5 most iconic Nintendo first-party characters

These are some of the absolute biggest names in the industry even today (Images via Nintendo)
These are some of the absolute biggest names in the industry even today (Images via Nintendo)

Acclaimed video game publisher Nintendo is renowned for its classic lineup of franchises. Thanks to solid game design and new ways to approach familiar formulae, these esteemed titles have stood the test of time. However, most importantly, the company is known for its charming and recognizable characters.

With a decent chunk of franchises at hand, fans have seen dozens of characters from the publishers' first-party catalog throughout the years. Understandably, the initial few entries have managed a lasting impression on fans. Pretty much any of the candidates in this list will not surprise anyone even remotely familiar with gaming.

Five of Nintendo's most popular characters

5) Samus Aran

Samus is one of the best protagonists ever (Image via Nintendo)
Samus is one of the best protagonists ever (Image via Nintendo)

Initially assumed to be a male hero, fans were stumped to realize that Metroid's badass protagonist is female. It was a big deal back when the sci-fi NES game launched: in the 80s.

In fact, Samus pretty much is the first mainstream playable female protagonist in all of gaming. Series co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto has cited Ridley Scott's 1979 movie Alien as playing a massive role in shaping the franchise.

Throughout the Metroid saga, Samus' bounty-hunting adventures see her face off against the Space Pirates and other creatures of the many dangerous planets she visits, including the titular Metroids.

Her Power Suit is equipped with everything she needs: from blasters to mow down alien foes to abilities that enhance and supplement exploration and combat. This includes the Morph Ball, allowing her to turn into a small maneuverable ball that is crucial for exploring the series' masterfully designed environments and levels.

Various experimental games (like Metroid Other M) and media have attempted to give Samus a personality of her own, much to fans' dismay.

So, she's at her best as a silent protagonist, slaying baddies and stopping at nothing to achieve her goals, somewhat of a female version of Doomguy. With Metroid Dread released last year for Nintendo Switch and the upcoming Metroid Prime 4, Samus Aran won't be forgotten anytime soon.

4) Donkey Kong

The funny monkey's simplicity is alluring even today (Image via Nintendo)
The funny monkey's simplicity is alluring even today (Image via Nintendo)

The iconic red-tie-wearing gorilla first appeared in the 1981 arcade platformer of the same name. Unlike other games on this list, he was an antagonist. However, his massive popularity saw his status rise to a good guy, particularly with the start of the Donkey Kong Country games on the Super NES.

But whether fans are familiar with the arcade rendition or console, the fact remains that his popularity hasn't diminished over time, which is kind of surprising. He's but a kindhearted goofball going on adventures with his friends supporting him, like Diddy Kong and Funky Kong.

There's not much to his character compared to most other heroes on here, but make no mistake, he packs one hell of a punch when things get down to it. The platformers he swings and pummels enemies across in have all been consistently solid, particularly his latest adventure.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of the few modern platformers blessed to be called the greatest of all time, despite the high challenge. All things considered, he is a classic platformer protagonist who is charming despite his relative simplicity.

3) Link

The Hero of Time lives on (Image via Nintendo)
The Hero of Time lives on (Image via Nintendo)

It's a running joke in the Nintendo community that the "green-clad, sword-and-shield brandishing boy" in Nintendo's acclaimed action-adventure series is the titular Zelda. But that's the princess of Hyrule, while this young one is Link.

It's the name given to every protagonist in the renowned Legend of Zelda series. Throughout all renditions, Link appears and takes on different characteristics each time.

In the 1986 original, he's a brave boy destined to turn the tables and defeat the villainous Ganon. In Wind Waker on Nintendo GameCube, he embodies a young boy who's very protective of his sister.

Regardless of the form that Link incarnates in throughout the ages, he is always depicted as a brave, young soul ready to do the right deed. This is why he also embodies the Triforce of Courage, one of the three key elements to the main artifact the series is known for.

His journeys through perilous dungeons and secret-laden worlds often took him to world-threatening incarnations of Ganon. His silent personality and quiet demeanor may radiate shyness for some, but as they say, actions speak louder than words.

Link's humble persona is enough to inspire anyone to step into his boots, from children to adults.

His latest adventure is the upcoming sequel to 2017's beloved Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It will be released exclusively for Nintendo Switch.

2) Pikachu

His cute charms cannot be ignored (Image via Nintendo)
His cute charms cannot be ignored (Image via Nintendo)

Nintendo's monster taming franchise took off on Gameboy in the mid-90s and doesn't seem to be stopping soon. The Pokemon series has become the highest-grossing media franchise of all time.

The kid-friendly appeal has something to do with it, but anyone can pick up Pokemon as a whole. The video game series has spawned dozens of installments across various Nintendo handhelds and home consoles. These entries share one thing in common: the ability to construct a strategic party of magical critters, ranging from adorable to intimidating.

But every popular franchise has that one mascot synonymous with the series. For Pokemon, it's Pikachu. Present in every game since the start, this red-cheeked yellow mouse who commands the Electric element has captured the hearts of everyone who laid their eyes upon it.

Pikachu's popularity primarily has to do with its inclusion in the Pokemon manga and anime series. Here, the critter is an inseparable partner to the protagonist Ash (or Satoshi in Japanese).

Throughout their adventures, Ash's Pikachu has overcome battles against far more formidable foes and expresses a lot more emotions than the average Pokemon does.

Adorable and immediately recognizable design aside, Ash's Pikachu's charming attitude has made it a household name. Pokemon Scarlet & Pokemon Violet are the latest entries in the series to be announced for Nintendo Switch, and the beloved mascot of the franchise will no doubt be present for fans to catch and tame.

1) Mario

In case fans didn't know, everyone's favorite Italian is officially no longer a plumber (Image via Nintendo)
In case fans didn't know, everyone's favorite Italian is officially no longer a plumber (Image via Nintendo)

What else could be at number 1? The mere thought is preposterous. The original Super Mario Bros for the NES is one of the most popular video games ever, putting the hero in the spotlight.

The iconic red-clad, mustached Italian hero has seen countless adventures in the franchises' almost 40-year legacy. From the mainline 2D platformers to his first 3D rendition on the Nintendo 64 and popular spin-offs to this day, his saga is nothing short of memorable.

Sure, his tales throughout Mushroom Kingdom featuring the villainous Bowser and damsel-in-distress Princess Peach lack the depth of modern narrative-driven AAA blockbusters. Yes, he continues to have pretty minimal voiceovers, minus the occasional "Yahoos!".

His design is indeed fairly simple, and so are his games, in the face of today's overdesigned protagonists and games. But that's precisely what makes the Mario games so renowned and accessible: their simplicity. They sit at the top as the best-selling video game franchise so far and get rave reviews every single time a big entry is released.

Given how the iconic princess-saving hero has shaped the childhoods of countless gamers around the globe, Mario's universal popularity is more than justified. Like the world-renowned franchise, Mario is the crowning jewel of Nintendo's extensive library.

Note: This article reflects the author's views.

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Edited by Ravi Iyer
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