10 of the Best Video Game Characters Ever Created

From moustachioed plumbers to armour-clad space-warriors, certain video-game characters have become global icons, recognised even by those who may never have gone near a controller in their life.

An average video game can be transformed into a more enjoyable, memorable experience with an engaging protagonist, and a great character can become bigger than their game itself, crossing over into other media.

Choosing 10 of the best ever is pretty difficult, with so many options. What makes a great character is up for debate, but most gamers would agree that a combination of attractive visual design, a strong presence, and fun moves or skills are all important.

Men, women, animals, machines, or something in-between – video game icons come in all shapes and styles. No matter what they look like, no matter how bizarre their backstory, the best stay with us for a long, long time …

Chun-Li

chun li

Chun-Li is not only one of the most recognisable and popular characters from the Street Fighter franchise, but one of the finest creations in the entire gaming industry.

With her unique design, her iconic and powerful move-set, and her personal passion to bring the Shadaloo crime empire down, Chun-Li has remained as much a part of the franchise as Ryu and M. Bison in the past twenty-something years.

Chun-Li is so popular she has appeared in almost every main and spin-off game, and was a lead in Manga’s awesome Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie as well as two live-action adaptations (the less said about these, the better).

Big Daddy

Big Daddy

We all know what a Big Daddy is, and why they’re awesome.

Huge, powerful, terrifying hulks dressed in atmospheric diving gear, with a drill where their right hand should be, the Big Daddies have been spliced significantly with ADAM, and generally put all kinds of fear into the hearts of gamers whenever they appear.

Acting as escorts to the Little Sisters, the Big Daddies are incapable of speech, which only makes them more unnerving. In BioShock 2, players were able to play as an early version of a Big Daddy, but while the game was still widely acclaimed, it was viewed as slightly inferior to the original. Still, playing as such a big, powerful beast never gets old.

Scorpion

Scorpion

Mortal Kombat featured multiple great characters when it first arrived on ‘Mortal Monday’ waaaay back in 1993. Sub-Zero, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Kano, Shang Tsung, Goro … to be fair, pretty much every one of these could have made it onto this list.

However, Scorpion is perhaps the most well-known character from the franchise, and while some gamers may place others above him, few can deny that he is a genius creation.

Plenty of factors make Scorpion such a terrific character. The spear. The fire-based special moves. The cool yellow-and-black costume. The face mask. The glowing eyes. The fatalities. The ‘get over here!’ line. The fact that he’s a ninja AND a demon.

How many other games had featured fire-breathing, skull-headed warriors before Mortal Kombat?

That’s right. He’s a one of a kind, and remains just as awesome today as he was back in ’93

Link

Link

The Legend of Zelda games are as popular today as ever, with Ocarina of Time still classed as one of the best yet. The hero of the series, of course, is Link: instantly-recognisable even to players who have never actually played one of his games, the character has been given a variety of forms as graphics have evolved.

Link has been rendered as an 8-bit hero with a top-down perspective, a more realistic 3D sprite in Ocarina of Time , and then a controversially cartoonish, cel-shaded figure in The Wind Waker. He’s always fun to play as, with a nice range of skills and endless courage, and in Twilight Princess, he was able to transform into a wolf – always a great trick to make a video-game character even better.

Samus

Samus

Without doubt, Samus is one of the gaming world’s most powerful female icons. The Metroid star was originally intended to be a man, until the development team at Nintendo decided to experiment and see how players would react to learning that the hero of the game they had just ploughed through was actually a woman.

Their decision paid off, and Samus has gone on to star in a multitude of games, and remains a strong, capable, bad-ass female lead who stays hidden under armour rather than sporting a skimpy outfit.

Ryu

Ryu

It’s a testament to Capcom’s designers and developers that so many of their characters remain as well-loved by today’s gamers as by fans back in the days of the SNES. Ryu, like Chun-Li, Guile, Vega, Ken, E. Honda, Blanka, and so many others is still going strong in the series, popular enough to claim the cover-spot on the brand-new Street Fighter V.

Like Chun-Li, Ryu has a distinctive look that gamers of different generations recognise immediately: the torn white keikogi; red headband and gloves; the black hair; and the fierce eyebrows. Despite starring in so many games, Ryu’s look has stayed pretty much identical, as have his moves.

Unlike some Street Fighter characters, Ryu’s attacks are fairly easy to learn, making him a quality choice for newbies and veterans alike. His brutal rivalry with Sagat also gives him a little more depth, and always gives a versus match between the two an edge.

Solid Snake

Solid Snake

While Solid Snake had appeared in two other games before Metal Gear Solid hit the PS1, this was really his introduction to millions of gamers. And what an introduction it was.

Filled with more awesome moments, unique villains, and unforgettable scenes than you can shake a Stinger missile-launcher at, Metal Gear Solid spawned a huge franchise that still finds ways to innovate after nearly 20 years.

Solid Snake is an amazing character to play as, thanks to: his gruff look and demeanour; his raspy voice; his huge range of survival and combat skills; and his James Bond-like ability to survive the most challenging situations.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog

This little blue hedgehog needs no introduction, but he’ll get one anyway: he first appeared in 1991, which means he’ll celebrate his 25th anniversary later this year, and was created to serve as Sega’s official mascot (as Alex Kidd wasn’t quite cool enough).

Not only does he have a unique design, Sonic is also recognisable by his speed and agility. Racing through levels, performing loop-de-loops, grabbing gold rings – everyone knows the rules of his adventures, and his first games remain just as playable today as they were so many moons ago.

Who can forget running through Green Hill Zone? Who can forget jumping on top of Doctor Robotnik’s egg-shaped head again and again, until his vehicle of choice begins to burn?

Classic.

Mario

Mario

One of the biggest, most important characters ever created, in any medium, Mario has blazed a trail through the gaming industry. When he first appeared in 1981’s Donkey Kong, nobody could have known just how huge the character would go on to become – he was originally known simply as ‘Jumpman’, before being dubbed ‘Mr. Video’ and, finally, Mario.

While he started life in side-scrolling 2D adventures, Mario has appeared in countless other types of game: racing; 3D platformers; brawlers; puzzlers, and more, all with impressive success. The character was also adapted for the big screen with the abysmal-but-watchable 1993 movie, Super Mario Bros.

Whether gamers prefer to play Mario Kart with their friends or his solo outings, Mario is still going strong today, with the next game (what it is) awaited eagerly by fans.

Lara Croft

Lara Croft

Like Mario, Chun-Li, Ryu, and Scorpion, Lara Croft became popular enough to transition into live-action films (as well as comic books, toys, and more). However, Miss Croft is still very much at home on games consoles, with the recent Rise of the Tomb Raider continuing her rebooted adventures.

Lara Croft is a strong, intelligent, brave character who is always a joy to play as. While some of the games she appeared in over the years may not have been as good as others, she has remained hugely popular (due in no small part to her look, which has become less sexualised over the years). Like a female Indiana Jones, Lara is just as comfortable scaling walls or swimming through dark underwater caves as she is fighting the bad guys – the perfect person to send on wild quests for ancient treasure.

In 2013, Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider rebooted the franchise, and followed a younger Lara through her first adventure. The game was widely-praised not just for its gameplay, but for giving the heroine more depth than ever before.

Which video game characters have we missed? Which are your favourites? Let us know!