Let’s move on from Final Fantasy. For many ‘80s gamers, this is the original shocking cameo: Karnov, the fire-breathing strongman who was also the hero of his own, self-titled 1987 platformer, showed up a year later as the first-stage boss in Bad Dudes.
Sure, he spat a continuous stream of flame instead of fireballs, and his trademark mustache was practically invisible. But nobody else dresses like that and breathes fire, and Karnov’s identity was confirmed by publisher Data East when the NES version of Bad Dudes hit in 1990.
17. Contra Hard Corps
In another inexplicable case of a hero turning into a weirdo villain, 1994’s Genesis Contra game featured nothing less than a huge-headed, cyberpunk version of Simon Belmont, complete with a chain whip and a fetish for roast chicken.
In case there was any doubt as to his identity, publisher Konami threw in a remixed version of the Castlevania theme called Simon 1994 RD. Here, we’ve even got a YouTube video of the boss fight, in case you were curious:
18. Gradius II
Years before Hard Corps, Konami performed a more subtle cameo transplant by bringing over the scorpion-like creatures from the final level of Contra – which themselves were obvious knock-offs of the facehuggers from Aliens – into Gradius II, where (presumably) enormous spacefaring versions of them harassed the Vic Viper.
19. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
And speaking of the Vic Viper, it made its own guest appearance years later in the mecha-tastic Zone of the Enders series, as a transformable mech/fighter craft piloted by the first ZoE’s hero, Leo Stenbuck.
Above: It even had its own unlockable minigame, Zoradius
20. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure
While we wouldn’t ordinarily count a character from an earlier game showing up in a sequel as a “cameo,” this one’s too weird to pass up. Throughout the 16-bit reboot of the classic Pitfall, you’re a young adventurer fighting to save his father, the original Pitfall Harry. The original original Pitfall Harry. The one from the Atari 2600.
The fact that he hadn’t aged a day for his 16-bit debut – and was chained to a giant Atari logo, no less – pushed this over from simple “callback to the prequel” and into full-on bizarre-cameo territory.
21. Punch-Out! (arcade)
If you’ve been a gamer for more than a few years, then you probably know Nintendo likes to sneak subtle references to itself and its characters into nearly every game it does. Hell, Mario’s Nintendo-game cameos alone could probably fill a huge feature article (which is exactly why we’re not going to go through them here). But what you might not know is that Nintendo was sneaking in these references as early as 1984, when Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. showed up in the audience of the original arcade Punch-Out!
Still not seeing it? Here, look closer…
22. Punch-Out!! (Wii)
After 25 years spent sitting at the sidelines, Donkey Kong finally climbed into the ring to challenge Little Mac to a ridiculously one-sided fistfight.
Above: Maybe not so one-sided after all
23. Famicom Wars
Even stranger than Mario and crew’s Punch-Out! Cameo was the appearance of Samus Aran as a commander in 1988’s Japan-only Famicom Wars, the predecessor to Advance Wars.
24. Motoko-chan no Wonder Kitchen
If you want something REALLY weird, however, then you should check out the balls-out insane Motoko-chan no Wonder Kitchen, a Japan-only, Nintendo-produced cooking advergame that educated players on the history of mayonnaise and the importance of eating it on fruit salad, weird tomato-fish dishes and absolutely everything else comestible by human beings.
Above: Yes, really
During one of its educational bits, an old man reveals that the oil in mayo is apparently very effective at destroying the viruses from Dr. Mario.
Above: For what it’s worth, this is one of the least weird things in the game
25. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
In a slightly more conventional move, we have The 1996 Super Mario RPG, which featured two very familiar sleeping forms. The first is Link, who dozes at the Rosa Inn and who plays a snippet of Zelda music if you try to talk to him.
The second is Samus, who sleeps in the Mushroom Kingdom castle’s guest room, and who has this to say:
26. Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman!
It’s hard to be sure exactly who’s making the cameo here: is it Bomberman, because Wario has top billing, or is it Wario, because this is clearly a Bomberman game (and he wasn’t even in the Japanese version)?
Either way, it was cool to see these two giants of videogame bastardry together in one game. It’s kind of a pity that it never happened again.
27. Mario Kart Arcade GP
Meanwhile, there’s only one place to see two of the most beloved heroes in videogame history together, and that’s in the Mario Kart Arcade GP series. Because the arcade versions of Mario Kart were co-developed with Namco, Pac-Man joins up to wreak havoc alongside the Mushroom Kingdom crew.
28. NBA Street V3
As ubiquitous as he is in Nintendo games, Mario almost never ventures into titles by third parties. In 2005, however, Nintendo teamed up with EA to create exclusive content (read: playable Nintendo characters) for the GameCube versions of certain EA Sports titles. The first was NBA Street V3, which featured oddly not-quite-right versions of Mario, Peach, Luigi and Yoshi.
29. SSX On Tour
The Mario characters in the GameCube version of EA’s SSX On Tour, meanwhile, looked a lot closer to the way Nintendo rendered them.
Above: Gosh, that looks like it’d be cold
30. Fight Night Round 2
Finally, the Nintendo cameos were wrapped up with EA’s ultra-realistic boxing game, which featured a freakish version of Little Mac that closely resembled his Super NES incarnation. Or would have, if his Super NES incarnation had severe birth defects and fish DNA.
Above: Never underestimate intimidation’s value in the ring
31. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
EA wasn’t the only third-party publisher to get the benefit of a Mario cameo, either. In Twin Snakes – a three-way collaboration between Nintendo, Konami and Silicon Knights – you could find little Mario and Yoshi figurines in Otacon’s lab, which make noises when you shoot them.
32. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
In 2007, however, Nintendo did the unthinkable: rather than simply license its own characters out to a third party, it invited two of them to include their characters in one of its games. Again, I know I said I was going to avoid games that exist only as deliberate crossovers, but the fact that two non-Nintendo characters made it into the running is pretty damned significant. First we had Sonic, who was kind of a shocker, but his decades-long real-world rivalry with Mario made him seem like a good fit.
The real surprise, meanwhile, was Solid Snake, who brought his impressive bag of stealth-commando tricks along with him.
He also brought Metal Gears Rex and Ray, who would crash through his stage at inopportune moments.
33. New International Track & Field
Just a few months after his explosive debut in Smash Bros., Snake – along with Simon Belmont, Pyramid Head, Evil Rose, Frogger, Sparkster and Pentarou – showed up as a “hidden” character in Konami’s athletics-themed minigame-fest.
34. Evolution Skateboarding
We could fill an entire article with just Snake’s appearances in other games – in fact, we did – but it’s still worth rehashing his bizarre turn in this 2002 skater sim, which later went on to become its own strange mode in the remastered Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance.
35. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
What’s stranger than seeing Solid Snake on a skateboard? Seeing his clone-father Naked Snake try to outwit the shrieking chimps from Ape Escape in the Snake vs Monkey mode, that’s what.
36. Ape Escape 3
In a rare move, this appearance was later reciprocated in Ape Escape 3, which featured a familiar-looking chimp (Pipo Snake) who takes orders via codec from Snake and Col. Campbell.
Above: Right, because everyone knows how good monkeys are at being stealthy
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