Then: The hero of Bionic Commando was known as Ladd, a mistranslation of Rad. He also sported a nifty grappling hook cannon that was so heavy he couldn’t jump (or, there were only two buttons on the NES controller).
Now: Sigh. We accept the new Nathan “Rad” Spencer name just fine, and we even concede that the new, literal bionic arm makes sense – after all, if it’s not part of him, it can’t actually be bionic in the first place. But did we need the stupid hair? The gruff M-rated voicover? And did we honestly, truly need the goddam wife arm? This one’s all kinds of messed up. Don’t expect it to stick around.
Then: A tough as nails bounty hunter who turns out to be a girl… in a bathing suit, with green hair. She fights space pirates and kills Metroids. At the time her gender was something of a secret, and one of the first genuinely surprising reveals in games.
Now: No mistaking Samus’ gender today, what with the skin-tight Zero Suit outlining her every curve. The armor has changed only slightly, with expanded shoulder pads being the one notable difference. Like other Nintendo characters, her outward appearance hasn’t altered significantly.
Then: Tiny units presented in glorious 640x480. You could tell they were orcs because they were green, and that’s about it.
Now: Still green, still an important part of the Warcraft experience, but now fleshed out into more of an actual race with history, architecture and speech. The improved 1024x768 resolution doesn’t hurt either.
RICK FROM SPLATTERHOUSE
Then: A clear homage to slasher films, Splatterhouse’s main star donned a blood red Terror Mask that looked remarkably like Jason Voorhees’ iconic face. Otherwise a beefy dude who punched monsters until they exploded to death.
Now: The hockey mask is more or less gone, replaced with a skull-like visage that started with Splatterhouse 3. Rick’s also become even beefier, looking more like one of the thugs from Arkham Asylum than a dude with a mask on. Not the most inspired redesign, but then again Rick was never the most creative character out there.
Then: A capable member of STARS who looked like a typical police type. Hardly imposing, and dressed like one of the new recruits who doesn’t know the proper kneepad protocol.
Now: A hulking tree trunk of a man who punches monsters in the face. Look at the size of those arms! Not even a falling boulder can withstand such force. Why the 180? Because in RE1 Chris was meant to appear vulnerable. In RE5, he’s part of a tag-teaming duo that ain’t afraid a’ nuthin’.
Then: A yellow circle with a mouth. Arcade cabinet art gave him eyes and a face, and subsequent cartoons turned him into a blue collar workman, but as far as the game was concerned, Pac was a yellow dot.
Now: He’s gained and lost limbs, family members and no small amount of videogame clout. His most recent incarnation is from Pac-Man Party, a Wii festival of minigames sure to detonate the hearts of anyone who grew up suffering from Pac-Man Fever.
Then: A fairly normal-looking warrior type with a shield.
Now: Christ, what a mess. Rygar was brought back in 2002 with a look that basically mirrored his NES and arcade counterpart, but for whatever reason, Tecmo trotted out that game again in 2008 for Wii. Along with waggle came that… thing up there, Goku’d to high hell and devoid of any rugged sense of god-slaying machismo.
Last page: A quick look at some non-game characters and how they’ve weathered their virtual versions