In the early days of video gaming, mascots were a big deal. Every game studio had to have a mascot. Some are very well-known, like Nintendo’s Mario, but for every Mario there are a hundred Bubsy the Bobcats and Aero the Acrobats.
They've appeared in various media besides, and while the success rate of this media creep is hit or miss, but it never seems to tarnish the reputation of the most beloved and popular characters. In this list we will examine the most iconic video game mascots of all time.
10 Donkey Kong
The original Donkey Kong appeared in his self-titled video game in 1981. The Donkey Kong we all know today, the one wearing a tie, is not the original Donkey Kong. That is actually Donkey Kong Jr., who first appeared in 1982 in the again self-titled Donkey Kong Junior arcade game.
The current version of Donkey Kong began with Donkey Kong Country for the SNES. Since that classic game, the Donkey Kong we know today has appeared in twenty-two more games. The original Donkey Kong had a Saturday morning cartoon that included a Mario voiced by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen).
9 Vault Boy
Vault Boy has been around longer than many people realize. He’s been the mascot for Bethesda’s Fallout franchise since its first game was released in 1997. Vault Boy is immediately recognizable and likeable. His illustrated antics are a bit reminiscent of the Sergio Aragonés illustrations in Mad magazine.
The character, perhaps because of his ever-present smile, seems somewhat simple and bumbling – like a Homer Simpson type of character. Vault Boy was originally created by Leonard Boyarsky, and was partly inspired by the Rich Uncle Pennybags character from the Monopoly board game.
The original Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, and besides being an instant classic it introduced gamers to Link. Link is not simply a mascot for the Legend of Zelda series – or Nintendo for that matter. Link has almost become a mascot for quality in gaming. Legend of Zelda games are like Beatles songs: even the “bad” ones are better than most games.
It is rare to find someone who had a bad gaming experience with a Zelda title. Link is also a mascot of sorts for freedom in gaming. Whether Link is depicted as a child or as a young adult, he is another video game icon that is recognized immediately.
7 Master Chief
Microsoft originally intended Blinx the cat to be their answer to Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Despite debuting in a pretty fun game, Blinx didn’t take off as a franchise and he has since been abandoned on the Isle of Forgotten Mascots. Microsoft found its mascot with the release of Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox in 2001.
Since then, Master Chief has become the instantly recognizable mascot of Microsoft’s Xbox consoles and the Halo franchise. Since his debut, Master Chief has featured in numerous animated movies and novels. He may not have been around as long as most of the mascots on this list, but Master Chief is just as iconic.
The popularity of Pikachu has grown to epic proportions since its debut in the Pokémon Red & Blue games, and of course the popular Pokémon cartoon series. This fuzzy little electric mouse was even recently featured in a live-action movie starring Ryan Reynolds -- set in the Detective Pikachu universe. Despite all the varied Pokémon creatures, Pikachu is the unquestionable mascot of the series.
The Pokémon franchise is one of the most successful media franchise of all time. There is likely more varied Pikachu merchandise than any other video game character, even Mario. The historic popularity of the Pokémon games probably owes a lot to the cuteness overload caused by Pikachu.
5 Mega Man
Capcom has so many characters that could be considered mascots; Arthur from the Ghost ‘n Goblins franchise, and Dante from the Devil May Cry franchise are two notable examples. The only Capcom mascot that even begins to reach the level of fan loyalty and popular notoriety of Mega Man is perhaps Ryu from the Street Fighter games. Mega Man’s role as Capcom’s mascot began with his debut in the first Mega Man game for the NES in 1987.
The first Mega Man game did okay financially and is remembered best as having some of the worst cover art in the history of video games. However, the success of the second Mega Man game, with its excellent soundtrack, cemented the Blue Bomber’s place in video game history. Mega Man has also been featured in numerous cartoons over the years.
4 Angry Birds
Like it or not, the Angry Birds have become a part of our collective popular culture. The franchise is on its nineteenth title and has even had Star Wars-themed games.
This franchise has become so popular that there is an Angry Birds theme park: a large section of the Särkänniemi adventure park in Finland is called Angry Birds Land. Whether you’re a fan of the Angry Birds games or not, you have to admit that they are apparently here to stay.
3 Sonic The Hedgehog
Sonic was Sega’s answer to the ever-growing popularity of Nintendo’s mascot Mario. The blast-processing blue hedgehog debuted in 1991 in a self-titled game for Sega’s new 16-bit Genesis console. The game, and the Sonic character, were both instant successes for Sega. Since that first game, Sonic has appeared in nearly thirty games. Some of them are good, but some of them really, really, awful. Sonic has even appeared in his once-rival Mario’s games from time to time.
This is a weird phenomenon to those who grew up during the 16-bit wars between Nintendo and Sega. Sonic is still a part of popular culture even today. There is a live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie releasing in the near future.
Originally called Jumpman when he first appeared in Donkey Kong in 1981, Mario has since become one of the most beloved video game mascots ever. It wasn’t until Donkey Kong Jr. that he was given the name Mario. Donkey Kong 2 is also the only game where Mario is the villain. With the release of Super Mario Bros. for the NES in 1985, Mario’s popularity has risen to immense levels.
He even got a big-budget motion picture starring Bob Hoskins in 1993; a movie which Nintendo is still hoping we will collectively forget about one day. Mario has become synonymous with fun, and Nintendo has done a great job making sure each new Mario title is better than the last.
Do you remember the scene in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 when Starlord turned into Pac-Man? There was probably no-one around you in the theater asking themselves what that big yellow thing was. At this point Pac-man is as well-known and as instantly recognizable as Mickey Mouse.
The original Pac-Man was released in the arcades in 1980, and he is still a part of the popular culture. The creator of Pac-Man, Toru Iwatani, claims the idea for Pac-Man came from a pizza with a slice missing. Pac-Man is not just the mascot for Namco, he is the mascot for video games as a whole.