While gameplay, graphics, sound, and creativity all play an important role in the overall appeal of a video game, it's also crucial for a game to have a likeable protagonist. Video games give players a chance to become someone else, and no one wants to assume the role of a total jerk who can't do anything. The characters on this list are known for their unique abilities and distinctive personalities, and they all add something to the legendary games they star in. Don't bother looking for Samus Aran or Lara Croft on this list, though. In the name of equality, the chicks got their own list.
Kid Icarus Series
When Angel Land was overtaken by darkness, a young angel named Pit took it upon himself to defeat the wicked Medusa and rescue the Goddess of Light. The fact that he had to put up with the pestering Eggplant Wizards is reason enough for me to mention him. Although many considered Kid Icarus to be an instant classic upon its release, the Game Boy sequel was quickly forgotten and gamers had to wait for nearly two decades for a new game in the series. With the 2012 release of Kid Icarus: Uprising, the franchise was revived and Pit evolved as a character. His bravery and abilities were already apparent, but it's ultimately his sense of humor that earns him a place on the list. He is described in the game as being "insufferably upbeat" and "unbearably cheerful," but his charm is undeniable.
Sonic the Hedgehog Series
Sonic the Hedgehog was instrumental to the success of the Genesis and represented everything that Sega stood for in the '90s. He was fast, he was energetic, and he had attitude to spare. His impact on the industry was immediately apparent, and he inspired countless imitators. Sonic was clearly a product of his time, but he somehow managed to stay relevant long after obnoxious animal mascots fell out of favor. There are many arguments as to why he shouldn't be on this list – nobody likes his friends, his "dude with a 'tude" persona is outdated, and way too many of his games have been embarrassingly bad – but Sonic has a loyal following despite his setbacks. He's one of the medium's most iconic figures, and it's a safe bet he'll be running around at the speed of sound for years to come. Gotta go fast!
Ninja Gaiden Series
Ryu Hayabusa is the star of the Ninja Gaiden series and the quintessential video game ninja. Ryu is wise beyond his years and has several impressive ninja abilities at his disposal. Not only does he master dozens of ninja weapons, but he can also cling to walls, run on water, and make orange clones of himself. Of course, Ryu always uses these skills for noble purposes – like avenging his father's death, destroying powerful dragons, saving his girlfriend, protecting ancient artifacts, or defeating his evil twin. He also finds time to enter the Dead or Alive tournaments and apparently enjoys the company of scantily clad girls. (I told you he was wise.) At the end of the day, Ryu kicks serious levels of ass and has never been in a bad game. It shouldn't be any wonder why he has earned himself the title of "Super Ninja."
Final Fight Series
Mike Haggar is the star of the Final Fight series and also makes appearances in the Saturday Night Slam Masters games. A former professional wrestler who entered the political arena after retiring from the ring, Haggar was elected mayor of Metro City on the promise that he would be tough on crime. Needless to say, Haggar is one politician who didn't go back on his word. When his daughter Jessica was kidnapped by a notorious gang of street thugs, Haggar didn't call in the Feds. Rather, he ripped his shirt off and proceeded to beat the shit out of a bunch of Andre the Giant clones. Also, he used Zangief's moves before they were cool, he frequently eats meat out of garbage cans, and his moustache approaches Tom Selleck levels of awesomeness. In essence, Haggar is the perfect character.
Street Fighter Series
At a glance, Ryu seems pretty generic. With his white karate gi, red headband, and archetype moveset, Ryu doesn't exactly stand out in a series known for its diverse cast of characters, Still, he has appeared in every Street Fighter game to date and is the character most-associated with the franchise. He's not the biggest, strongest, or fastest fighter in the series, but he makes up for it by remaining focused. Ken is distracted by his wife, Guile is investigating the death of a friend, and Chun Li is only concerned with avenging her father. In contrast, Ryu devotes his entire life to fighting. Rather than fighting for vengeance or pride, Ryu views each battle as a step toward spiritual perfection. Anyone who still needs proof of just how much of a badass Ryu is should take a look at the giant scar across Sagat's chest.
As the star of the first two Castlevania adventures, Simon Belmont is easily the most well-known hero in the franchise. Armed with his trademark whip and an unshakable sense of justice, the legendary 17th century vampire hunter fought his way through the wretched land of Transylvania in a heroic effort to rid the world of the evil Dracula. (The defeated Count placed a curse upon Simon in the sequel, so the vampire hunter resurrected the dark prince and promptly kicked his ass again!) The entire Belmont clan is famous for their whip wielding prowess, but it was Simon who made the weapon famous. Konami changes Castlevania protagonists almost as often as Hollywood replaces Spider-man, but Simon's place in gaming history is secure. Beyond Castlevania, Simon has had cameos in many other Konami games.
Metal Gear Series
Known for his gritty voice and hard-as-nails personality, Solid Snake is a genetically engineered super soldier working with a top secret espionage unit. Acting alone, Snake is frequently entrusted to disarm terrorist networks and destroy the latest incarnation of the nuclear-armed mecha known as Metal Gear. The odds are always stacked against him, but Snake is an incredibly resourceful agent. Whether equipped with a remote-controlled missile launcher or reduced to sneaking around in a cardboard box, Snake always makes the most of the situation he's in. Heck, the guy even manages to find love on the battlefield! Although he is basically an aggregation of contemporary action heroes from American cinema, Snake has a unique personality all his own. Snake was so notorious that he received an invitation to Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Mega Man Series
Originally created as a household robot, Mega Man's abilities as a general-purpose tool-user made him an ideal lab assistant. It was only after an army of evil robots threatened the planet that he was converted into the fighting robot we all know and love. Mega Man's ability to mimic different tools made him a versatile warrior since he could steal his enemies' powers after destroying them. With each robot boss that he toppled, Mega Man would have a new ability at his disposal. This formula made Mega Man an immediate hit and helped establish one of the most reliable game franchises in history. Best-known for traditional action games, incarnations of Mega Man have also shown up in a soccer game, a racing game, and a pair of fighting games. To date, over 100 Mega Man branded games have been released.
The Legend of Zelda spans several generations, so players have technically been introduced to several incarnations of Link over the years. Whether he's traversing the Dark World or sailing across endless oceans, Link's heroism transcends time itself. Link is not only renowned for his swordsmanship, but he also makes use of pretty much every other weapon imaginable and is capable of using several powerful magic spells as well. He can even play a mean tune on the ocarina! Even though Link is a legendary warrior with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he's still just a regular kid underneath it all. This makes him one of the most relatable characters on this list. With each adventure, players are along for the ride as Link is faced with imaginative new worlds to explore.
He doesn't look like a typical hero, but Mario is the face of gaming. In fact, his entire appearance was conceptualized with the video game medium in mind. He was only given his trademark sideburns, moustache, overalls, and hat because it was the most logical way for Nintendo to make a identifiable character with the limited pixels and colors they had to work with. No character has been a part of more industry-defining games than Mario. His debut game, Donkey Kong, saved Nintendo in 1981. Years later, Super Mario Bros. saved the entire industry. Later still, Super Mario 64 became one of the most important 3D games ever created. Mario has remained relevant for over three decades, and his popularity shows no signs of slowing down. Easily the most famous character on this list, Mario is established as a true pop culture icon.