The Best Nintendo Characters Of All Time
The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
No video game company has as many memorable characters as Nintendo. Just one or two of its most famous mascots would be considered a huge success for most other its competitors, but Nintendo has so many that we had to actively pare down our list of the best Nintendo characters to keep it from getting out of hand. They include some you'd expect, like the legendary heroes (and villains) of the Mushroom Kingdom and Hyrule, but we also wanted to shine a light on some Nintendo characters that have not been properly appreciated.
We had some tough calls to make about who to include--and who to keep out. Being the star of a popular video game series wasn't enough to make it on the list. We wanted to see something more, whether that be through cool-ass abilities or a particularly endearing personality. We also didn't include Pokemon (or trainers) here, as we consider them to be in a separate category from pure Nintendo characters. (And also there's like 900 of them.)
This wasn't an easy list to nail down, and we're sure that at least a few of your choices are different from ours. Let us know your favorite Nintendo characters in the comments and any you feel are particularly overrated! Just don't claim Bowser Jr. is overrated, because you are bad and wrong. If anything, he is underrated.
It's a him! There is no video game character more recognizable than Mario, and for good reason. He is the embodiment of all that Nintendo is: joy, optimism, bravery, determination, and silliness. If you don't like him, it likely means you are the opposite: sad, cynical, overly serious, or downright evil. Mario does everything with equal enthusiasm, whether it's rescuing Peach from the clutches of Bowser or striking out the side with a vicious high fastball, and you can thank Charles Martinet for injecting Mario's famous exuberance--even if someone else picks up the mantle moving forward.
Not all siblings have a lot in common, and in the case of Luigi, basically all he shares with Mario are a mustache, a cap, and overalls. Mario's enthusiasm is replaced with trepidation, with a perpetual "woe is me" attitude following Luigi wherever he goes. However, don't mistake this attitude for cowardice. What makes Luigi so endearing is that he shows true bravery: pushing forward into danger despite being afraid. It makes for some hilarious moments in the Luigi's Mansion series, and the dichotomy between Mario and Luigi makes sure that--at least after the first Super Mario Bros. game--Luigi is much more than a palette swap.
Just as Smith is Neo's opposite--his total inversion--in the Matrix films, Wario is Mario's. Mario is everything Mario is not, and unlike Luigi, his more unsavory elements are not masking goodness. Wario is greedy, unhygienic, uncouth, cruel, and obnoxious. These qualities don't make him a character you'd like to spend time with, but they do make him hilarious in his own way. Seeing Wario suffer the horrible consequences of his actions brings joy to players' hearts just like when we see the main characters on Seinfeld or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fail. We don't love Wario, but we do love watching Wario.
Yoshi, at first glance, is just an adorable little dinosaur creature who is happy to help Mario get from point A to point B without tiring out his tiny legs. And perhaps that is truly part of what defines Yoshi. But underneath that joyous facade--and even when factoring in Yoshi's pinpoint turns in Mario Kart--there is something else that defines the green guy: body horror. Yoshi eats his enemies, imprisons them in a shell of his own creation, and then excretes them via… is it just his butt? A cloaca of some kind? Regardless, Yoshi does not change the creatures through this process, but instead simply terrifies them with memories of the womb and the horrors of being born a second time. Well, at least that "Yoshi" yell sure is cute.
Let's get something out of the way here: When we say "Donkey Kong," we're referring to the character who used that name in the Donkey Kong Country games and beyond. Technically speaking, this is actually Donkey Kong III, or Jr. if you're going by The Super Mario Bros. Movie's canon, but for all intents and purposes, the original ape's grandson is the one we all know and love as Donkey Kong. He's arguably even braver than Mario, what with his tendency to race through mine shafts on tracks that have multiple giant holes in them, and his goofy and somewhat meatheaded (but goodhearted) tendencies make him the ultimate himbo for the video game age.
Bowser, the King Koopa, has been Mario's nemesis since the very first Super Mario Bros., and it's testament to his charm and love-to-hate personality that we haven't gotten tired of him. Equal parts physically menacing and emotionally fragile, Bowser's mission--usually to kidnap and marry Princess Peach--always ends in failure at the hands of Mario, but we're still scared of him when he pops up the next time. Could it be his enormous size advantage over Mario? Perhaps it's his giant teeth, or the look of pure evil in his eyes? Regardless, it only takes a few hits on his noggin to send him packing… wait. Is it his inevitable return from lava-death that makes him so scary?!
Perhaps the only villain in Nintendo's roster funnier than Bowser is his favorite (and perhaps only) child, Bowser Jr. The adorable tiny son of Bowser isn't capable of the same brawn-centric plans of his father, but with his floating vehicle and a little help from his servant Kamek, he's more than able to give the Mushroom Kingdom some headaches. However, all comes to a grinding halt if his father calls him, reminding him how important it is that he finishes his homework before doing anything evil. Bowser Jr. sometimes lies about this, so he has quite a bit of growing up to do when he's not trying to kill Mario, Yoshi, and the rest of the crew.
One villain who shows almost no lighthearted side, Ganondorf--the humanoid form of the Demon King Ganon--has been a recurring villain in several Zelda games. First appearing in Ocarina of Time as a Gerudo leader who initially "serves" the king of Hyrule while actually biding his time to complete the Triforce and rule the land, Ganondorf's cunning and raw power make him terrifying. This isn't a villain you even enjoy killing, but rather one you're just happy to see dead. That's easier said than done, of course, as Ganondorf returns in several iterations and timelines, often with an overpowering array of powers and a big-ass sword that can easily kill the Hero of Time. Still, Ganondorf is not invincible, and it's his demise via his own arrogance that often caps off a Zelda adventure.
Isabelle is one of the most recognizable faces in all of Animal Crossing, perhaps even more famous than the legendary Tom Nook. She's a friend you can expect to see in every game, and that sense of familiarity and joy makes you feel right at home as you're building up your new home and making the community yours. However, Isabelle is also a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and she's capable of delivering some major pain to just about anyone in the Nintendo lineup. When first announced, a horrifying clip of the Villager ripping Mario's head off was quickly shared online, and we're not totally sure Isabelle wouldn't do that to the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom. Anyone that happy is hiding something.
Who could have imagined that the best character in a Mario role-playing game full of great characters would be a Bob-Omb? But this particular Bob-Omb, called Bobby by his companions, is the bravest little explosive we've ever seen in a video game or… well, he's probably the only brave explosive we've seen at all. Bobby is one of the most loyal allies in Paper Mario's squad, willing to put himself in danger in order to save his friends. When you lose all your memories and don't know who you truly are, perhaps it's easier to put on a brave face, but we shouldn't discount what little Bobby did!
Use the brakes. Use the boost to get through. Use bombs wisely. You're becoming more like your father. Do a barrel roll! Everybody, stay alert!
You probably read at least a few of those in Peppy Hare's voice, and that's testament to his iconic status in the Star Fox series and Nintendo library. The wise old veteran of the team who previously served with Fox McCloud's father, Peppy has been around the star system a few times, and his guidance acts as a great foil to the cocky Falco and the constantly terrified Slippy Toad. Peppy Hare is the glue that holds Star Fox together, even more than Fox McCloud. Sure, he can't get out of his Arwing and perform incredible martial arts flips like Fox can, but that rabbit was certainly hopping with the best of them back in the day. He also appears as an error message on the Nintendo website. Isn't that fun?
Judd has one purpose in life, and it's to tell you who won the last Splatoon match. The cat, who is joined by his own clone in the sequel--no, it is not just his child--points to the left or to the right after a Turf War match. The anticipation is tough to deal with, but even losing is made a little more bearable because of that adorable expression on Judd's face. Also, as with most things in Splatoon, peel back the curtain a little bit and you'll uncover some truly terrifying information about Judd. For starters, he's thousands of years old and lived through the apocalypse.
For the longest time, Pauline was simply the one that got away for Mario--literally, as she escaped the clutches of Donkey Kong and then went missing for decades. That changed, however, with Super Mario Odyssey, which showed that the former damsel in distress has pursued two different careers. The first is mayor of New Donk City, which she governs with remarkable care. The second career--jazz and swing singer--is the reason why she earned a spot on our list, however. Most Mario characters only utter a few words at a time, but Pauline can belt out funky tunes all day.
Kirby is the most versatile video game character of all time. To be frank, he's a little terrifying. By inhaling his enemies, he can instantly gain access to their powers, whether it be Link's heroic swordfighting or Pikachu's electricity. But Kirby is also capable of turning into a car by opening his mouth really, really wide, and it honestly seems like the sky's the limit for the pink puffball. Actually, scratch that--Kirby could very possibly consume the sky itself, adopting its characteristics in the process. Blue, cloudy, seemingly endless, and barely protecting us from the endless void of the abyss. I'm going to go calm down.
Arguably the most famous woman in video game history--perhaps Ms. Pac-Man is the only one with similar fame, but she's not human--Peach has worn almost as many hats as Mario. Well, they're really more like crowns. Regardless, she's evolved from being solely the person for Mario to rescue to being her own unique character, with her floaty parasol acting as a transportation device and a weapon. She's also quite talented on the soccer pitch and the baseball field, and she's even been known to go off on her own heroic adventures from time to time.
Can video game characters… be women? Back when the medium was catering almost exclusives to young boys--the NES itself was marketed as a toy, after all--it came as quite a shock when Metroid's ending revealed that Samus Aran was a woman, and for some people who weren't paying attention, it was a shock that she wasn't named "Metroid." The legendary bounty hunter has since become one of Nintendo's most iconic and beloved characters, and it's hard to deny that she has some of the coolest abilities in the Nintendo roster. Her legendary screw-attack move and powerful arm-cannon strike fear into the hearts of many, including that Pikachu who wasn't paying attention.
Link is the classic silent protagonist, and in his early days he was simply the avatar of you--the spunky adventurer crawling into caves or exploring forests to defeat an ancient evil. Starting with Ocarina of Time, though, Link began to develop a more distinct personality. He's been at different moments a shy orphan, a mischievous child, and a wide-eyed teenager. Ocarina established that Link's many iterations are actually the embodiment and keeper of the Triforce of Courage, a perfect illustration of how he represents the player's endless thirst for adventure and innate goodness. Through all the generations of both Hyrule and of video games, we get to see ourselves reflected in Link.
At first--and especially in the early games--The Legend of Zelda's title character seems to be yet another damsel in distress. She doesn't completely shake that trope, but Nintendo began taking the character in some very interesting directions beginning with Ocarina of Time. Not only does the princess serve in her royal role, but also as the mysterious warrior Sheik (sorry, spoilers if you haven't played a game from 25 years ago yet). It's a twist that's shocking and flips everything we knew about Zelda upside down. It's even better in the Super Smash Bros. series, as Zelda's ability to switch between the two forms makes her a formidable foe from up close and at a distance.
Bowser has a lot of minions. Most of them are… kind of bad at their jobs, letting Mario and his friends foil their boss's plans over and over again. Among the most competent employees is Kamek: a wizard who can fly, shoot PlayStation symbols out of his magic staff, and do his best to keep Bowser Jr. in check. Sure, Bowser Jr. still mostly just does what he wants--he's sort of royalty, after all--but Kamek's attempts to rein the little firebrand leads to some of the funniest moments in any Nintendo game. There is no character who has ever come up with more funny honorifics for a misbehaving toddler.
The Fire Emblem series has so many characters that it's almost impossible to choose just one for this list, but if there can be only one, it's Ike. One of the only Fire Emblem protagonists who doesn't come from royalty, Ike begins his journey in Path of Radiance as an inexperienced mercenary who has a multi-nation war thrust upon him. Not only does he have to defend his homeland against a much larger invading force, but also locate the mysterious knight who cut down his father. Ike doesn't feel like a divinely chosen hero like so many other Fire Emblem heroes can, and his journey's eventual conclusion in Radiant Dawn puts a satisfying bow on the greatest Fire Emblem story of all time.