My Bottom-10 Game Protagonists
Time to follow-up my Top-10 game protagonists list with the bottom-10. This list features protagonists who are bland, redundant, horrible or just otherwise not very good.
As always, these are just my opinions and you shouldn’t take them too seriously.
Let’s get on with the list…
I could have broadstroked most RPG protagonists into this entry, but I decided to stick with just one particularly lowly example of lack of creativity from game designers. Yeah, I get it… the whole point of character customisation in RPGs is to allow the player to make the protagonist into what they want that character to be , but for me that’s just one step removed from basically giving a game designer’s unfinished work to the player to finish up. If you can’t be arsed to actually design an interesting main hero for your game, why even bother?
However the guys and gals from Pokémon stick out particularly in this regard. Originally all you did was pick a name and, in later games, your gender and that’s that. Pokémon is a pretty shallow game to begin with but the fact that your character’s personality contributes absolutely nothing to the game is one of the many reasons I lost interest in the series. And especially with the first few games, I could never understand why would anyone name the hero anything other than Ash (the same way as why would you name Link anything other than “Link” in a Zelda game).
Having said that, the Pokémon protagonists’ only real sin is just being generic so I didn’t want to put them up too high on the list.
Now, here I would like to stress that I’m not hating on the Pitfall games on the old Atari systems. They were important games from the platforming genres point of view and really ground-breaking titles in their polish and execution for the time. That doesn’t change the fact that Pitfall Harry is about one of the most redundant game mascots of all time.
A guy who literally started as nothing more than 10 lego-sized pixels molded together, tried to break out of his humble beginnings in the NES era. Activision re-designed him back then to resemble everyone’s favourite plumber and released the god-awful Super Pitfall. Harry tried to resurface in consequent console generation but each time his endeavours would go unnoticed.
That’s because nobody really gives a shit about Harry. He’s just some green shirt wearing guy swinging on vines and jumping on crocodiles in the jungle. Harry does have a place in video-gaming history, but you can’t expect me to take a character seriously when he’s effectively just a pallet swap of Epyx’s Jumpman.
Here’s a tip, if you want others to think your game’s main hero is cool, then don’t put the word “cool” into his name. Vic Tokai was trying just a little too hard when they unleashed this much derided NES game to the world. The game aside, what really catches your attention is the game’s ridiculous box-art.
How can you tell someone is a bad ass? Sunglasses, slicked back hair, leather vest over a white T-shirt, red sneakers and jeans with a tear in one knee. Whoever made the box-art for the game could probably write a book about character stereotypes. He also clearly didn’t play the game since Kid Kool on the cover looks pretty much nothing like Kid Kool in the game, who has messy hair, white shorts, white vest over a black shirt and a big ol’ anime head. Not really “cool” in the traditional sense.
Again, there isn’t much to Kid Kool but the unnecessary bravado from such an inconsequential figure simply couldn’t be ignored on this list.
Before people get angry at me, I’m not saying that I hate Toad as a character. I just don’t really care for him as a playable character. The high-pitch voiced Mushroom Subject of course became infamous for always telling you that “The Princess is in another Castle” over and over again in Super Mario Bros. After that Toad got a bit more prominence in Super Mario Bros. 2. There he was still sort of acceptable though many people didn’t play as him (contrary to popular belief, Toad has a special ability in the game: not slowing down while holding an item).
But beyond that, I really can’t see why anyone would want to play as Toad. He’s just a guy with a mushroom for a head and I will admit that his voice gets a little annoying at times. I enjoy him in the background of games like Mario Party, but I couldn’t understand why two different colour variants of him were made playable characters in the New SMB games on the Wii and Wii U (instead of, say, Wario and Waluigi).
Like I said, I don’t hate Toad but he’s way too generic to be really any fun to play as.
6. Generic Space Marines
They’ve been around for ages and it doesn’t seem they’ll be going away any time soon. When a game designer needs to make a game about vicious aliens and can’t be bothered to create an interesting protagonist, he can always rely on the Generic Space Marine to fill the spot.
Faceless, lacking identity or personality, the Generic Space Marine faces hordes of enemies without a second thought. And no matter how outrageously outnumbered he is, he will always come out on top. There’s no need for pathos or interesting dialogue. In fact, if the game designer feels particularly lazy, they may not even give the character a face.
However, making fun of Space Marines is really beating a dead horse. It’s a game designing sin we see repeated constantly and not quite interesting or even annoying enough to make the Top-5. So it will have to settle for the top spot on the bottom half of the countdown.
Back when the first Resident Evil movie was fairly new there was a lot of discussion how the Alice character was a Mary Sue who didn’t do justice to the heroes of the actual games. I hadn’t played the games back when I saw the movie, so I really couldn’t comment, but Resident Evil 4 came out a little while later for the GameCube and I also got around to playing the Remake of the first game and Code: Veronica X. After that, I really can’t see where RE fans get off criticising the lack of depth in the movie version’s characters.
The lot of the RE protagonists are about as generic as they come. There’s the wise-cracking bland male hero (Chris), the fan-service lady (Jill), the worried sibling (Claire) and the token pretty boy (Leon). Calling these guys cardboard cut-outs is an insult to two-dimensional characters. I can understand that their priorities in each game are sort of skewed to surviving the zombie attacks, but barely any of them show any other emotions other than panic and occasional fright. Leon is the only one I even sort of liked, but in RE4 he kinda came off as a poor man’s Solid Snake.
Jill was pretty uninteresting in the movies and she’s not much better in the games. The only time I think I’ve liked Chris was in the original RE1 because of his silly lines and goofy voice-acting. And Claire is just annoying. She had one kinda moving character scene in Code Veronica and that was it. However, it might be that the blandness of these characters is simply the product of the sort of game they are in – but just for the complete lack of distinguishable character traits vs. how seemingly popular these guys are, I just had to include them in the top-5.
We all know the feeling. You had a movie you really liked and a great sequel. Then the main cast move on to do bigger things and they have to replace them with somebody new that no-one cares about. Stan the Bug Man is essentially the game version of that.
After Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., Mario was ready to go on to become a star in his own right in Mario Bros. (which introduced his brother Luigi) while DK had to find a new arch-nemesis for himself. Enter Stan the Bug Man, who was trying his darnest to get the big ape from his green house. Yeah, it does sound kind of underwhelming after two games about rescuing either your girlfriend or your dad.
Stan is just a really nondescript kinda guy and it’s no surprise why he hasn’t appeared as a playable character in another Nintendo game since. I’m not saying that it’s not worth a try to come up with a new appealing character, but Stan simply didn’t have the iconic appeal of Mario.
3. Bubsy the Bobcat
In the realm of redundant mascots none truly stand out quite as redundant as Bubsy. Accolade’s lame attempts at toppling Mario and Sonic as the number-1 gaming mascot around really fell short in every way imaginable. Even with Rob Paulsen voicing him in the second game, Bubsy just lacks any likeability.
Self-awareness from a video-game character is a double-edged sword. When done well (as with Duke Nukem), it can serve to add a little extra entertainment factor to a game. Bubsy however seems to have the ability of pointing out the bleeding obvious and none of his catchphrases and one-liners really ever hit home.
And I haven’t even gotten to the fact that Bubsy is also the star of possibly the worst 3D platformer in existence. Good God!! Bubsy is the reason why I feel glad that some video-game franchises have disappeared into the realm of absolute obscurity.
Now, let me reiterate that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comic levity. On the contrary, I think it goes a long way in comics, movies and video-games. It’s okay to sometimes have something silly to remind ourselves that what we’re experiencing isn’t real and might actually be kinda absurd.
There isn’t even anything wrong with Big the Cat as a character. He’s just a guy who’s always misplacing his pet frog and his quest in life, in its simplicity, is to find Froggie. I even find it sort of endearing, knowing, that it’s Jon St. John (Duke Nukem) doing the voice of the big purple pussy.
But HOLY HELL!! When you’ve played Sonic Adventure you’ll never want to pick up a fishing pole ever again. The game contained some of the worst, broken fishing gameplay I have ever seen. It honestly makes the fishing mini-game in Ocarina of Time look like… well, Ocarina of Time by comparison. So no, I don’t have anything personally against Big, but his horrendous gameplay was enough to land him this high on the list.
1. The New Simon Belmont
Redesigning classic characters can be tough. There’s about a million ways they can go wrong and only a very few ways they can go right. And especially when your hero is as generic as Simon Belmont who had been redesigned for his every single game appearance up to Super Castlevania IV, the temptation may be there to just start a-fresh with something that hasn’t been tried before. Simon went from being a headbanded leather wearing warrior to a Dolph Lundgren wanna-be in red armour to being a purple haired armour guy (in Haunted Castle) to reverting to a mix of the first two looks in CV4.
After Symphony of the Night hit the PlayStation in the mid-1990s, Konami decided to redesign all the classic Castlevania characters to fit Ayami Kojima’s art style. Which is to say they made everyone look effeminate and gross. I was never a fan of this art-style, but I beared it thinking it would go away. Sadly, it seemed the opposite was true and the art-style persisted really until the eventual reboot of the franchise in Lord of Shadows. And sadly, Simon was caught in the thick of it with the Castlevania remake Castlevania Chronicles (originally for the Sharp-computers in Japan, later released for the PlayStation).
Oh my fucking lord! Simon doesn’t even look like a warrior character of any description. The red hair I can forgive. But what the hell is up with that half of a jacket he’s wearing? And the furry half collar? And the high-heels? And the bits of leather hanging from his belt? The question that comes to mind is “Why!?!” Why would you do this? How could Konami think that a super model reject like this could go up against the Prince of Darkness and win?
The new Simon Belmont is awarded the Number-1 Spot for being the most inexcusable raping of a classic video-game character ever. Not even the Bomberman: Act Zero compares to this awfulness.