In cooperation with our partner.
In the early years of video games, the characters who starred in them were little more than badly-defined groups of pixels on a low-resolution screen. These poorly-realized sprites couldn’t hold a candle to the incredibly sophisticated graphics that the current generation of consoles and PCs are capable of, and yet we found ourselves drawn to them. When you buy a brand new video game now, you can expect the central character of the game to have a detailed backstory of the type a Hollywood writer would be proud of devising. Despite that, we still feel more affection for characters like Mario, about which we know little more than ‘he’s a plumber.’
Nostalgia is a powerful factor when it comes to how we view all forms of entertainment. That might explain why even though we love current-gen video games, we always seem to have a warmer place in our heart for the games we grew up playing, and the characters who starred in them. Does that mean that all the best-known video game characters come from twenty years ago or more? Let’s take a look, and find out!
The presence of Pikachu in our top five might make you think that we’ve proven that more recent characters can be just as popular as the old-school classics straight away. You’d be wrong. Pikachu is much older than you probably think he is – the first Pokemon game was released for the Nintendo Game Boy back in 1996. That means if Pikachu was a human, he’d have grown up, left university and found a job by now. Perhaps he’d be working as a detective, as he did in the adorably cute Detective Pikachu movie from earlier this year. Since those humble 1990s origins, Pikachu has gone on to be a cultural sensation. He had one surge of popularity when the original Pokemon games came out, and then a second, more recent surge with the invention of Pokemon Go, which you still see people playing today. Even people who’ve never played a Pokemon game know who Pikachu is.
- Pac Man
Yes, Pac Man is a video game character. He may be little more than a yellow blob on a screen, but you could say the same thing about Pikachu before the standard of graphics in video games improved. Pac Man’s life sounds like an eternal misery. He’s forever trapped in a maze of electronic noise, surrounded by ghosts, and munching through a series of pills in the hope that he might one day escape from his torment. To be honest, that sounds like a metaphor for an entire generation of millennials trying to deal with modern culture. He was years ahead of his time. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the original Pac Man game – you could even make a case that he was the first video game ‘character’ ever invented. Before Pac Man, all we had was Pong and Space Invaders, neither of which had a central character to base the game around. Pac Man may no longer star in new video games, but you’d still recognize him anywhere you saw him.
- Lara Croft
It’s almost impossible to say the words ‘Lara Croft’ without saying ‘Tomb Raider’ immediately afterward. For a whole generation of children and teenagers who grew up in the 1990s, Lara Croft represents the first time we realized that fictional women could be attractive. Let’s face it – it was either Lara or the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny, and Lara had the advantage of being human. She’s since gone on to be the star of multiple films, and even a series of mobile slots on website like AmigoSlots.com. The people who were attracted to Lara as children are now adults, and mobile slots are games for adults. That sense of attraction must have endured, because the Tomb Raider-inspired mobile slots are some of the most popular around. She’s making thousands of dollars for mobile slots websites every day, and has made millions more at the box office. If she were real, she’d be considered an icon. There’s another Tomb Raider movie due out next year, which means although she’s a little older now, Lara is still an entertainment A-Lister.
Human beings have always had an affinity for cute, furry animals. That’s why so many of us keep cats as pets, even though they openly despise us. Sega knew exactly what they were doing when they made a hedgehog the star of their signature platform game, and we all fell for the ruse. The fact that the early Sonic games were so good was just a bonus. Like Lara Croft, Sonic will shortly become a movie star. He would have hit the big screen already, but his film was delayed when video game fans took issue with the way he’d been drawn and animated. The first Sonic video game was launched in 1991, meaning the blue hedgehog will soon be hitting thirty. That’s quite some longevity for a humble hedgehog, but it’s also a testimony to how popular the character is (and always has been). It seems unthinkable that we’ll get a movie without a new video game to accompany it, so we look forward to getting addicted to yet another Sonic the Hedgehog video game in the near future.
There was only ever going to be one winner in this category, and it was always going to be everybody’s favorite mustached plumber. Everybody on this list apart from Pac Man has had their own movie, so perhaps it’s time someone did something about that. In Mario’s case, the film was awful (and happened two decades ago), but it doesn’t take away from the fact that he was the first character from a video game to make it to the big screen. Having rescued his princess a thousand times and shown his skill at karting, Mario is undoubtedly an adventurous and heroic soul. He’s also very lax at plumbing – in all the time we’ve known him, we’ve never once seen him fix a leak in someone’s basement. We may never know what persuaded Nintendo to make an Italian plumber the star of a video game franchise thirty years ago, but we do know that gaming would never have been the same without him. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best-known video game character ever invented.