The very best video games often feature the very best video game characters. Memorable heroes (and anti-heroes) like Mario and Link have been around for decades, but no longer have the same appearance, and, in some cases, are on an entirely new quest. The evolution of video game characters isn't just relegated to the Nintendo universe, though. Sure, it's easy to spot the visual differences in updated headliner-heroes versus what video game characters used to look like when they were nothing more than a few blocks of color, but, there are plenty of subtle changes as well.
There are sometimes strange reasons behind the design of heroes and fan-favorite heroines. Often times, developers designed these characters the way they did because of limitations to the hardware they were developing for, and in other cases, the placeholder graphics became the final designs because they just worked better than anything else.
As the more popular titles spawned sequels, updates, and expanded universes on more powerful consoles, we also saw drastic changes in characters in video games that had become familiar faces to us as children. Whether they're a happy-faced plumber, a sneaky super-soldier, or an archaeologist with no sense of self-preservation, all of the gaming heroes have grown up over the years. Many have aged like a fine wine, but, others have turned to vinegar.
- Photo: Square Enix
Lara Croft is arguably the most famous video game heroine of all time. She's a brilliant and brutal take-no-prisoners archaeologist/adventurer. She first appeared in the blocky 3D days of the PSX where her measurements – and, um, angles – were the cause of much discussion in the press.
The design of Lara changed drastically over the years, as she ultimately traded in the silly short shorts and tank top for a more realistic wardrobe that includes a parka, cargo pants, and climbing boots. The early days of Tomb Raider saw Ms. Croft on simple missions to steal artifacts, but the later entries dig into the psyche of a somewhat broken Lara Croft, struggling with her relationship with dear old (recently deceased) dad. Rise Of The Tomb Raider is arguably the best title in the history of the series, which, pretty much invented the 3D adventure platforming genre.15512Does this design change impress you?
- 2Photo: Nintendo
Link, the protagonist of The Legend of Zelda franchise, might be the most famous video game character of all-time not named Mario. The original title invented the action RPG genre and is still considered one of the greatest games of all time. Link originally appeared as a blob of green and brown pixels meant to represent a shield, a sword, and a long floppy hat.
Fast forward to the release of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and our little green hero is all grown up and looking much more badass. He rides a horse around a beautiful open-world environment, shooting arrows, flinging boomerangs, tossing bombs, and swinging swords at baddies. Link is still fighting the evil Ganon and attempting to save Hyrule today, but he looks a lot better doing it now than he ever has.16215Does this design change impress you?
- Photo: Konami
Solid Snake is the biggest badass in video game history. Hideo Kojima took a big chance and developed an action game that encouraged avoiding confrontation as opposed to seeking it out and ended up inventing an entire genre. But, Kojima didn't stop there when it came to bringing about change in the industry as Metal Gear Solid ushered in the era of cinematic in-game storytelling and introduced us to some of the most memorable characters in video game history.12015Does this design change impress you?
- Photo: Nintendo
Finding out that the bad-ass robot space warrior you've been wasting aliens with all this time was a GIRL blew our little un-enlightened minds back in the 1980s. But, it did make Metroid infinitely cooler when the big reveal happened. The Metroid franchise is so successful and Samus is so popular that she appears twice (as Samus and Zero Suit Samus) in the same game, Super Smash Bros. 4. Samus's yellow and red Power Suit is almost as iconic as she is, and she still rocks that same look today. When she's not wearing armor, though, the athletic bounty hunter often wears a skin-tight blue jumpsuit called the Zero Suit.
Metroid, as a game, has evolved too. It is no longer a side-scrolling platformer and has shifted gears into an FPS. But it has worked surprisingly well, and Samus continues her fight against whatever evil the Galactic Federation has her dealing with that day.10822Does this design change impress you?