The 80s and 90s were full of incredible games with vivid characters that brought those stories to life. From an oversized ape to a flying pink puffball to an adorable green dinosaur with a freakishly long tongue, retro characters became beloved icons of the gaming industry. Although there are numerous memorable characters, we’ve completed the difficult task of compiling a list of the Top 10 retro characters–these characters are some of the most well-known, iconic, family-friendly faces from some of the world’s favorite video games:
For all of us who played the original Metroid game, that moment of revelation when we learn that Samus is a woman–well, that instantly made her an unforgettable character. Samus is one tough lady, battling on alien planets through hordes of monstrous creatures resembling jellyfish with fangs. She also happens to be the galaxy’s most talented bounty hunter, engaging in intergalactic battles with space pirates.
9. Lara Croft
Perhaps the most bad-ass female video game character in history, Lara Croft is a name that is synonymous with adventure. When Tomb Raider was introduced in the mid-90s, Lara Croft instantaneously became a smash with both men and women. One can’t help but be impressed by the way she deftly maneuvers through cavernous tombs, high peaks, and blazing fires, all the while avoiding lethal traps and deadly creatures.
8. Mega Man
This courageous, kind-hearted super robot in the iconic blue suit is simply one of the coolest protagonists. Although his primary job is to defeat the slippery Dr. Wily, Mega Man is a pacifist at heart, and he forgives that devious villain time and time again. Mega Man’s incredible range of moves and weapons (sliding, spinning, spark shocks, flame blasts, mini tornadoes, metal blades, and bombs, just to name a few) make him incredibly fun during game play.
7. Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong is unique in that he is both a villain and a hero. This oversized ape started out as quite the cranky mess, stealing Mario’s girlfriend and trying to squish him with a whole mess of heavy barrels–as if that’s not enough, he also makes a few half-hearted attempts to set Mario on fire. The tables were turned when Mario exacted his revenge by kidnapping Donkey Kong and keeping him in a cage. Ultimately, this notorious ape straightens himself out and goes on to star in the fantastic Donkey Kong Country games. He has also become an integral part of the Mario franchise, helping players out in Mario Party games and racing through the tracks in Mario Kart.
Cute, pink, and quite rotund–Kirby is definitely an easily recognizable character. Kirby’s incredibly cheerful personality is infectious, bringing smiles to the faces of everyone who has every played in the colorful world of Dream Land. Kirby may look cute and innocent, but his fierce bravery makes him a force to be reckoned with. This loveable character also has one of the most memorable attack techniques–inhaling enemies and either spitting them back out as a projectile weapon or absorbing their abilities.
This spiky blue speed demon is SEGA’s most iconic character. A hedgehog who runs faster than the speed of sound and has lightning quick reflexes, Sonic quickly became a video game favorite. Fans enjoyed his lightning fast pace, carefree demeanor, quick temper, and fiery attitude. Sonic combines the traits of a hero (bravery, loyalty, and kindness) with a few quirks (a big ego and an aggressive nature) that make him incredibly relatable.
Although this charming little dinosaur first appeared as nothing more than Mario’s trusty steed, his character has grown throughout the years. He quickly became a beloved staple of the Mario franchise, his fans growing by the number with each new Mario title. Yoshi became so popular that he eventually had his own games, and now can be found on a huge variety of merchandise throughout the world.
Equally gifted with a sword, bow and arrows, or boomerang, Link is a true hero and one of Nintendo’s most recognizable characters. Link’s adventures throughout the world of Hyrule are exciting and unforgettable, and fans love Link’s humble but courageous nature. In addition to Link’s own adventures, his popularity extends to the Smash Bros. and Mario Kart games, where he is featured as a playable character.
Mario is, without a doubt, Nintendo’s most iconic character. The little plumber first appeared in Donkey Kong, but took the world by storm after the release of Super Mario Bros. in the 80s. Easily recognizable with his red hat, bushy mustache, and blue overalls, pretty much everyone around the world knows Mario. Mario’s has a variety of incredible abilities, from the fire flower to the tanooki suit to frog suits. His vast collection of super friends and bumbling enemies has created an entire world that will never be forgotten.
Yes, the chomping yellow sphere has made the top of the list. Pac-Man is a universal icon, one that changed the entire arcade scene and instantly became a pop culture phenomenon. Pac-Man was a game that appealed to the masses and invited everyone into the arcade. The concept was simple, yet the game was addicting. Pac-Man quickly became a widely recognized character and he is just as renowned now as ever. Young children who have never set foot in an arcade will still recognize that iconic yellow circle and Pac-Man lives on in cartoons, new games, and a whole boatload of merchandise.
Video game history is full of creative, unique, tremendous characters. It would take volumes to cover all of the characters worthy of an honorable mention. This list focuses on the most iconic of those characters–characters that we will always remember and hold dear to our hearts.