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The Best Video Game Character Bracket

It’s time to celebrate the best heroes, sidekicks, and villains of the gaming world, across systems, genres, and eras

Ringer illustration

The concept of the video game character-select screen dates back more than 40 years, to a period directly after Dungeons & Dragons pioneered a new type of tabletop role-playing game. Although the visuals in early-’80s home computer or console adventures like Oldorf’s Revenge and The Quest for the Rings look primitive today, the purpose of their character-select screens was the same as in the most modern RPG or fighting game: to let players put their stamp on their experience. Even before they begin, games present multiple possibilities and branching paths. And no choice matters more than picking a character.

Character select screen in Oldorf’s Revenge (1980)
Jason Dyer

The character-select screen—along with its close cousin, the character-creation screen—gives gamers greater agency over their entertainment than most other art forms allow. With isolated exceptions (choose your own adventure books, Bandersnatch), traditional media can’t compete with the interactivity enabled by bits, bytes, and controllers. Even the silent, simplistic, and heavily pixelated protagonists who populated early video games were extensions of ourselves—inviting, attentive tethers to intoxicating virtual worlds. Regardless of whether they can be customized, it’s hard not to care about characters after spending dozens of hours trying to preserve the HP of an avatar, deal damage to bosses, and sweet-talk NPCs.

And so, throughout this week, we’re asking you to interact with The Ringer and honor the greatness of gaming by choosing your character—not just once, but as many times as it takes to anoint the video game GOAT. (As Big Boss once said, “The world needs only one.”) Welcome to the Best Video Game Character Bracket.

Just as we did with the best TV characters of the 21st century, we’ve assembled 64 contenders for the crown, considering both character quality and cultural impact. We compiled our party by soliciting personal rankings from the Ringer staff, seeding the resulting selections from one to sixty-foooooooooour, and sorting them into four regions. This time around, we welcomed characters from all systems, genres, and time periods, putting only one restriction in place: We excluded characters who are typically identified as a duo, on the grounds that while splitting up iconic couples would be cruel, sanctioning two-on-one matchups would be about as sporting as playing as Oddjob in GoldenEye. (Apologies to Popo and Nana, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Banjo and Kazooie, Sam and Max, and ToeJam and Earl.)

As voting proceeds, we’ll single out some characters for longer looks elsewhere on the site. And because we couldn’t cram in every character we wanted to, we’ll salute some late cuts and personal favorites in a group post later this week. (Also, we’re sorry we snubbed Waluigi, who doesn’t deserve to be left out again. We’ll show him more love later this week, please don’t DDoS us.)

Now it’s time for you to take the stage of history and decide the outcome of this free-to-play battle royale. You can vote in each round here on the website, on Twitter, and on Instagram every day till 6 p.m. ET, through Friday. Voting will follow the schedule below:

Monday: Round of 64
Tuesday: Round of 32
Wednesday: Sweet 16
Thursday: Elite Eight
Friday a.m.: Final Four
Friday p.m.: Championship
Saturday: Winner revealed

If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s this: Nobody knows what’s gonna happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip. So let’s press start on this showdown with three words we’ll never forget: Round 1, fight! —Ben Lindbergh


Mushroom Kingdom

Most Intriguing Matchup

(3) Scorpion, Mortal Kombat vs. (14) Frogger, Frogger

You’ve heard the fable, yes? The scorpion that stings the frog that’s helping it cross a river? It’s a classic. Just like this matchup, which pits an all-time violent video game character against one of the most docile living beings to ever grace a screen. On the one hand, you’ve got a zombie ninja who just loves reeling in his opponents with the unleashing of a deadly spear. (“Get over here” is perhaps one of the most iconic lines in gaming history.) On the other hand, you’ve got a frog. A little dude stuck in a Sisyphean loop of trying to cross the road. Both characters are dealing with considerable demons; one kind of is a demon. And while this matchup seems destined to end in the devastating evisceration of a peaceful amphibian, you have to admire the symbolism of it all.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    (3) Scorpion, ‘Mortal Kombat’
    (14694 votes)
  • 31%
    (14) Frogger, ‘Frogger’
    (6838 votes)
21532 votes total Vote Now

Character Who Got Screwed

(8) Ms. Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man

You gotta love Ms. Pac-Man: Does everything her male counterpart can do, dies in a way that’s a bit more graceful. She didn’t even really ask for this life of domesticity: She was a “Miss” first, until developers realized that they probably needed to explain how she has a baby to staunchly traditional American audiences. The whole Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man thing is a bit of an arranged marriage.

She’s getting the short end of the stick here too. Not only is she facing the Final Fantasy villain Sephiroth in Round 1, but if she somehow makes it through that battle, she’ll be staring straight at Mario. Eat some fruit in her honor—she may not last long here, but she deserves our undying respect.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    (8) Ms. Pac-Man, ‘Ms. Pac-Man’
    (14466 votes)
  • 30%
    (9) Sephiroth, ‘Final Fantasy’
    (6490 votes)
20956 votes total Vote Now

The Long Shot

(11) Michael Vick, Madden NFL 2004

One thing we’ll find out quickly this week: How will The Ringer’s sports leanings affect this video game character bracket? Michael Vick, the greatest athlete in 21st-century gaming history, is a perfect test case. In the scope of video games as a whole, Vick doesn’t compare to legends like Donkey Kong, Solid Snake, or Link. But a lot of people play Madden, and a lot of people remember the inevitability of Michael Vick in ’04. Could he pull a series of upsets on the way to a championship? He would need to defeat Bowser in the first round, but if he does that, anything’s possible.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    (6) Bowser, ‘Super Mario Bros.’
    (16136 votes)
  • 26%
    (11) Michael Vick, ‘Madden NFL 2004’
    (5943 votes)
22079 votes total Vote Now

Upset Special

(10) Ezio Auditore, Assassin’s Creed vs. (7) Chun-Li, Street Fighter

I feel a little silly betting against Chun-Li—the first playable female character in any fighting game, a Street Fighter character so great a cottage industry has practically sprouted up around her. Michael Vick is the real upset watch in this region. But if I have to wager at least a penny on someone else, why not the great assassin? Ezio Auditore da Firenze changed history. I mean, the man helped Christopher Columbus!

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    (7) Chun-Li, ‘Street Fighter’
    (13406 votes)
  • 35%
    (10) Ezio Auditore, ‘Assassin’s Creed’
    (7323 votes)
20729 votes total Vote Now

The Rest of the Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    (1) Mario, ‘Super Mario Bros.’
    (21395 votes)
  • 2%
    (16) Clementine, ‘The Walking Dead’
    (583 votes)
21978 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    (5) Tails, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’
    (18052 votes)
  • 14%
    (12) Albert Wesker, ‘Resident Evil’
    (2943 votes)
20995 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    (4) Geralt of Rivia, ‘The Witcher’
    (11760 votes)
  • 37%
    (13) Big Daddy, ‘Bioshock’
    (7025 votes)
18785 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    (2) Donkey Kong, ‘Donkey Kong’
    (17796 votes)
  • 17%
    (15) Batman, ‘Arkham Series’
    (3899 votes)
21695 votes total Vote Now

Hyrule

Most Intriguing Matchup

(1) Link, The Legend of Zelda vs. (16) Prince, The Prince of Persia

Two young heroes, both on quests they can’t abandon. One is endlessly loyal, literally mute, and deeply determined. The other is brash and loud, far more rebellious. And yet you can almost see parts of Link in the Prince. Perhaps the former would have resembled the latter had Zelda come of age in the murkier, more morally ambiguous modern era.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 95%
    (1) Link, ‘The Legend of Zelda’
    (20526 votes)
  • 4%
    (16) Prince, ‘Prince of Persia’
    (1017 votes)
21543 votes total Vote Now

Character Who Got Screwed

(8) Luigi, Super Mario Bros.

Isn’t this just always the story of the other Mario brother? The Man in the Green Overalls has Bo Jackson, the god of Tecmo Bowl, in the first round. Then it’s likely a date with Link, and from there potential matchups with Nathan Drake, Lara Croft, or Pikachu. Meanwhile, Mario’s gonna be cruising on the other side of the bracket. Such is life for Luigi.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    (8) Luigi, ‘Super Mario Bros.’
    (12968 votes)
  • 40%
    (9) Bo Jackson, ‘Tecmo Bowl’
    (8925 votes)
21893 votes total Vote Now

The Long Shot

(5) Nathan Drake, Uncharted

Uncharted’s appeal doesn’t quite lie in the characterization of its protagonist—Nathan Drake has some de rigueur daddy issues, and a nonchalant coolness that would be cooler if Harrison Ford didn’t exist in real life—but it’s undeniable that Drake is the face of one of the most successful franchises of the past decade-plus. I mean, they don’t cast Tom Holland to play just anybody. The question here is whether Drake is iconic enough to overtake the likes of Link, or his forebear Lara Croft. We’ll see how the votes fall.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    (5) Nathan Drake, ‘Uncharted’
    (15035 votes)
  • 15%
    (12) Johnny Gat, ‘Saints Row’
    (2768 votes)
17803 votes total Vote Now

Upset Special

(6) Goose, Untitled Goose Game vs. (11) Doom Slayer, Doom

Goose is just an all-time dick. An absolute savage. His incomparable meanness is simply a sight to behold. But does the avian antihero of a relatively unassuming game have a chance against the main character of a classic first-person shooter?

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    (6) Goose, ‘Untitled Goose Game’
    (5345 votes)
  • 71%
    (11) Doom Slayer, ‘Doom’
    (13533 votes)
18878 votes total Vote Now

The Rest of the Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    (4) Arthur Morgan, ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’
    (11011 votes)
  • 41%
    (13) Cloud Strife, ‘Final Fantasy’
    (7761 votes)
18772 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    (3) Lara Croft, ‘Tomb Raider’
    (16720 votes)
  • 15%
    (14) Agent 47, ‘Hitman’
    (3019 votes)
19739 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    (7) Joel, ‘The Last of Us’
    (5200 votes)
  • 73%
    (10) Kirby, ‘Kirby’
    (14678 votes)
19878 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    (2) Pikachu, ‘Pokémon’
    (16919 votes)
  • 16%
    (15) Max Payne, ‘Max Payne’
    (3462 votes)
20381 votes total Vote Now

Mobius

Most Intriguing Matchup

(2) Kratos, God of War vs. (15) Fox McCloud, Star Fox

The intrigue here is really between two different eras of gaming. (Part of the reason we at The Ringer chose not to use categories for the regions, as we have in past brackets, was to ensure matchups between characters from all different game styles and eras.) Since debuting in 2005, Kratos has become one of the more deeply explored video game characters in recent history; it’s hard to overstate how touching 2018’s God of War can be. On the other side is a Nintendo legend who’s certainly the coolest pilot/fox the video game world has ever seen. Kratos should win, but his opponent should remind you how far video games have come.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    (2) Kratos, ‘God of War’
    (9697 votes)
  • 51%
    (15) Fox McCloud, ‘Star Fox’
    (10225 votes)
19922 votes total Vote Now

Character Who Got Screwed

(11) Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot

Crash should be ranked higher! I guess he’s finally paying for the heinous crime of wearing denim capris.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    (6) Yoshi, ‘Super Mario Bros.’
    (15006 votes)
  • 28%
    (11) Crash Bandicoot, ‘Crash Bandicoot’
    (5896 votes)
20902 votes total Vote Now

The Long Shot

(7) Ryu, Street Fighter

Being honest, between Sonic, Kratos, GLaDOS, Yoshi, and on and on, it’ll be next to impossible for a lower seed to make it out of this region. But Ryu—a classic fighter, perhaps the quintessential fighter—might have the best chance of doing it.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 77%
    (7) Ryu, ‘Street Fighter’
    (14990 votes)
  • 22%
    (10) Gordon Freeman, ‘Half-Life’
    (4357 votes)
19347 votes total Vote Now

Upset Special

(3) John Marston, Red Dead Redemption vs. (14) Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Mike Tyson was so unstoppable as a video game character that the title of his game had not one, but two exclamation points. And while he lacked in, well, any semblance of personality, utter domination always has been prized in sports gaming. I guess I’m just wondering whether people will remember John Marston for his stellar depiction in Red Dead Redemption, or whether they’ll just think of him wanting to build a house like a nerd in Red Dead Redemption 2.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    (3) John Marston, ‘Red Dead Redemption’
    (7960 votes)
  • 60%
    (14) Mike Tyson, ‘Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!’
    (11988 votes)
19948 votes total Vote Now

The Rest of the Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    (1) Sonic, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’
    (18925 votes)
  • 6%
    (16) Sam Fisher, ‘Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell’
    (1396 votes)
20321 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    (8) Leon Kennedy, ‘Resident Evil’
    (6500 votes)
  • 62%
    (9) Trevor Philips, ‘GTA V’
    (11014 votes)
17514 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    (5) GLaDOS, ‘Portal’
    (9943 votes)
  • 40%
    (12) Marcus Fenix, ‘Gears of War’
    (6863 votes)
16806 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    (4) Pac-Man, ‘Pac-Man’
    (14838 votes)
  • 25%
    (13) Cortana, ‘Halo’
    (5118 votes)
19956 votes total Vote Now

The Milky Way

Most Intriguing Matchup

(3) Ellie, The Last of Us vs. (14) Bayonetta, Bayonetta

Two awesome female protagonists from two very different games and different eras. Both are badass, both carry an overwhelming amount of baggage. If we were doing a Super Smash–style tournament instead of a bracket of online polls, this would be one of the must-see matchups. It still is, just with a little less fireworks.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    (3) Ellie, ‘The Last of Us’
    (11869 votes)
  • 27%
    (14) Bayonetta, ‘Bayonetta’
    (4582 votes)
16451 votes total Vote Now

Character Who Got Screwed

(8) The Oxen, Oregon Trail

The moral of the story here is that you don’t want to be an 8-seed in this tournament. I’m very glad the oxen made it to the round of 64—their role in helping a countless many start new lives on the Western frontier often goes criminally overlooked. They’ve crossed rivers too deep, sacrificed their lives, watched their masters die brutal, disgusting deaths over and over and over. Yet they always carry that weight when asked. Maybe they can survive Ryu Hayabusa in Round 1, though sooner than later, I’m expecting to get a message that says, “Your oxen got crushed in an online poll.”

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    (8) The Oxen, ‘Oregon Trail’
    (12110 votes)
  • 35%
    (9) Ryu Hayabusa, ‘Ninja Gaiden’
    (6608 votes)
18718 votes total Vote Now

The Long Shot

(10) Princess Peach, Super Mario Bros.

A question: Does everything Mario has gone through over the past 30-plus years say more about him or more about Princess Peach? This is a special lady we’re talking about. Plus, she shreds on Rainbow Road.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    (7) Mega Man, ‘Mega Man’
    (11502 votes)
  • 41%
    (10) Princess Peach, ‘Super Mario Bros.’
    (8262 votes)
19764 votes total Vote Now

Upset Special

(6) Tony Hawk, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater vs. (11) Tom Nook, Animal Crossing

You gotta love an entrepreneurial raccoon in an argyle sweater.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    (6) Tony Hawk, ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’
    (15985 votes)
  • 56%
    (11) Tom Nook, ‘Animal Crossing’
    (20596 votes)
36581 votes total Vote Now

The Rest of the Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    (1) Master Chief, ‘Halo’
    (15150 votes)
  • 18%
    (16) Commander Shepard, ‘Mass Effect’
    (3495 votes)
18645 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    (5) John Price, ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’
    (9667 votes)
  • 40%
    (12) Auron, ‘Final Fantasy’
    (6558 votes)
16225 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    (4) Samus Aran, ‘Metroid’
    (14980 votes)
  • 14%
    (13) Dante, ‘Devil May Cry’
    (2485 votes)
17465 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    (2) Solid Snake, ‘Metal Gear Solid’
    (15609 votes)
  • 9%
    (15) The King of All Cosmos, ‘Katamari Damacy’
    (1657 votes)
17266 votes total Vote Now

Make sure to come back on Tuesday morning to see who advanced and to vote on Round 2. —Andrew Gruttadaro

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