10 most iconic characters in gaming

Videogames have been around for a long while now, so it’s only natural that over the years we, as players, have begun to recognise and become familiar with certain videogame characters and the worlds that they inhabit. A wide variety of exciting and often perculier characters have been thrown at us by the videogame industry but only a few have stuck with us along the way regardless of time. These are the characters that we like to think represent videogames, sort of like a student council for the industry. Check out our top ten list below.

10. Leon Kennedy (Resident Evil)

Leon_KennedyIntroduced in Resident Evil 2, Leon is arguably the most recognizable character in the series, due in no small part to his role as the main character in Resident Evil 4.

Sporting a ridiculous fringe and his trusty pistol, Leon has been waging war against zombies, demented villagers and all kinds of other monstrosities – and triumphing despite the odds – for some time now.

Leon has a seemingly natural desire to protect, and his life as a young rookie thrown into the chaos that was the Raccoon City incident was an eye-opening experience for him. Since then, he undertook a rescue attempt for the President’s daughter, Ashley, before attempting to contain yet another outbreak on American soil in Resident Evil 6.

Quite possibly one of the unluckiest characters in gaming, Leon nevertheless faces each new situation with calm resolve – even when everything is going to Hell in a handbasket around him.

9. Scorpion (Mortal Kombat)

First popping up in the original Mortal Kombat back in 1992, Scorpion has been a playable character and/or boss in every Mortal Kombat game since – as well as Scorpion_(Mortal_Kombat)popping up in Injustice: Gods Among Us, and is without a doubt the poster child for the spectacularly violent videogame franchise.

Scorpion is an undead “ninjaspecter” who is seeking revenge for his own death at the hands of Sub-Zero (another extremely popular Mortal Kombat character).

Mostly remembered for his useful kunai-chain and the line, “Get over here!”, Scorpion is an awesome antagonist that has gained fame through not only his videogame appearances, but also briefly in the film industry back in 1995 and later in an awesome youtube series called Mortal Kombat: Legacy. Scorpion is so recognizable in fact, that Nether Realm Studios decided to use the character as the basis of their company logo.

8. Master Chief (Halo)

MChiefThe fact that Microsoft owes much of it’s initial success, in terms of Xbox, to Halo is a true indication of Master Chief’s influence as a videogame character. Since his debut in Combat Evolved back in 2001, Master Chief has since become synonymous with the Xbox brand.

A genetically and cybernetically enhanced super-soldier, Master Chief has been taking the fight to the Covenant and, more recently, the Forerunners for well over a decade. But despite this, we’ve never seen his full face – the most we’ve caught is a glimpse of his eyes. A man of few words and regarded by many around him as something more than human, his closest relationship is with the AI Cortana, and over the course of the 4 main games in the series their interactions and relationship grew to add a more human dimension to a character who started off as little more than a blank slate for players to inhabit.

Whether it’s bringing down Scarab tanks in Halo 3, fighting off the Flood in Combat Evolved or dual-wielding pistols on the streets of New Mombassa in Halo 2, Master Chief has taken in a starring role in some of the most iconic gaming moments in recent history, so it’s no surprise that he’s made this list.

7. Samus Aran (Metroid)

Samus Aran is the protagonist of Nintendo’s Metroid, debuting in the series’ first installment way back in 1986 – though it was only right at the end of that game that players evenSamus_Aran discovered she was a woman.

Samus is an ex-Galactic Federation soldier turned intergalactic bounty hunter, whose career has been defined almost exclusively by fighting the titular alien race. Samus can usually be seen fitted with a powered up armor suit with weapons that range from directed energy weapons to missiles (either that or a ball).

On top of dealing with Metroids, Samus has also regularly found herself up against the evil Space Pirates and their leader, Ridley. While she had existed for many years beforehan – notably the excellent Super Metroid – it was 2002’s Metroid Prime, developed by Retro Studios, which pushed her into the stratosphere of gaming’s most beloved characters. Across 3 excellent installments which transferred the traditional Metroid gameplay into the third dimension, millions of players fell in love with Samus. And while Wii installment Metroid: Other M was something of a damp squib with terrible voice acting that threatened to damage the character’s appeal, her popularity has endured.

Outside of the Metroid games, Samus has also been featured in other series, including the comic book version of Captain N: The Game Master and Super Smash Bros.

Samus is an interesting character because she actually represents something bigger than a videogame company or a console: Samus was one of the first examples of a strong female lead in gaming. Princess Peach and Zelda are great, but Samus proved that women weren’t always the ones who needed saving.

6. Sonic (Sonic the Hedgehog)

SonicSonic is the title character and protagonist of SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog series, but has appeared in numerous spin-off comics, five animated shows, and an animated OVA. While many individuals at SEGA had a hand in Sonic’s creation, programmer Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Ōshima are generally credited with the creation of the famous blue hedgehog

A blue hedgehog with the ability to run at ridiculously fast speeds, after a number of excellent 2d platformers on the Genesis/ Mega Drive console in the early 90s, his star has faded in more recent years. SEGA struggled to successfully translate the fast-paced gameplay and precise control into 3D-gaming, and in recent years he’s come to be defined as much by an increasingly bloated supporting cast and iffy games with gimmicky mechanics.

2007’s Sonic The Hedgehog is arguably the character’s lowest point, though certainly not the only bad game Sonic’s had the misfortune of appearing in. Despite that, the Sonic Rush titles on Nintendo’s DS and more recent games such as Sonic Colors and Generations have been largely entertaining efforts which almost managed to return the little hedgehog to his addictive, fast-paced roots.

Since his debut in 1991, Sonic has become one of the world’s best-known video game characters, with his series selling more than 80 million copies. His long-time rivallry with Nintendo’s Mario has been put to one side in recent years, and he’s since been found alongside his one-time enemy in everything from racing games, beat-em-ups, and even at the Olympics.

One thing’s for sure, you can’t keep a good hedgehog down.

5. Solid Snake (Metal Gear)

When people think of stealth games, they almost certainly think of Solid Snake (usually hiding in a cardboard box). In the same way, if people think about some of the Solid_snakePlayStation’s all time great titles, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series immediately comes to mind.

While he made his debut back in Metal Gear on the obscure MSX console, it was Sony’s PlayStation that led to him becoming a major star in the medium and one of the closest characters Sony’s consoles have to a mascot (perhaps only rivaled by God of War’s Kratos).

Solid Snake represents a completely unique brand of political intrigue, espionage, and  human emotion that other characters have tried and failed to match.

Snake’s character is a combination of a spy, mercenary and special operations agent. A member of FOXHOUND, he is tasked with disarming and destroying the bipedal nuclear weapon-armed mecha known as Metal Gear. Solid Snake must act alone, supported via radio by commanding officers and specialists. While his first appearances in the original Metal Gear games were heavily based on Hollywood films, the Metal Gear Solid series resulted in the character being given a consistent design by artist Yoji Shinkawa alongside an established personality that resonates with many fond gamers today.

Though the character seemingly perished at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4, his spirit lives on, and it can’t be too long before he makes a return (Metal Gear Solid V’s lead character is Big Boss, a completely different character).

4. Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII)

Cloud_StrifeEven if they despise Japanese RPGs, nearly everyone who plays videogames can name this spiky-haired, Buster sword-wielding, angst-ridden character.

An arrogant and proud swordsman at first, Cloud believes himself to be a member of an elite warrior unit called SOLDIER. During the course of Square’s epic Final Fantasy VII, he discovers that his memories are false and, with the help of his friends, learns there is more to being a hero than possessing physical strength and fame.

Cloud is also defined by his relationships with other characters – whether it be the gentle flower girl Aerith, or the evil Sephiroth. Despite his habit of acting like a withdrawn loner, it’s his strong love of his companions that shines through in his personality, and ensured that he won a place in the hearts of millions of gamers around the world.

His enormous Buster Sword and hairstyle are almost as iconic as the character himself, and though he only appeared in one mainline Final Fantasy game, his popularity was enough to ensure that he’d crop up repeatedly over the years in other titles. Ehrgeiz saw him battling other characters in a beat-em-up, Kingdom Hearts had him appearing alongside Mickey Mouse, while Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children saw him take a starring role in a CGI movie.

3. Link (The Legend of Zelda)

Everybody knows Link (though many commonly mistake him for Zelda, the princess he is often tasked with saving), and most people remember their first encounter with him with a linkdistinct sense of fondness.

Like Nintendo’s other most-prized character, Link manages to generate a certain sense of nostalgia inside the gaming community. In fact, many people found games like Wind Waker or Skyward Sword reason enough to pick up a Gamecube or a Wii, simply because they wanted to go back to those deep dark forests and tricky dungeons. The coming-of-age theme is tied into pretty much every Zelda game ever made most of us feel as if we were the ones becoming the next Hero of Time.

He also holds the unique position of being the protagonist in not one, but several games regarded by many as the best games of all time – A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. Darbed in his iconic green outfit and wielding his trusty Master Sword, he’s instantly recognizable – though many don’t realize that in most Zelda games, they’re actually playing a different incarnation character in a completely different time period.

Usually portrayed as a courageous young boy or teenager in Peter Pan-esque green clothing who leaves his home and/or relatives to pursue his destiny, Link seems destined to fight the evil forces threatening the land no matter what era he is born in. On his journey, he usually learns to make use of many different weapons and items to adapt to, and overcome, the enemies and obstacles in his path.

Link is considered the very symbol of the Zelda franchise, and remains one of the most popular videogame protagonists.

2. Pikachu (Pokemon)

PikachuDeveloped by Game Freak and published by Nintendo, the Pokémon series began in Japan in 1996, and features hundreds of species of creatures called Pokémon that players are encouraged to capture, train, and use to battle or interact with the game’s world. With over a dozen games, a huge amount of spin-off games, comics, cartoons, and films the franchise is one of the biggest in the gaming industry, and continues to rake in huge amounts of money every single year through sales and merchandising.

It’s no secret that Pikachu is the face of Pokemon, and, for a time, was also the face of Nintendo when Pokémon was the biggest game in the world. Who doesn’t know who Pikachu is? Even though the franchise is no longer the huge phenomenon it once was – at point, schools regularly banned pupils from bringing the card game onto school premises due to its reputation for causing playground fights – people still continue to recognize the lovable, yellow electric rodent that started it all.

Despite being just one Pokémon among hundreds, Pikachu is easily the most loved and recognized of them all. His distinctive zig-zag tail, bright yellow fur and adorable cry has seen him capture the hearts of legions of gamers worldwide, and his face can be found plastered on everything from coffee mugs, Backpacks, cereal boxes and more all over the globe.

Not bad for a rodent that can’t talk.

1. Mario (Super Mario Bros.)

Mario, who debuted as Jumpman in Donkey Kong back in 1981, is without a doubt one of the most recognizable and influential videogame characters of all time. Mario

The rotund italian plumber has been jumping around our consoles and handhelds for decades now and we still aren’t sick of him – and when he stars in games of such high quality as last year’s Super Mario 3D World , it’s easy to see why. Mario has been the star of some of the best games ever made, from Super Mario 64 to Super Mario Galaxy.

Seriously, did you really think that the top spot on this list would feature anyone else? This famous Italian-American plumber from New York City has been Nintendo’s number 1 mascot since 1983, and has become the most recognizable character in all of videogaming, at one point even being officially the most-recognized character in the whole world.

Mario, including all of his friends like his brother Luigi, Princess Peach, Wario, Waluigi and Yoshi, as well as his arch-nemsis Bowser, have all gone on to become household names thanks to multiple generations of players who grew up with a succession of amazing  games. Games starring Mario have sold 262 million copies over the years – making it the most successful videogame franchise in history.

The future of gaming isn’t exactly a clear cut and defined thing, but one thing is almost certain – it will always have Mario in it.

Is there anyone missing that you think should be on the list? Perhaps you don’t agree with the ordering? Let us know in the comments.

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Oliver Zimmerman

Oliver Zimmerman

South-African raised, Dublin-resident. Oli loves games in all their shapes and forms. He particularly loves RPGs. He's also a keen wordsmith, and can often be found not just playing games, but also discussing their rights and wrongs.
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