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The Best Video Game Character Bracket: The Sweet 16

After two rounds, the tournament has turned into a battle of the classics. Now things are really gonna heat up.

Ringer illustration

This week on The Ringer, we’re hosting the Best Video Game Character Bracket—an expansive competition between the greatest heroes, sidekicks, and villains of the gaming world. And along with delving into some of those iconic figures, we’ll also explore and celebrate the gaming industry as a whole. Welcome to Video Game Week.


Childhood has a powerful hold over all of us. Experiences from that young age feel realer, more thrilling, more important in our memory. The things we loved then become plated in gold in our memories, unvarnished and unassailable. Bright and shiny things—even revolutionary things!—from adulthood are cool and all, but they’ll never cling to our souls the way a childhood relic does.

At least, that much is clear from the results of The Ringer’s Best Video Game Character Bracket. With 16 characters remaining, only two of them hail from games that were released after 2000, and only one of them hails from the last console generation. Halo’s Master Chief and Red Dead Redemption 2’s Arthur Morgan are the last remaining vestiges of the 21st century, surrounded by classic favorites like Mario, Link, and Sonic, but also older characters who’ve proved to have surprisingly large fan bases like Pac-Man and Mega Man.

Not that this doesn’t make sense. Characters like Mario—and even Bowser—have been ingrained in our collective psyche through decades of in-game storytelling. Beyond having the power of nostalgia on their side, they also have deep canons. The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia is iconic in his own right—Henry Cavill played him on TV!—but not even he can compete with that combo, even when those assets are wielded by a sidekick like Tails.

So, now things get real. Only 16 players remain, most of them are classics, and all of them can make a strong argument for being the best ever.

As always, you can place votes here, on Twitter, and on Instagram until 6 p.m. ET. Now let’s dive into each region.

Mushroom Kingdom

The Big Boys Matchup

Aside from turning into a beautiful testament to ’80s gaming, this region is set up for only excellent matchups going forward. The marquee one in the Sweet 16 is Bowser versus Donkey Kong—a Nintendo-on-Nintendo war, a battle between beefy legends. What’s more, assuming that Mario wins his matchup (not a guarantee, considering the run Tails is making right now), we’re in store for an amazing regional final. It’s either gonna be two legends (Mario vs. DK) or two enemies (Mario vs. Bowser). Bring it on.

The Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    (1) Mario, ‘Super Mario Bros.’
    (16081 votes)
  • 6%
    (5) Tails, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’
    (1203 votes)
17284 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    (2) Donkey Kong, ‘Donkey Kong’
    (11060 votes)
  • 35%
    (6) Bowser, ‘Super Mario Bros.’
    (6140 votes)
17200 votes total Vote Now

Hyrule

The PS4’s Last Gasp

Arthur Morgan stands as the only character from the past console generation to make it to the Sweet 16. Good for him. Dutch van der Linde could never. It is somewhat fitting, though, or maybe a bit ironic. In Red Dead Redemption 2, Morgan is a man whom time is passing by; he’s being swallowed up by modernity. Now, Morgan is being hunted by the past and the power of nostalgia. It’s a different version of being out of step with time, but it’ll likely end the same way: in a fiery death at the hands of a fair-haired man.

The Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    (1) Link, ‘The Legend of Zelda’
    (14399 votes)
  • 16%
    (4) Arthur Morgan, ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’
    (2757 votes)
17156 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    (2) Pikachu, ‘Pokémon’
    (9581 votes)
  • 43%
    (3) Lara Croft, ‘Tomb Raider’
    (7463 votes)
17044 votes total Vote Now

Mobius

Goodbye, You Sly Fox

Fox McCloud, the chaotic 15-seed who defeated God of War’s Kratos in Round 1, was about to do it again. Early on in the day, Fox built up a 52-48 percent lead on Street Fighter’s Ryu. Another upset seemed written in the sky—and then the social polls opened. Ryu narrowly won the Twitter vote (51-49) and handily defeated Fox on Instagram (58-42) for an overall 52.5 percent of the total vote. Now, do I think it’s a pretty weird coincidence that a character named Fox was winning an election until (legitimate) votes from other sources came in and swung it in the other direction? Yes, obviously. Fortunately, I don’t expect McCloud to angrily tweet about it.

The Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    (1) Sonic, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’
    (10610 votes)
  • 38%
    (4) Pac-Man, ‘Pac-Man’
    (6515 votes)
17125 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    (6) Yoshi, ‘Super Mario Bros.’
    (10744 votes)
  • 37%
    (7) Ryu, ‘Street Fighter’
    (6361 votes)
17105 votes total Vote Now


The Milky Way

Play Rage Against the Machine Right Now

Athletes haven’t fared very well in this bracket—Bo Jackson and Michael Vick got bounced in the first round and Mike Tyson got knocked out on Tuesday. But Tony Hawk remains, and man, the bracket is actually setting up nicely for him. He’s in the one region that isn’t populated by a classic Nintendo character (no shots at Mega Man, but he’s no Mario). And while Halo’s Master Chief still stands as the region’s 1-seed, that character needed a late push to get past the oxen from Oregon Trail. The guy’s vulnerable, and Tony Hawk is no chump himself, bringing in 71 percent of the vote in Round 1 and then absolutely decimating The Last of Us’s Ellie 74 percent to 26 percent in Round 2. Believe it or not, the Final Four is totally possible for Tony Hawk.

The Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    (1) Master Chief, ‘Halo’
    (8948 votes)
  • 46%
    (4) Samus Aran, ‘Metroid’
    (7653 votes)
16601 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    (6) Tony Hawk, ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’
    (9357 votes)
  • 44%
    (7) Mega Man, ‘Mega Man’
    (7502 votes)
16859 votes total Vote Now
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