While I tend to gravitate towards supporting characters in games (as well as in movies and television), any list not featuring Link as an all-time great and/or favorite is probably hard to take seriously. Aside from his signature battle cries, Link conveys the breadth of his adventures without saying a single word. Rather, his skills with swords, arrows, magic, slingshots, and horse-riding (to name a few) do the talking. From the 1980’s to today, NES through Wii, it’s impossible to imagine an era in video game history without one of his incredible sojourns. From the classic fantasy adventure of A Link to the Past to the gritty and surreal likes of Majora’s Mask, he’s taken generations of gamers for one hell of a ride.
19. Peppy – Star Fox series
Of Star Fox’s three companions through each mission, Peppy is easily the most understated. He certainly doesn’t hog the spotlight like Slippy and Falco. But while almost all of Slippy’s interaction involves him needing rescue from constant peril, and Falco livens things up with entertaining (if sometimes obnoxious) putdowns, Peppy provides a more wisened presence. The only member of the crew to have flown with Fox’s father, he provides profound encouragement to the younger McCloud. Aside from being the elder statesman of the bunch, he’s also alert and informative during each mission. And of course, what would nerd culture be without “Do a barrel roll”?
18. Meta Knight – Kirby series and Super Smash Bros. Brawl
As a neophyte of the Kirby series (although I hope to play more of it down the line), Meta Knight’s inclusion on this list is chiefly due to my affinity for his role in SSBB. With a long cape, a concealing mask, and a gloriously cheesy Spanish accent, his personality alone makes him a blast to include in any match. But it’s Meta Knight’s moves, to the chagrin of the other players, that truly distinguish him. From his tornado spin to his relentless sword-slashing, he makes for a genuine annoyance for all opponents. And his final smash, which engulfs all nearby characters in a dark shroud before delivering a lethal blow, is fantastic.
17. Charon – Fallout 3
Since Ghouls are outcast as a hated minority in the Fallout universe, it’s all the more poignant to have one as a companion. While Raul Tejeda from New Vegas is entertainingly voiced by Danny Trejo, Fallout 3 offered an equally memorable ghoul friend in Charon. Taking his name from Hades’ river Styx ferryman in Greek mythology, Charon is fittingly found at a club called The Ninth Circle in the all-Ghoul hideout Underworld. It’s here that he works as a bodyguard and soldier for the sleazy bartender Ahzrukhal. That is, unless you obtain his contract, upon which he immediately blows away his former boss. But have no worries: He is 100% loyal to fulfilling his contract for whoever holds it, making him a valuable and skilled ally through the game’s dangerous journey.
16. Pyramid Head – Silent Hill 2
It’s the mark of a truly intimidating villain if they can instill fear in you without saying a single word. In a game like Silent Hill 2, heralded by X-Play as the scariest game of all-time, it’s almost a necessity. Such a presence is delivered in indelible fashion by Pyramid Head, the haunted town’s symbolic manifestation of James Sunderland’s internal conflicts. With a rusty metal pyramid encased around his head, a Leatherface-esque outfit, and a giant blade in hand, he serves to represent Sunderland’s desire to be punished for the death of his wife, Mary. While there are many other surreal enemies that torment James, none do it as menacingly as PH. Even though he moves slowly in close encounters, due to the weight of his blade, don’t be surprised if you fail to shoot him out of sheer fright.
15. Haskill – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Given how Sheogorath’s split personality is literally reflected in the land he rules, it’s only fitting he would have a demure assistant to act as a foil for his terrifying eccentricity. Haskill, a balding man dressed somewhat like a court jester, provides the perfect counterpart to the Daedric Prince of Madness. Speaking in a stuffy British voice, Haskill endures the chore of handling Sheogorath’s insanity with comical mundanity, never showing a hint of emotion no matter what the situation. In addition to being unwaveringly collected, he has a knack for dry humor, occasionally mocking the player for making simple mistakes. All the same, he’s always helpful, and can even be summoned anywhere at anytime to assist the current quest.
14. Lanky Kong – Donkey Kong 64
With more room to roam and better graphics than they had ever before, the five-member lineup of Donkey Kong 64 make every moment of the 1999 classic worthwhile. Every level is evenly divided between puzzles exclusive to each member of the Kong family, giving them plenty of opportunities to display their individual talents and personalities. While most might prefer the classic jetpack-clad Diddy or Tiny and her pigtail helicopter spin, my favorite was always the silliest of the bunch, Lanky Kong. With a clown nose and overalls, he even walks on his hands and stretches his arms like rubber to knock out enemies. However, it’s his musical talent that makes him most endearing to me, particularly because it ended up changing my life. In the game, each Kong can play an instrument at a given point to solve a puzzle, and Lanky plays the trombone. Upon seeing this is as a kid, I was so intrigued by his unique choice of instrument that I decided I wanted to play trombone myself. A year later I received one, and have played it ever since. In a very legitimate sense, one might even say I wouldn’t be where I am today without Lanky Kong!
13. Banjo and Kazooie – Banjo Kazooie series
While I sought to keep each entry on this list limited to one character, Banjo and Kazooie are truly an obvious exception. Even when Banjo Tooie allowed the player to control them separately to solve a puzzle, it was still impossible to envision everyone’s favorite bear-and-bird duo acting solo. Together, they make for one of the best adventure teams in gaming history. Sure, they contrast in personality, with Banjo’s lumbering oafishness a frequent target for Kazooie’s acerbic wit. But as they traverse each level together, they fuse their talents seamlessly. When Banjo can’t move fast enough, Kazooie can extend her bird legs and carry him at lightning speed. Where Kazooie can’t quite reach, Banjo can climb structures and grasp ledges with his fingers. Stretching their efforts across two fantastic titles, there’s arguably no better lead pairing in adventure games. (And no, Nuts and Bolts doesn’t count. End of story.)
12. Pikmin – Pikmin series
Pikmin are the only choice for this list that doesn’t in anyway qualify as a single character, as Captain Olimar can grow them whenever necessary, and even carry hundreds upon thousands. But the overwhelming abundance of these adorable critters in no way belittles the player’s attachment to every last one of them. If anything, they foster a sense of attachment that’s as close to parenting as a gamer could feel. This isn’t to imply that Pikmin are like helpless children. Rather, they’re an incredibly resourceful species, with each one boasting a unique trait (resistance to fire, ability to swim, etc.) based on their color. Also, they’re nimble and assiduous workers, not to mention unafraid to charge into any battle. But in areas teeming with many strange and dangerous enemies, they’re also highly vulnerable. When they die, it’s simply heart-wrenching to see their little ghost disappear into thin air. It’s a testament to the parental relationship Olimar develops with his Pikmin, which you’d have to have a heart colder than Mr. Freeze not to feel yourself. And while many central characters in games simply respawn after dying, even planting 100 new Pikmin still can’t erase the sting of losing even a few. (Disclaimer: I own a plush version of the purple one and am not ashamed to admit it.)
11. Snake – Metal Gear Solid series
Arguably the ultimate badass in video game history, Solid Snake is also one of the most revolutionary characters ever to reach our consoles. Although he made his first appearance in 1987, it was his first 3-D venture in 1998 that truly introduced gamers to the world of tactical espionage. While quick with a gun and deft in hand-to-hand combat, Snake popularized a more intricate style where the success of a mission might rely more on your ability to hide under a box instead of your accuracy with a rifle. Aside from singlehandedly enhancing tactical spying, Snake also remains one of the greatest forces of personality in any game. Whether in his younger days in Snake Eater or a graying, weary veteran in Guns of the Patriots, his patriotic sense of duty and sharp wit are unmatched. Additionally, his presence in Super Smash Brothers Brawl bolsters the all-star quality of the character lineup, although his bazooka blast final smash will make you wish he hadn’t crashed the party.