Your brief guide to the bold designs and brilliant personalities that have grown videogames from a niche hobby into an industry worth over £100 billion.
Over the decades, videogames have given us some of the most memorable and beloved characters in the world. In less than 50 years, we’ve gone from two straight bats and a ball to virtual personalities of such high profile that they rival Hollywood stars and famous athletes for recognition and success. Gaming is truly mainstream now, and its icons are everywhere they’re in the cinema, they’re on your t-shirts and sometimes they’re even selling you products. If you’re an old hand in the gaming world, this is the kind of situation you could well have dreamed of, but it’s the reality we all live in now.
Those iconic characters come in all forms. They range from the simplistic sprites of the Space Invaders to modern heroes like Nathan Drake, who take whole teams years to bring to life.
They include multi-million selling superstars like Mario to cult heroes like Monty Mole, who mean just as much to those who were there for their glory days. Over the coming pages you’ll meet 50 true icons of gaming in no particular order, just so we’re clear and learn about the creative histories, design decisions and key games that propelled them to a permanent place in the annals of video game history.
Table of Contents
Yasushi Yamaguchi was the artist who created Sonic’s loyal and ever-present sidekick, but he was never happy with the name so everyone refers to him by his nickname, but his actual name is Miles Prower. Tails was created specifically to allow for multiplayer to be added to Sonic 2, and the way he followed Sonic around when not under the control of a player was so unique that it was actually patented by Sega.
Some heroes can only come from a specific place and time, and working class hero Monty Mole is very definitely a product of Eighties England, with his first game released during a major miners’ strike. Monty is a miner and finds himself trying to collect coal to keep his family warm, but quickly runs afoul of the authorities. Over the course of the series, he flees to the safety of Europe.
MR GAME & WATCH
This hero isn’t distinguished by what he does, so much as where he does it. Mr Game & Watch has few distinguishing features and turns his hand to everything from fire rescue to cooking, but he does so exclusively on the popular LCD handheld game range or at least he did, until Nintendo decided to revive him for Super Smash Bros.
Maybe it says a lot about gamers that the first characters we really elevated to iconic status were villains. But the invaders had real character, their distinct types, the way they animated as they moved across the screen, and the sound of their relentless march towards the ground. The arcade game became a phenomenon and the invaders themselves became a visual shorthand for video games as a whole which is probably why they still look identical in modern appearances, despite 40 years of technological progress.
James Bond is always a tough act to follow, but Rare’s Perfect Dark managed to succeed its own GoldenEye 007 and introduce a beloved character in the process. Inspired by the likes of Dana Scully and the titular character of La Femme Nikita, the development team chose to focus on Joanna Dark’s skill as a secret agent over her looks. Despite having few starring roles, Joanna is particularly memorable for her part in launching the Xbox 360, which was accompanied to market by Perfect Dark Zero. Identical in modern appearances, despite 40 years of technological progress.
If you see a triangular formation of green lights emerge from the shadows, forget running you’ve already lost. Whenever you see the night vision goggles of Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher, you know you’re in for a stealth extravaganza. But Fisher himself has changed a lot over the years, and that’s what makes him the most interesting of the Tom Clancy game characters. When we initially meet him, he’s slightly cynical but professional to a fault, and one who wholeheartedly believes in his mission, but by Splinter Cell: Conviction he’s a different man one who revels in the violence that he engages in, as he interrogates his targets in highly entertaining sequences.
When you see the star of Shenmue for the first time, you might notice a resemblance to fellow Sega martial artist Akira Yuki that’s because the game was a Virtua Fighter RPG in its original concept. This eventually turned into an original story, in which Ryo sets out for revenge after seeing his father murdered by Lan Di. Ryo is a man of few words whose naivety and bluntness can often land him in unfavorable situations, and his single-minded focus on his quest ensures that he’s often oblivious to the affections of others. But his games were groundbreaking openworld adventures, and many Dreamcast owners past and present still long to see his story’s conclusion.
This Mortal Kombat assassin might be cool (get it?) but he isn’t the sort of guy you want your kids hanging around, as he’s best remembered for his grisly tendency to pull his opponents’ heads off with the spine still attached. There are actually two Sub-Zeros, the original Bi-Han and his younger brother Kuai Liang.
Together, they’ve appeared in every main Mortal Kombat game. While ninjas are commonly thought of as being a Japanese cultural mainstay, Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei clan are actually Chinese as John Tobias was inspired by Li sing’s controversial book China’s Ninja Connection. Scorpion, a rival ninja with whom Sub-Zero has a famous blood feud, was given a Japanese background as a contrast.
Capcom’s robotic hero is a prolific chap, having starred in dozens of games since his introduction in the mid-Eighties. Mega Man or Rockman, to give him his Japanese name was drawn by Akira Kitamura, but Keiji Inafune would produce illustrations based on this and ultimately became the man most often associated with the character.
The blue bomber got his start on the NES, where he stood out from other platform protagonists thanks to the unique structure of his games. Mega Man could tackle the levels in any order the player desired and gained new weapons after defeating each boss, and tackling stages in the right order could seriously alleviate the considerable challenge of the games. It’s these classic games that provide the inspiration for modern adventures like Mega Man 11.
The Uncharted series has become one of the most iconic PlayStation franchises, thanks to Naughty Dog’s incredible ability to craft cinematic video game experiences that keep the player in control. And with that big blockbuster feeling comes the need for a high profile star to enter Nathan Drake. Despite being an adventurer who often ends up pursuing historical mysteries, a lifestyle we certainly don’t share, he’s a hero we can relate to due to his reactions to the situations he finds himself in. When we nail a helicopter with a grenade launcher, he’s as likely as we are to drop some triumphant trash talk, and when he narrowly escapes a near-death situation he’s likely to crack a joke about the absurdity of his predicament.
Uncharted 4 seems like it may well be Drake’s final outing, but he’s more than earned a comfortable retirement.
One of the very first identifiable characters in gaming quickly became one of its most iconic, as Pac-Man’s arcade popularity propelled the character to iconic status.
Pac-Man’s name is an onomatopoeia, from the Japanese eating sound pakku-pakku, but he was originally called Puck-Man until Namco changed it due to worries over vandalism. The look of the character was inspired by food itself, as the sprite looks like a pizza with a missing slice. Depending on the game, modern depictions tend to either show him as a ball with eyes and a mouth, or else a full 3D version of the cabinet illustration.
Pac-Man’s original fame came from maze games, but as the popularity of that genre dwindled, he branched out to a variety of genres: platform games, puzzle games, even kart racing. But with the modern Pac-Man Championship Edition series, he’s back to his maze game origins and as popular as ever.
It’s amazing to think that if history had turned out a little differently, we might be discussing an Indiana Jones pastiche or the South American adventurer Laura Cruz here. Instead, the star of Tomb Raider was designed to reflect her origins as a thoroughly British adventurer, with an aristocratic background that was evident in everything from her massive mansion home to her cut-glass accent. In an era where women were so often damsels in distress or token additions to multi-character games, Core Design set out to make a different type of female character. Lara Croft was capable, quick witted and unambiguously the headline attraction of her games.
Of course, Tomb Raider was a groundbreaking game, too. 3D adventures of such sophistication hadn’t existed beforehand, and Lara’s realistic movements lent an air of believability to the crypts and caverns she explored. Her debut quest was packed with memorable moments, from her encounter with a tyrannosaurus rex to the unfortunate fate that befalls her should she step on the hand of Midas. Both the game and the character were icons of the late Nineties, and the line of sequels never stopped, so she’s still adventuring today.
When fans picked up Final Fantasy VII, many were charmed by the sweet girl selling flowers in the street. Aerith is one of Cloud’s primary love interests, with her long skirt, ancient origins and strong use of healing magic setting her apart from Tia’s combat-ready appearance and martial arts prowess. But while many of our icons have happy endings, character designer Tetsuya Nomura was determined that Aerith would be a tragic hero. Many players remember Aerith not only for the time they spent with her, but for the emotional gut punch they experienced when they learned her ultimate fate.
Few gaming characters have ever been as prolific as Dizzy, the prince of the Yolkfolk. Designed by Philip and Andrew Oliver in the late Eighties, Dizzy’s defining characteristics were influenced by the technology of the time. His egg-shaped design was chosen as it allowed him to have a large, expressive face on machines with low resolution graphics, and his simple shape was a way to prevent the character from breaking up as he rotated during jumps.
Dizzy’s initial game was a high quality platform adventure. Its sales were only average, but they stayed steady where other games dropped off over time.
It takes a strong hero to gain fame when pitted against a whole host of classic horror monsters and a villain as well known as Dracula, but Castlevania’s Simon Belmont has been lodged in the collective consciousness of players worldwide for over three decades. Rather than wielding a traditional weapon like a sword or a classic anti-vampire weapon such as a wooden stake, Belmont uses a whip known as the Vampire Killer passed down through his family of vampire hunters.
Though he faces strong competition from the likes of Alucard as well as members of his own family including Trevor Belmont and Richter Belmont, it’s Simon that remains the most popular protagonist of the series. He’s not been active for a while, but still shows up in crossovers like Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
Some platform game mascots are fast, some are strong, others still can fly and all of them are defined by their signature traits. But Naughty Dog didn’t want its own animal mascot to be pigeonholed in that way, and instead focused on Crash Bandicoot’s attitude, with the idea that he should be mute but clearly fun-loving. You can see that come through in his animations, as his exuberant victory dances and wild facial expressions make it look like Crash is always having the time of his life, whether he’s running through the jungle or riding a polar bear.
And despite some aspects of his character drifting away over the years (who remembers his girlfriend Tawna?). Crash has maintained those defining traits, ensuring that his legion of fans still follow him.
You don’t see much of Fox McCloud in his first appearance, as the events of Star Fox see him confined to the inside of an Arwing space fighter. Of course, that’s a great place for him to be as a skilled pilot, not to mention the leader of the primary force keeping the evil Andross at bay. But the fox in the flight jacket was too cool to remain stuck in the cockpit, and he slowly made his way out of the vehicles and into on-foot situations.
As well as his appearances in Super Smash Bros games, Fox starred in the action-adventure spin-off Star Fox Adventures, and was able to leave the vehicles behind in Star Fox Assault too. He last starred in Star Fox Zero for the Wii U in 2016.
BUB & BOB
Did you know that the stars of Bubble Bobble aren’t dinosaurs? Their official species is “Bubble Dragon” and that’s not even their real identity they just happen to have been transformed into their current forms by the evil Super Drunk.
We’re not sure if being cute and having the ability to blow massive bubbles is much of a curse, but the boys do eventually regain their human forms in time for the excellent Rainbow Islands and follow-up Parasol Stars.
Despite this, they’ve more commonly been seen in their original designs since, although not usually as platform game stars despite the brilliance of Bubble Symphony and the like, they’re now better known as the characters from the Puzzle Bobble (or Bust-A-Move) series.
Not every icon nails everything on their first try, and Kirby’s Game Boy debut doesn’t quite convey the character we know today; he’s even white on the international box art. But Kirby’s Adventure for the NES resolved all of that. Artistic miscommunications were avoided, leading to the whole world getting a correctly coloured pink puffball, and game design was revised to address criticism of how easy Kirby’s Dream Land had been.
The solution that HAL Laboratory came up with was to give Kirby the power to copy the abilities of his inhaled foes, making the game more engaging without increasing the difficulty.
The addition of the copy ability went on to define Kirby, making him adaptable from a design perspective and potentially infinitely interesting for players to experiment with.
This cult hero served as the face of the PC Engine, and in Japan he’s known as PC Genjin (“PC Primitive Man”), so his whole caveman design is actually a name pun. As his western name implies, he’s fond of using his head to solve problems with a Glasgow kiss.
Who needs superpowers when you’ve got a bike and a stack of newspapers? His vocational arcade game is great because it combines newspaper delivery with all the stuff you wish you could have done on your paper round, mostly lobbying papers through people’s front windows.
If we asked you to come up with a fighting game character, you’d probably come up with someone like Street Fighter’s Ryu, a Japanese master of martial arts, wearing a karate gi with a black belt. His character design is so plain as to be almost generic, but that was the point. Since the original Street Fighter didn’t offer a choice of characters, Ryu was designed to be easy to relate to. Since then he’s functioned as an anchor for the series, his moves and looks barely changing as the years pass.
Back in the Eighties, this little chap with the monkey features was Sega’s mascot and while he’s had a number of adventures across the Master System, Mega Drive and arcade, it’s his debut platform game Alex Kidd In Miracle World that earned him a permanent place in the hearts of Sega fans.
The game featured incredible variety for a platformer of the mid-Eighties as well as having plenty of secrets and item shops at regular intervals, the game featured exciting vehicle sections in which you got to use boats, motorbikes and cyclecopters. However, perhaps the most memorable thing about the game was the boss battle system, in which Alex challenged fist-headed freaks to games of rock-paper-scissors.
You knew he was going to be here. There’s simply no bigger star in the world of videogames. Mario doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a beloved character, as we don’t think there’s a designer in the world that would have suggested that kids and adults alike would fall in love with a somewhat rotund plumber. But Mario has always stood out from the crowd as a genuinely charming character, whether that’s thanks to the mustache he has to separate his nose from his mouth, the brilliant little incidental animations in his 3D games, or the infectiously enthusiastic whoops he (well, voice actor Charles Martinet) makes whenever he jumps.
Of course, Mario has been aided by the fact that he often appears in brilliant games. From his debut in Donkey Kong to genre-defining classics like Super Mario World and modern hits like Super Mario Odyssey, Mario has been on top of the platform genre. And that’s not all, as Mario has been given a crack at just about every genre gaming has to offer. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we forgot to mention the karts, his sideline in tennis, and his bizarre board game parties.
Put simply, Mario does everything, does it well and doesn’t look like he’ll be stopping any time soon. Long live the king.
Golden Axe’s resident warrior woman is rather more agile than her male counterparts, but what makes her memorable is her status as the magic specialist of the original trio. As a skilled pyromancer, she’s able to perform the most spectacular attack of the game by summoning an enormous dragon to set the battlefield ablaze. She hasn’t always made it into the sequels, but Tyris’ status as the most interesting of the Golden Axe protagonists saw her make a number of cameo appearances and even led to her getting her own spin-off, Golden Axe: Beast Rider.
Confusingly, many think Penta is the same penguin that appears in most of the Parodius games. That’s actually Pentarou, Penta’s son. Penta himself does show up in Parodius on the MSX, but is largely known for starring in Antarctic Adventure and Penguin Adventure.
When platform games starring cartoon animals took over the console scene, this speedy amphibian gave Amiga owners their own slice of the action. Team17 was one of the foremost developers of arcade-style action games on the system, so Superfrog featured strong game design, colorful graphics and great music. His popularity even earned him a return on HD platforms in 2013.
Strangely, Leon tends to show up in games with troubled developments, but his character designs survive as other things change. Capcom famously scrapped Resident Evil 2 and restarted the entire project quite late into the game’s development, but unlike his original co-star Elza Walker, Leon was lucky enough to survive the reboot with his original story mostly intact.
Resident Evil 4 went through a number of concepts before becoming the action horror classic we know today, but even the earlier versions include his new look, complete with leather jacket. Despite these troubles both games became undisputed classics, cementing Leon’s status as an icon of his series.
The mayor of Metro City isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the fight against crime especially when his daughter is kidnapped in Final Fight. He’s a great power brawler, with his wrestling background showing through in piledrivers and dropkicks.
In the early Metal Gear MSX2 games, Solid Snake was portrayed as a typical Eighties action hero, but his personality was explored far more thoroughly when he returned in Metal Gear Solid, redesigned by Yoji Shinkawa. There he was portrayed as a cool-headed professional, with a surprising distaste for violence considering his profession. Despite his tendency to flirt with female colleagues, Solid Snake is something of a loner.
Hideo Kojima once stated that he’s the kind of person to go to the venues of parties to which he was invited, only to watch everyone else having fun through the window. Still, that didn’t stop players from inviting him back for more games.
Who needs a sword when you can skewer your foes with your razorsharp wit? That’s the philosophy adopted by the hero of the Monkey Island series, and one which makes him stand out as one of the most memorable point-and-click protagonists.
His penchant for painful prose came about as a result of the frequent use of taunts in Errol Flynn’s swashbuckling movies, which were a rich source of inspiration for the LucasArts designers. Amusingly, his name was derived from more mundane sources he was originally referred to simply by the generic name “Guy” and gained his full name from the Deluxe Paint guybrush.bbm brush file used in drawing his sprites.
Few villains have risen to the status of Mario’s iconic nemesis, who has remained the primary thorn in the plumber’s side for decades. Shigeru Miyamoto originally designed the brutish Bowser with the shape of an ox in mind, but Takashi Tezuka had envisioned him as more closely related to the turtle-like Koopa Troopers that he led, so famed animator Yoichi Kotabe helped Miyamoto to refine the designs into the Bowser we know today.
While Bowser is still a bad guy today, he’s got plenty of endearing traits: his effectiveness as a heavyweight racer in Mario Kart, his humorous lines and his protectiveness as a dad.
The star of the God Of War series is a relative newcomer in the ranks of gaming’s most iconic characters, and something of an outlier. Where most of the characters here are clearly heroic or at the very least loveable rogues, Kratos is an anti-hero whose role is to allow players to “unleash the nasty fantasies they have in their head” according to original director David Jaffe.
There’s a grim satisfaction to be had as the “Ghost of Sparta” tears enemies asunder with his chained blades, and brings down the most colossal of foes in the most violent ways imaginable. Kratos’ ashen visage and distinctive red tattoo signal danger, and have become so great a part of his character that they were retained through his shift into the new Norse mythology setting of 2018’s well received series reboot.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
When Sega needed a hero to promote its Mega Drive and compete with Mario, it came up with the perfect contrast to the steady and family-friendly fun of Nintendo’s character. But while Sega’s designs on console market dominance ultimately faded, Sonic has remained popular over the decades his sleek, streamlined appearance highlights his incredible speed, and his quick quips highlight the attitude that set him apart from the pack and inspired a crowd of imitators in the Nineties.
Sonic has had his ups and downs over the years, but if you pop one of his best outings into your console Sonic 2, Sonic Generations or Sonic Mania to name some of our favorites few characters can offer the same kind of thrills he does. When you’re barrelling through famous stages like Green Hill Zone and Speed Highway at a supersonic pace, leaping over vast chasms and smashing through enemies with his signature spin attack, you feel an incomparable adrenaline rush. Everything Sonic does draws the attention of the gaming world, and since the spiky speedster shows no signs of slowing down, he’ll be turning heads for a long time to come.
Ultimate’s adventurer is a star of the home computer era, and one with a more interesting journey than most. After wandering the flick-screen jungle of the excellent Sabre Wulf and navigating the platform environments of Underwurlde, our hero got a nasty case of lycanthropy and starred in the groundbreaking isometric adventure Knight Lore.
You’d think that after curing that he’d stay away from the occult, but he returned for a final Spectrum adventure as a wizard in Pentagram. That’s quite a career path, isn’t it?
Some characters are so influential that they shape people’s perceptions of an entire genre, and Cloud’s role as the star of a breakthrough Japanese RPG allowed him to do just that. While it sounds like a cliché character design today, a crazy-haired amnesiac with an oversized sword was a new concept to most players who picked up Final Fantasy VI back in 1997. Since then he’s appeared in many spin-offs and even served as the Final Fantasy series’ representative in other games. Cloud’s character design is deliberately crafted to contrast with that of the game’s main antagonist, Sephiroth. The sleekness of Sephiroth’s long hair and thin, curved blade meet their match with Cloud’s huge blond spikes and enormous, angular Buster Sword. Cloud’s relatively quiet nature and uncertain past are also intentional by keeping him quiet, players can imagine what he’s thinking, and his lack of memories allows him to be introduced to aspects of the world as the player first encounters them.
This rugged adventurer was born from David Crane’s programming skill, as the Activision coder had managed to get the Atari 2600 to display a running man with advanced animation. He captured players’ imaginations as he ran through the jungle, leapt over obstacles and swung on vines, as much due to the excellent game design as due to the popularity of Indiana Jones. The blockbuster success of the game, 4 million copies sold on Atari 2600 alone meant that Harry’s adventures continued for over 20 years, and may yet go on.
Prior to the introduction of Chun-Li, fighting games had only allowed players to choose male fighters, making her a true groundbreaker in the genre when she made her debut in 1991. Since then she’s been the leading light of the Street Fighter series’ female contingent, and has rarely been absent from the games even when she was left out of Street Fighter III, fan demand saw her added to the definitive Third Strike version. She’s well known for her fearsome speed and agility, as well as her powerful kicks.
Chun-Li was designed over the course of just five weeks, and her character designers were worried that the compressed schedule would lead to a sloppy design. She actually wore trousers until the last moment, when she gained her trademark tights. Her muscular physique was specifically intended to show that she could compete on an even basis with the male members of the roster, but in spite of this, producer Yoshiki Okamoto wanted to make her life bar shorter to represent relatively lower strength. Director Akira Nishitani objected and this idea was ultimately scrapped.
While Donkey Kong has his origins in the arcade, where Shigeru
Miyamoto gave him a name that would convey the image of a stubborn ape, Donkey Kong came into his own when he relinquished the role of antagonist. British studio Rare was entrusted with re-imagining him for Donkey Kong Country, a SNES platform adventure featuring state of the art 3D rendered graphics, and delivered with gusto. Kevin Bayliss added the simian’s signature necktie and hair curl, which have persisted for over 25 years. The game was great too, featuring plenty of secrets and varied platforming action as well as brilliant graphics, and established Donkey Kong as a permanent solo star.
When Earthworm Jim hit the console scene in the mid-Nineties, he was
40 a breath of fresh air. The team at Shiny Entertainment had been creating excellent platform games for years, but always using licensed properties. Freed from the shackles of portraying someone else’s characters the team decided to cut loose, marrying the proven game design with characters that mocked market trends instead of following them. The generic princess that needed rescuing was literally Princess What’s-Her-Name, stair lifts counted as exciting vehicles, and there were plenty of bizarre non-sequiturs (usually served with a healthy side of cow).
The character’s explosive popularity eventually resulted in a TV cartoon series and a series of sequels, but he’s been quiet for a while now. The original team is currently preparing Jim’s home console comeback.
The hulking space marine in the green armour is Halo’s hero and humanity’s last hope. More than any other character, Master Chief has become the face of Microsoft’s Xbox business, which is astonishing given that he is something of a blank canvas beyond his occasional cynical observations and his interactions with artificial intelligence Cortana, the super-soldier is a man of few words. But this allows players to more easily slip into his role, casting themselves as the protagonist.
While Master Chief’s design is striking, it’s first and foremost the quality of the Halo games that earned him his iconic status. The original game was a home console first-person shooter unlike any other, combining astonishing graphics with the genre expertise that Bungie had earned during the development of the Marathon games. Critics hailed it as the reason to own an Xbox, and the sequels became some of the most highly anticipated games in history, with both Halo 2 and Halo 3 setting records for highest grossing entertainment product launches in the US.
There aren’t many people that can get away with running around in their pants, but the star of the Ghosts N Goblins is a celebrated hero despite doing exactly that. To be fair, that’s probably because the game is so difficult that players aren’t concentrating on what he’s wearing; the horrors that pursue our brave knight as he attempts to rescue the princess are not messing about. But it’s fun to take on the challenge anyway thanks to the music and Arthur’s frantic running, so the game was a success for Capcom. That meant more adventures for Sir Arthur, all of which were as tough as battling through Hades itself.
The star of the Shinobi series is a deadly presence, as the most skilled ninja of the Oboro clan has claimed mastery over all forms of combat as well as close quarters martial arts and swordplay, he’s deadly from a distance with shurikens and even a pistol in the original game. He’s even able to perform ninja magic, with a variety of ninjutsu at his disposal.
Joe’s portrayal evolved over the years, with his methodical pace and traditional black clothing giving way to exceptional agility and white clothes, but successors like Hotsuma and Hibana never quite captured the imagination in the same way.
Pikachu was designed by Atsuko Nishida, who had been drafted in to design cute creatures to contrast with the fearsome designs of Ken Sugimori. The designer wasn’t given much direction other than that the creature was to be an electric type monster, and her original design was nothing like the character we know today. But it was named Pikachu, and the “chu” sound is a Japanese onomatopoeia for a mouse’s squeaks, so the design was revised to fit the name.
The red cheeks it uses to store electricity were inspired by the way squirrels store food in theirs. Pikachu’s popularity was secured when the director of the tie-in anime choose Pikachu as Ash’s partner, with the reasoning that he shouldn’t choose one of the three actual starter Pokémon to avoid upsetting players that hadn’t picked that one.
How much character can you pack into an 8×8 block of pixels? That was the challenge that DMA Design had to tackle with Lemmings, and the answer was loads. And while most of our icons are singular entities, there also happen to be loads of Lemmings, which is good because you’ll rarely manage to get anything done with just one of them.
Most of the time it’s necessary to direct some of the mindless marchers to perform tasks like climbing and digging that will save the rest, but it’s also enormous fun to watch the green-haired critters die horrible deaths and that’s a good thing, given the series’ tricky puzzles.
Hudson Soft’s hero has one of the most literal names in gaming; he’s a man who runs around causing explosions. That sort of behavior would see you either arrested or hired by Michael Bay in real life, but in video games Bomberman is a hero who often saves the galaxy.
He was originally conceptualised as a bomb-making robot who dreamed of gaining freedom and humanity, but his origins have rarely stayed the same from game to game.
What has remained constant is the fun while his early appearances on home computers and the NES were single-player affairs, the addition of multiplayer during the Nineties turned Bomberman into a truly classic series.
Few games are so popular as to have named an entire sub-genre, but Metroid is one of them. Nintendo’s platform adventure was a significant development in the genre, as it presented a huge non-linear world that slowly opened up as the player gained new abilities, a game design used by later games including Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night, leading to the Metroidvania portmanteau commonly used today.
The quality of the game popularized the character that gains those new abilities, Samus Aran, a bounty hunter whose skills are renowned across space. Samus happens to be a woman, but that little secret is kept back for those who complete the game quickly. Metroid portrays her as a solitary figure in a cavernous, hostile world, and that feeling of loneliness combined with the drive to explore further became the signature feeling of the series, through a variety of sequels and reinventions.
While Miner Willy left behind only a short legacy, a generation of 8-bit computer owners holds him in high esteem as the star of two enormously influential platform games, Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. Both were developed by Matthew Smith, whose unique creativity shone through in his games making Miner Willy our point of access into his bizarre and abstract worlds.
Sadly the industry was not kind to the young developer and the proposed follow-up The Mega Tree (or Willy Meets The Taxman) never saw the light of day, cutting off a potentially long-running series just as it was getting started. The impact of the games he did release is such that seeing Willy’s monochrome sprite still makes us all misty-eyed.
In today’s more politically correct climate, it might seem absurd that Duke Nukem became a gaming icon, but back in the Nineties his brand of macho swagger was all the rage. He was a relatively sensible presence in his early side-scrolling adventures, and it was Duke Nukem 3D that really changed his image.
Suddenly the Duke was a walking wall of testosterone, messily dispatching pig enemies, taking time to appreciate the female population of each stage and chucking out one liners like they were going out of style. While his career was derailed by the 15 year development of Duke Nukem Forever, fans stuck by him and continue to pick up older games and that’s because there’s still no power fantasy that satisfies quite the same needs.
The star of The Legend Of Zelda series is a dutiful kind of fellow. He’s a young lad who somehow finds his way into conflicts upon which the fate of the world hinges, but he never shirks his responsibilities. No, Link’s not like that he’ll fight the big spiders and search the grass for a rupees, never once offering a world of complaint. Heck, he’s even okay being overshadowed in the titles of the games he stars in.
To be fair, that’s more to do with the fact that he never seems to offer much commentary on any topic, but he’s meant to be a character you can project yourself onto and it works. Regardless of whether you’ve ever engaged in a sword fight, tried to use a grappling hook or managed to get a boomerang to successfully return, you’ll definitely want to fill Link’s boots since he stars in an action-RPG series of astonishingly consistent quality.