Before Mario became the most iconic character in videogame history – not to mention the most famous plumber in, well, plumbing history – he was just a carpenter named Jumpman, starring in a game named Donkey Kong. Our point? Even the best need a little time to blossom.
Such is the case with these 8 characters. Like Mario, they weren’t necessarily bad or below average in their debuts, but they were truly spectacular in their sequels, to the point that we almost forget our first impressions of them. How much they changed, and how much they improved. Here, then, is a reminder…
Contributors: Henry Gilbert, David Houghton
Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 4
Raiden is a joke on so many levels. He was forced on fans as the surprise star of Metal Gear Solid 2, a switch that creator Hideo Kojima purposefully hid until the day of release. He was modeled after the “pretty boy” anime archetype when a single letter to developers complained about playing an “old man” like Snake. He and his love interest (real name Jack, and Rose) are inspired by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet of Titanic. Oh yeah, and he cartwheels… in the nude.
Raiden continued to be a joke in the years following Metal Gear Solid 2, but the teasing was good-natured and self-deprecating instead of outright deceptive – Kojima understood the angry backlash his new character had created. If you choose “I like MGS2” at the start of Metal Gear Solid 3, your hero wears a mask that clearly mocks Raiden. During an early trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4 at E3 2005, Raiden fought for control of the game with Snake, and lost in appropriately humiliating fashion. The fans laughed, cheered and forgave.
When Metal Gear Solid 4 finally arrived, however, they were in for another shock – Raiden was awesome. Now a fearless cyborg ninja assassin who survives being crushed under a warship at one point, and battles waves of enemies with no arms and a sword grasped between his teeth at another point, Raiden is cooler than Snake (who has ironically aged into the pruney geezer despised by the original letter writer). He’s even replacing Snake – again – as the hero of next year’s Metal Gear Solid: Rising. Only this time, no one minds. Guess Hideo Kojima enjoyed the last laugh after all.
Isaac Clarke in Dead Space 2
Strong. Protective. Bright. Also, rusty and slightly dented. What, you assumed we were describing Isaac Clarke’s personality here? In the original Dead Space, his helmet is his personality, and the only unique, memorable thing about his character. He has no voice, no face (until the end) and, based on how quickly and obediently he follows orders from his smug superior officers, no opinions. Just another masked mystery man cliché.
Dead Space 2 gives Isaac Clarke a voice and a face, but more importantly, the sequel gives him the ability to act like a real human being. He not only talks, he converses, asking questions and demanding information instead of submissively listening. He doesn’t just emote, he reacts to the horrifying situation unfolding around him with believable, relatable expressions of fear, anger, shock, guilt, sadness and exhaustion.
Isaac can finally think for himself, too. He argues with, then rebels against, the people in power. He resists, and ultimately exorcises from his mind, the ghost of dead lover Nicole. He’s even willing to sacrifice his life near the end, not because someone tells him to, but because he wants to save his friends. Dead Space 2 introduces us to the man behind the mask… and the pleasant shock is how good and decent that man turns out to be.
Garrus Vakarian in Mass Effect 2
If Garrus was a comic book superhero – which, by the end of this entry, he practically will be – the first Mass Effect could serve as his humble origin story. He starts off an ordinary cop with ordinary powers, driven by a righteous sense of justice and frustrated by the obstacles of bureaucracy, but not extreme in any way. Then the radioactive spider bite… his commander, mentor and best friend Shepard is killed in combat, and the Council government won’t even acknowledge the existence of the enemies that killed him. Cue transformation.
How is the new Garrus different? Your pilot Joker summarizes this pretty well: “It seems like he’s finally worked that stick out of his butt, but now he’s trying to beat guys to death with it.”
If anything, that’s an understatement. Working under the identity Archangel, Garrus is now a crime-fighting turian vigilante willing to do whatever’s necessary to enforce peace and rid the galaxy of bad guys. He ignores the law. He operates off the grid. He single-handedly wipes out entire mercenary armies with a sniper rifle. He headbutts uncooperative middle-men when he’s feeling friendly, and shoots out their kneecaps when he’s not. He never forgets those who betray him, ceaselessly chasing them across the stars until he can exact his revenge. According to the Shadow Broker’s files, he even has a flair for the dramatic / ironic:
In other words, Garrus 2.0 is a total unapologetic badass, and arguably the sequel’s best “new” character. Plus, romance option!