April 28, 2015 | Written By: Ryan Willcox
Tags: Top Ten list, Master Chief, Lara Croft, Link, Legend of Zelda, Halo, Tomb Raider, Mario, Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, Pac Man, Pikachu, Pokemon, Ryu, Street Fighter, Snake, Metal Gear Solid, Sonic, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mascots,
Before the countdown begins, it is obviously extremely dangerous to hand pick only ten characters within the thousands of games that present majestic personalities that bring franchises to life. That being said, there is a small exclusive group of video game mascots that have pushed beyond the boundaries that their developers imagined they would reach. From an overload of sequels that expand the story of a sword swinging protagonist, to an intergalactic military chief influencing a game’s sales numbers, a character’s persona is everything when it forms a fan base, but also has the potential to carry a console’s brand for decades. Now that the gaming industry is touching down on a new era, thanks to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U, our list has been modernized to give spotlight to new characters who have recently broke ground in gaming.However, we must also identify the faces that built the industry that we know and love today.
Number 10: Lara Croft
There will forever and always be a top ten spot for the first character that put female empowerment on a pedestal in video games, as archaeologist Ms. Lara Croft has done just that with the Tomb Raider franchise. Debuting in October of 1996, Croft’s badass feminine swagger and immense wisdom formed the original Tomb Raider to be the ‘Indiana Jones-like’ adventure game the industry needed. The game that details Croft’s first major battle versus the Shadow League and their mythical creatures notched over seven million copies in sales, while becoming a major contributor in Sony’s achievement of selling over 100 million PlayStation units.
Although Lara Croft is the video game industry’s leading heroine, there has been criticism for her ‘unrealistic’ appearances; but in the creation of the protagonist, Lead Artist of Tomb Raider Toby Gard has stated that his main objective was to defeat “bimbo stereotypes,” giving her a strong combination of brains and beauty. Speaking of appearances, Gard originally wanted Croft to be from South America, under the name of Laura Cruz. Although, European developer Edios Interactive urged Gard to give her an English origin so she becomes “UK friendly” to the local fan base that Edios had already established.
After the release of Tomb Raider, the franchise continued to thrive as its next successor, Tomb Raider II, sold an overwhelming eight million copies worldwide. Due to its wild successes and record breaking sales on PlayStation, Paramount Pictures placed Angelina Jolie on the throne to hone the role of Lara Croft on the big screen in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, bringing worldwide recognition to Croft outside the gaming industry. The recognition fueled the movie to gross over $274 million in the box office worldwide, even though the movie’s reception was extremely poor with the Washington Post calling the movie “empty, frenzied, plasticized, flavorless, drab, violent in a bloodless way and sexy in a sexless way.” Unfortunately, the franchise’s video game status also took a hit with the next four installments taking a gradual drop in sales and reception to the point where Eidos’ last Tomb Raider title, Tomb Raider: Underworld, sold a dispirited $2.5 million copies.
The series was quickly put back onto its feet when Square Enix decided to acquire Eidos in April of 2009, looking to reboot the Tomb Raider to its natural and best form. Gracefully, with Crystal Dynamics developing the title, Square Enix’s reboot soared in sales with over 7 million copies sold after its 2013 release. With Camilla Luddington voicing Croft, the franchise masterfully received stellar reviews and automatically earned an upcoming sequel that was snatched by Microsoft as a timed-exclusive due to its high value from previous sales. Going into the next few years, it would be slander if someone stated that Croft’s time is coming to an end; rather, she now has a whole new generation to continue a legacy that looks to be getting stronger each year.
Number 9: Solid Snake
As a dominant mascot to the PlayStation family (despite appearances on other consoles) on the list, Metal Gear’s Solid Snake tackles the number nine spot, as the Cold War mercenary’s cold bravado and brilliant war tactics matches that of an action movie stud. That being said, the character’s origin and appearances from game to game were based off of actual movie stars. Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima has stated that actors like Mel Gibson, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Kurt Russell have influenced the fighting style and facial designs of Snake throughout the series.
Although the Metal Gear Solid series has seen over 30 successors, only eleven games are considered actual plot stories to the series. Developer Kojima Productions has lifted Snake’s reputation with multiple Metal Gear Solid games that have received perfect scores from ten’s of highly renown entertainment sites, including Metal Gear Solid II: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (both titles that received nearly flawless ratings on Metacritic). Since the launch of Metal Gear in July of 1987, Snake’s rebellious lone-wolf attitude justifies that action games can be more than just gameplay-centric IPs.
So wildly beloved, Snake even made an appearance in Nintendo’s own Super Smash Bros. Brawl, although he hasn’t been featured in a Nintendo title in more than decade. Even though Kojima’s plot for Metal Gear is more science fiction than realistic, Solid Snake is a strong symbol of a true war soldier as he battles PTSD and the losses of close military members. As fans eagerly await Snake’s next courageous adventure, Kojima Productions is coming close to releasing what fans are looking for with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Unlike Guns of the Patriots, which was a PlayStation exclusive, The Phantom Pain will be launching on a whooping number of five individual consoles. Meaning that the upcoming game has the potential of reaching record breaking sales numbers in the franchise. Although, for his memorable exclusives, Solid Snake will always remain a PlayStation darling, and maybe its most successful mascot to date.
Number 8: Sonic the Hedgehog
For Sonic, the gaming industry has been a roller coaster for him. Characteristically, the hedgehog’s bubbly and witty personality is the best of any other mascot; but being in the video game industry, spotlight can only be given through honorably developed titles. His debut displayed a strong start for the speedy animal, as Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega Genesis became the Mario Bros. of the 16-bit generation. A game that became the ship captain of the console and also was a major highlight in arcades globally. At the end of the Genesis’s life, Sonic the Hedgehog totaled over 15 million copies sold, raising Sonic to a brand new pedestal.
As the years went on, the Hedgehog starred in over five animated television series. One, being Sonic X, lasted 73 episodes and became one of the best rated children shows in 2005. Sonic’s fame even pushed him to be more recognizable than Disney’s Mickey Mouse, according to 1UP. Meanwhile in video games, Sonic the Hedgehog’s successors slowly dipped in sales, with Sonic the Hedgehog II selling a measly six million copies and the recent Sonic Lost World selling a dead 2.5 million units.
With Sonic’s future seeming dimmer with Wii U’s Sonic Boom getting hit with bad reviews and weak financial profits, his major roles in this HD generation are mostly highlighted with his cameo in the Super Smash Bros. series, as well as teaming up with Mario in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. That meaning, the beloved 16-bit blue hero may be transitioning into a supporting character. Going into 2015, Sega is searching for a new fan base in the mobile market, with Sonic Runners, a traditional arcade Sonic game, heading to iOS and Android.
Number 7: Mega Man
Mega Man, in a way, is a “don’t judge a book by its cover” character. He’s designed simply, but possesses a number of unique traits. Truth be told, Capcom’s original blueprint for Mega Man I actually plotted the game to an Astroboy title, but due to licensing complications, the creators decided to spin-off the idea with a character of their own. In the same case as Sonic, the easy going and friendly Mega Man has been stuck in a rut, with Capcom choosing to not develop a successor since 2010’s Mega Man Zero Collection on Nintendo DS.
Altogether, Mega Man is remembered as a persona that built childhoods in the gaming industry. From his debut on the Famicom in 1987 to PlayStation 3 renders of classic NES titles in the series, the franchise has landed onto multiple platforms with over 40 games in all. Sales-wise, over 29 million units of the franchise total have been sold worldwide, making it Capcom’s most profitable series.
With the industry transitioning into the next generation of consoles, the precious blue rocket man has maybe the bleakest future of all big name mascots. Capcom has cut ties with its creators declaring upcoming titles will be Japanese mobile exclusives. There only seems to be hope in Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No.9, an upcoming platformer that is clearly a spinoff of where he discontinued work with Capcom. In fact, in attempt at creating a name for the little blue robot for the original Mega Man game, Inafune recommended the name “Mighty Man,” an idea that has come full circle in creation of creating this new protagonist. In the meantime, fans will be treasuring the incredibly dashing gameplay within each Mega Man platformer and adventure game, as there really isn’t one mediocre game that holds the Astroboy brethren.
Number 6: Pac-man
To such a degree, Pac-man was the 80’s version of Angry Birds. It was a game that innovated and measured how people played games in that generation. As Angry Birds started a trend for casual gamers to play on their phone, Pac-man started a revolution of arcade gaming and how competitive arcade games can be. The original Pac-man game, consisting of the simple concept of defeating Ghost within a maze, sold over $1 billion dollars worth of arcade cabinets within 18 months of its release in 1980.
Unlike most characters in games, Pacman's design has remained elementary as creator Tora Iwatanii states his artwork of the yellow circle is actually based off of a partially eaten pizza. With Pac-Man being so unique, even in this day in age, Capcom notched a deal with Disney to launch Pac-Man & the Ghostly Adventures, a television series that revolving around Pac-Man and his objective to save his town from the same deadly ghosts that existed in the arcade classic. As of now, the series (which is 73 episodes strong) has a large presence within the Disney community, as its the highest rated show airing on Disney XD.
Even though outside material for Pac-Man is building to become a strong entity for the friendly yellow blob’s reputation, the recent decade of unorthodox Pac-Man/Ms.Pac-Man games have created a sour taste into a franchise that has looked to be on its last fumes. With the Ghostly Adventure series standing tall on TV, its attempt at living within the video game industry says otherwise, as Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures (the video game) had sold only 230,000 copies worldwide on Wii U, PlayStation 3, PC, 3DS, and Xbox One. While bad sales numbers and reviews have clouded the latest Pac-Man games, Pac-Man’s feat of putting his original classic onto over 20 consoles and a handful of recent commercials makes him one of the most noticeable faces in gaming to date.
Number 5: Ryu
Maybe the most popular character in Japan on the list, not including any Nintendo exclusive characters, Ryu’s masterful karate skills and dramatic plot twists have carried him and Street Fighter onto a glorious platform in gaming. A platform that has made the great arcade fighting series a recognizable series on almost every gaming system imaginable. With Ryu debuting in the fall of 1994, he became the gaming world’s version of the Karate Kid, as the growing fan base Street Fighter created became obsessed with Ryu’s hardcore talent for kicking main rival Sagat’s ass. The fame that Ryu formed for the video game series earned him a movie around the gaming series by the name of Street Fighter, starring Byron Mann as Ryu. Unfortunately, if anything can be learned by outside adaptations made by these mascots’ games, its that the same level of creativity is lacking, as the movie was poorly reviewed by a large number of sites. Despite reaching $99 million in box office sales worldwide, Rotten Tomatoes wrote, “Street Fighter's nonstop action sequences are not enough to make up for a predictable, uneven storyline.”
As for game sales, the franchise built Capcom new dominance, as three versions of Street Fighter II on the SNES (Turbo, World Warriors, and the original Street Fighter II) combined for a whooping $1.5 billion dollars in sales. Since then, the series has seen steady numbers as the franchise has sheltered around certain consoles since its glory days on the SNES. The last major title, Street Fighter IV released a decent 3.3 million units worldwide on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. As this list has proven, Capcom has been known to make strange financial decisions with their games. Well, they have done just that as they are now leaning on only PC and PlayStation 4 to sell the highly-anticipated Street Fighter V in 2015. Will this hurt or help Ryu’s name and strength as a gaming mascot? Fans will just have to wait and see, depending on sales and reception of the upcoming title.
Number 4: Master Chief
Being the one and only Xbox mascot on the list, Halo’s green faceless Master Chief comes in at number four. Easily the youngest character to break into the top ten, the demanding, yet quiet, galactic super-soldier debuted on Microsoft’s original Xbox in a game titled Halo: Combat Evolved that released in the fall of 2001. With the game’s launch, came automatic fame for Master Chief, as the insane multiplayer and gripping single-player reeled over 6.43 million players worldwide.
From that point on, the militant rose through pop culture fame and was idolized by almost every owner of an Xbox. The voice actor for Master Chief, Steve Downes, has stated that Bungie was able to impress players and make them “feel as if they were the Chief” when he based his character’s voice off of Clint Eastwood, as both speak louder in actions rather than with words.
As for the franchise that holds the deadly gunman, it has sold over 35 million copies in total, as sales numbers have seen a steady growth since the series (as in the main games in the series) started. Respectably, former developer of the series, Bungie, has contributed to most of the higher sales numbers before 343 industries took over, as Halo 3 sold almost 12 million copies soon before 343’s Halo 4 dropped to only 8.94 million worldwide.
Now, Microsoft’s hopes run high as 343 will develop Halo 5 and release it exclusively to Xbox One in late 2015, as the first game of the franchise in this new generation of gaming. Overall, when gamers and journalists speak of the impact that Halo and Master Chief brought to the video game industry, it will probably sound similar to GameSpot’s recent words about the original Halo, with the outlet saying, “A complete thrill ride from beginning to end, an experience perhaps best described as a 16-hour-plus version of the siege scene from the film Terminator 2...easily one of the best shooters ever, on any platform."
Number 3: Pikachu
If a mascot had to be named “Most influential as a promotional ad for children,” Pokemon’s Pikachu would be the leading nomination. As a promotional tool for McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Macy’s, FIFA, and Got Milk, the yellow electric mouse has made Pokemon one of the most recognizable and profitable franchises for Nintendo. His debut in Pokemon Red and Blue on Game Boy Color in 1996 sold over 31.37 million units worldwide.
Following the major success of the portable exclusive, a television show based on the game’s exact concept rocketed the series to even more stardom, basing the show off the relationship off of the Pikachu and Ash Ketchum. In fact, show executives chose Pikachu over another pokemon to mascot the franchise, as Pikachu was the “one best fit to resemble a loving pet.” Beyond the show, came numerous silver-screen movies, with most of the films earning high reception.
Once Pokemon grew worldwide, even a Trading Card game of the series pushed the franchise’s profiting numbers through the roof. Meanwhile, on the gaming-side, the same cannot exactly be said, but only because the sales of portable handhelds declined as well through the years. Very recently, the series latest title on the 3DS, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire sold an impressive 7.84 million copies worldwide with 40 million 3DS units coming off store shelves since its launch.
Headed into 2015, the series is still carrying a heavy fan base, as 3DS is expected to get another sequel in the franchise, while Nintendo is looking to stretch Pokemon Tekken into a Wii U title by 2016. All in all, its safe to say that Pokemon and Pikachu, alike, are striving, as they are both young faces to such an ancient publisher.
Number 2: Link
Loved as a child, teen, and an adult, Link’s dark green uniform, mystical Master Sword, and Light Bow have become another gigantic set of trademarks that Nintendo has turned into millions of dollars. While The Legend of Zelda’s setting and characters seem so creatively genius to be true, creator Shigeru Miyamoto says that the idea for Hyrule and everything Link-oriented were based on childhood memories he had in Japan.
With 21 full-featured games, the franchise in all has sold over 67 million copies worldwide. The boy in the green hood started his video game adventures in 1986 on NES, with 6.5 million copies flying off the shelf. With The Legend of Zelda series, it is incredibly unfair to base the franchise on sales, as each game in the developed only steady numbers for the publisher. When fans and journalists take a close look into the empire, reviews will be doing the talking, as so many Zelda games have gotten close to perfect scores on Metacritic. When GameCube’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was released, IGN wrote, “Zelda's unrivaled design, balanced and varied, and its polished play mechanics and control that ultimately set the game apart from just about every other competitor on the market.”
Strangely enough, Link has not been brought to the silver screen quite enough, with only two live-action TV series within its 30-year stint. Now, Netflix is looking to bring “a Game of Thrones series for a family” with their own rendition of a The Legend of Zelda live-action TV series. As the Wii U is running on a tight clock, the franchise may be the strongest one to benefit from what is left of the console’s life, as the upcoming Zelda title is one of few big name games headed to the system. With Wii’s Skyward Sword selling only 3.88 million units, the biggest question for this classic franchise is if the Wii U is more of a helping hand than its predecessor; but when it comes to Link reputation in danger, there is no need to worry.
Number 1: Mario
It’s no stunner that the Italian-American plumber from Nintendo leads the charge that is the whole video game industry. One can say that Mario’s fame only rose due to Mario Bros. being the first game on the NES, but once someone skims through the games that feature the man with a moustache, Mario always seems to form a game that is almost usually highly received. Almost like a Robert De Niro of video games, no matter what genre Mario inserts himself in, Nintendo succeeds in forming each one of his appearances into a classic video game.
Debuting in 1981, in Donkey Kong, Mario was first referred to as Jumpman, the protagonist looking to take down Donkey Kong and his inferior big barrels. Due to the fame, Mario Bros. gave Mario the spotlight needed, with the game selling a monstrous 40.24 million copies sold (becoming 2nd best selling game ever). After the game was released, uproar grew as landlord Mario Segale claimed that he was suppose to earn royalty checks for apparently giving Mario his name through a dispute he had with Nintendo about rent they never paid him.
To earn the number one spot on this list, there are a set of requirements and achievements that need to be made, and selling an absorbent amount of copies is one thing Mario and his crew of Nintendo mates have no problem with doing. With Nintendo testing the waters of 3D gaming with the Nintendo 64, their first open world 3D Mario game, Super Mario 64, sold wildly with 12 million copies worldwide being dispersed. Even on portable devices, Mario ceases to fail, as New Super Mario 3D released over an overwhelming 29 million copies in total on the DS. Beyond that, Nintendo’s sporty spin-offs, like Mario Kart and Mario Super Sluggers, have even notched their own fan group. That being said, Wii’s Mario Kart was a huge contributor to the Wii’s rise in sales, as 35 million copies worldwide flew off retail shelves. Now, Mario still shines in the enormous spotlight with Super Smash Bros Wii U and 3DS, as it is a main entity to every major gaming tournament holder.
Going into Nintendo’s future months, it seems that the next Mario game might influence the next Nintendo console to be made, this rumor coming from Nintendo’s own Shigeru Miyamoto, as he sees the power in the next Mario game to be too much for the Wii U to handle. Overall, Mario’s family friendly characteristics have started a popular casual gaming movement. He is also one of the few characters that most hardcore gamers fell in love with as children.
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