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.
Mario is the most recognizable video game character of all time. He's appeared in dozens and dozens of games and has evolved in so many ways since his debut in 1981 as the protagonist of Donkey Kong. While Mario can now fly and is partnered by his sentient hat, Cappy, in Super Mario Odyssey, the original version of our plumber hero didn't even have the ability to jump in the air. How far our little Mario has come. And the overalls never go out of style.
As for the story, it's always been the same. A big bad guy (Donkey Kong, then Bowser) takes his lady friend, and Mario is off to save her. You'd think after all these years Bowser would get tired of losing, but he always has some new silly plan to steal the Princess up his sleeve.
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.
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.
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.