Classic game characters: then and now

Traditional wisdom suggests that fictional superstars never change. Bugs Bunny, Homer Simpson and Superman, for example, have endured for decades with more or less the same appearance. They never age, never look incredibly dated (save for a few misguided revamps that die off) and consistently appeal to a new generation. The same can’t be said for videogame characters, though.

As a technology-based medium, game heroes and villains cannot remain the same. They must constantly evolve, or risk looking “last gen.” That doesn’t mean the new or old designs take precedence, it just means no developer will ever, ever leave its creation alone. Now, with decades of console history to pull from, let’s take a look at the “old” designs and see how they stack up against their modern equivalents.


Then: A brutish ape who threw barrels down at Jumpman (that’d be Mario, actually) and loved to hold women hostage. Not too bright.

Now: Allegedly, the Kong from the original game is now Cranky Kong, a wrinkled old ape who does little more than sit in a rocking chair and whine about the “old days.” Today’s Donkey Kong (the guy on the right) is said to be the former Donkey Kong Jr, though it’s never specifically stated that way. Other than a red “DK” tie, he’s physically the same, but has taken a page from Mario’s book and gone on to become a platforming star instead of a stubborn antagonist. Diddy Kong is in there because he didn’t come in PSD format and refused to move.


Then: A stumpy carpenter and plumber who first harassed Donkey Kong, then took to the sewers to handle turtle/crab/fireball infestation. A humble everyman with no overt sense of whimsy.

Now: The global figurehead of Nintendo, whose exploits have sent him into the mystical Mushroom Kingdom and beyond. No power-up is too silly, no sport too challenging, no merchandise too sketchy for ol’ Mario. Pictured in his most recent incarnation found in Mario Galaxy – still a bit portly and wearing his ‘80s attire, but infinitely more expressive and adventuresome than that sad plumber could ever have imagined.


Then: Mario’s brother was nothing more than a palette swap with strangely darker skin. He was functionally identical to Mario, and other than the one-off Super Mario Bros 2, he would continue to be that way until the 16-bit Super Mario All-Stars re-drew him as a different person. Oh, plus Mario Kart made some distinction as well.

Now: Still very much “Mario’s brother,” but now with distinct physical and gameplay characteristics. He’s taller, slimmer and handles like one of those creepy gas station tube toys that you can never hold onto. Luigi’s had some starring roles and even played a large part in the various RPGs, but he’s still no Mario.


Then: Sega’s 16-bit answer to Mario, a speedy hedgehog who exuded personality and attitude instead of Nintendo’s “let’s all play together” mantra. The sprite actually changed completely one year later in Sonic 2, though it was merely a re-drawing – all the same aspects were kept.

Now: Sonic Colors marks Sega’s latest entry in the long-churning series, and this official art looks damn near the same, doesn’t it? Sonic’s seen a lot of games come and go, but other than his green eyes and improved rendering and sprite tech, little has changed. Maybe animal mascots get a free pass?


Then: A pointy assemblage of polygons that looked a bit crap even back in 1997. From the Popeye arms to the rectangle legs, this was an appearance that had no choice but to be drastically re-imagined.

Now: The basic getup is similar, as is the Super Saiyan haircut, but it’s done with such detail now that you can accept the quirks as simple videogame silliness. The version, taken from Advent Children, isn’t even the final word – Cloud is more or less re-thought each time he pops up, from Kingdom Hearts to Crisis Core to Dissidia. All are similar but none are identical.


Then: Oddly considered an attractive representation of a polygonal woman, but is now seen to be an atrocious patchwork of various geometric shapes.

Now: Cleaner, smoother and without a doubt sexier (even if you’re one of those “games can’t be hot” people). This image is from, fittingly, the modern remake of the original Tomb Raider, so that’s why the clothes are dead-on. Normally she’s donned in whatever grab the environment calls for, be it short shorts, skin tight swimsuit or chest-hugging t-shirt. Just like real archeologists!

Next up: Link, Snake, two Ryus and more

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  • Randomwordcombination - October 1, 2010 10:58 p.m.

    Great article! It's weird to think of Cloud as a "classic game character".
  • DLSemen - August 10, 2010 3:48 a.m.

    I also applaud the T-Dar reference.
  • INFINITYGAUNTLET - July 28, 2010 7:05 p.m.

    Luigi rocks. Snake rocks. And Batman should be eternally stern.
  • Hayroon1 - July 26, 2010 12:54 a.m.

    How is the new Rygar considered "Goku'd up"?! How is Goku not the image pf manliness?
  • AuthorityFigure - July 25, 2010 10:59 a.m.

    The old ones usually show a more economic and thoughtful design than the newer ones. This is why I prefer them. And the Megaman one is purely mis-leading: those games are marketed by CAPCOM and the press (including GR itself) as retro, 8-bit, return to the past games, not current iterations.
  • GameManiac - July 25, 2010 1:12 a.m.

    It's reassuring to see how little preference was made to the old and new (as far as I see). haha! Megaman hasn't changed at all, but Batman on the other hand... Damn! That's as good as he'll ever look. Seeing Mario, Zelda, Samus as they were from the start seems fatalistic to me since I'm recently playing those first games and seeing how it all started.
  • SenatorPepper - July 24, 2010 5:46 p.m.

    This is just the kind of games "journalism" that aging man-boys like me just eat up. The screen grabs were perfect, the observations spot-on, and the T-Dar reference way core. Love ya!
  • thibtje - July 24, 2010 5:08 p.m.

    Thi is to good man!
  • slickninja - July 24, 2010 3:10 p.m.

    Wow, how gay is Bionic Commando? What a waste.
  • camelfro - July 24, 2010 3:33 a.m.

    great article
  • hardcore_gamer1990 - July 23, 2010 11:11 p.m.

    What no Rayman? I love that guy.
  • Smeggs - July 23, 2010 9:30 p.m.

    I thought Ganondorf's beard in TP made him look Irish or Scottish xD I always imagine a voice kinda like the Demo-man's from TF2 whenever I play it now.
  • Clovin64 - July 23, 2010 7:13 p.m.

    Advent Children Cloud sucks! He's just too emo! Cloud was never that emo in the original game. P.S. A massive falling boulder is no match for the Hulk-like Chris Redfield. "CHRIS SMASH!!!"
  • BornToLose3 - July 23, 2010 5:53 p.m.

    I lol'd seeing Lara Croft, damn what kind of 12 year old i was to find those attractive. Sill good article Brett
  • EAC73 - July 23, 2010 4:45 p.m.

    how about mega man from the new DS titles. great article though.
  • philipshaw - July 23, 2010 11:11 a.m.

    I was talking to a friend about this sort of thing the other day, great article Brett
  • PipGirl - July 23, 2010 4:59 a.m.

    It was great seeing how all these characters have evolved. Fantastic article man.
  • pimpboo - July 23, 2010 3:01 a.m.

    ew old lara croft looks like frida kalo
  • LBD_Nytetrayn - July 23, 2010 2:03 a.m.

    Where does anyone get that Ganon was Link's shadow in Zelda II?
  • screwball08247 - July 23, 2010 1:27 a.m.

    >Maybe even robot elephants that shoot balls at you. Likin' the TDar reference, Brett. Great article though.

Showing 1-20 of 41 comments

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