Then: A camo-covered soldier with no discernable features. He’s a dude in camo on a mission to stop a walking nuclear tank. That’s about it.
Now: OK… other than the fact he’s gray and old, he’s also got a special sneaking suit with high-tech “OctoCamo” that blends in to any given surroundings. Plus he’s got enhanced strength and about 100 hours worth of baffling exposition and character development. Not to be confused with Big Boss, who, in Portable Ops and Peace Walker, kinda looks like that ‘80s Snake (with good reason!!!!).
Then: An adept ninja out for revenge. His father was killed by baddies and he wants to make ‘em pay. Even though he looks rather plain in his blue outfit, Ryu ends up battling demons, monsters, robots and everything in between.
Now: Hm, actually not too different, if only because the image of ninjas has survived untouched for hundreds of years. In this case Ryu has gone all black, gained an ornamental headpiece and taken up violently dismembering foes with his weapons. It’s also not even supposed to be the same Ryu. A bit of “same but different” here.
RYU (Street Fighter)
Then: A red-haired scrapper who could, with great effort, toss a fireball out of his hands. Otherwise pretty bland.
Now: He’s still the yawn-iest of the Street Fighter characters (“I have to be the best!”) but has since beefed up considerably and gone for a dark-haired appearance. Still got the headband and belt, though the hand guards tend change from red to brown.
Then: A small but devoted elf-child who was forever intertwined with the Triforce, Ganon and Zelda.
Now: A sometimes small, sometimes teenage elf-person who is forever intertwined with the Triforce, Ganon and Zelda. As with Cloud, Link’s appearance tends to slightly shift with each new entry, though the green tunic, long hat and silent-hero stature remain intact every time. Comfortingly consistent while consistently refreshing. Kind of like [your soft drink preference here].
Then: A sky-blue pig-thing that teleported around the room. You knew he was the main villain, and that he had captured Zelda, but very little else was made clear. The other art is Ganon’s first human form, Ganondorf, introduced in 1998’s Ocarina of Time. Up to that point, Ganon was some form of beast (not counting Zelda II, where he’s supposedly Link’s shadow).
Now: The beast Ganon last appeared as the final boss in Twilight Princess, and while he was definitely a pig-thing, he was on all fours and seemed far less in control than the wizard-y boss from the first game. He’s also not blue. As for Ganondorf, he’s only slightly changed, but then again, he was already a re-imagining of the NES original.
Then: Humanoid fox pilot with a headset. You actually don’t see much more of him in the first game, which primarily featured polygonal Arwings. Man, those things really look like ass.
Now: Fox has seen drastic redesigns in almost every game, but the general look is the one found in Smash Bros Brawl. Eyepiece, headset and white jacket/ red scarf combo. The details are always the same, but wow, Nintendo really can’t decide what to do with this guy.
Next page: Samus, Chris Redfield, some orcs and that lovely Splatterhouse guy