The 1990s were a golden age for the gaming world, with the long-awaited leap from 16-bit and 2D graphics to stunning 3D, the protagonists of our favorite video games evolved, both in design and personality.
Likewise, many other characters that today are icons of popular culture were born in this decade.
Some of the best 90s video game characters saw their creation in that decade. While characters from the 80s became gaming legends of the 16-bit era. That’s why we are taking a trip down memory lane to remember these heroes who touched the hearts of millions of gamers in that decade. Without them, video games would not be the same. Here are
The Best Video Game Characters Of The 1990s
Jim (Earthworm Jim, 1994)
Who would have thought that a worm in a spacesuit would have worked so well as a protagonist?
Jim is the star of a series of platform and adventure video games distributed by Sega. This little worm was just like any other, living in a garden trying to avoid being eaten by crows, until one day, a super spacesuit falls from space, turning Jim into a quirky but charismatic superhero.
With his new abilities, he embarks on a space adventure to conquer Princess What’s-Her-Name, sister of the evil queen Slug for a Butt, who wants our hero’s suit back.
Those of you who didn’t know this series may have already noticed that the story doesn’t take itself seriously, and that’s what makes it so much fun.
Jim probably wouldn’t be the first hero you would turn to in a desperate situation because he’s still a worm, so he makes mistakes and is overconfident, but at least he gets a few laughs out of you, and most importantly, he never gives up.
This character was so successful that he generated multiple sequels, a comic book series, and an animated tv show.
Earthworm Jim Appearances in the 90s:
- Earthworm Jim (1994)
- Earthworm Jim 2 (1995)
- Earthworm Jim 3D (1997)
- Earthworm Jim: Menace 2 the Galaxy (1999)
Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII, 1997)
Even if you are not a fan of this RPG franchise, it is impossible not to recognize the hairstyle and look of this character, especially the huge sword he uses as his main weapon.
In this title, Cloud is presented as an arrogant and proud mercenary at first, who is only concerned with fulfilling his contract. But this changes with the help of his friends, who teach him compassion for the planet and its inhabitants.
Becoming a hero, Cloud protects his world from his archenemy, Sephiroth, the murderer of his mother.
With multiple layers of personality, Cloud was among the first video game protagonists to best represent the whirlwind of emotions that comes with being human. With him we cried, laughed, suffered, celebrated, and got angry throughout this Square Enix title.
From a dark side to a kind one, this character led the way for the creation of the next heroes of the series.
Cloud Appearances in the 90s:
- Final Fantasy VII (1997)
- Final Fantasy Tactics (1998)
- Final Fantasy Anthology (1999)
Duke Nukem (Duke Nukem, 1991)
Testosterone as a character. Duke Nukem is an American space agent in charge of protecting the planet from evil robots, aliens, mutants, and anything else that gets in his way.
His first appearance was in Apogee Software’s Duke Nukem, a platform game in the style of Contra, in which the muscular military man annihilates hundreds of enemies to get to Dr. Proton, the villain of this story.
However, it was not in this game that Duke Nukem adopted the style and personality that characterizes him today. This was achieved in Duke Nukem 3D, the third chapter of his series, in which he became the “hero” we all know, overconfident and armed with a huge arsenal of deadly weapons.
Despite his arrogance, it’s impossible not to enjoy playing as this character, brutally killing hundreds of enemies and saving the planet. And let’s face it, we all made the mistake of playing one of his games in front of our parents…
Most notable Duke Nukem games in the 90s:
- Duke Nukem (1991)
- Duke Nukem II (1993)
- Duke Nukem 3D (1996)
- Duke Nukem: Zero Hour (1999)
Mortal Kombat Characters (Mortal Kombat, 1992)
The most famous series of bloody fighting games in history, full of iconic characters that would be impossible to choose just one. Developed by Midway Games, Mortal Kombat broke schemes at the time with its graphic violence, being mostly responsible for creating the classification system for video games.
Its premise is quite simple, focusing on Liu Kang, a fighter who has to save the world from the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung. This quest takes him to the Mortal Kombat tournament, where many warriors are presented to fight to the death. With this context, the player can choose the character he likes the most, no matter his choice, because they are all equally deadly.
Throughout the series, more fighters have been added, but for the sake of brevity, we will name the main ones from the first game:
- Scorpion: Ninja who returned from the underworld to avenge his own death and of his family at the hands of Sub-Zero.
- Sub-Zero: Ninja of the Lin Keui clan, Scorpion’s nemesis. He controls ice at will.
- Johnny Cage: Movie star inspired by the legendary John Claude Van-Damme.
- Kano: Criminal leader of the Black Dragon group, with an eye that launches laser beams.
- Liu Kang: Shaolin warrior, the hero of this story.
- Raiden: the God of Thunder.
- Sonya Blade: lieutenant of the United States Special Forces, entering the tournament to catch Kano.
- Goro: undefeated champion of the tournament for 500 years, and also has 4 arms.
- Shang Tsung: the final boss, a sorcerer who can absorb the energy of the fighters and use their abilities.
- Reptile: Shan Tsung’s bodyguard belongs to an extinct race. He is a secret character in the 1st game.
Every one of these fighters gave us hours of fun in those years, even though some of us were not old enough to play this kind of game. But come on, who didn’t play Mortal Kombat as a kid?
Most notable MK games in the 90s:
- Mortal Kombat (1992)
- Mortal Kombat II (1993)
- Mortal Kombat 3 (1995)
- Mortal Kombat 4 (1997)
- Mortal Kombat Gold (1999)
Yoshi (Super Mario World, 1990)
The dinosaur we all loved in our childhood (and still do). Yoshi first appeared in this SNES title, as a companion to Mario and Luigi. He belongs to a race called Yoshis (they weren’t very creative with this), anthropomorphic dinosaurs of various colors, in our green Yoshi stands out.
At first glance, this character seems created to cause tenderness in the player, and in part he does, but he has a set of skills that makes him indispensable to the adventure.
From his long tongue with which he can eat distant enemies, his red shell that serves as a mount for Mario or Luigi, and his great speed and agility despite his short limbs, everything works in Yoshi, he is one of the best companions you can have in a video game, and that’s why you have to be ashamed if you were one of those heartless people who used him as a platform to jump and let him fall into the void.
Yoshi reached such popularity that he earned his own line of games, in which his abilities are exploited even more, but keeping the essence of a Mario Bros title.
Yoshi games in the 90s:
- Yoshi (1991)
- Yoshi’s Cookie (1992)
- Yoshi’s Safari (1993)
- Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)
- BS Yoshi’s Panepon (1996)
- Yoshi’s Story (1997)
Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid, 1998)
With this legendary character from the mind of Hideo Kojima, we are making an exception, as he appeared for the first time in 1987 in Metal Gear, but it was in the ’90s that he established himself as a character by starring in Metal Gear Solid.
Solid Snake is one of the most complex characters in video games, we have seen him in different stages of his life, with stories that jump between his youth, his adulthood, and his old age.
In Metal Gear Solid, he is an agent who infiltrates a nuclear weapons factory controlled by the FOXHOUND terrorist organization, a squad of genetically modified special forces. In this title, a pioneer of the stealth genre, Solid has the mission of dismantling these terrorists with the help of his skills and his radio codec, in which he communicates with his colonel and other allies.
Since that adventure, Solid Snake has been a favorite among gamers, earning a place on the list of the most popular characters in gaming. With his superior intelligence, his commitment to the mission, and his equipment suited for every environment, Solid Snake has been dubbed the ultimate soldier, a fame he was destined for since he was born as a clone of Big Boss.
Solid Snake Appearances in the 90s:
- Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990)
- Metal Gear Solid (1998)
Lara Croft (Tomb Raider, 1996)
Created by Core Design to break the stereotypes of women in video games, Lara Croft is a British archaeologist who ventures into ruins and hidden tombs around the world in search of treasure, not as her job, but as a lifestyle, which leads her to face dangerous enemies and find centuries-old artifacts.
Born into an aristocratic family in England, Lara went from boarding school to boarding school as a teenager. During a vacation trip in the Himalayas with her classmates, Lara ends up being the only survivor after the plane crashes in the mountains.
After that, she survives in this frozen region until she finds a Tibetan village, an experience that completely transforms her and creates in her the desire to travel the world, refusing to live in high society.
This is the first biography of this famous character, considered the most recognized woman in video games. Armed with her dual pistols and thirst for knowledge, Lara starred in incredible games of action and adventure, which paved the way for more female protagonists in the gaming industry.
The popularity of this character was so great that she has already had two Hollywood adaptations. The first two movies (2001 – 2003) were starred by Angelina Jolie and the most recent by Alicia Vikander in 2018.
Lara Croft games in the 90s:
- Tomb Raider (1996)
- Tomb Raider II (1997)
- Tomb Raider III (1998)
- Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999)
Kirby (Kirby’s Dream Land, 1992)
We owe the creation of this lovable character to John Kirby, a lawyer who successfully defended Nintendo in 1984 when they were sued by Universal Studios for the rights to Donkey Kong. If they lost this case, there would probably be no Nintendo today, so they named Kirby in honor of him.
He debuted in Kirby’s Dream Land, the first title in his long-running franchise that continues to add games.
The mechanics are simple but quite addictive, as Kirby has the power to absorb any enemy and replicate their abilities. Whether it’s spitting fire, wielding a sword, or casting spells, he can copy everything, in addition to his own abilities such as inflating and flying for a few seconds or sliding across the ground.
Kirby is undoubtedly one of the most powerful characters in video games. His tender appearance may say otherwise, but don’t provoke him, because he won’t stop until he finishes you off. If you don’t believe me, there you have the example of King Dedede, Kirby’s archenemy, who has cost him dearly to proclaim himself governor of Dream Land in every game.
Kirby’s most notable games in the 90s:
- Kirby’s Dream Land (1992)
- Kirby’s Adventure (1993)
- Kirby’s Pinball Land (1993)
- Kirby’s Dream Course (1995)
- Kirby’s Dream Land 2 (1995)
- Kirby’s Super Star (1996)
- Kirby’s Dream Land 3 (1997)
It’s never enough of Kirby!
Crash Bandicoot (Crash Bandicoot, 1996)
To accompany the launch of the PS1, Sony ordered Naughty Dog studio to create a platform title starring a character that would engage the audience, as it was quite fashionable at the time for every company to have a flagship mascot.
The result? The most famous marsupial in history. Crazy, frenetic, and full of energy, Crash is synonymous with fun and successfully managed to increase PlayStations sales.
The origin of this character is given by his nemesis, Dr. Neo Cortex, who captured him to make him the leader of his army of mutant animals. Something that only remains an attempt, because his devices could not control the bandicoot, who assumes the role of hero to save Tawna, a female bandicoot, who was imprisoned by Cortex.
Throughout the levels, we discover the archipelago of the Wumpa Islands, full of obstacles and enemies that stand between Crash and his goal, but he has an ally, the mask Aku Aku, the guardian of the islands who guides the bandicoot as his champion.
Few things make sense in this character’s games, and that’s precisely why they’re so funny. Whether jumping over your enemies or spinning like a whirlwind, with Crash and his witticisms you will always have fun, because behind all that madness and instability, there is a hero with a big heart.
Games with Crash Bandicoot in the 90s:
- Crash Bandicoot (1996)
- Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (1997)
- Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped (1998)
- Crash Team Racing (1999)
Spyro (Spyro the Dragon, 1998)
But Crash was not enough for Sony, they wanted more characters to attract Nintendo 64 buyers. This task was assigned to Insomniac Games, who created Spyro, a small purple dragon, and the dragonfly Sparx, his loyal friend, who embark on a journey through the fantastic Dragon Kingdom to free all the dragons, which were trapped in crystals by the grotesque Gnasty Gnorc.
And just as with the giant orange marsupial, Spyro was a hit among gamers, becoming an icon of the industry. This achievement is also due to the fantastic world in which this dragon lives, which you can explore as an open world (quite innovative for the time), discovering its secrets and defeating the bosses.
Little Spyro has never needed to be big to catch the public, rather he would lose his charisma, standing out for his sarcasm and bravery. Just throwing fire, ramming with his horns, and joking at the right moment is enough to make his adventures very entertaining.
Spyro games in the 90s:
- Spyro the Dragon (1998)
- Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! (1999)
Pikachu (Pokemon series, 1998…)
With this famous Game Freak franchise we could have mentioned all the first generation of Pokemon since all of them are fondly remembered, but the popularity that Pikachu achieved was something special.
The first Pokemon releases were Pokemon Red & Blue for the GameBoy, in which this cute yellow rodent with a lightning tail debuted, and while he looks very adorable, don’t get too close, there’s electricity running through those veins.
Pikachu broke the barriers of the series in which he was born to become an icon of the gaming industry and popular culture.
Everyone has heard his catchphrase “Pika-Pika”, gamers and even non-gamers know who Pikachu is. And every time we start a new adventure as a Pokemon trainer, we subconsciously force ourselves to capture Pikachu. And it is a curious thing because it is not among the most powerful Pokemon, in fact, it is a quite regular one in terms of stats.
Well, its popularity originates from the anime released in 1997, in which Pikachu was chosen as the main character’s companion, as this rodent was famous among the children who played the games. And the rest is history…
Pikachu Appearances in the 90s:
- Pokemon Red Version & Pokemon Blue Version (1998)
- Pokemon Yellow (1999)
Sonic (Sonic The Hedgehog, 1991)
Of course, the most influential video game character born in the 90s is the blue hedgehog, Sega’s forerunner.
Mario enjoyed undisputed dominance at that time, until his rival appeared on Mega Drive cartridges, starting a popularity battle between Nintendo and Sega in which the Italian plumber was crowned, but the blue hedgehog was not left behind, winning the hearts of millions of gamers.
Sonic was created with a very clear purpose, to attract young adult audiences, that’s why this character is so confident, relaxed, and has so much style. He’s everything that teenagers at the time saw as cool. And if you pair that with a tremendously fun platformer where you speed through the levels, you have a winning formula.
Unfortunately, Sonic games lost quality with the jump to 3D, being one of the few franchises that did not know how to take advantage of this new technology.
However, the popularity of the hedgehog remains intact, along with those of his friends Tales, Knuckles, Shadow, and other characters that accompanied many gamers in their growth, and tempted some Nintendo fans to acquire a Sega console.
We love you Sonic, as well as all the characters on this list.
Sonic games from the 90s:
- Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)
- Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (1992)
- Sonic The Hedgehog CD (1993)
- Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)
- Sonic & Knuckles (1994)
- Sonic R (1998)
- Sonic Adventure (1998)
Video Game Characters That Became More Popular In The ’90s
In this decade, not only were great characters like the ones we have just mentioned introduced, but also those that already existed since the 80s became more popular, establishing themselves as icons of the industry. They are not many, but they are heavyweights.
Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong Country, 1994)
This famous gorilla was the main villain of that arcade game in which Mario also debuted. After that, he had a few other titles to his name, but none caught the attention of gamers, until the arrival of Donkey Kong Country for SNES, reinventing the character and turning him into the protagonist of a side-scrolling platform game, in which he jumps over obstacles and faces different enemies throughout 40 levels.
With this title, Nintendo finished winning the console war of the time, establishing itself as a company that only launched quality games to the market, and moreover, created historical characters.
Donkey Kong went from being a generic villain to a hero with a lot of personality and charisma, enchanting the children of the time.
This success gave way to multiple sequels for the gorilla franchise, who accompanied by his nephew, Diddy Kong, embarks on fun adventures in the jungle in search of his favorite food, bananas.
Outstanding Donkey Kong games of the 90s:
- Donkey Kong (GB, 1994)
- Donkey Kong Country (1994)
- Donkey Kong Land (1995)
- Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (1995)
- Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! (1996)
- Donkey Kong 64 (1999)
Mega Man (Mega Man series)
Of course, we don’t forget Capcom’s space warrior. Although he went a bit unnoticed due to the appearance of so many other characters, the 90s were the decade in which a number of games from the main series were released.
Created in 1987, Mega Man was a sensation during those years on the NES, console which his adventures remained in the following decade, having a few brief appearances later on the SNES until leaping the new 32-bit generation on the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn.
Capcom did not complicate much in this decade, being quite continuous with the formula of Mega Man games.
The blue bomber had several adventures with the mission to stop the ambitious Dr. Wily and his army of robots that want to conquer the world. With the help of Dr. Light, his robotic companions, and his adaptable Mega Buster cannon, Mega Man does not stop in his fight against evil, transmitting a message of justice and perseverance.
On the other hand, the 90s also saw the birth of the Mega Man X franchise, located 100 years after the events of the original series, but not to lengthen, we prefer to stay with the classic Mega Man games.
Mega Man games in the ’90s:
- Mega Man 3 (1990)
- Mega Man 4 (1991)
- Mega Man 5 (1992)
- Mega Man 6 (1993)
- Mega Man 7 (1995)
- Mega Man 8 (1996)
Link (The Legend of Zelda Franchise)
Since the 80s, Link was already a very popular character thanks to The Legend of Zelda games, but it was in the 90s that the character took a leap of maturity both in personality and in his stories, presenting a gem of gaming, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
In this title, the famous hero of Hyrule embarks on a quest throughout the kingdom to stop the fearsome Ganondorf, his nemesis, before he finds the Triforce.
Link explores various temples while jumping through time, to contact sages to help him stop his enemy. Ocarina of Time was a before and after for both Link and the fans of this series. There are no words to describe this adventure, you have to live it, it is not just an entertaining game, it is something that goes beyond.
And here we must stop because the main subject is its protagonist, but whenever there is a chance to praise Ocarina of Time, you have to take it. Link is for many the quintessential hero of video games, armed with courage, charisma, intelligence, handling multiple weapons, agility, endurance, and many more attributes that place him at the top of the most iconic characters in the gaming industry.
Link’s Appearances in the 90s:
- TLOZ: A Link to the Past (1992)
- TLOZ: Link’s Awakening (1993)
- TLOZ: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Mario (Mario Bros. Franchise)
This list could not end without Nintendo’s popular mascot, crowned as the best-known character in video games, along with his also famous brother Luigi.
Like Donkey Kong, Mario was created in 1981, but it was in 1983’s Mario Bros. that he became a legend.
In the 1990s, the jumping plumber was by far the most successful character, with several quality games added to his name that led to entire franchises. No matter what genre the game is, if Mario is in it, he will turn it into gold.
In this decade, Mario went from being the protagonist of platform adventures to being a doctor, car racer, tennis player, golfer, and a lot of other hobbies. He was everything he wanted to be, almost like a Barbie. But he did keep one quality intact, and that is his hero’s heart.
No matter how many times Bowser and his minions wreck the Mushroom Kingdom and kidnap Princess Peach, Mario is always going to be there to save everyone. Of course he can’t do it all alone, relying on the help of Luigi, Yoshi, Toad, and other allies.
He has starred in some of the best games ever made and is the most recognizable video game character of all time. From his classic “Here We Go!” to “Mamma Mia”, the phrases, clothes, and personality of this character are known in every corner of the world and loved by children, young and old alike.
Thank you Shigeru Miyamoto for creating him and for all your contributions to the industry.
And so we close with this list of the best and most acclaimed video game characters that were 90s gaming staples. The 1990s were a spectacular era for gaming, in which the evolution of technology allowed more complex stories, which introduced us to incredible characters and enhanced the ones we already knew, earning each one of them an important place in ‘90s popular culture.