Video games have produced some of the most beloved, iconic characters from the creative industries. These characters have gone on to become protagonists in films and TV shows, feature in other games and generally stand as cultural symbols for generations. Old school gaming has given us some of the stalwarts of modern popular culture, so let’s take a look at some of these icons and think a little about how significant they are.
No conversation about old school video game icons could not include Mario. The beloved plumber is known for his stereotypical Italian accent and his wacky adventures with Luigi, Yoshi, Princess Peach and others. He began as the hero in Donkey Kong before having his own platformer titles and the ever-popular Mario Kart franchise as well as several other hugely popular titles. He has also appeared in various forms in films and crossover gaming titles. He’s one memorable character that every gamer is familiar with and some of the best Super Mario games of all time for retro gamers to play include Super Mario 64, Super Mario Bros. 2 and many more.
Speaking of that mischievous gorilla, he has become a cultural icon in his own right. Whether tossing barrels for Mario to dodge or getting involved in the fight in Super Smash Bros, Donkey Kong is a fundamental part of the success of Nintendo as a gaming giant.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Before the PlayStation and Xbox entered the field, the battle was between Nintendo and Sega for game console dominance. While Nintendo had Mario as its figurehead, the face of Sega was that super-fast blue hedgehog Sonic. His platform adventures to collect rings while shooting through the levels to face Dr Eggman have made him every bit as much of a cultural icon as Nintendo’s main man. Recently, there have been successful films made about Sonic and, just like Mario, there are still new games featuring the famous blue streak winning new generations of fans even in the 21st century.
As well as Nintendo and Sega icons, Microsoft’s Xbox has its own figurehead dating back to the very first Xbox console in a title that redefined the goalposts for the first-person shooter genre. Halo: Combat Evolved brought us the rugged, faceless champion in Master Chief, whose intergalactic adventures still fascinate to this day.
The first major icon from Sony’s PlayStation console series, Crash Bandicoot took crate-smashing and platforming to a new level in 3D environments. His contemporaries were Spyro, Croc, Jak and Daxter and others, but none quite earned the iconic status of Crash Bandicoot. Recent remasters of the classic Crash Bandicoot titles have proved incredibly popular among modern gamers. There was also the Crash Team Racing series, which emulated the style of Mario Kart with many Crash Bandicoot stalwarts for a deeply enjoyable experience.
As a slight departure from the platformer genre, Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider series made her an overnight sensation. She brought a touch of glamour to video game icons, with her badass combat and puzzle-solving skills and her now-iconic appearance capturing the imaginations of generations of gamers. Today, she still appears in some hugely popular titles and has been depicted in several blockbuster films. As iconic as Lara is, it still feels like the best is yet to come from Tomb Raider.
The ongoing appeal of old school games
Even as today’s gamers focus on newer titles such as Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox Series X and Call of Duty: Vanguard on PlayStation 5, games that are well-designed, have great in-game features, and talked about a lot in online communities, still prove to be just as popular today. Many gamers still play popular video games from years ago, including Dota 2 (released in 2013) and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (released in 2012), and Book of Dead (released in 2016). Whether it’s the nostalgic feeling or how good the gameplay is in general, there’s something in these games that helps keep them remembered as well-known games to play.
It is fair to say that few modern video game characters capture the hearts of gamers quite like the old school figures in this list. Many of the most popular games of today still feature these classic heroes in different iterations. Brand new titles and reboots are still being released long after their first game appearances, with characters like Mario and Lara Croft. They are ingrained in popular culture, recognised by many who have never even played a game featuring them. Such is the power of old school gaming – it is still extremely relevant for modern gamers.