My 6 Favorite Video Game Characters
In honor of Wreck-It Ralph, this week’s blog list is all about my favorite video game characters! Though sadly, none of them appeared in the movie. Still, being the huge fan I am of fiction and storytelling, I actually pay a lot of attention to the stories and characters in video games. It’s not just all about mashing buttons for me. These are characters for whom I’ll go out of my way to play, or I’ll pick them all the time when it comes to gaming. Sometimes with annoying frequency.
A lot of video games have a surprisingly deep mythology around them. Heck, even Angry Birds has the backstory of the pigs stealing the birds’ eggs – or something. And I often like to immerse myself in these stories. One of the biggest reasons I love World of Warcraft so much is because of the story and the lore. It helps that some of these games get cartoon shows, novels, comics or movies to help expand the story. Not that any of those things has particularly explained why King Koopa will kidnap Princess Peach in one game, and then race go-karts or play soccer with her in the next.
Mario even invites both of them to his frequent parties, as if that won’t make for an awkward evening. But questionable decisions by plumbers aside, here are my six favorite video game characters!
The Bizarro Mario! When Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins game designers wanted a new villain, they just decided to make a bigger, fatter, more mustachioed version of the famous plumber. And then turning the ‘M’ on Mario’s hat upside down was just a no-brainer. Six Golden Coins was one of the first video games I ever owned, back when my parents would only allow me to have a Game Boy – and I’m talking about those big, gray, brick-like Game Boys. Those things were boss. And Six Golden Coins was one of the most original and unique Mario games ever. I can still remember the triumph and victory of collecting all the coins and defeating that bastard Wario, even as he tried to use Mario’s own power-ups for himself!
Of course, Wario proved so popular that he starred in his own spin-off Wario Land games. Turned into a pirate instead of a dictator, Wario actually had a reason for collecting so many gold coins. He’s just so delightfully evil. Wario is also a mainstay in all the go-kart, party and sports spin-offs in the Mario franchise, and he’s usually my #1 choice. Because of his size, Wario typically has more power and strength, which I consider a plus. Wario is one of the coolest, most popular doppelgangers in all of video games. Too bad Nintendo then had to besmirch his good name by introducing Waluigi.
Every group needs a funny man, even a hard-hitting, locust-scrubbing, chainsaw-wielding posse like Delta Squad in Gears of War! Baird has been my multiplayer character of choice ever since the first game, and especially through the two sequels, once a few friends of mine started getting together to make Gears of War a nightly party. Baird is the sarcastic one, always handy with a depressing quip about the game’s apocalypse. He’s also the team geek, or at least as much of a geek as one can get with tree trunk-sized muscles and an affinity for heavy armor and huge guns. Baird does all the tech stuff, so that counts. He’s also blonde in a sea of drab browns, grays and blacks, and I thought that was always an appealing visual when it came to multiplayer chaos.
You’d think I’d be more excited by the upcoming Gears prequel starring Baird, but I’m just not into it yet. Maybe once we get closer to the release date I’ll start paying attention. But I’m just not too curious about the prequel story to Gears of War. Is there really that much to say? At the very least, some new multiplayer action should be a blast. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I own a Baird action figure. It looks pretty badass and came with a mini Lancer accessory. He has a proud placement on my Geek Wall.
Why does Pokemon even bother creating new legendary pokemon when they got it so perfectly right in the first game? Mewtwo is the most badass and powerful pokemon alive, and the only pokemon capable of being a pokemon master himself! He’s also got the coolest backstory in the game: Mewtwo is a clone of Mew, one of the oldest pokemon who ever lived. But Mewtwo went mad and rebelled against his creators, lashing out with explosive psychic powers! Mewtwo is now on a quest to find himself and his place in the world – and that place is right by my side, conquering the Elite Four and the rest of the pokemon world!
Mewtwo is the ultimate pokemon in the first generation of games, Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue, which is also when I started buying the series. I already knew about Mewtwo before playing, and I made it my goal to capture him! To get to Mewtwo, you have to beat the game once, claiming the pokemon championship from the Elite Four. That unlocks a secret cavern, with Mewtwo waiting at the very end, sitting on his poke-throne. Ideally, he would be a hard fought battle. But I, like I’m sure everyone else, just used the Master Ball to catch him. I can still remember then going on to defeat the entire Elite Four with just Mewtwo. He was that powerful. Which also explains why he has at least two Pokemon movies based after him.
And I love the name. It seems a little two simple, except that it works surprisingly well!
Thrall is the greatest character in all of World of Warcraft, even if he’s currently quit the Horde to become a hippie, and willingly handed leadership over to a monstrous, unbalanced dictator. Thrall made his debut in Warcraft III as the new, level-headed leader of the Orcish Horde. He was supposed to be the star of the click and play adventure game Lord of the Clans, but that was scrapped and never actually produced. Fortunately, Thrall’s epic story was collected in a novel of the same name, which I eagerly and excitedly read in my youth. The novel tells the story of the orphan Thrall, who was raised as a gladiator by a cruel human warlord. But through this, Thrall learned how to fight, and he also learned kindness and compassion. Thrall would eventually go on to lead his people into a new society, forgoing demonic corruption for a more peaceful, nature-based way of orc life. He also carries around a pretty awesome giant hammer.
This is one of those instances where the book really fueled my interest in Thrall. I had a chance to really connect with the character before seeing him in game, and that became especially fun when I could visit and interact with him in World of Warcraft. The novel’s story is referenced quite often in the game, so it’s not just a side project that is completely ignored. It’s even more fun that I can go visit places and people mentioned in the book, a brilliant fusion of novel and game. Thrall is a proud and noble warrior, torn by his desire for peace and his people’s more warlike tendencies. He also knows how to treat a lady.
Unfortunately, Thrall has made some pretty questionable decisions as of late. He stepped down as Warchief of the Horde in order to use his shaman powers to help heal the land from a great Earthquake. In his place, he appointed the headstrong and barbaric Garrosh Hellscream. And while Thrall has some kind of misplaced faith in the young orc, Garrosh is a monster, one who is breaking alliances and rushing the Horde back to war. It’s no surprise that Garrosh is going to be the main boss at the end of the latest expansion pack.
A lot of what I just said may not make sense to many people, but just trust me, Thrall is awesome.
If you want to know how much of a nerd I was as a kid, look no further than the fact that I knew what an echidna was even before Sonic the Hedgehog 3. It’s a small Australian marsupial with spikes on its back like a hedgehog. So even though I never owned a Sega Genesis and had barely ever played Sonic games, the young Sean was thrilled beyond geeky belief that the newest Sonic character was going to be an echidna! I used to doodle little sketches about what I thought Knuckles might look like…and they were way off. Knuckles looks far cooler than what I had imagined, so it’s a good thing Sega’s design department hadn’t hired me for the job.
Fortunately, my cousin got a Sega just in time for Sonic 3, so I was eventually able to actually play as Knuckles. And he more than lived up to the hype.
Most video game fans will tell you that Sonic the Hedgehog was ruined by introducing so many annoying and colorful little sidekicks – but not me! I love the Sonic cartoons as a kid, and I’m in favor of expanding the Sonic storyline. It’s actually a very deep story about freedom fighters battling against the tyrannical Doctor Robotnik. There’s been an ongoing comic book series for years – though I don’t read it. I’m just a fan of more Sonic characters. And Knuckles, by far, is my favorite. At least he was introduced back before the glut of characters like Big the Cat or Shadow the Fanfiction Mary Sue Queen. Knuckles remains mostly pure, thanks in large part to actually being useful in the games. Knuckles can climb walls and glide through the air, two feats that actually improved the Sonic games in which he appeared. Whereas Shadow added guns, which just…no. Just no.
I play Mortal Kombat for the story. Crazy, I know, but it’s true. I’ve never been a big fan of fighting games, yet each and every time a new Mortal Kombat comes out, I pick it up because I legitimately want to see what happens to some of my all-time favorite characters in video gaming. Mortal Kombat may have my favorite cast in any video game. And I realize they’re all mostly palette-swapped ninjas, but so what? They’re still ninjas! Awesome ninjas! But what really makes the Mortal Kombat games so awesome is that each of those ninjas, all of the characters really, have such deep and compelling back stories.
And Smoke has the coolest of all.
I first encountered Smoke in a video game magazine at my cousin’s house, detailing how to unlock the secret characters in Mortal Kombat 2. He had a Sega, and me, my cousin and my brother were up all night playing Mortal Kombat. And sure enough, my brother managed to unlock Smoke! You had to hit the ‘select’ button when the little head says “TOASTY!” after an upper cut on the dark portal level. Strange, but awesome. And Smoke totally kicked my brother’s butt. I don’t even think I ever got to fight him. But the coolness of unlocking the character really stuck with me. Because I love secret characters in video games. It’s just one of those things that I like.
But Smoke isn’t just my favorite video game character ever because he was a cool secret character. Oh no, that was just the beginning. It’s Smoke’s epic and tragic backstory that really hooked me, even if it’s been altered over the course of the franchise’s history.
Smoke looks like just another one of the MK ninjas, and I’m sure everybody knows the much more popular Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Well in MK3, they introduced a new kind of palette-swapped character: the robots Sektor and Cyrax. And the story went that the robots used to be ninja companions of Sub-Zero, except that their dojo decided to turn all of their human warriors into automatons. Sektor and Cyrax volunteered for the process, but Sub-Zero fled – along with his best friend Smoke! So already it’s cool, because Smoke is the best pal of one of the main characters. But Smoke is captured and forced into a robot body while Sub-Zero makes his escape.
So from then on, Smoke’s story is that he’s a lost soul trapped in a robot body, fighting to regain his humanity in the Mortal Kombat tournament. It’s tragic, but badass. He looks evil, he should be evil, but deep down he’s one of the good guys. And who doesn’t love a tragic good guy?
It also helps that this epic story was told in full in the best episode of Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. Want to know how much I love the Mortal Kombat mythology? I actually loved that terrible show. That’s how much I love Mortal Kombat’s story.Sometimes I just can’t help my geekery.
So who are your favorite video game characters? Anyone you always choose when playing a multiplayer game? Let me know in the comments!