While video games have been around for well-over 25 years, there are only a number of characters they can be considered truly iconic. Gaming really took-off in the 80’s and 90’s, but now has become a multi-billion dollar a year industry. The better the games get, hopefully, the more we will see rememberable characters.
The list below includes both current icons and ones from the past, that most people should recognize right away:
People who don’t even regularly play video games, will know about this character. Not only has he been featured in several different iterations of his game, he’s been on the big screen, a lottery ticket, and even has a female version of him. He’s probably the most well known gaming character to date.
First Seen On: May 22nd, 1980 (Japan)
Mario has been around for a very long time and is almost as iconic as Pac-Man. He has stood the test of time, with plenty of games through the generations, each one slightly better than the rest. Many older gamers grew up playing as this Italian plumber and now kids can play him in the newest Mario Odyssey on Nintendo Switch. He first appeared in Donkey-Kong, but blossomed into his own series.
First Seen On: Donkey-Kong — July 9th, 1981
3. Sonic the Hedgehog
While Sonic has not had such a glamorous time aging, he was still very popular when he first arrived. With numerous games since then, although not as successful as the original, Sonic still hold a special place in the list as one of the most iconic characters of early gaming.
First Seen On: June 23rd, 1991
4. Samus Aran
Samus is well known for exposing her identity underneath that suit of armor. People where surprised to see it was a woman, but that never hurt the series. She hasn’t had a game on major console, in a while, but she will be fondly remember as one of the first female characters in a game series (that doesn’t include princesses in peril).
First Seen On: August 6, 1986
5. Master Chief
This is one visor lift that probably will never happen. Master Chief is famous for his lack of face, and well know among Halo fans. He’s transcended his series to films, books, food and drink promotions, among others.
First Seen On: November 15th, 2001
6. Lara Croft
Lara is another iconic female lead role that most gamers (and maybe even non-gamers) should immediately recognize. She had humble beginnings on the original PlayStation, moving to multiple platforms with several different types of games and character models. She’s also had a couple of movies in the early 2000’s featuring Angelina Jolie as Lara. She currently has a film set for release on March 16, 2018, which is based on the reboot of Tomb Raider in 2013.
First Seen On: October 25th, 1996
This is one angry man, with the willingness to destroy the entire world to exact revenge on the Gods who did him wrong. Although his rage deflinitely defines him, Kratos suffered a horrible loss when he was tricked into killing his own family. The story of how he came to be is yet another reason people remember Kratos. God of War has another game coming to the series, April 20th, 2018, where you meet an older Kratos who now has a son.
First Seen On: March 22nd, 2005
Even for people who don’t know his name, Link is a very well know character from The Legend of Zelda series. His green garbs and wooden sword will always be remember by fans. He’s always embarking on a journey to save the Princess Zelda. Unfortunately, even though people have heard of the game, they tend to think that Link is Zelda.
First Seen On: February 21st, 1986
This little purple dragon will forever be remembered by many children from of the 90’s. The first three titles in his series were extremely successful. Although he’s got more games on several platforms, none faired as well as the originals. There have been talks of a trilogy remaster, including Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, and Year of the Dragon.
First Seen On: September 9th, 1998
10. Solid Snake
Who could ever forget this one-eyed character from the Metal Gear Solid series? He’s a headband wearing, stealth icon. Even if you haven’t played any of the games, you will probably recognize him.
First Seen On: September 3rd, 1998
11. Crash Bandicoot
Much like Spyro, this cooky guy is a memorable figure for children of the 90’s. Running through jungles, avoiding rocks and pitfall traps, and doing a spin move to bust open boxes. Crash Bandicoot also has a trilogy remaster, which was released on June 30th, 2017.
First Seen On: September 9th, 1996
12. Leon S. Kennedy
While Leon wasn’t the original character from the Resident Evil series, he has been a playable in several games, showing up in ones where he wasn’t a playable character, and also being mentioned in others. He’s also made an appearances in several movies.
First Seen On: January 21st, 1998 (Resident Evil 2)
13. Duke Nukem
Nukem hasn’t had a successful game since… well it’s been awhile. However, he’s still extremely iconic, due to his crude and tough attitude, weird pig creatures, and a stripper.
First Seen On: July 1st, 1991
14. Nathan Drake
Drake is the male version of Lara Croft, with better hair. Through the four games he’s led, Nathan has seen many lands and untouched tombs, but always has a villain to stop at the end. Because of his titles were so popular, two other memorable characters, from within his series, also got their own spinoff.
First Seen On: November 19th, 2007
Though this evil green-skinned and orange-haired character isn’t playable, Ganon is well know as Hyrule’s bad guy. Link has been battling this creep since 1986. He’s been depicted in his demonic and humanoid forms across several games and is always trying to stop Link from taking back the Triforce.
First Seen On: February 21st, 1986
16. Donkey Kong
This ape was originally seen in an arcade game, fighting Jumpman (now Mario). Since his antagonist role in the original Donkey Kong, he became one of the good guys in Donkey Kong Country. Although his popularity has dwindled, he’s still one of the most well known apes in video games.
First Seen On: July 9th, 1981 (Japan)
17. Gordon Freeman
A theoretical physicist, Freeman caused havoc when a bunch of aliens came through a dimensional rift in spacetime that he inadvertently created. However, he does try to remedy his mistake, albeit in vain. It’s too bad Half-Life 3 will never come to fruition, we miss him.
First Seen On: November 19th, 1998
Although Ezio Auditore isn’t the original assassin in the series, he is definitely a fan favorite. He’s been featured in several games, but fans were upset when he was no longer in the series. His outfit has well outlived him, appearing in pretty much every other Assassin’s Creed title, and has showed up in several other Ubisoft games, as well as others.
First Seen On: November 17th, 2009
19. Mega Man
This is Capcom’s pride a joy, selling more than 50 million copies of the Mega Man series. There are many, many games in the series, as well as several iterations.
First Seen On: December 17th, 1987
20. Joel & Ellie
These two really shouldn’t be separated, as their story is an extreme struggle through a mutated fungus infested America. No one will ever forget the love Joel had for the young Ellie, giving up a possible cure to save her life. The Last of Us ΙΙ is currently under development and is highly anticipated.
First Seen On: June 14th, 2013
*This list is subjective