Building on the positive responses to yesterday's post (Facts and Figures), I thought I might provide a bit of a primer of some of the key mascots in games. This list represents some of the most iconic characters and should be handy for those unfamiliar with gaming and curious as to some of the images they routinely see on box art or in commercials. Obviously, this list if far from extensive and I am sure that I have left a bunch of popular characters off. I have tried to incorporate characters from a variety of companies and genres and am not making any claims along the lines that 'these are the best' or even that 'these are my favourite'. As such, don't take it personally if your favourite didn't make the cut.
All of the images used below are the property of their respective owners. I make no ownership claims. Be cool, don't sue me.
Mario is probably one of the most recognizable mascots in the world let alone gaming. Primarily featuring in platforming adventures on Nintendo systems, his preferred method of dispatching foes is to jump on their heads. For many gamers, Mario was the first character they ever controlled as he was the star of the bundled titles for the NES and SNES systems. Mario's endurance as a recognizable icon has largely been due to careful brand management by Nintendo featuring him in a plethora of high quality titles. If gaming as a whole had a mascot, it would be Mario.
Sonic the Hedgehog from his titular series
The chocolate to Mario's peanut butter. Sega developed Sonic with the intention of producing a mascot as recognizable as Mario. While the quality and quantity of Sonic titles has diminished over the years he remains one of the most popular figures in gaming. Sporting super speed and the ability to curl into a deadly ball of spinning devastation, Sonic games are renown for encouraging the player to never slow down through levels. With a bit more attitude than Mario, Sonic appeals to the rebellious streak in all of us.
Snake from the Metal Gear series
Metal Gear creator, Hideo Kojima, has on numerous occasions stated that Snake was loosely based on Kurt Russel's character of the same name in the 'Escape From...' movie series. The Metal Gear series rewards stealth over the guns-blazing approach and Snake is more than up to the task. Whether crawling through vents or hiding in a cardboard box, Snake always manages to find a way to beat impossible odds. In more recent iterations, Snake's raspy voice has become the hallmark of badass heroes with Keifer Sutherland set to take the mantle in the next game.
Sega has Sonic, Nintendo has Mario, and Microsoft has Master Chief. While not around as long as the other two, Master Chief is indelibly associated with the Xbox thanks in large part to the superlative Halo: Combat Evolved. Famous for ripping it up in futuristic vehicles and possessing an arsenal of familiar but high tech weapons, most gamers have drained more than a few hours with friends in heated multi-player matches. Microsoft has latched on to Master Chief as a flagship property so don't expect to see him fade into to the shadows any time soon.
God of War was a surprise hit in 2005 and a large part of it had to do with Kratos' brutal and unbridled rage. Bringing the world of Greek mythology to gamers was made palatable through the visceral hack and slash experience of Kratos tearing through enemies with is unique chain swords. The plot for God of War may be foolish but the gameplay was not and a continual stream of quality titles, and a lot of love from Sony, has propelled Kratos into the recognizable gaming icon he is today.
For whatever reason, their is a disproportionately low representation of female lead characters in gaming. While Lara is dubiously known for her sex appeal, what is often lost in the dialogue is that Tomb Raider was actually a pretty decent game that shifted the contemporary focus from direct combat to exploration and puzzle solving. Recently rebooted with an emphasize on establishing the character with more emotional weight and less focus on the jiggly bits was a great step by Square to bring a classic character up to a more modern standard. While the latest Tomb Raider game was not financially successful, it was well reviewed and Lara is simply too recognizable to not get another game.
Many young gamers mistakenly took to calling Link 'Zelda' due to the title of his first game 'The Legend of Zelda'. In fact, Zelda is the name of the princess that Link sets out to rescue. Next to Mario, Link is probably the most recognizable Nintendo character and the willingness of designers to experiment with core game mechanics from title to title has kept things incredibly fresh. Link might be the archetypal hero off to save the princess but is games are anything but mundane.
Also known as the Blue Bomber, Megaman is famous for his gun arm that is able to absorb the powers of his enemies and aid in defeating evil robot masters. The Megaman series is well known for featuring some of the most punishing yet satisfying difficulty and is widely cited as having some of the best original music in gaming. Capcom has done a good job of releasing new titles that firmly pay homage to his 8-bit roots and consequently Megaman has endured with gamers.
Ryu from the Street Fighter series
Street Fighter II is one of the most fondly remembered fighting games of all time and Ryu was the no-nonsense, striving for perfection, shotokan karate practicing character that most people picked the first time they ever played the game. His iconic ability to throw fireballs has been mimicked in almost every fighting game since and Capcom's wise inclusion of him in every iteration of Street Fighter has permanently linked Ryu as the protypical fighting game character.
While the Heavy Weapons guy has only appeared as he does now in the most recent iteration of Team Fortress, Valve has done such a great job of infusing him with personality that he is instantly memorable. The dim-witted Russian wielding his trademark mini-gun "Sasha" has rightfully taken his place as the paradigm example of how seemingly innocuous characters can elevate an entire game.
Well there you have it, a collection of some of the most recognizable characters in gaming. Again, this list is far from exhaustive but conveniently rounded out at 10 entries so I am satisfied to end it there. Check back tomorrow when I will cover some of the genres in gaming and hopefully clarify some confusion if you have a hard time telling the acronyms FPS and RTS apart.