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What would the world of video games be without its champions, a string of digital personalities that has kept us captivated and immersed in their strange fictional worlds?
While most of these characters barely see the light of day and quickly disappear into obscurity, there are a select few that have stood the test of time. And to this day are able to rally us behind their cause.
We’ve decided to pay homage to these characters, so that they and all who read this may know that they are loved in all their senseless glory.
Each character you see on this list made its debut prior to the turn of the century and has appeared in notable titles in recent years. So, with further ado, these are the top gaming characters that have stood the test of time.
(This is part one of a two part series. Part two will be published soon.)
There is no disputing that Mario is one of video gaming’s most renowned personalities. The little Italian plumber has been featured in over 200 games and has been Nintendo’s most prized mascot since his creation, with the popularity of his character being named as one of the main reasons behind the resurrection of the game industry that almost completely crashed in the 80’s.
Mario’s first appearance was in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong. Back then he was simply a carpenter called Jumpman and was tasked with ascending a construction site to save his girlfriend Pauline from the evil clutches of Donkey Kong.
Created by Nintendo’s legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario received his current name in Mario Bros. (1983), apparently as sign of good faith to please a Nintendo warehouse manager, Mario Segale, who had not been paid his rent.
Assigned to create a game that would reach the same success as Pac Man, Miyamoto originally wanted to make a Popeye-themed game. But when Nintendo had trouble acquiring the necessary licences, he ended up creating Mario and made him an Italian plumber, not only because it fitted with the game’s numerous underground spaces, but because as an everyday man, he would be a character that people could easily relate to.
The Mario franchise has sold over 500-million copies since its conception, making it highest-selling franchise of all time. And with a number of Mario titles being release almost every year, you can expect that number to keep growing for quite some time.
Mario’s latest appearance was in Super Mario Odyssey released earlier this year, a title that received critical acclaim and received numerous awards such as the Best Family Game and Game Design awards at the BAFTA Games Awards, Best of Show at the Game Critic Awards, and Ultimate Game of The Year award at the Golden Joystick Awards.
It’s safe to say that the gaming industry would probably not enjoy the same success it does now if it wasn’t for our favourite Italian plumber.
Link is the iconic hero of The Legend of Zelda series and another iconic creation of Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto. As a young and brave warrior that hails from the magical kingdom of Hyrule, Link is known for his adventurous spirit and humble heart, a character that helps all those in need and vanquishes any evil that puts his fellow Hyrulians in danger.
According to Miyamoto, Link was inspired by Miyamoto’s childhood memories of various of books, television shows, personal experiences. Link’s name is derived from an early game concept of The Legend of Zelda (1987) where the Triforce, a mysterious object in the game that keeps the balance in Hyrule, was originally imagined as electronic chips that Link would have to transport between the past and future, thus making him the “link” between these two time periods. Since then, the concept has been reworked to denote the link between the player and the game.
Link first appeared in The Legend of Zelda (1987), a game that to this day is still cited as one of the greatest games of all time. Since then, Link has appeared in 19 core Zelda games across all of Nintendo’s major consoles and has made guest appearances in numerous games such as Mario Kart, Soulcalibur II, and was one of the eight original characters in the original Super Smash Bros.
His latest appearance was in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017), yet another Zelda game that has received critical acclaim and numerous awards such as several Game of the Year awards, the Outstanding Achievement in Game Design award at the D.I.C.E. Awards, and the Game Innovation award at this year’s BAFTA Games Awards.
As one of the few female video game protagonists, Lara Croft is one of the most significant gaming characters around. With a plethora of both hit video games and films to her name, she is also undeniably one of the most successful.
According to her creator Toby Gard, Lara was inspired by the comic book character Tank Girl and Swedish rapper Nene Cherry, and was created to battle the damsel-in-distress stereotype that was so prevalent at the time.
She was originally imagined as a South American named Laura Cruz but Eidos Interactive, the then-publishers of the Tomb Raider franchise, preferred a more UK-friendly character and so Lara Croft was born, the highly-intelligent and athletic English heiress turned tomb raider.
Lara Croft made her debut in Tomb Raider (1996), a title that received critical acclaim from both fans and critics, and proved that a game boasting a female lead could be successful. While the franchise enjoyed success with future titles, the series began stagnating in the early 2000’s and the character became increasingly criticized for its overly-sexualized appearance and flawed female influence.
It wouldn’t be until the major Square Enix Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 that we would get a more believable and appropriately-proportioned Lara Croft. The new Lara was grittier, darker, and considerably more human, with the creators taking great care to develop the story surrounding her and her and her motivations behind the seemingly mad expeditions she undertook.
Beyond the world of video games, Lara Croft has also appeared in numerous highly successful films, being portrayed by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander. The female heroine also boasts a string of Guinness World Records such as Most Recognized Female Video Game Character, Most Magazine Covers for a Video Game Character (more than any supermodel), and Best Selling Video Game Heroine.
William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz
William Billy Joseph Blazkowicz, a name that will make any Nazi tremble in its boots. William is renowned as the heroic Jewish Nazi-slayer of the Wolfenstein series, an American one-man army that has been terrorizing Hitler’s war machine for almost thirty years.
Blazkowicz first appeared in 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D, making him the first hero of the first-person shooter genre. According to creators Tom Hall and John Romero, while the Wolfenstein series has seen a few iteration of Blazkowicz, Blazkowicz is the grandfather of Commander Keen (Commander Keen series) and ancestor of Doom Guy (Doom series).
He was originally envisioned as the son of two Polish immigrants but, as later Wolfenstein games explore (especially since the Machine Games reboot), he was also of Jewish decent, giving him all the more reason to continue his Nazi-murdering rampage.
Since his first appearance, Blazkowicz has appeared in eight core Wolfenstein games, the latest being Wolfenstein: The New Colossus (2017), a game that received universal acclaim and shed a more emotional (but still incredibly violent) light on the war hero.
IGN has called him the “Top Commando in video games”, Games Radar listed him as one of the “most memorable, influential, and badass” protagonist in video games, and UGO.com called him a “true American hero” and one of the greatest soldiers in fiction. As another interesting claim to fame, Blazkowicz is the only video game character to have survived a decapitation. Need I say more?
Doomguy aka The Marine, aka Doom Slayer, aka the demon-slaying apple of our eye.
Following in the violent footsteps of his father Billy Blaze (Commander Keen) and grandfather William ‘B.J’ Blazkowicz (Wolfesntein), Doomguy is a take-no-shit space marine that spends his days protecting the world from malevolent demons and the flesh-hungry Undead.
He made his first appearance in the iconic and pioneering Doom (1993), one of history’s first and most influential first person shooters. Interestingly, his various names were given to him by fans as his creator, John Romero, originally designed Doomguy as a nameless and silent protagonist because he was supposed to represent the player itself. But since the name stick, the developers eventually gave him a string of other related titles such as Doom Slayer, a name fictionally bestowed upon him by the demons in the rebooted Doom (2016) because of his strong predilection for exterminating their sinister kind.
Doomguy has also been explored in various other media (to a certain extent) such as the 90’s Doom novels and a high-budget 2005 film starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
The character has also made a few guest appearances in other games such as the dead marine in Duke Nukem 3D, a secret skater in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, and various Quake games including the upcoming Quake Champions. While it might be a while before we see the heroic marine in all his demon-slaying glory again, it is undeniable that his character has stood the test of time.