Pull together a list of the most iconic video game characters of all time and chances are there would be very few surprises. Classics like Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man, Link, Solid Snake, Donkey Kong and Samus will always be phenomenally important to the fabric of video games, but all of them first appeared on the scene during a completely different era. They’re unquestionably iconic, and the only argument is over what order they’d fall into the top 10. They each may have appeared in modern games (with varying degrees of success,) but they’re ultimately children of the Eighties and Nineties. If you take that group off the table completely, and focus on the significant characters that made their first appearances this century, you get a very different picture of how video games now present their leading figures. Seen all together like this, they’re a potent reminder that the tone of games, for the most part, has changed dramatically post-PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
We considered more than 100 characters when compiling this list, and there were some heated arguments and strong opinions about what makes a modern game character “iconic.” There are both good and evil faces here that have come to represent whole platforms, entire genres, and others that have become familiar to literally hundreds of millions of players.