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The Top Ten Retro Games Characters

Gamers are probably going to be focused on the release of the PS5 and new Xbox consoles this year. The reviews and game playability for both units are, generally, all superlative. But we want to take a little trip down memory lane here to look at some of the top ten retro games characters which are now icons. It’s hard to pick a favourite from this bunch so please consider them to all be joint #1…

Donkey Kong


Donkey Kong made his first appearance in 1982, along with a jump man by the name of Mario. Donkey Kong was the flagship game of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and was probably responsible for (along with the ‘Jump Man’ AKA Mario) of creating the video games industry as we know it today. Kong and associated characters still appear in games to this day, so it’s fair to say that this retro gaming icon has stood the test of time.

Lara Croft


Croft is the main protagonist of the Tomb Raider series. This highly athletic, intelligent, English aristocrat archaeologist ventures around the world uncovering hidden treasure from a series of ancient tombs from around the globe. Croft first appeared in 1996 and the initial design (by Core Design) was based on strong female icons and was perhaps the antithesis of female action video games characters. Was Croft the first feminist video games icon?



Originally conceived by the Japanese in 1980 Pac-Man was originally called ‘Puck-Man’ but a name change was deemed appropriate in case any arcade machines were defaced and the ‘P’ was changed to an ‘F’. In hindsight, this seems entirely appropriate! The maze-based game is considered to be one of the most influential games of all time and the Pac-Man himself is instantly recognisable to gamers of all ages.

Sonic The Hedgehog


The anthropomorphic hedgehog Sonic is a true icon of the early ‘90s. Originally released in 1991 the basic premise of the platform games was for Sonic to stop the mad scientist Egg Man. Conceived by SEGA to compete with their platform offerings like The Super Mario Brothers, Sonic took on a life of his own. And, like his Italian plumbing counterpart over at Nintendo spawned worldwide recognition a truly global franchise.

The Mario Brothers


Speaking of Italian plumbers none are probably more famous than Mario and Luigi. Mario inhabits a mushroom world where he and his brother must rescue the Princess Toadstool. Originally released in 1985 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) it was a truly groundbreaking piece of video games design, including being the first side-scrolling game. A Mario game has been released with every new Nintendo device. It’s also spawned various spinoff games and also films.

Ryu (Street Fighter)


Ryu is the main protagonist in the Street Fighter series of games. Instantly recognisable due to his rippling muscles and Karate suit (complete with a three dan blackbelt) Ryu was based on Mas Oyama was a Karate master who founded the Kyokushin discipline. In a GameSpot’s article, Ryu was described as “one of the most independent men in the world of video games”. He’s certainly iconic and you definitely wouldn’t want to pick a fight with him, unless of course, your name was Ken Masters. Ryu has featured in any number of spin-off games, films and comics.

Princess Zelda


Princess Zelda is the eponymous character in the Legend of Zelda series of games. The legend of Zelda was first released in 1986. Though often considered a link character in the legend of Zelda series we think she deserves a place in this list due to the iconic following she has. Take a trip to any Comic-Con convention you’ll see so many (mainly female!) games enthusiasts dressed up as the princess from one of her many depictions over almost the last four decades.

Sub Zero (Mortal Kombat)


Many retro games nuts will tell you that the true icon of Mortal Kombat is Johnny Cage (more on him shortly) but we think Sub Zero is an equal tie for first place. Sub Zero is a deadly ninja who also has a rather handy (and deadly) projectile ice technique. Sub Zero has featured on various lists of the most popular ninja games characters and has been bought to life in various feature films. Fun Fact: Sub Zero actually died in the first Mortal Kombat game to be replaced by his younger brother, also called Sub Zero in subsequent games.

Johnny Cage (Mortal Kombat)


In the original Mortal Kombat game (1992) Cage’s character enters the Shaolin tournament to prove that his movies (he’s an actor as well as a martial artist) don’t contain any special effects. Cage’s character was pretty obviously based on Jean Claude Van Damme. Cage has been consistently rated one of the top Mortal Kombat characters by its players. We like Cage because it begs the question – does life imitate art or the other way around?

The Frog (Frogger)


The simple 2 Dimensional Frog from Frogger might not seem as iconic as a magic princess or a Ninja but let’s look at the legacy of Frogger. A simple game (get across the road without getting squashed) the game’s appeal wasn’t limited to any age or gender. Developed by Konami and released by SEGA in 1981 this retro games classic had, by 2005, sold 20 million copies. To this day Frogger is still widely played, generally on mobile devices as a casual game alternative to releases like ‘Angry Birds’. In our opinion, this simple yet highly addictive game as stood the test of time and thoroughly deserves it’s top ten status.

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