then only attack two at a time. How they managed to stay in business boggles the mind.
And used again with the mass-produced RAYs in the sequel, which only attack three at a time for no reason whatsoever.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had a beautiful/shameless example in one of the last cutscenes, where dozens of mooks decide to use their machettes against a sword-wielding Raiden, after not lifting a finger against Snake when he and Raiden explained how one of them would hold off the mooks while the other would complete the objective. Liquid Ocelot doesn't seem to be the type to explain The Plan to all his lackeys, but considering this behavior...
Towards the end of the game, the FROGs are trying to kill Meryl and Sasaki, who have to Hold the Line. The FROGs have P90 PDWs, while our heroes have mostly handguns. So, naturally, the PMC troops tend to advance to close range before trying to shoot them. And they use a grand total of one flash grenade for the entire fight. Why they don't just hang back and shoot the lovebirds from a range where they have an advantage, or use their wall-clinging ability, is unclear.
Metal Gear Solid 3's mooks also are notorious repeat offenders; however, they will gang up on you, and they only grudgingly let Major Ocelot fight Snake one-on-one; when they break the code and attack Snake during the battle, Ocelot yells at them.
In Harpoon, enemies tend to come one after the other even if they're in large groups. It is not uncommon for a ship or base to be attacked by a "conga line of missiles". These are quite a bit more threatening, being harder to hit.
In most Roguelike games, the most effective strategy against multiple enemies is to back up into a corridor one space wide, forcing them to fight you one at a time. Some games try to combat this by allowing enemies with ranged weapons to fire over the heads of other enemies, but that just revises the player's strategy to incorporate corners where the archers can't get a line of sight.
The AI in many older strategy games act this way, sending units as they are created on suicidal attacks, rather than forming a solid army to attack the enemy with. This is counterattacked by the AI being a cheater, so most of them don't run out of resources this way.
In Puzzle Quest, it's actually impossible to have a fight with more than one person, so larger encounters are usually either consecutive fights or a single fight against a slightly more powerful enemy. However, this goes both ways, your companions only provide a specific bonus against some enemies rather than fighting alongside of you, even though some of them are capable fighters on their own.
Some minibosses in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that are fought in pairs act like this, with the second one waiting in the background. However, the Iron Knuckles fought in the final dungeon don't follow the rule, but it's possible to lure one of them away from the other. Same applies to the similar Darknuts in Twilight Princess, except for the Bonus Dungeon, where 3 of them wait on the final floor with no means of separating them.
In Gears of War, when a player or computer player is chainsawing someone, your character must patiently wait with his chainsaw revved until the animation finishes, where you can subsequently avenge your fallen ally. Just shooting the chainsawing target will always work, however.
Partially justified in the game of The Bourne Conspiracy. In the hand-to-hand combat segments, when you are fighting multiple mooks, when one of them tries to attack you from behind while you are preoccupied with his comrade. Bourne will hit him with a "Wait your turn" Offhand Backhand.
God Hand's Mooks follow this... but only at Level 1 of its Dynamic Difficulty curve. At Level 2 or higher, they can and will attack you even if they're not on-camera. At the highest difficulty level, Level DIE, they will gleefully attack you from the other side of the fighting arena without warning.
They also follow this if a demon appears, because those are hard enough as is.
In Assassin's Creed I, guards who are attacking Altair will attack individually every few seconds at the start of a brawl, but if the player is aggressive or good at countering, they will become a lot more hesitant to attack as they watch their comrades getting cut down. On the other hand, if the mooks are repeatedly hitting Altair, they become more aggressive, sometimes batting the player back and forth like a tennis ball.
Also, when an assassination target is attacked, any nearby mooks will rush to his aid and won't let him fight alone— in fact, when it is necessary for the hero to go one-on-one with a target, often it is because the nearby mooks were all slaughtered a few minutes previously.
In Brotherhood, guards are dirty fighters, not hesitating to attack Ezio in the middle of his killstreaks, throw dirt in his face, or grabbing and holding him to let their comrades get free hits in.
In the game Luminous Arc 2, even when the enemies outnumber you, they seem to prefer to rush you in waves - some of the mooks (and almost always the boss units) in the back will not even advance to attack you until either you've killed a number of mook units, or if you step in their attack range. This allows you to simply stay where you are and pick off the enemy with ease.
Gothic 3 is a particularly ludicrous example. Much of the gameplay involves liberating cities from whichever faction (orcs or humans) you side against. While you likely have a few AI allies, you'll do much of the fighting on your own. Cue the Nameless Hero being surrounded by twenty orcs... who form a neat circle and keep their distance while engaging him one at a time.
This is an Acceptable Breaks from Reality, considering the previous installment. Fighting more than one enemy in melee was an awful chore, courtesy of a targeting-system-from-HELL (Autotarget all the time, Can't select a different target at will, timing counterattacks against the enemy you didn't target becoming impossible, target automatically changing when the enemies cross paths even though you almost managed to kill the first bastard).
In Jade Empire, mooks will surround you in threatening ways, but they'll hold back and delay their attacks so you're almost never fighting more than one mook at a time. This is most noticeable when the enemies who have long range attacks are obviously holding back when you're in melee. Combat in Jade Empire is practically a homage to Hong Kong action movies, so this is fitting (if a little less spectacular than it could have been).
In Quest for Glory 1 and 2 you encounter this. In QFG 1, if you wander into the goblin camp, first one will attack you, the next time you wander in, 2 will attack you, and so on, and so on. They all stand in line maces at the ready until the goblin currently fighting you dies. The brigands at the end of the game also do this if you rush front the gate rather than sneaking in. In QFG 2, you encounter Jackalmen and bandits in the desert as random encounters, in groups of 2-5 which also fight in this style. In QFG 4, you fight flocks of bat-spiders who charge in one at a time and if you're faced with two necrotaurs or chernovy wizards, the second won't attack until you're done with the first. (since the 4rd game's battle system doesn't support battles with two monsters at the same time)
Averted in Fan Remake of QFG 2 on harder difficulty levels, where jackalmen and palace guards have no moral issues in ganging up on you. Likewise, in the fifth game, mooks will engage you in numbers.
A gameplay mechanic to exploit in Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves, called Fear Factor. Enemies are normally perfectly will to attack you, while their Fear Factor level is greater or equal to yours and increases every second up to a maximum. Manipulating the numbers of the mechanic with potential boosts to increase your own (such as being by a lit Bonfire trap) or lowering theirs with the Shout ability or effectively damaging them can temporarily cause them to stalk by you and stare while they wait to gain the courage to attack and leave you free to act as you will, making this a necessity for the player to fight when outnumbered. However, staying too close to them or Enraging them randomly from damaging them will cause them to disregard the mechanic and attack you.
The Swordplay Showdown mode of Wii Sports Resort keeps this in effect. Although it's possible for you to hit multiple opposing Miis at once with a single swing of your sword, you stay locked on to one of them at a time, and whichever one you're locked onto is the only one that attacks you. However, the boss Mii(s) at the end of each level comes in with a few more mooks, rather than appearing alone.
The enemies in Star Fox Adventures do the traditional "circle the hero, then attack one at a time" deal. Noted by the developers to be completely intentional, for a cinematic feel.
Occasionally, when attacking an officer in Dynasty Warriors 6, a duel will initiate where the cannon fodder will circle around the combatants. Enemy mooks will attempt to knock you back into the dueling ring should you try to escape through them (and can cause quite a bit of damage in the process).
Sometimes the officer you're dueling with will also call in some of his Lieutenants to come help him out. Kinda defeats the purpose of a "duel," but heck, like they care.
While enemies generally do attack in groups in World of Warcraft, they attack in much smaller groups than they should do. At times this can be explained by them all having No Peripheral Vision and terrible eyesight so they fail to notice you slaughtering all their comrades. But on others they definitely know you're there, and are just not attacking to be sporting. At least one instance has the boss greet you when you enter the room, clearly demonstrating that everyone knows you're there. Then you kill your way through the room one group at a time while he waits patiently for you to finish, recover all your health and Mana, and attack him.
HILARIOUSLY lampshaded in a seriesofbooks written by someone who seems to be a Scourge Mook and is obviously MUCH more intelligent (or less arrogant) than ANY leader of ANY enemy faction in the game. Had this guy been given a position of some importance, the Scourge would already have dominated Azeroth a long time ago.
Demon's Souls: In the opening cutscene the literal army of mooks attack the heroes one at a time, even faithfully standing by while the heroes gang up on and kill a larger mook. Once you actually get in game however, everything will attack you at once and nearly everything can kill you in one or two hits. To further avert this, their attacks will avoid each other, even push them out of the way and hit you, and half of those attacks off balance and stun you.
Scarface: The World is Yours doesn't know what it wants to do. Facing off against Tony's armored, machine-gun mounted SUV while armed only with chainsaws? Okay, sure. But if the last guy does decide to run for it and steal a car and escape, Tony better get him or there will be reinforcements.
And yet, when Tony is set upon in the abandoned Freedom Town, the mooks gracefully wait for him to defeat the Machete Man. -Then- it's time for a mass charge. Tony has to hunt down someone with a gun and chop them so he stands a ghost of a chance.
Although generally averted in Mass Effect 2, Liara lampshades this in her DLC, Lair of the Shadow Broker when the enemy comes at you in waves:
Liara: Their attacks are disorganized. They'd do better if they all attacked at once.
Shepard: Please don't give the mercs ideas.
Liara: The next wave looks like a big one!
Shepard: You just had to give them tactical advice.
A rare example of this done by the good guys happens in the new Mortal Kombat, as some of Earthrealm's greatest heroes attack Sindel one at a time without using their special abilities, only to be easily dispatched, many of them killed, just to prove how tough she is.
Particularly noticible in Mega Man. While it may make some sense for one Robot Master to control a given area, why is it that they later wait politely in eight individual rooms for their rematch? Averted in the stages themselves; every mobile enemy around will charge Mega Man on sight, even if he's fighting something else at the time.
This is the standard behavior for the Mets in the Mega Man Battle Network series when there's two or more of them around. While they could give you a much rougher time by attacking you simultaneously, they instead take turns chasing after you and sending shockwaves down your row. The ones who aren't currently attacking stay still and hide under their Nigh Invulnerable hard hats.
Played even straighter than normal at Dragonspiral Tower in Black and White. Four Plasma Mooks gang up and encircle you...then fight you one at a time anyway.
This happens within each battle, too; none of your opponents, no matter how evil, ever release multiple Mons to gang up on yours. Even though they let you send out two at once if you're fighting two trainers at the same time.
Way of the Samurai explicitly points this out in the tutorial (it's required by the game play style, as combat plays out like a 3D fighting game). Given how much the series works like a vintage Samurai film (even down to Bad Bad Acting for the English versions), it works out fine.
MadWorld: Played straight somewhat and subverted. Enemies will take their time to attack on at least the earlier levels during Normal mode (mainly area 1 and 2). Adverted with Hard mode as even simple enemies like the street punks will do huge damage and will actually coordinate their attacks. Sometimes they will let one of their own be killed so they can trap Jack and pummel the crap outta him. This is also played straight when in a powerstruggle with the levels' Mini-Boss (with the exception of Death Blade). It justified considering the mini bosses are huge guys and Jack is well...Jack.
Thoroughly averted in The Witcher 2, where even the most insignificant enemies will gang up on Geralt from all sides without hesitation, and beat him to death in seconds if the player doesn't take control of the situation.
The 21st-century Ace Combat games (04, 5, Zero, X, and 6) seem to avert this; it's not uncommon to be chased by an entire five-plane group at once in 04 or having to dodge three or four missiles for every plane you down.
"Engage as a formation. No single-ship attacks." That's Yellow 13's one-finger salute to this trope, and even that doesn't save him in the end.
"Don't throw your life away, take them two on one." Again, doesn't save Grabacr or Ofnir from the Demons of Razgriz.
Breached by the demons of Devil May Cry, who have no qualms about coordinated attacks (even the large ones), sliding offscreen while readying a ranged attack or doing so unannounced. Some specific examples: the Marionettes from the first game are known to have one paralyze Dante with a scream while another strikes, and the Arachne from the third game use the same tactic with their webbing ability. The Enigmas from the third love the retreat-and-fire tactic. In Devil May Cry 4 the Bianco Angelo and Alto Angelo enemies are not only adept at fighting in groups, but even gain new special attacks when doing so. However, in 4, mooks won't attack as aggresively if they're off-screen.
Most of the enemies do perform a deliberate start up choreography before striking, to give the hero some time to get out of the way. This could count as an Acceptable Break from Reality, as the game's hard enough without giving the player zero warning an attack is coming
Averted in Fable, where multiple enemies can and will often gang up on you. However, it is intentionally featured in Fable II, because developer Peter Molyneux says he wants the game to feel "cinematic".
Subverted and played stright at the same time in Battletoads and Double Dragon for NES, where mooks will gladly gang on you but, oddly, when you are busy piledriving one of them into the ground others just stand and wacth in silence.
Largely averted in Spartan: Total Warrior. If your enemies are in a large horde they will gang up on you and stab you in the back while you're blocking their mates in front. They also have no qualms about attacking you while you're getting health (often the last time you actually want to be attacked). Though given that anything that comes in a horde will probably go down with a single hit, this is often the only way they can land a few of their own. Stronger enemies can block your attack, requiring an aerial attack to break their shield...at which point they'll probably just swat you out the air if you're playing on a higher difficulty because higher rank doesn't mean higher morals
Generally averted in Resident Evil 4, which was known for it's relatively intelligent AI at the time; sub-bosses generally appear with an entourage of mooks, and enemies will actively try and surround Leon and Ada, and will likely attack simultaneously and catch them in damage chains. One of the most dangerous, yet underestimated, attacks they have is grabbing the player from behind, dealing no damage but opening Leon up to as many attacks they can manage before he breaks free or dies.
On the other hand, the mooks aren't totally dishonorable - enemies behind you will announce their presence, such as screaming "Behind you, idiot!" (in Spanish) or laughing maniacally. J.J will also stop firing his Gatling gun when he scores a hit, and mooks with crossbows will give Leon time to return fire if he gets hit.
Played straight in Resident Evil 5: fall into Dying status, and enemies will stand around and watch as you resuscitate yourself, instead of, say, killing you.
In Dwarf Fortress this is averted during normal gameplay, where hordes of enemies will gleefully gang up on a lone adventurer or stray dwarf. However, when a world's history is being non-interactively generated, battles between armies are simulated as a series of one-on-one fights, so if one army has 500 soldiers and the other "army" only has one soldier, the army-of-one actually has a chance of winning.
Armageddon MUD averts this one hard. Not only will hostile NPC's gleefully gang up on their enemies, people fighting multiple adversaries get combat penalties because of being surrounded.
Breached in inFAMOUS; Reapers will not hesitate to run away while shooting, attack from ambush positions, or triangulate their fire. The only way to keep from being rushed down is to take full advantage of Cole's several crowd-control options, or to do the same yourself. And don't get us started on the Conduits...
Generally averted in Mount & Blade, the enemy soldiers will happily surround you in a mob so thick you can't run and chop you into mush. However, in sieges this gets enforced by the simple fact the ladder/siege tower isn't big enough for them to do that, so if you pick up the biggest axe you can find and go to the front you can stay there for quite a while if you time your swings well.
In Kickbeat, the yellow- and blue-costumed enemies will attack you one at a time (the blue ones come at you in rapid succession), and the red ones (the only type to disobey this rule) never attack in groups larger than two or three.
Averted in Vietcong. The enemy AI can and will gang up on or ambush your team.
The Apple II game Karateka is one of the first video game examples, though only one opponent is ever seen at a time. The 2012 remake carries on this tradition, even though, unlike the original, you sometimes meet more than one opponent before one of them attacks. (You can only fight the one who is attacking; the other guys must wait their turn.)
In the world of Irritability, not only do monsters never retreat thanks to monster honor, but it's culturally insensitive to even ask them to no matter how doomed they are.
Subversion: In The Order of the Stick, a Death Knight orders his battalion of hobgoblins to charge to their deaths at an enemy's incredibly well defended wall so that their corpses would form an effective ramp for his horse. It worked!
Throughout Haloid, the Covenant will cheerfully individually walk up to the Chief and Samus, despite both of them mowing Covvies down by the truckload. At one point, the Chief is standing in the middle of a circle with Covvie drop pods falling around him. Pods that contain Elites armed only with Plasma Swords, several of which can be seen running around doing nothing in the background.
In one sequence in Red vs. Blue season 10, also worked on by Monty Oum, dozens of mooks seemed reluctant to lay a finger on the two project-Freelancer operatives caught in their base. Or shoot at them. There is one, and precisely 'one, scene in the sequence where this is justified; when the mooks are ignoring the two so they can get to someplace where they can capture them with overwhelming firepower. Otherwise, they seem content to run up and get beaten down.
In the climactic battle of Suburban Knights, the reviewers attack Malecite one at a time, with the exception of Obscurus Lupa and Angry Joe who double-team with machine guns. Justified in that the reviewers are supposed to be ordinary people who have seen him punch a person into orbit and summon lightning to disintegrate others, and are therefore too scared to attempt a Zerg Rush.
Spoony's team also takes advantage of the Cloaks' thinking that the reviewers will have this. The reviewers instead run when they're distracted.
Though two Cloaks did double-team The Cinema Snob at one point, they otherwise followed this trope.
In the American Dad! episode "The Best Little Horror House in Langley Falls," when Toshi saves Stan, Francine, and Roger from the serial killers, his enemies charge at him one at a time. Perhaps partially justified in that a) they may not have perceived him as a threat, and b) they might not work well together.
In the 1914 Battle of Tannenberg during World War I, a German army, facing two separated Russian armies that did not attack in unison. The Germans stopped the first, then turned to destroy the second. They were ably assisted by luck, skill, the German rail network, and the fact that the Russian generals hated each other's guts.
Erwin Rommel won a couple of battles this way, keeping his forces together while a British force which had several times as many tanks as he did split up and allowed him to defeat each group in turn, one at a time.
The unnamed Viking who held the narrow Stamford Bridge singlehandedly. He managed to mow down forty Saxons before they got him, because they had to fight one at a time. Legend says that the Saxons had to resort to floating beneath the bridge and stabbing up at him from below.
Horatius at the Bridge. "In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three; / Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?"
The Society for Creative Anachronism refers to this as "Conan syndrome", and for good reason.
Some of you may have heard of the Japanese hornet, a 2-inch-long flying insect that attacks beehives to capture the bee larvae to feed to their own young. They normally succeed because most bees (barring things like the Africanized species) practice Mook Chivalry. They're easily defeated by a Zerg Rush, as bees can survive temperatures 2 degrees hotter than the hornet, and will swarm it and heat it to death.
Polish hooligans known as git-men in the 1960s and 70s had a code of conduct which included strictly one-on-one brawls, regardless of a gang's headcount. Of course, this often played out as a gang of thugs waiting in line for their turn to beat up their mark.
There was one instance in World War II where a single German Tiger I tank in France, positioned on a narrow road in bad terrain, held up an entire division for nearly an hour and destroyed or disabled around 20 American vehicles before finally succumbing. There was just no way to get more than a couple of guns or tank in direct-fire position to hit the Tiger at a time, the Tiger's frontal armor was pretty heavy, the artillery support had lagged behind a bit, and it took awhile for the US force to find a traversable path around to the flank or rear.
A single Soviet KV-2 tank held for one day the entire 6th Panzer Division. Unlike the Tiger I above, it didn't succumb to the enemy but simply ran out of ammo, causing its crew to scuttle the tank and run.