The 20 Best 90s Video Game Characters, Ranked

Interplay Productions / Eidos Interactive / Sega / ONE37pm

The 90s was such a glorious period for all of the media. The areas of TV, film, anime, music, and books all produced unforgettable experiences that transcend time as they even attract younger fans in this day and age. In the case of gaming, 90s babies who grew up during that time period were treated to the 16-bit era and the early days of the 32-bit console renaissance. The Sega Genesis, SNES, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and many more systems that thrived in people's homes back in the day introduced a wealth of 2D and 3D icons. We're now set to place you all on memory lane as we rank and recount the best 90s video game characters.

RELATED: The 26 Best Video Game Protagonists, Ranked

20. Samus Aran

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Placing Samus Aran last on this list might seem like complete blasphemy. But when you really think about it, Nintendo's interstellar bounty hunter only appeared in two games during the height of popularity for the Game Boy and SNES - Metroid II: Return of Samus and Super Metroid, respectively. Even though Samus didn't have a ton of games starring her likeness in the 90s, those two games we just mentioned are still legendary status material among 90s babies that played them both.

19. Earthworm Jim

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Interplay Productions

'Earthworm Jim'

The wisecracking earthwork that discovered a powerful suit of space armor and just so happens to ride a rocket like it's a motorcycle is a 90s gaming staple. This anthropomorphic platforming hero starred in two gorgeously animated 16-bit games that are most known for the art style we just mentioned, high difficulty, and hilarious antics from all the characters involved. Earthworm Jim even got his own animated series back in the day (with a super catchy theme song, by the way!), so that gives him the right to be considered one of the best 90s video game characters.

18. Jill Valentine

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'Resident Evil'

Capcom damn near invented the genre of survival horror when it terrified the world with the first entry in the Resident Evil series. The S.T.A.R.S. special tactical unit has a bunch of awesome characters that still exist to eliminate "bioweapons" around the world to this day. But the one that seems to have attracted the biggest fanbase is Jill Valentine, who Barry Burton lovingly refers to as "the master of unlocking." Her iconic look in the first game and her casual get-up in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis solidified her celebrity status alongside her undying determination that goes into effect when the odds are stacked against her.

17. Duke Nukem

Duke Nukem

'Duke Nukem'

"Now you see me, now you’re dead."

"My boot, your face; the perfect couple."

"Hail to the king, baby!"

Belt out those quotables to a bunch of old-head gamers in line at a convention like PAX and we promise you they'll all know who they hail from. And that's none other than the super crass, womanizing, and alien-busting gun toter named Duke Nukem. Duke epitomizes the attitude of the 90s and feeds into the dudebro fantasies a lot of first-person shooters from the 90s embraced. He got his introduction to gamers back in 1991, but his fame really skyrocketed with the release of 1996's Duke Nukem 3D.

16. Spyro the Dragon

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Sony Computer Entertainment

'Spyro the Dragon'

Sony Computer Entertainment and Insomniac Games did an amazing job of creating another anthropomorphic hero that caught the attention of damn near everyone that owned a PlayStation. Spyro the Dragon's "fiery" attitude, highly recognizable purple skin, and an amazing trilogy of PS1 platformers starring his likeness are the central reasons why he's such a beloved gaming protagonist. When Spyro's name is brought up, we're sure most of you out there think back on how fun it was (and how fun it still is thanks to the Spyro Reignited Trilogy!) to take flight, headbutt, and burn things to a crisp as that lovable purple dragon.

15. Bowser

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'Super Mario Bros.'

Mario and Princess Peach's biggest opp is none other than the king of all Koopas, Bowser. His debut coincided with the release of Super Mario Bros. in 1985, but his 90s run is what really increased his stature amongst gamers everywhere. Bowser has played both roles as a protagonist and antagonist in mainline Mario games, nearly every spinoff game known (we're talking kart racing, golf, and more!), and has plenty of merchandise starring his intimidating yet endearing persona. The big lizard boss of Nintendo is most definitely one of the best 90s video game characters when it comes to likable villains.

14. Donkey Kong


'Donkey Kong'

Donkey Kong's trajectory is so fascinating to follow. At first, he was clearly set up as Nintendo's answer to King Kong in the iconic 1981 arcade game that was named after the gorilla himself. His initial beef with Mario is known far and wide. The same sentiment applies to his starring role right alongside his little bro Diddy Kong in the groundbreaking SNES platformer, Donkey Kong Country. And even since that 1994 release blew everyone's minds, gamers have recognized Donkey Kong as another one of Nintendo's beloved mascots. The big guy made the roster for the very first Super Smash Bros., which definitely counts for something!

13. Sephiroth

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Square Enix

'Final Fantasy VII'

Sqauresoft had everyone's jaws on the floor when Final Fantasy VII introduced them to astonishing FMV sequences and the wide & wonderful 3D world of Midgar back in 1997. Since that game's groundbreaking launch, a ton of gamers who didn't even know what RPG stood for became avid followers of the genre. Part of the reason why those same gamers grew so enamored with FF7 is due to its maniacal main baddie, Sephiroth. The man's insanely long Masamune sword, his flowing grey locks, and the incredibly sinister acts he committed against Cloud Strife & his crew define all the best (worst?) aspects of FF7's prime antagonist.

12. Cloud Strife

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Square Enix

'Final Fantasy VII'

We already mentioned him, so we might as well big him up here! From the very first moment, gamers caught a glimpse of Cloud Strife and his massive Buster Sword with pure love & adoration in their eyes. And throughout the course of FF7, those same gamers morphed into diehard fanatics that adored his spiky hair, high battle aptitude, and all of the heroic deeds that pushed him to save the planet from Sephiroth's sinister plans. Cloud's association with one of the biggest RPGs of all time is mainly the reason why he's such a renowned figure when it comes to the best 90s video game characters.

11. Crash Bandicoot

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'Crash Bandicoot'

Naughty Dog is best known among today's crowd for its amazing work on the Uncharted and The Last of Us franchises. But before it produced mature action/adventure games that offer Indiana Jones and post-apocalyptic zombie gaming experiences, the development studio stayed in the platforming genre lane with Crash Bandicoot. From 1996 to 1999, the anthropomorphic platforming savior of the "Wumpa Islands" enraptured PlayStation owners. The first three Crash games and even the party spinoff game Crash Bash showcase this lovable dude so strongly - we're quite confident that a lot of you reading this remember his amusing victory dances and death animations.

10. Kirby

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In 1992, Nintendo and its first-party HAL Laboratory introduced one of the cutest (yet insanely dominant!) protagonists in all of gaming via Game Boy's Kirby Dream Land. The simple act of sucking up random baddies and gaining their abilities soon after is the source of all the fun derived from all the mainline Kirby platformers over the years. From 1992 up until 1999, Kirby enjoyed an incredible run across some of the best games ever released on Game Boy, NES, SNES, and N64 via its fighting game debut in the first Super Smash Bros.

9. Scorpion

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Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

'Mortal Kombat'

"GET OVER HERE!" Schoolkids that came up in the 90s screamed that catchphrase out countless times thanks to the arcade megahit that their parents most certainly forbade them from playing. Mortal Kombat's roster is recognized far and wide, but there's only one that has become a gaming superstar - the fire and revenge-fueled ninja, Scorpion. His iconic spear-assisted special move, his savage Fatalities, and his starring role in the first MK blockbuster movie pushed Scorpion to gaming royalty during the 90s golden era of gaming.

8. Chun-Li


'Street Fighter II: The World Warrior'

Samus Aran deserves her admiration for being one of the first female gaming characters that hit the scene. But it's Street Fighter's master of the "Hundred Lightning Kicks" and "Spinning Bird Kick" maneuvers that's garnered far more reverence during the 90s and beyond. Chun-Li got all the young boys and girls excited about playing yet another match in Street Fighter II during its era of arcade dominance. And as the only lady on the game's roster at the time, the Chinese martial artist stood out even more and stood strong as one of gaming's toughest & highly determined fighters.

7. Ryu

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'Street Fighter'

Those same schoolkids that threw out imaginary spears also pushed their hands together to send out invisible "HADOUKENS!" That aforementioned move pertains to Street Fighter's most recognizable and constantly copied cover man, Ryu. Ryu's white gi and red gloves have not only become the biggest character archetype that's been replicated by other fighting games but it's also become synonymous with gaming period. Fighting games as a whole wouldn't be as big as they've gotten without Street Fighter and the main man that it's defined by. And that's the Japanese Karate mastermind whose name (funny enough) is pronounced two different ways.

6. Solid Snake

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'Metal Gear'

You know, it's funny - Konami's Metal Gear series first got its start in 1987 and coincided with Solid Snake's introduction to late 80s gamers. Fast forward to 1998 and a ton more gamers took notice of Snake's mastery of espionage thanks to the massive success of Metal Gear Solid. Snake's top-tier status was solidified thanks to his courageous acts that helped him take down the FOXHOUND terrorist organization. Snake took on a ginormous Metal Gear by HIS DAMN SELF! That act alone warrants his placing on this list of the best 90s video game characters.

5. Lara Croft

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Eidos Interactive

'Tomb Raider'

Lara Croft had everyone in a chokehold back in the 90s! This may be hard to believe now, but her popularity was so major that she was featured on the cover of TIME and Entertainment Weekly! In total, the female equivalent of Indiana Jones had her likeness sported all over 1,230 magazine covers. Her starring role in the Tomb Raider games defines her era of greatness as a shining symbol of 3D gaming and gaming as a whole. Lara's initial run as gaming's most prominent sex symbol of the 90s will never be forgotten.

4. Link


'The Legend of Zelda'

Acclaimed video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto has created countless Nintendo greats, such as Mario, Star Fox, and Donkey Kong. Another of his highly lauded creations is The Legend of Zelda franchise, which originated in 1986. The game's central savior is Link, the green-tunic-wearing and Master Sword-swinging gaming icon whose popularity reached even higher levels during the 90s. A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, and Ocarina of Time are considered some of the most noteworthy games of all time. And they're all responsible for shining a light on the hero of Hyrule, Link.

3. Pikachu

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The Pokémon Company / Nintendo


"PIKA-PIKA-PIKACHU!" When the Pokémon anime hit the US airwaves back on April 1, 1997, kids far and wide ended up meeting the yellow electric mouse that became a household name and personality beyond its gaming origins. Pikachu got its own game with the 1999 release of Pokémon Yellow and its iconic image has adorned collectible cards, plus dolls, bookbags, and every other piece of merchandise you can imagine. To this day, gamers and even non-gamers immediately know who Pikachu is once they spot the unmistakable image of the world's cutest yellow rodent.

2. Mario

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'Donkey Kong'

A war erupted between the two biggest gaming console manufacturers of the 90s - Nintendo and Sega. Across scathing magazine ads, spicy commercials, and heated schoolyard arguments, both companies were involved in discussions that involved plenty of thinly veiled shots. On the side of Nintendo, the world's most beloved platforming plumber was and still is the Japanese gaming juggernaut's biggest representative. Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 define just how massive Mario's influence was in the 90s and how he kept Nintendo on the tip of everyone's tongues. He might have starred in one of the worst video game movie adaptations of all time...BUT HE STILL GOT A FILM IN THE BACK IN THE DAY! Nintendo's mustachioed icon is gaming personified, which is why he's one of the best 90s video game characters.

1. Sonic the Hedgehog

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'Sonic the Hedgehog'

"Genesis Does What Nintendon't." When Sega went for the jugular during its console wars with Nintendo, it brought the smoke by introducing its own mascot opposite Mario. Sonic the Hedgehog hit the scene as the hyperfast counterpart that was meant to eclipse the comparatively slower adventures of his plumbing rival. Sonic practically had a chokehold on everyone during the 90s - we're talking games, two cartoons that aired simultaneously, toys, and even a float that popped up during the 1993 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (which popped, sadly). Do you know how massive you have to be to get your own signature lineup of Spaghettios cans? Sonic is hands down one of the most popular and globally recognized gaming characters we've ever seen. And more importantly, he's known forever and ever as the top pick on this list of the best 90s video game characters. WE LOVE YOU, "BLUE BLUR!"

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