Top 10 Lists : The Top 10 Videogame Characters Of 1990
This list is part of a series of Top 10s designed to discuss the 10 best characters of every year of gaming, beginning with 1985, the year the industry revived from its great crash. It was originally scarletspeed7, who came up with this idea, which originally began as the Top 10 Characters of 2010. Our board began discussing this topic and it eventually expanded into what you see here. Think of this just as much of a history lesson as an awards ceremony. You'll be reading lists from a wide variety of authors: scarletspeed7, FRIEDSTRUCK, Nazifpour, A1X_Jet, shadow_571, Reiser99, MotherKojiro, and now myself. Before you read any of these lists, please make sure to read the following rules, since they govern our choices to an extent.
1) We take into account the following criteria for inclusion on our list: popularity of the character at the time of release, legacy of the character, the character’s impact on video game industry and innovation as a whole, and character development within the game (or series, if the character has garnered multiple games).
2) For the most part, only characters that debuted in a video game can be included on this list. However, even if the character has been introduced in a game with an extended universe that was created outside of a game prior to the character’s introduction, that character can be included. A prime example of this is anyone from KOTOR, or the main characters from LotR: The Third Age.
3) The earliest date of release (whether Japanese, American, or European) is the date we will use in respect to this list. If it is a multi-platform release with delays in between platforms, go with the earliest release again, regardless of the platform.
4) A character can appear in this series of lists only once.
Moving right along, we find ourselves in 1990; an exciting transition period where both the third and fourth generations of gaming consoles were in full operation and PC gaming was strong as always. The fabled console wars had begun; Amstrad’s ZX Spectrum kicked the bucket after an 8 year run, while Sega’s Genesis/Mega-Drive was picking up steam. Meanwhile, the TG-16 received its official mascot; SNK launched their Neo Geo (at a whopping $649.99 USD!), and in Japan, a little company called Nintendo launched their Super Famicom which would soon after take the world by storm. Within the games, 1990 was also the year that Mario finished med school, King Graham got a makeover, the “Age of Enlightenment” wrapped up (sadness!), and when people started spelling Billy with two m’s! There really were quite a few games to choose from for this year, but this isn’t a list about games, is it. This list contains the ten characters that I feel have contributed most to their respective games of origin, and the professional landscape to come.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
Image taken from Phantasy Star IV (GEN)
Starting out the list is perhaps the only one I'd really qualify as editor's choice, as this game's a bit of a dark horse even within the Phantasy Star community: The Wren-type cyborg, who got his start here in Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom. PSIII was a bit of a departure for the PS series (one that I found very enjoyable, mind you) that began with a more traditional medieval fantasy setting, and moved gradually into futuristic science fiction as the game went on (Of course the game was set in the future all along, and was in fact an estimated 1000 years after the events of PSII). Wren is the third playable character in the game, found waiting for you in the Western Cave on Aridia and his design was a considerable step up from Mieu, (another cyborg) towards pushing the game into that futuristic setting, as his robotic design and heavy artillery clashed with the visible world around them. Wren specializes in managing and analyzing technical systems, and initially joins your lead character Rhys in order to fix the weather system and gain access to the world of Aquatica.
So why is the cyborg on the list instead of Rhys? Well, that brings us to the other separating element of PSIII from the rest of the series, which is that your party changes with time to accommodate three generations, with a new lead character in each. Rhys passes the torch to his son (who changes depending on who you marry), who in turn will marry to potentially bring four new characters into the mix, leading to seven leaders total - each with their own stories to be told. While the human characters show their age, it's the cyborgs who remain constant over time, and you will have Wren and Mieu in the game as playable characters the entire time. Of the two, Wren's presence within the PS universe was also able to continue after the game, as in PSIV, you will find another Wren-type cyborg (this time looking over the artificial satellite, Zelan) who also joins your party and bears many physical and technical similarities to the Wren from PSIII. Likewise, PSIV's Wren also remained an integral member of the crew till the end with his piloting skills, ancient knowledge (he's over a millenium old!), and heavy weaponry.
Trivia: There are several reasons why we know the two Wren cyborgs are not one and the same, but are part of a line of "Wren" type cyborgs. In the Japanese versions, PSIII's Wren is named Searren, while the Wren from PSIV is named Forren. Also, as the games are assumed to take place concurrently in the PS universe, it would be impossible for the character to be in two places at once.
Image taken from Commander Keen (GBC)
Commander Keen is the alter-ego of 8-year old Billy Blaze when he dons his brother's football helmet. Interestingly enough, Billy's full name is actually William Joseph Blazkowicz II, and he's the grandson of William Joseph "B.J." Blazkowicz of the Wolfenstein series; another of id Software's properties. Billy is a genius, and was able to construct a spaceship in his backyard, referred to as the The Bean-with-Bacon Megarocket. When his babysitter isn’t watching, he takes off to explore the universe and defend the earth, through an exciting array of action/platforming stages.
Keen is a character who's fallen on hard times as of late, but at his debut, he was a bit of a game-changer for the PC industry. With thanks to the team at id Software, Keen allowed for the platformer to become a viable genre in the PC market, able to complete in-game animations, physics, and graphical speed on the level of Nintendo's Mario games (in fact, the Enhanced Graphics Adaptor card used by John Carmack for the game was initially used to offer a PC port of Super Mario Bros. 3, to which Nintendo declined). Commander Keen brought a variety of gameplay into the mix, from a “Duck Dodgers” style raygun to a high-jumping pogo stick, to a wristwatch that could play Pong, all wrapped up in a PC game with vibrant colors, and light-hearted humor in writing.
Trivia: The Standard Galactic Alphabet (the alien writing used in the series) is an A-Z substitution cypher. The language was originally created by programmer Tom Hall in order to adjust an in-game "EXIT" sign to appear more extra-terrestrial. If you look closely at the symbol list, you can still see how the alien letters E, X, I, and T resemble their English counterparts.
Image taken from Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu (DS)
Hey, it's that guy from Smash Bros.! Excellent!
Marth is the King of Altea, who during the very first Fire Emblem game in 1990 was a sixteen year-old prince that was forced to flee his own country due to attacks from the neighboring kingdom of Dolhr. With the help of newfound allies, Marth was the first Lord of the series, able to lead a resistance movement to recover the legendary sword Falchion, the titular Fire Emblem, and save the day, defeating the resurrected dark dragon that plagued the lands. Marth returned in the third Fire Emblem game Fire Emblem: Monshou no Nazo, which recapped the events of the first, and continued the story with Marth as king, where he was able to conquer the reborn dragon once and for all and become Emperor of the land of Archanea.
Fans of the Tactical Role-Playing Genre are indebted to Marth in more ways than one. Not only did Marth’s original outing become an archetype for all tactical role playing games on consoles with its character and class leveling and permanent death, but Marth was able to give his genre a boost again, acting as an initial ambassador to the west by appearing alongside Roy (another FE character) as a playable character in Smash Bros. Melee. It was ultimately because of Marth’s positive reception from this game that we were finally able to receive the Fire Emblem games outside of Japan. Now, with the release of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon on the DS (a remake of the original), we finally get to see Marth in his natural environment; something that Japanese gamers have been familiar with for quite some time.
Trivia: The actual “Fire Emblem” the title refers to has taken multiple forms throughout the series, acting as a shield, a key to treasure chests, a family crest, a gemstone, a medallion, and several times being a prison for different evil spirits.
Image taken from Wing Commander: The Kilrathi Saga (PC)
There are many reasons why Wing Commander was a groundbreaking title among space combat simulation games, with it's swift action, vibrant graphics, and drawn out cutscenes. True, gameplay can always get faster over time, graphics can get shinier, and cutscenes can get longer, but there's still something that the Wing Commander series has over others, and that's giant cat people!
The Kilrathi are the villains of the series, and are a bipedal race of aliens that resemble a variety of big cats. They are native to the warring planet Kilrah, and are the sworn enemies of the Terran Confederation for the entire series, appearing in each of the Wing Commander games. Kilrathi are also divided into several clans, from the lowly nar Sikhag, to the noble nar Ki'ra, and are in fact in constant civil war with themselves, battling for dominance over the entire species (*insert cat fight joke here*). While their backstory was minimal in the original game, their history and culture has since evolved greatly due to the continued game releases and related Wing Commander media.
Likewise, the design of the Kilrathi has undergone many changes over the years; from their pixelated beginning, to furry live action makeup, to puppetry used in the 1999 Wing Commander movie. Series creator Chris Roberts has lamented that he's never been able to reproduce a live action version of the Kilrathi that fully met his expectations; lets hope that we can one day see what he truly had in mind.
Trivia: The Ultima games (also made by Origin) feature several cameo appearances of the Kilrathi. In Ultima VII, you can find a Kilrathi ship in the corner of a field, and in Ultima Underworld II you can find the "Trilkhai" (an anagram), who have a similar backstory.
Image taken from Mega Man 10 (Wii)
Proto Man (short for prototype) was the first Robot Master created by Dr. Light prior to Mega Man and his sister; or in terms of their Japanese namesakes, "Blues" came before "Rock" and "Roll" (see what they did there?). He was the first robot to be given independent thought, however this proved to complicate his existence, as his loneliness and concerns over his impermanent solar energy core caused him to grow distrustful of Dr. Light, and he eventually made his way over to Dr. Wily, where he gained his Proto shield, a new nuclear core, and his "too cool" shades and helmet as a disguise.
Along with Rush (Mega Man's canine companion), Proto Man first appeared in Mega Man 3, where he would periodically show up to test Mega Man mid-stage, eventually realizing the truth about Dr. Wily and saves Mega Man in the end, after which Dr. Light recognized his trademark "whistle" that plays when he appears on screen. Proto Man became an important character in the Mega Man universe, appearing in each of the later games of the core series and many spinoffs. His lone-wolf persona, and his dark sunglasses brought Mega Man into the 90's, where "tude" became a prerequisite for videogames. He can also be seen as the first step in expanding the capable side of good beyond that of the blue bomber himself, paving the way for newcomers like Bass, Duo, and ultimately the gang from the X series to make the scene. It was only fair that at long last Proto Man finally became a playable character in the series with Mega Man 9 and later 10, where his jumping shield and proto buster made quick work of Wily's robots.
Trivia: The Mega Man cartoon show that ran from 1994-1996 had a very different take on the character. In the show, Proto Man was a full-on villain, who served Dr. Wily and actively tried to destroy Mega Man. The change was likely due to the dramatic need for a primary antagonist that could go toe to toe with the Blue Bomber.
Image taken from Final Fantasy XI: A Moogle Kupo d'Etat (PC)
Most every gamer has come across a Moogle in their lifetime, and they have this game to thank for it. Alongside the occasional "Fat Chocobo," the Moogles got their start here in Final Fantasy III, where they functioned as bodyguards for the sage Doga. From that moment on, Moogles have had an indelible mark on the Final Fantasy series, appearing in some form for most every game under the banner, and sometimes cameoing within other square enix franchises. Moogles have received their own villages, their own theme songs, and even elevated roles in the games (such as Mog, Artemicion and Montblanc).
Moogles have gone through a variety of design changes over the years, with perhaps their most notable departure being FFXII. Still, a few things have typically remained constant; pink nose, bat wings, catlike ears, and an extended pom-pom coming out of their heads. Their adorable features have allowed them to be some of the most marketable creatures to ever come out of gaming, and they continue to exist as one of the few linkable commonalities that bind the Final Fantasy universe together.
Trivia: Moogles are referred to as "Moguri" in Japanese, Spanish and Italian translations of the game, which is a Japanese portmanteau for mole (mogura) and bat (komori).
Image taken from Bonk's Big Adventure (TG16)
The 90's were all about mascots, and with the release of Bonk's Adventure in 1990, the NEC TurboGrafx-16 received their own. Bonk was a big-headed caveboy who head-butted his way across many different consoles and arcade cabinets, but it was the TG16 that he would always call home. Even his name was linked with the system; as in Japanese, his name was PC Genjin, a pun on "PC Engine"; the system's name in that region. During his tenure, he appeared in three games for the console, as well as offer a few brief stints on the Amiga, NES, SNES, Gameboy, and more, before his "mascot" status was retired in 1992, replaced by the DUO's "Air Zonk," who was billed as his future descendant.
While Bonk is unmistakably a product of the videogames industry, many may be surprised to find out that he was not originally intended to be a videogame character himself. Instead, he was actually devised as a comic strip character to be used in the magazine for the console called "PC Engine Monthly". As the magazine commonly featured upcoming games, many people assumed Bonk would have a game of his own, and his popularity with the readers ultimately made it so. That just goes to show how powerful Bonk's appeal was, as his status was already proven the moment he stepped into the videogame world.
Trivia: While he frequented Nintendo consoles, Bonk only appeared in one game for SEGA, where he had a cameo appearance in the Sega Saturn game Saturn Bomberman. Bonk was a playable character in the game's multiplayer mode.
Image taken from F-Zero GX (GC)
Show your moves!
That's just what Captain Falcon did when the Super Nintendo launched, showcasing the Mode 7 graphical capabilities of the console by speeding around a 3D racetrack at 700 mph in his trademark Blue Falcon. Suddenly, what was once a genre relegated to top down perspectives and Pole Position-styled wide turning arcs, received a jumpstart with capable hairpin turns, airborn activity, and dangerous competition. While the F-Zero series arguably got bigger and better with every installment, the original futuristic racer is still an exciting challenge, and unsurprisingly still holds up today, and it had Captain Falcon at the forefront. While not appearing in every F-Zero game over the years, the presence of the grand prix champion/ bounty hunter is felt throughout, and he is inarguably the poster boy for the franchise. Believe it or not, Nintendo was actually planning to make the good Captain their flagship character for the SNES; but this may have been a case where Captain Falcon was just too fast for anyone to take hold of.
While his work in the cockpit may have been enough for the good Captain's inclusion on this list, I'd be remiss if I didn't also note that his fame and popularity was also skyrocketed at the turn of the millennium thanks to his inclusion in the original Super Smash Bros, where he was a secret unlockable character. His speed, power and, well, the fact that everyone has gone around yelling "FALCON PUNCH!!!" For the past decade has ensured that Captain Falcon is a character that won't be forgotten any time soon.
Trivia: The Captain's actual name is Douglas J Falcon. It was rumored that he is called "Captain" because he was once an officer on the Internova Police Force.
Image taken from Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 2: The Siege of Spinner Cay (PC)
Everyone's wanted to be a pirate at some point. Sure, the reality of such a lifestyle carries horrible crimes against humanity and risk of serious disease on the high seas, but don't tell that to Guybrush Ulysses "Fancy Pants" Threepwood, the young boy who journeyed to Monkey Island to rescue his eventual wife Elaine Marley from the ghost pirate LeChuck. Guybrush is a self-assured "Mighty Pirate" with a somewhat weak build and a wit sharper than any cutlass. Being the protagonist for each of the Monkey Island games, players are subject to Guybrush's snarky comebacks and occasionally questionable behavior throughout, but his demeanor never becomes overstated, and his relatability ultimately led to him being one of the most enjoyable and endearing characters in videogames.
The Monkey Island games injected some much needed humor into the adventure series, which was growing more and more eclectic as their development progressed. Most everything in the series; from item use ("a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle") to dialogue (Guybrush: "I'm on a whole new adventure."; Bart: "Growing a mustache?"), to references ("Join me, Rosencrantz! I am your FATHER!") to running gags ("Look, a 3-headed Monkey!") was filled with a fantastic laugh out loud sense of humor that is rarely seen in videogames, even to this day, and a great portion of that humor came straight from Guybrush's mind. Not bad for a character who's stated primary talent was the ability to hold his breath for ten minutes.
Trivia: Guybrush's name actually stems from the image file given to his character design in Deluxe Paint (guybrush.bbm), which was a "brush file" of the game's yet unnamed "Guy". His last name, "Threepwood" was chosen from a contest, and is in reference to characters from early 20th century humorist and lyricist P. G. Wodehouse.
Image taken from Yoshi Touch & Go (DS)
Admit it. Seeing Yoshi just made you smile, and your world just got a little better because he's there.
It's alright; Yoshi's had that effect on people ever since his debut in Super Mario World, where if Mario was lucky enough, he could find Yoshi hiding in the levels, and hop on to gain a whole host of helpful abilities. Yoshi was an instant hit with gamers, with his heightened speed and jumping ability, as well as his ability to eat enemies (not to mention the lifesaving ability to allow Mario to take an extra hit). His abilities, simple design, and friendly appearance was the perfect addition to rise him to the top of a series already overflowing with memorable characters.
But that was just the beginning! Yoshi went on to even greater things; receiving his own puzzle games, and taking the lead role in the game's sequel where he got his game-changing "flutter jump", and began his own franchise of platforming games in the process. Yoshi has appeared in virtually every spinoff game from the Mario franchise, appears in each of the Mario Kart and Smash Bros. games, and frequently cameos in the background of other Nintendo franchises (remember the "Yoshi Doll" in Link's Awakening?). while he may have started off as a simple companion, Yoshi was always destined to be one of gaming's most recognizable characters, and has since his conception been featured heavily in Mario merchandise. Yoshi was even voted the third-favorite video game character of all time (behind Cloud and Mario) in Japan from a poll in 2008. That is one popular dinosaur!
Trivia: Plans for Mario to have a dinosaur companion had been a concept from Shigeru Miyamoto that was tossed around since the original Super Mario Bros. back in 1985, and resurfaced again in planning Super Mario Bros.3, however never came to fruition due to the technical limitations of the NES.
Honorable Mentions: There were many characters that debuted that I felt would otherwise have been included on this list series if not for 1990 being such a strong year. Other characters I considered came from memorable classics of high caliber including ActRaiser, Crystalis, MUSHA, StarTropics, Bonanza Bros, James Pond, Snakes Revenge AND Metal Gear 2, Dr. Mario, Alpha Waves, A Boy and his Blob, Eye of the Beholder, Quest for Glory II, King's Quest V, Solstice, Decap Attack, Pilotwings, Star Control, Turrican, and Sword of Sodan just to name a few! At one point, I even had “Bimmy” from Double Dragon 3 on the list for the laughs.
Well, that about does it for 1990. I’d like to thank scarletspeed7 for coming up with the initial idea for this list series, as well as my colleagues on the Top 10 board for giving me the opportunity to contribute.
Up next is 1991, which will come to us from MotherKojiro; a veteran author whose contributions I’ve enjoyed reading for quite some time. Stay tuned for what I assume will be fighting in the streets, more fighting in the streets, and the long overdue arrival of one of gaming’s most popular icons. Who is it? You’ll have to wait and see.
Thanks for reading!
List by BlueGunstarHero (04/25/2011)
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