Iconic Characters in Classic Arcade Games

Iconic Characters in Classic Arcade Games

Classic arcade games have given birth to some of the most memorable characters in gaming history. From yellow pucks and plumbers to monkeys and hedgehogs, these characters have left an indelible mark on popular culture, still making appearances in movies and games today.


In this article, we’ll delve into the world of iconic video game characters, exploring their origins, impact, and enduring legacies.


Pac-Man (Originally Called Puck Man)

When you think of classic video game characters, one of the first to come to mind has to be Pac-Man. You can just imagine that yellow ball weaving its way through mazes, dodging ghosts, chomping down pellets, and making a waka, waka, waka noise.


Pac-Man first appeared in 1980. Prior to this, many of the popular games of the 1970s were either shooting or sports games. 


Pac-Man’s perilous adventures helped introduce a new style of gaming mechanics as well as a different style of action maze gaming that inspired releases, like:

  • Dig Dug
  • Taxman
  • Snack Attack
  • Jawbreaker
  • Monster Maze


Today, original Pac-Man cabinets are highly sought after by collectors. But for modern arcade gaming enthusiasts, the Pac-Man Pixel Bash arcade machine includes a variety of classic games that is perfect for homes and businesses.


Mario (Originally Called Jumpman)

It’s difficult to think of a character that’s been more synonymous with Nintendo (as well as gaming in general) over the past 40 years.


Mario came from humble beginnings in someone else’s game. His first appearance was in Donkey Kong, released in 1981.


Most gamers probably don’t know that Mario almost didn’t exist. Nintendo actually wanted Popeye to be the protagonist in Donkey Kong, but they were unable to get the rights. So, “Jumpman” was created instead.


While Super Mario Bros. (1985) wasn’t the first side-scrolling platformer, it set a new standard for the genre with its precise controls, clever level design, and innovative power-up system. Upgrades like Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, and Starman added another level of excitement to the game.


Since his humble debut, Mario has appeared in hundreds of video games. His spinoffs include everything from Mario driving games and RPGs to Mario Paint, Mario Picross, Hotel Mario, and Mario Pinball Land.


Sonic the Hedgehog

If Mario is synonymous with Nintendo, then Sonic is synonymous with Sega. But Sonic is a faster, more sarcastic character, who also shared a message of environmentalism: woodland animals versus evil robots.


Sonic the Hedgehog brought a fresh and exhilarating gameplay experience to the arcade scene. Known for his lightning-fast speed, Sonic's arcade games emphasized quick reflexes, precision, and momentum-based platforming.


Plus, the arcade cabinets often boasted advanced graphics, vibrant colors, and smooth animations, pushing the boundaries of what arcade hardware could achieve.


Like many iconic video game characters, Sonic has even made his debut on the big screen, with two movies released in recent years. Cartoons, comic books, and action figures have helped further expand the character’s reach and expand Sonic lore.


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Donkey Kong

Although originally cast as a villain, Donkey Kong has since evolved into a beloved character in his own right, even becoming a protagonist in later games.


And through the years, more and more characters have been added to the Kong family, including:

  • Diddy
  • Dixie
  • Funky
  • Cranky
  • Tiny
  • Wrinkly
  • Baby


Donkey Kong introduced a new style of gameplay that would become synonymous with the platforming genre. The game featured multiple levels, challenging obstacles, and innovative mechanics, like climbing ladders and jumping over barrels.


But even more importantly, without the early success of the original Donkey Kong game, would Mario and Nintendo have been able to become the juggernauts in gaming that they are today?


Ms. Pac-Man

The original Pac-Man’s gender-neutral abstract shape challenged traditional gender roles prevalent in gaming at the time, paving the way for more diverse and inclusive character designs. 


Two years after the successful launch of Pac-Man,  Ms. Pac-Man, the bow-adorned counterpart to Pac-Man, became a symbol of female empowerment in gaming.introduced a female protagonist into the gaming world and paved the way for other prominent female characters, like Samus, Princess Peach, Chun-Li, and Lara Croft.


Additionally, the Ms. Pac-Man arcade game featured faster gameplay than Pac-Man, different maze layouts, and more challenging enemy behavior, creating a fresh and engaging dynamic. 


The addition of multiple maze variations increased replayability and prolonged the game's appeal, captivating players and establishing it as a classic in the genre.


Classic arcade video games have given us a treasure trove of iconic characters that have transcended the boundaries of their respective games.


As we celebrate the legacy of these retro video game characters, we acknowledge their contribution to the evolution of gaming and their ability to captivate generations of players.


Discover some of your favorite characters in M&P Amusement’s collection of new and used arcade games.

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