Whether hearty plumber, battleworn grunt or cutesey farmyard animal, the colourful stars of video games have become emblems of their respective eras. Mario, Sonic and their ilk are the De Niros and Bogarts of the gaming world, closer to the hearts of die-hard console-addicts than any Hollywood icon could be. With this in mind, and after much soul-searching, arguing and quiet contemplation, we have painstakingly assembled our list of the greatest gaming characters ever devised. Most will be old friends, some will be new acquaintances but each and every one is a standout - be they cultural icon, inspired innovation or a masterpiece of character design. The rogue's gallery of gaming legends starts here...
50. Ryu Hayabusa
First appeared in: Ninja Gaiden (1988)
There's no other ninja in gaming we'd rather have on our side. Yoshimitsu? Hop off. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Get back to your sewers. Ryu Hayabusa is the only psychotic swordsman we'd want on our team, and it's pretty obvious to see why.
He's a no-holds-barred maniac, hacking, slashing, backflipping, spinning and leaping all over the shop, chopping up swathes of enemies like he was dicing onions. Mid-air. With a scythe. There's also a bit of Wolverine going on, what with the claw-like appendages on his fists, painting the town red time and again with such grace he looks like some sort of bloody ballet dancer. Minus the tutu.
Also, he's not quite human, which also helps, and he welds the awesomely powerful 'dragon sword'. This is a man not to be messed with, and his honour, grace, and iconic image as the superlative gaming ninja, he'll never be forgotten.
49. Dirk The Daring
First appeared in: Dragon's Lair (1983)
When Dirk first blundered into our lives, screeching and screaming at any form of danger, it was nothing short of a revelation. Laserdisc or arcade, however you got your dose of Dirk, it was utterly, amazingly, astoundingly astonishing. Pixels? Pixels? Dirk's better than pixels. You were basically playing a Disney movie on your TV. In the early 80s! There are no words.
Dirk himself was a brave and highly skilled knight, if somewhat easily scared at times, which all added to the beautiful graphics and design, brought about by ex-Disney animator, Don Bluth. The result allowed this manly man with his tin hat plenty of opportunities to show off his sword swinging skills as he made his way through the wizard's castle, past monsters and ghoulies galore, all with this Disney-esque tone and look that had kids transfixed.
Though it only played through for ten minutes, it was so goddamn tricksy if felt like hours. The controls were also rather limited to a well timed shunt in a particular direction but despite its shortfalls, Dragon's Lair saw Dirk become a huge part of young gamers' lives.
48. Donkey Kong
First appeared in: Donkey Kong (1981)
King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Donkey Kong in the world of fictional gorillas,
Donkey has some tough competition, but he trounces his rivals in the gorillas-in-gaming world (yes, we're looking at you, Andross from Star Fox), smashing barrels into all comers with manic aplomb.
Arguably the worst named character in the history of gaming (a fiercely fought category, admittedly), Mr Kong was supposedly called 'Donkey' because his Japanese creator and game-devising legend, Shigeru Miyamoto, thought 'Donkey' meant stubborn or stupid in English, and 'Kong' was Japanese slang for Gorilla. Hey, now you know.
Now somewhat overshadowed by his overalls-loving owner, Kong lives on through his 20 strong back catalogue, as well as his appearances in the Smash Bros and Mario Kart series. An ape of few words but many friends, he's everyone's favourite Princess-kidnapper - just don't steal any of his bananas. Seriously, don't.
47. The Horned Reaper
First appeared in: Dungeon Keeper (1997)
The thing is about Horny is that he comes in two different versions. In the original Dungeon Keeper, he was merely (yes, 'merely') a badass unit you could summon by sacrificing a Troll, a Bile Demon, and a Mistress - simple. In the sequel he required a huge amount of mana� but he was also practically invincible.
Giant horns, massive scythe, glaring, glowing eyes - Horny was far more than just another minion for your ever-growing dungeon. Largely uncontrollable, he'd happily decimate the armies of your enemies, but leave him alone and unoccupied and the scythe-wielding demon would start to pull the heads off your own creatures as well. For that, his introductory 'outtakes' from the second version of the game and this interview, he'll always get our subservient, intimidated vote.
46. Vault Boy
First appeared in: Fallout (1997)
Based in part on the 'Uncle Moneybags' character from Monopoly, Vault-Boy is the Fallout series' mascot, popping up when you win trophies, pick character traits or watch an instructional video - all over the shop, basically. The bright, shiny, golden-haired smiley face that reminds you just how not-so bright and shiny post-apocalyptica is when you're running about with a gun and the desperate desire just to stay alive of a morning.
Unique in not actually being a playable character, a speaking character, or even a 'regular' character by any definition, he's such a key part of wasteland life, from your pip-boy to your bobblehead collection, and such an iconic symbol of the franchise that there's no-one else we'd ever think of when someone mentions nuclear disaster adventure games. Well, it's true.
45. Marcus Fenix
First appeared in: Gears Of War (2006)
Of all the marines, in all the alternate galaxies, in all the fictional universes, the gruntiest, muscliest, most trigger-happy of them all is one Mr Marcus Fenix. There might be some back story about him being imprisoned for leaving his post (in order to attempt to save his father, no less) and he might be best mates with Dominic Santiago and they might all have double-barrels of fun blasting locusts and there might be a bit of drama here and there too, but what it's all about it really is making you feel tough. Really tough.
That what Marcus Fenix does. He makes you think you're the toughest cookie in the jar, the hardest of all the nails, the brickiest of all the shit houses. Improbably proportioned, implausibly muscled and unspeakably hardcore, this is the badass COG trooper we all wish we could be. He's no Hamlet, and you don't much care what's going on inside his head, but as an ammo-guzzling baddie-blaster, he's pretty hard to beat.
44. Leon Kennedy
First appeared in: Resident Evil 2 (1998)
One of two playable characters in the first sequel to Capcom's groundbreaking Resident Evil, Leon Scott Kennedy's debut saw him stumbling across a T-virus outbreak in Racoon City, battling an army of brain-hungry ghouls, and escaping the condemned town in one piece. Not bad for a rookie cop on his first day on the job.
The character was conceived by series creator Hideki Kamiya as a contrast to "blunt tough-guy" Chris Redfield from the first game, and Leon's more believable reaction to the unfolding horrors endeared him to a generation of gorehounds and saw him appearing in a clutch of console spin-offs and two Hollywood movies. However, Leon's crowning moment is Resident Evil 4, a sublime adventure that rebooted the survival horror genre for a picky next gen audience, and saw the hero promoted to a secret agent dispatched to rescue the US President's daughter.
First appeared in: Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic (2003)
Set some 4,000 years before the events of George Lucas' canon saga, BioWare's XBox/PC RPG epic Knights Of The Old Republic is arguably the best Star Wars prequel to date (Genddy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars 'toons come a close second). Among its many charms (dual-wield lightsabers! Go Sith!) is its smart characterisation, particularly among the rag-tag crew your character gathers around him/her.
This is best exemplified by the brilliantly twisted HK-47, an assassin droid who joins your team (the name being a derivative of two gun names: Heckler & Koch meets AK-47, although HK also stands for 'Hunter-Killer'). In a wonderfully perverse twist, he's built like a Threepio-style protocol droid and shares that line's politely articulate butlerish speech mannerisms (wonderfully vocalised by Kristoffer Tabori), with which he dryly expresses sociopathic sentiments, including a distain for organic life perfectly summed up by his repeated use of the word "meatbag". Oft imitated (not least by BioWare themselves: see Dragon Age: Origins' prissy golem, Shale), never bettered.
42. Sam & Max
First appeared in: Sam & Max Hit the Road (1993)
You don't see enough anthropomorphic animals in gaming these days. Nintendo and Sega used to rattle off hedgehogs and gorillas with giddy aplomb, but there's a marked lack of talking badgers and bandicoots these days. Still, among the entire talking menagerie there's something special about Sam & Max. Maybe it's the well-crafted dialogue, voice acting, and total insanity of it all, or it could be just because we're suckers for dogs wearing hats, and rabbits driving cars. Either/or really.
Rare for this list in being a partnership instead of just one character, we'd have liked to have separated them, but what with Max being a bonkers "hyperkinetic rabbity thing" we got scared and kept them together. They're like Rodney and Del Boy, Bogart and Bacall, Mario and Mushrooms. Practically inseparable, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
41. Pyramid Head
First appeared in: Silent Hill 2 (2001)
A horrific personification of protagonist James Sunderland's repressed anger and penitence, Pyramid Head has a viscerally striking part to play in Silent Hill 2. Stalking the claustrophobic corridors of the vacant town, he remains one of the few masculine entities in the series and one of the most shocking monstrosities in gaming history.
Muscular, wearing a huge, metal pyramid on his head (it's not just a clever name) and wielding a knife roughly the size of a helicopter blade, he's first seen in twisted copulation with another of the game's nightmare creations and his ongoing, nefarious presence served to keep players in a state of perpetual dread. Game Desinger Masashi Tsuboyama gave him his heavy helmet's painful appearance to suggest its punishment; while his bloodied garments and enlarged weapon were to mark him as an executioner. Yours!
Being an impervious adversary, it's surprising that his presence hasn't been more prominent in Konami's Silent Hill series - recently, making a brief appearance in Silent Hill: Homecoming. Observant fans will note that the geometry-loving masochist actually has an oft-forgotten twin, who makes appearances with him during both games' climaxes.
40. Dr Fred Eddison
First appeared in: Maniac Mansion (1987)
He may have appeared in the original game, Maniac Mansion, but Dr Edison really came into his own in its sequel, Day Of The Tentacle, where we must admit there was plenty of competition in the 'best game character' stakes. There's the geeky Bernard, slacker Hoagie, and quirky (to say the least) Laverne, all independently playable characters, all in different time eras. However, Dr Fred wins out, even above the dastardly Purple Tentacle, superb though he was.
The perfect mad professor, he's a grouchy, grumpy, insane genius who's willing and able to make almost anything out of almost anything - even portable toilets, turning them into time-travellers devices (a.k.a. "Chron-o-Johns").
Where many others have tried to hammer out an insane creative genius such as Fred, no-one has succeeded quite so well. Fred remains the ultimate bodging scientist, hell-bent on buggering everything up and then fixing it again with the same nutty relish he applied while cocking it all up in the first place.
39. Mr. X
First appeared in: Resident Evil 2 (1998)
Otherwise known as Tyrant T-103, Trenchcoat or 'Trenchy', this hulking, bald, coat-wearing behemoth literally crashed into Resident Evil 2, thundering through a wall and proceeding to stalk the protagonists like a brain-hungry Terminator. Relentlessly pursuing our heroes, he was designed by Capcom to offer a different kind of opponent from the usual hordes of shuffling dead-heads. Throughout Resi 2, as you waded through rooms full of lickers, zombie dogs and other assorted mutants, it was the constant threat of X's reappearance that left players perpetually on edge.
In addition to being built like a multi-storey car park, X's main weapon was his unpredictability. Just solved a difficult puzzle? Revisiting a cleared corridor? Running for your life? There was no telling when the walking wall of flesh would turn up to rip your arms off and beat you round the head with them. It was an effective mechanic and one Capcom tried to revisit in Resident Evil: Nemesis. Unfortunately, Nemesis never quite captured the silent dread of Mr. X and will forever remain a lesser foe in the Resident Evil Canon
First appeared in: Devil May Cry (2001)
With his flowing frockcoat, shock of white hair, razor sharp tongue and twin pistols named Ebony and Ivory, Dante is surely one of the coolest mothers in the history of videogaming.
The son of a notorious demon who dedicates his life to exterminating hellspawn, Dante hasn't always been a darling of the gaming massive; although his cocky attitude and acerbic wit won him legions of fans in the original Devil May Cry, the development team behind the second game turned him into a brooding, virtually silent hero, alienating a fanbase that lived its life vicariously through Dante's arrogant devil-bashing. But by taking a step back in time and showing players a younger, delightfully brash hero in Devil May Cry 3, the series got back on track and returned to creator Hideki Kamiya's original vision of a "cool and stylish guy that you would want to go out drinking with".
37. Pac Man
First appeared in: Pac-Man (1980)
Though his limited character development might leave us with a few key questions, such as "Why is he so hungry for white dots, anyway?", "How does his relationship with Ms Pac-Man work?" and "How did Pac-Man Jr. come about?", there is no doubt in anyone's mind as to his iconic status in the gaming world.
He may look like an indecisive pie-chart, but the sight of the original om-nom-nommer is as recognisable as McDonalds' Golden Arches or Darth Vader's helmet - the definitive symbol of his medium. And though playing through to the infamous 'broken' level of 256 might seem a little too much (and a little too hard) for some, his unstoppable chomping is as addictive as old school arcade gaming gets, even now inspiring thousands to meet up for the world championships in New York.
And though a yellow hat-tip must go out to Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde for all their multi-coloured ghostliness, all the fruit goes to Pac-Man himself, still munching after all these years.
36. Big Daddy
First appeared in: BioShock (2007)
As the great Andrew Ryan puts it, Big Daddies are "...lumbering palookas in foul smelling diving suits..." and yet, despite these words coming from the big man himself, it's not quite true - there's a lot more to those metallic, gene-fiddled behemoths. The clearest, most iconic symbol of the amazing, unbelievable, and above all enthralling underwater world of Rapture, Big Daddies are genetic monsters, practically welded to their suits, stomping around with a giant drill and protecting their darling little sisters.
They're fascinating relics of an age gone by, created with such love and attention to detail that they're not only fun to fight but exhilaration to play as (thank you Bioshock 2). Beautiful and horrifying, loveable and at times very, very frightening, Big Daddies are an appealing mixture of man and machine, tattooing their image firmly onto the retinas of any gamer who's braved Rapture's sunken halls.
35. Prince of Persia
First appeared in: Prince of Persia (1989)
Putting Jake Gyllenhaal's interpretation of the platform-hopper to one side for a moment, as well as (dare we say it), the original blonde-haired, pajama-wearing, devilishly difficult early versions, the Prince we're talking about is the one from the undeniably fantastic Sands Of Time trilogy that started in 2003. Not the condescending jock from the 2008 version. No sir.
As if having the ability to jump back in time a few seconds weren't reason enough to be impressed by the man, he's also a snarky, sarcastic, and ultimately a little bit human, and a huge amount of fun to play. Sure, his emo phase in Warrior Within left a lot to be desired, and the witty banter of the first game had weakened by the third, The Two Thrones, but at its heart as a genuinely likeable guy in baggy trousers wielding a large cutlass and sporting a natty beardlet. Here's hoping, nay, praying, the 2010 remake rewinds back to the good times please, Ubisoft?
First appeared in: Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (1990)
Adrian Farenheights Tepes, also known as Alucard, is the bastard son of Dracula and a human woman. Half human, half vampire (a dhampir, for those into terminology), Alucard popped up in Castlevania II but came to the fore in 1997's Symphony of the Night where he turns against his fangsome father. A dashing hero in ruffled collar, jaunty cape and other suitably baroque accoutrements, Alucard takes after his mother's side and fights for good instead of snacking on jugulars like his old man.
His name, Alucard, is of course Dracula spelled backwards. When the Nintendo team behind him originally designed him it was as a mirror image of his father but subsequent tweaks to the mythology see Alucard choosing the moniker to show how his views are the opposite of daddy's. It's, like, totally meta.
33. The Announcer
First appeared in: Unreal Tournament (1999)
"Killing Spree!", "Rampage!", "Godlike!" It's not enough to gib someone with a plasma rifle and kill their friend in the face with a cluster of well-placed rockets, you need a little positive reinforcement while you're at it. Cue Unreal Tournament's gloriously over-the-top announcer. A franchise staple since the series kicked off in 1999, the announcer's growling tally of every frag you make was a strangely gratifying addition to the frenetic online shooter.
Whether calling out headshots, charting the progression from multi to mega and monster kills or simply passing commentary on your killing technique ("flak monkey!"), the omnipresent announcer epitomises the quintessential UT experience. True, Epic did stray a little in latter titles, introducing a cheesier alternative and a truly disturbing 'sexy' announcer voice, but the traditional, gravelly announcer will always be the commentator of choice.
32. Miner Willy
First appeared in: Manic Miner (1983)
An unlikely hero who introduced a generation to the joys of videogaming, Miner Willy is one of the most important contributions to British pop culture in the last 50 years, and will be remembered forever as the first purely digital superstar to ignite the imagination of kids across the UK.
A home-grown Mario created by legendary programmer Matthew Smith on the ZX Spectrum, Willy first appeared in Manic Miner; a psychedelic, surreal, nightmarish platformer that found the hero dodging man-eating toilets, hiding from telephones, and avoiding copyright-infringing monsters inspired by Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. But his most notorious outing was the monumental Jet Set Willy, where the former collier had become a millionaire, but was forced by his matronly housekeeper to tidy the mess after a particularly wild party. And because of a bug in the game, the sprawling, endlessly inventive adventure was impossible to complete, no matter how many hours you spent trying. How peculiarly British.
First appeared in: Command & Conquer (1995)
He's practically unkillable, barely aging and turns up time and again to be despicably evil and lead his ever loyal Brother Of Nod followers throughout the ages. Treated like some sort of bald, dodgily-bearded Messiah, Kane is hell-bent on destroying the GDI and hoovering up as much Tiberium as possible.
Kane has been played to camp perfection by actor Joseph Kucan througout the series' 15-year-long existence; in fact, the actor was recently on the receiving end of a Guinness World Record nod for longest-running actor in any video game franchise. Impressive, sure. As impressive as nuking the GDI off the planet? Not so much. Still Kane, you're one brilliant bad guy, and one of the most entertaining masterminds ever to scheme an evil scheme. Fact.
30. Manny Cavalera
First appeared in: Grim Fandango (1998)
Picture the scene: LucasArts' Tim Schafer is pitching his latest point and click adventure game after the successes of Full Throttle and The Monkey Island Series. "It's a puzzle game based in a sort of Mexican purgatory where it's the Day of the Dead and everyone wants to get on a gold train to go to the Ninth Underworld. And it's a film noir. And almost everyone's a skeleton. Sound good?"
Bonkers though it may seem on paper, Grim Fandango is universally regarded as being among the greatest games ever made, and that's in no small part down to one Mr Manny Calavera, your host in the Land Of The Dead, your Humphrey Bogart in this undead Casablanca. Suave, passionate, boney, and capable of solving increasingly tricksy puzzles (occasionally involving beavers) Manny is the man.
His speed demon driver, Glottis, deserves a mention for being so big and orange and crazy and all, but for representing just how iconic, beautiful and bizarre Grim Fandango was, Manny wins by a non-existent nose.
First appeared in: Thief: The Dark Project (1998)
Thief: The Dark Project is often described as the original 'first-person sneaker'. Developed by Looking Glass Studios, it was the first game in the stealthy Thief trilogy (with a fourth currently in development) to introduce us to renowned thief, Garret, the man responsible for all the skulking around. Garrett is a master of stealth, archery and pickpocketing, but is more than just a nefarious bandit, offering cynical asides and wry observations as he cases potential jobs.
You could never help but feel sorry for poor Garrett. All he ever wanted was to be left alone to steal other people's valuables in peace! Unfortunately, Garrett's employers always had different plans for him, which rarely turned out well and resulted in Garrett losing an eye towards the climax of the first game.
Acting as a medieval Han Solo type - a rogue looking out for himself; callous and sarcastic, yet always upholding his beliefs - he matches his wit with a surprising amount of intelligence and a certain roguish charm. But it's his sardonic amorality that shines through most of all, ensuring Garrett a place as one of gaming's most appealing anti-heroes.
28. Harman Smith
First appeared in:* killer7 (2005)
It's not entirely certain what the developers were thinking (or taking) when they came up with the premise for killer7 or its schizoid central character. Harman Smith, a sixty year-old, wheelchair-bound man is a master assassin. How? Well, obviously by harnessing his multiple personality disorder and physically manifesting his seven alter-egos, each of which has a distinct persona and set of unique, life-ending skills.
Let's not even get into the fact that he's actually the incarnation of a millennia-old demi-god who has been fighting a battle of good vs evil with his opponent, Kun Lan, across time. Yes, it's all madder than a badger's armpit, but you've got to hand it to the game designer: it's one hell of a concept.
First appeared in: Street Fighter (1987)
Cheaters use Sagat, real men use Ryu! The face of the greatest fighting franchise ever to grace a console, Ryu is an icon who has spanned decades. While synonymous with the Street Fighter franchise, he's also gone toe-to-toe with SNK's finest, The Darkstalkers line-up and half of the Marvel stable, only to emerge unscathed and victorious nine bouts out of ten.
Ryu's look hasn't evolved hugely from his initial appearance (with a slight hair variance here and there - he was ginger in the original Street Fighter, after all); dressed in his white keikogi, red headband and matching gloves, he has remained the definitive beat-'em-up fighter and go-to-guy for the discerning player since the days of SF2. He's mistakenly dismissed as one of the easier characters to master but his accessibility is deceptive - go up against a seasoned Ryu veteran and you'll soon be on the receiving end of a Whirlwind Kick/Hadoken combo to the face. Perfect!
26. Samus Aran
First appeared in: Metroid (1986)
Part-way through coding the original Metroid, a member of Nintendo's development team wondered how players would react if they discovered that the bulky, heavily-armoured character they'd been controlling for the past 10 hours was actually a woman. And after a quick vote in favour of toying with gaming conventions, the first major female protagonist in a videogame was born.
The star of a classic series of atmospheric space adventures that took their lead from Ridley Scott's Alien and put more focus on exploration than alien blasting, Samus Aran has become an enduring heroine on the gaming scene.
Uniquely, many observers have heralded Samus as a feminist icon in a male-dominated industry, who's able to save the day and slaughter the bad guys without needing to slip into sexy shorts or a bulging tank top. But whether you see her as a breakthrough for feminism or just another faceless sci-fi warrior, 1986's unexpected reveal that showed women could be more in gaming lore than eye candy for geeky boys was a refreshing and unforgettable moment.
25. Arthas Menethil
First appeared in: Warcraft III: Reign Of Chaos (2002)
Of all the characters in Warcraft lore, Arthas Menthil is the most tragic. The heir to the throne of Lordaeron, Arthas set out to save his father's kingdom from The Scourge of undead, only to be tricked into joining their ranks by taking up the cursed sword Frostmourne and ultimately becoming their lord and master, The Lich King. Talk about doing a one-eighty.
In World of Warcraft, Arthas is currently the boss to beat for stalwart bands of level 80s, since Icecrown Citadel has unlocked its gates and it's now open season on the Lich King for raiders everywhere. However, you don't need to face him head-on to appreciate Arthas' nuances. The character's personality is most keenly felt in the dozens of lore-woven quests scattered throughout Northrend. Whether it's watching him anoint Scala Sorrowgrave, riding alongside his mortal self during the Culling of Stratholme or doing his bidding in the Death Knight starting zone, Arthas enriches every aspect he touches, his backstory filling in as you level and making the Lich King's final fall (and phat lewt drop) all the more poignant.
24. Sabre Man
First appeared in: Sabre Wulf (1984)
The brainchild of British coders Ultimate Play The Game (now rechristened Rare, the geniuses behind modern classics such as GoldenEye, Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark) 1984's Sabre Wulf introduced Sabreman, a Dr Livingstone for the Mario generation in pith helmet and khaki shorts, slaughtering endangered species with a sword as he battled to escape a candy-coloured jungle. Ambitious sequel Underwurlde continued Sabreman's adventures, but it was the mind-boggling Knight Lore that most players will remember because it saw the helmeted hero reimagined in stunning 3D. While that won't mean much to players in 2010, playing a three-dimensional game in 1984 felt like dabbling in witchcraft, or looking through a magical window into the future of home entertainment. Last seen in Sabre Wulf on the Game Boy Advance in 2004, rumours abound that Sabreman will once again return to the gaming fold.
First appeared in: Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Princess kidnapping now that's not very nice, is it Mr Bowser? And you're a repeat offender. And you spit fireballs from your mouth. Tsk, tsk, tsk...Still, you're a charming, fire-firing, turtle-shelled, evil mastermind, and you're so ruthlessly patient and devilish we've learned to respect you, fear you, and, um, even love you. What's more, you're damn useful for knocking people into lava on Mario Kart, and we'd admire you for that ability alone to be honest.
Now that the likes of Yoshi and Wario have been given their own games, and after his first rate performance in Super Mario Galaxy, we think that Bowser's time has come. Maybe he should actually defeat Mario, for once. Yes, we went there. We're off the hook.
22. Nathan Drake
First appeared in: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007)
Though he's running around the globe with a gun and a pretty journalist sidekick, somehow the Uncharted series' cocky protagonist Nathan Drake still feels like your mate. You know, the one who irregularly comes back home with a face full of bruises, a body full of bullets and a sea chest full of gold. You know, that one. The one who can climb almost anything. That guy.
Though his day job is lobbing grenades around ancient ruins, firing AK-47s from the top of Himalayan mountains and desecrating World Heritage Sites, he does it with a genuine sense of self-awareness, pointing out how ridiculous it is and dropping genuinely hilarious wisecracks - all in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt (half out, half tucked).
Simply put, Nate's a charming son of a bitch and the gaming character we'd most like to go out drinking with - an accolade we don't bestow lightly.
21. Agent 47
First appeared in: Hitman (2000)
A silent weapon for the International Contract Agency (ICA), Agent 47 - a name derived from the last two digits of his assigned number - is the perfect killer clone: a deadly mix of speed, intellect and strength. Originally conceived by IO Interactive as a disgruntled and bearded old guy, he was later transformed into the barcode-tattooed, snappy dresser who has since become a gaming staple.
Leather gloves, red tie, black suit and bald, barcode-adorned head, Agent 47 is striking to the point where it's probably something of a hindrance in his chosen line of work. Still, thanks to his mercifully unobservant marks and the abundance of one-size-fits-all enemy uniforms, no one is safe from the silent assassin. He can go on all out gun-blazing massacres or choose to aim for elite stealth killer ranks on each mission, but whether it's softly softly or scorched earth, 47 always gets the job done. His immoral, introverted ways are occasionally belied by slight chinks in his armour, as he shows compassion for the occasional bystander and even goes out of his way to keep them alive. A killer with a heart of gold? No, probably not. He's still an utter bastard.
20. Duke Nukem
First appeared in: Duke Nukem (1991)
You could say that Duke is just a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of the hard-as-nails cinematic macho men seen in the likes of Commando, Rambo and Die-Hard. Not necessarily invulnerable but bigger, badder and more muscular than you ever thought possible; a man-mountain that men want to be and women want to bed. Sure, you could say that. And you'd be right. But 15 games later and Duke has become his very own man, the characters he was designed to imitate and poke fun of writ large on the gaming landscape. Film might have Schwarzenegger, but Gaming's got Mr Nukem, and who needs Arnie when Duke's in town with a shotgun to fire and a cigar to chew on?
His catchphrases alone (a number of which are shamelessly ripped off from Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness) make him one of the best action characters ever devised: "Now you see me.... now you're dead", "It's my way or... hell, it's my way!", "There's only two ways this is gonna end, and in both of them... you're dead." Well spoken, sir.
19. Solid Snake
First appeared in: Metal Gear (1987)
"SNAKE!? SNAKE!!!" Triple exclamation marks, you say!? An interrobang, you say!? Nothing that Snake doesn't deserve: this sneakiest, most serious, most ludicrous of special agents, complete with natty headband, 'tache and snaking suit, definitely warrants shouting, screaming, and an overabundance of punctuation.
Beginning as an action pastiche, he swiftly evolved into his very own character, as we've watched him grow from rookie spy to aged, but still lithe, espionage-loving old timer, complete with eye patch and greying hair and everything - superbly voiced by gravel-tongued voice-actor and X-Men screenwriter, David Hayter. Special attention should be given to Snake for one thing he does above all others: his ability to swiftly whip out a cardboard box, hide in it, and remain unnoticed despite the fact that he's wiggling slowly across a room. (click here for evidence) Forget sniping, backflipping, or crawling through air ducts... waddling across a room inside a box, now that's what black ops are all about.
18. American McGee's Alice
First appeared in: American McGee's Alice (2000)
When Lewis Carroll first dreamed up the character of Alice and sent her spiralling down the rabbit hole, we're not sure this is entirely what he had in mind. Dark, twisted and clutching a bloody knife, American McGee's interpretation of the children's story icon is an inspired medley of the benign and the macabre.
Set some time after the Wonderland and Looking Glass adventures we're all familiar with, McGee's twisted fairy tale sees the smock-sporting heroine left as sole survivor when her house (and family) burn to the ground. A botched suicide attempt sees her committed so, bonkers and catatonic, she retreats into a disturbing and much darker vision of Wonderland. You can easily argue that Carroll's vision of Alice harboured a dark subtext, but in terms of sheer, twisted sadism, McGee's take on the character wins it hands down. After all, the Red Queen looks a hell of a lot less intimidating when Alice shivs her with a kitchen knife.
17. Illidan Stormrage
First appeared in: Warcraft III: Reign Of Chaos (2002)
A night elf demon hunter who became a demon himself, Illidan made his appearance as an unlikely ally in Warcraft III, consuming the Skull of Gul'dan (obviously) and taking on a terrible, winged form as a result. But for all his impressive machinations in the RTS classic, it wasn't until the release of World of Warcraft expansion The Burning Crusade that Illidan truly came into his own.
As the lord of Outland, wielder of the Twin Blades of Azzinoth and the looming threat behind everything players faced in the long grind to level 70, Illidan was a force to be reckoned with. By the time you and 24 eager guildies had trekked to the heart of Shadowmoon Valley and stood (attuned) at the gates of the Black Temple, ready to face him, it was all the average warrior could do not to soil his chainmail pants.
First appeared in: Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
You'll be hard pressed to find another character within Liberty City as overzealous and straight-up bonkers as Brucie Kibbutz. A fitness fanatic who's constantly juiced-up, he's a side-plot to the GTA IV story but a loyal ally to the game's protagonist, Niko Bellic and, arguably, the best thing in the entire game.
Dealing out 'roid-fuelled revenge missions and car-boosting assignments, Brucie's unique personality eclipses almost everyone else in Rockstar's open world opus. Whether he's espousing his theories on being 'genetically different', imploring Niko to 'Stay alpha' or layering on the false machismo to distract from his dubious sexuality (the Asian tattoo on his arm reads 'shemale'), Brucie and his associated missions are a masterstroke of comedy characterisation.
Rockstar knew they were onto a good thing with Brucie, too, having him return in The Ballard of Gay Tony expansion and introducing his brother to delve further into the 'roid monkey's lunatic back story. Brucie is constantly asserting his position as number one in Liberty City and, in an odd way, it's hard to argue.
First appeared in: God Of War (2005)
Violent. Impulsive. Ruthless. Brutal. As bloody as a butcher's bin bag. Kratos is all of these things, but above all, he's angry. Really, really angry. Possibly the angriest, bloodthirstiest computer game character ever to wear sandals (and get away with it). He isn't your average hero: merciless in his pursuit to further his own ends, wreak his revenge, and stab minotaurs square in the mouth. Armed with his trademark double-chained blades, an unstoppable compulsion to kill and a giant glowing chest full of daddy issues, what makes Kratos such a great character is his sheer, unashamed bastardness. The scowling Spartan takes on all comers, alive or dead, mortal or immortal, with an 'I'll go to hell and back just to kill you' attitude that leaves anyone in his way lying on the floor in several leaking chunks.
He's a cold, inhuman, death-defying murder machine with disgustingly little regard for human life, but he's our cold, inhuman, death-defying murder machine, and we can't help but love the ol' Spartan sunovabitch because of it.
First appeared in: Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)
Sonic's just your regular, blue teenage hedgehog. One who's able to blitz across the screen at ludicrously high speed. Oh, and survive all the centrifugal pressure you'd expect to endure when spinning about on your rear as you perform loop-de-loops in bizarrely well-designed circles of earth littered around the golden-ring covered landscape. Just a blue anthropomorphised hedgehog. With a mutant flying fox and a floating, climbing Echidna for friends.
Sonic's charm is in his swagger, his speed, and that shocked little face he pulls when he loses all his rings on a spike. Gaming's answer to The Flash, his sheer speediness and unhinged desire for thrill-taking is what makes him so playable, a fluid, fun-loving mentalist who can roll into a perfectly spherical ball at an extreme pace. His dialogue may not win any awards, but he's a super fast blue spiny hedgehog, what more do you want? Wait, don't answer that - just click on...
13. Cloud Strife
First appeared in: Final Fantasy VII (1997)
With his spiky blonde hair and enormous Buster Sword, Cloud Strife is the epitome of JRPG design. When we're first introduced, we see an energetic youth raised in a sleepy mountain village, who now acts as a mercenary sword-for-hire. But as his amnesia-stricken brain gradually reveals a more turbulent past, he evolves into one of the most layered (and beloved) of Squaresoft's Final Fantasy characters.
Final Fantasy VII launches Cloud on a revenge mission to stop antagonist Sephiroth from destroying the world, while subsequent games and expanded material have delved futher into Cloud's troubled story - including the film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and even, to an extent, the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Cloud's appeal as a confused genetic experiment, overcoming his past to find love, lose it and still rise up as a beloved leader is a heart-rending journey. He is, and always will be, the definitive FF poster child - an enduring axiom of character desgn.
First appeared in: Portal (2007)
GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System) is the feminine artificial intelligence that acts as your guide through the Aperture Science's Enrichment Centre in Valve's superbly inventive Portal. Spurring the main character on with the promise of cake, GLaDOS initially takes the form of a benevolent overseer - albeit one that makes slightly anomalous and threatening remarks. It's not until she demands the incineration of your much cherished Companion Cube that the player begins to suspect that the screws in this demented AI are quite literally coming loose.
Yet, for all of her malicious HAL-like conduct, as she begins to lose control of your portal-jumping ways, her increasingly demented, robotic taunts - and often, by her own admission, lies - become a constant highlight, with some of the psychotic asides being nothing less than comedy gold. While she appears to have been destroyed at the game's climax, the inspired end-credit song "I'm still alive" bodes well for her triumphant return in Portal 2.
11. Minsc & Boo
First appeared in: Baldur's Gate (1998)
Few names bring a wistful smile to the faces of aging PC gamers like that of Minsc and his trusty hamster companion, Boo. The Rashemen ranger, who tanked the front line of any half-decent Baldur's Gate party, punctuated every encounter with his batshit declarations - most involving the threat of rodent-shaped wrath from his whiskered sidekick.
First conceived during caffeine-fuelled, late night D&D sessions with Baldur's Gate designer James Ohlen, the immortal Minsc was dropped into the PC game's character roster to provide a needed dash of comic relief but ultimately emerged as the game's breakout star. Unnaturally attached to his 'miniature giant space hamster' (a nod to the D&D Spelljammer campaign), Minsc emerged as a tattooed force of nature, clad in full plate and packing steel. Loveable, nigh-unkillable and endlessly entertaining, it's hard to imagine playing through the Baldur's Gate saga without Minsc at your side. Make way evil, he's armed to the teeth and packing a hamster!
First appeared in: Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Cloud may be the hero but the real star of FFVII was undoubtedly its dashing villain, Sephiroth. With his platinum locks, long black coat and implausibly long masamune sword, Sephiroth cut quite the figure and commanded every ounce of your attention when he cropped up at regular intervals throughout FFVII (accompanied by his sinister theme tune) usually sowing utter carnage in his wake. A genetic experiment created using the DNA of an alien life form called Jenova, Sephiroth began the game as the legendary leader of elite Shin-ra special forces group, SOLDIER. However, after he butchers every occupant of the Shin-ra building single-handed, Sephiroth heads out on an intercontinental rampage culminating in the murder of Cloud's love, Aeris, and a plot to destroy the entire planet with a massive materia meteor.
The reasons behind his cataclysmic machinations may be mostly lost amid the increasingly nonsensical story, but Sephiroth's presence permeates every minute of the game and by the time you finally face off against him (first as the giant, Bizzarro Sephiroth and then as the angel-winged Safer Sephiroth) he's achieved near godlike status. Beyond all that, though, the man is just insanely cool. Just look at him!
9. The Lemmings
First appeared in: Lemmings (1991)
Small, green-haired and wearing a blue shirt several sizes too big, the now infamous Lemmings were a gaming innovation by DMA Design (now Rockstar North) back in the early '90s. Whatever your inclination, these ill-fated creatures provided a wealth of entertainment, be it plotting mass (assisted) suicide situations or death-defying breaks for freedom. It was their undeniable, cutesy charm that usually had players choosing the latter, making sure they managed to save as many of the battalion of ninety-nine as possible from the perilous traps that lay scattered across the hazardous landscapes.
What amounted to little more than a few pixels managed to convey a sad, helpless race, doomed without the guiding hand of the player to take them to their utopian 'Exit' and prevent them blithely walking straight into the sweet hereafter. The compassion felt for all the different ranks, be it 'Digger', 'Floater' or 'Miner', is part of the simplistic charm that still has gamers coming back decades later. Or perhaps it's just the sadistic glee to be had from that mournful cry just before you nuke the little critters all at once.
8. Master Chief
First appeared in: Halo (2001)
Compared to the gaming guv'nors who have been blistering thumbs for decades, Halo's gruff protagonist is a relative newbie on the scene. Nevertheless, since his debut in 2001, this Xbox poster boy has all but dominated the console world.
A cybernetically-enhanced supersoldier fighting to save the human race from the marauding Covenant, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 captured the imagination of gamers across the world. A man of few words, Master Chief generally lets his battle rifle do his talking for him and while we never see the face behind the golden visor, Chief's personality comes across loud and clear every time he cracks a Covenant skull. It's a singular experience to first slip into his metal boots and assume the role of mankind's armour-clad liberator and even now, after three campaigns inside the Spartan's helmet, an extended session still makes you feel 10ft tall and able to punch holes in solid concrete.
7. Guybrush Threepwood
First appeared in: The Secret Of Monkey Island (1996)
The amusingly monikered star of LucasArts' Monkey Island games began life as a simple pirate sprite, lovingly drawn in the program Deluxe Paint. The brush file for the character was simply called 'Guy', and lo, with the filename Guybrush.bbm, history was made.
Arguably the most-loved character in point and click adventure gaming history, Guybrush is a gawky, awkward, somewhat bumbling, loveable would-be pirate, who, among many epic achievements, defeated the legendary swordmaster with zingers that included the particularly biting "You fight like a dairy farmer."
The most blundering buccaneer of all blundering buccaneers, his charm is in his ineptitude, his ludicrous inability to form even words in front of his beloved Elaine, and the fact that he's more self-conscious and graceless than even the nerdiest nerd. Also, he looks great in breeches. You've got to give him that.
First appeared in: The Legend Of Zelda (1986)
Shigeru Miyamoto's most famous creation aside from a certain moustachioed plumber, Link has grown into one of the world's most celebrated console heroes, and helped establish RPGs as an international gaming standard.
The Legend Of Zelda was inspired by Miyamoto's childhood memories of exploring the forests and caves that surround the Japanese city of Kyoto, and a desire to recreate the feelings of awe, fear and accomplishment he experienced as a youngster. To facilitate this he created Link; a non-speaking everychild who grew in confidence and experience as the adventure unfolded, and by the end was a mature young man ready to tackle any challenge life throws at him. Now, with a clutch of adventures and almost 50 million worldwide sales behind him, Link is one of gaming's most enduring heroes and star of The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, one of the greatest videogames ever made.
5. Lara Croft
First appeared in: Tomb Raider (1996)
Now, we know what you're thinking... so stop it. There's not going to be a cinematic Tomb Raider Threequel any time soon, and chances are Angelina won't be donning her hotpants of destruction and double pistols of doom for a good while yet if at all. Fortunately, the game side of things keep on chugging, despite Angie hanging up her skin-tight vest, 14 years after the original game and 6 sequels on. And with good reason. Lara Croft is one of the strongest, most dynamic, most exciting female characters in the business: reckless, beautiful, and a damn fine shot, she's the driving powerhouse behind the success of the Tomb Raider franchise and has broken out into comics, films and all manner of other merchandise.
It's not being overly cynical to say that part of Croft's appeal has always been the fact that she's a pixellated hottie in short shorts and a too-tight t-shirt but there's more to this iconic leading lady than her EE cup size. She's one of a kind, our Lara, aristocratic and acrobatic, adventurous and forever young - she's a young lady everyone can look up to and avoid going on holidays with, no matter what she promises you. Now when's that Nathan Drake crossover coming, people?
4. The Nameless One
First appeared in: Planescape: Torment (1999)
If you're looking for the one of the most original, inspired and fascinating character since gaming began, then look no further than The Nameless One, star of Black Isle's game-changing RPG, Planescape: Torment. Waking up on a mortuary slab in the inter-dimensional city of Sigil, Nameless discovers (with the help of his floating skull companion, Morte) that he's an immortal amnesiac who can never truly die and the only clues to his past are scrawled in spidery tattoos across his scar-laden flesh.
So far, so Memento, but as The Nameless One's story slowly unfolds, we see a tortured, tormented soul who has lived a thousand different lifetimes and played host to a dozen different personalities, only to be slain and rise again. What's more, every time Nameless is reborn, a random soul in the multiverse dies to fuel his resurrection, eventually returning as a shade to exact its revenge.
Torment is a tragic, intricately woven tale and, quite deservedly, recognised as one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. Rather than other RPGs of the era, which gave you a blank slate character to flesh out as you wanted, Torment's strength was in the detail and richness of its protagonist, who remains one of the very best more than ten years on.
First appeared in: System Shock (1994)
Forget Bowser, Ganondorf and Dr Robotni:, if you're after the most terrifying, psychologically disturbing and downright memorable evil mastermind in video games then look no further than System Shock's Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network, or SHODAN. The megalomaniacal AI at the heart of Sierra's RPG adventure, SHODAN began life as the benign computer core of Citadel Station, until the game's protagonist (you) hacks her ethical subroutines and makes her self-aware and happily homicidal.
Given that she's never directly seen, SHODAN's constant, threatening presence is a masterstroke of game design: the AI's influence felt through her omniscient control of the station's security cameras, robotic defences and periodic audio transmissions that haunt the player's every move. Speaking in stuttering, discordant fluctuations, her distinctive tones (voiced by former Tribe vocalist Terri Brosius) goad, deride and threaten as you make your way through the bowels of the station. SHODAN's most magnificent performance is reserved for the game's sequel, however, when it's revealed that the benevolent Dr Polito, who has been guiding you through half the game, is actually a stiffening corpse and the 'metal mother' behind the first game has been leading you by the nose all along. Chilling stuff.
First appeared in: Donkey Kong (1981)
The most recognisable gaming hero of all time - if not exactly the coolest - Mario only missed out on our top spot by a whisker. And while this may be an indication that Nintendo's dumpy plumber isn't as relevant today as he once was, Mario's place in the pantheon of gaming is assured.
Mario was created by Shigeru Miyamoto (pictured right), Nintendo's gaming genius who also unleashed Luigi, Link and a hundred other console superstars. Originally Miyamoto wanted to make a platformer featuring cartoon characters Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oil, but when he failed to get an official licence he created Mario, Donkey Kong and Pauline instead. The moustachioed tradesman debuted in the fiendishly difficult Donkey Kong under the name Jumpman, and was only given his Italian moniker when Nintendo Of America's landlord, Mario Segale, came demanding rent on the warehouse the company was renting in Tukwila, Washington. Now, over 200 games later - many of which are genre-defining blueprints that set the scene for everything that followed - Mario is one of the most famous cartoon faces in the world.
1. Gordon Freeman
First appeared in: Half-Life (1998)
Ginger hair, thick-rimmed glasses, a tidy goatee and a Ph.D. degree in Theoretical Physics - Gordon Freeman was never your average gun-totting FPS hero. However, after only two Half-Life games (and a couple of expanded episodes), Freeman has become a gaming icon, synonymous with the apotheosis of first-person action.
The character is the quintessential geek fantasy: a first class, card-carrying uber nerd who's thrust into the breach and forced to fend off an inter-dimensional invasion as well as squads of well-armed government goons - not something the average MIT graduate expects on his first day at work. He's a far cry from the muscular machismo and implausibly proportioned heroes who traditionally make up the genre; in Freeman Valve managed to create one of the most unlikely heroes in gaming, while simultaneously one of the most believable. Original designs - which, fans have dubbed 'Ivan the Space Biker' - had Gordon sporting a full beard and pony tail, but his eventual look came from the various faces of Valve employees, giving him the authentic geek chic we've come to know and love.
It would be a disservice to Freeman's laconic charm to say he's void of personality due to never uttering a word - or being directly seen, save for the box art and glimpses in sister titles Opposing Force and Blue Shift. In keeping Freeman mute and unseen, Valve cannily laid the groundwork for a character that players can fully embody, enabling each would-be Freeman to shape Gordon's persona themselves.
There's a bit of Gordon in all of us, you see: noble, mischievous, intelligent and, beneath it all, a kick-ass action hero bubbling beneath the surface. Given a dozen third-person cutscenes and lines of snappy dialogue, Gordon Freeman may not be half the icon he is today. As it stands, he effortlessly sets the benchmark for aming protagonists and accomplishes it all in complete silence, with a crowbar in hand.