Video games have evolved tremendously as a medium from their beginnings. They merge gameplay with storytelling in a way that other kinds of mediums can’t even begin to grasp.

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Because of this, video games are intrinsically prone to creating iconic and memorable characters. Stories like movies and TV shows have to find a way for the audience to connect with its main characters. Video games, however, are able to seamlessly blend these incredible characters with the audience itself simply because the audience has to play as them.

10) Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid)

Source: Metal Gear Solid 2, Konami

Like most video game characters that first debuted on older consoles, Solid Snake had to wait until he evolved into better graphics to stand out on his own. When he did, however, he came to define a generation of stealth gaming that still dominates its class.

Unlike many fantasy games that have surrealist and bizarre characters, Solid Snake excelled simply by being a soldier. However, the world of Metal Gear Solid was rife with fantasy and the supernatural, so the fact that this simple soldier is able to not just survive but thrive in such a wild and crazy setting means he’s a video game players’ dream.

9) The Master Chief (Halo)

Master Chief in "Halo 4" - 343 Studios

Source: Halo 4, 343 Industries

Similar to Solid Snake, Master Chief is also a soldier. However, he exists in a completely science fiction universe that allows him to be the badass he is. Right from the beginning, fans of Halo were all struck by the way Master Chief took on an entire alien force and was the sole survivor of the original game.

Compound that experience with how much Halo has grown over the years, and it’s no surprise that Master Chief’s simple yet iconic design resonates so much. It also helped that Halo dawned at the birth of online gaming and esports. All of this combined made for a perfect storm that allowed Master Chief to become immensely popular.

8) Scorpion (Mortal Kombat)

Source: MKX, Midway

When it first premiered, Mortal Kombat caused quite a stir in pop culture. Few people had seen a game so violent before, and the franchise’s primary ninjas, Scorpion and Sub-Zero, we’re at the forefronts of the series.

It’s certainly debatable which of the two came to represent Mortal Kombat more, but Scorpion edges out his icy counterpart by a slight margin. His white eyes and iconic “get over here” line resonated with fans for decades, making him still one of the most popular characters in the franchise to date.

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7) Doom Guy/The Slayer (Doom)

Source: Doom Eternal, Id Software

Doom was another game that revolutionized the video game industry. What’s even more impressive is that it did so with a largely silent protagonist that had no personality whatsoever, save for his uncanny knack for ripping and tearing the hordes of hell to shreds.

Doom‘s iconic cover art helped a lot in terms of promoting the image of a stoic and strong soldier battling demons on another planet. Doom as a franchise has grown, shifted and expanded over the years, but the image of its main character fighting a horde of monsters has not.

6) Mega Man

A shot from Mega Man Gigamix Vol. 3 (2011), Udon Entertainment

Very few games have stuck to a winning formula as earnestly as Mega Man. Even today, the series still flourishes by embracing classic graphics, levels, and boss fights, not to mention some of the most notorious difficulty curves in game history.

Add that to the fact that Mega Man as a character has branched out into other mediums as well. There have been Mega Man comics and cartoon shows that have expanded the character well beyond the world of video games so that even non-gamers can recognize him.

5) Pac-Man

Source: Pac-Man, Bandai Namco

Besides being a very early arcade game that became immensely popular, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man found success for two main reasons. First, their extremely basic design made them appealing, but there’s also a gameplay reason for their popularity.

Pac-Man games were just simple to understand and to play. They were yellow circles that ate dots and ran away from ghosts. In a world where video games can tend to be overcomplicated, simplifying things so that they can resonate with both adults and children alike was a winning formula.

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4) Link (The Legend of Zelda)

Source: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo

By all accounts, The Legend of Zelda franchise should not be as successful as it is. The games are long and quest driven that can tend to be quite tedious, and yet Link’s image as a video game character has withstood the test of time.

This is probably because many video games enthusiasts are also fans of fantasy. The Legend of Zelda taps into that sense and has done an amazing job refreshing it with every installment. As a character, Link’s name has not hit the mainstream as much as his image, which is probably why it’s so funny when he’s often confused for the series’ namesake.

3) Pikachu (Pokémon)

Detective Pikachu (2019), Legendary Pictures, The Pokémon Company

Pikachu’s status as the face of the Pokémon franchise has a lot more to do with the cartoon than the game itself. At this point however, the two have merged so well that they are simply one singular brand that has become an unstoppable force.

In a world with time traveling aliens and gigantic bird gods, it’s strange that a cute electric mouse is the main and most popular figure. Then again, the fact that Pokémon has become as successful as it has not just in gaming but in all media is a testament to Pikachu’s likability.

2) Sonic The Hedgehog

Sonic Origins (2022), Sega

In the beginning of the console wars, there were two characters that stood out amongst all. A certain plumber represented Nintendo, while a speedy hedgehog became the face of Sega. It’s unquestionable who ended up winning that battle, but that doesn’t mean Sonic deserves any less than the number two spot.

Lake Mario and other characters, Sonic’s appeal goes beyond just the games he’s featured in. He’s been in several successful cartoons, as well as a film franchise that isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Also, with new games cropping up all the time, it doesn’t appear as if Sonic’s best years are behind him.

1) Mario (Super Mario Bros.)

Official character art from Nintendo's 'Super Mario Bros. 3'

Official character art from Nintendo’s ‘Super Mario Bros. 3’

It doesn’t take a fan of video games to know who is number one in that regard. Mario’s evolution from a nameless character in Donkey Kong to the icon of an entire industry is an extremely interesting one.

What’s even more impressive is that his supporting cast alone is enough to fill up an entire roster. Besides the games in which Mario is a star, he has also birthed a line of sports games, party games, and everything in between. It’s unclear just how much life Mario has left in him, but if Nintendo has their way, he will be around forever.

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