All week long, The Ringer has been celebrating the history of video games and its biggest icons with the Best Video Game Character Bracket (which is now into the Final Four). And though it feels rather safe to say that none of the following characters would still be standing against the likes of Mario, Link, and Sonic, there are certainly arguments to be made that they deserved to make it into the field of 64. Below, several members of The Ringer’s selection committee submit those arguments, in a way to apologize to a handful of video game legends who were ultimately snubbed.
Pablo Sanchez, Backyard Sports
Reader, I’ll let you in on a secret: Not only did Pablo Sanchez not make the final 64-character bracket, the Backyard Sports icon didn’t even make the final cuts list. I’m truly baffled and disappointed with my colleagues. Do they dislike home runs and touchdowns? Do they not care for 3-pointers and goals? This is a sports site, after all, and Pablo is the greatest athlete in video game history—part Alex Rodriguez, part Edgar Martínez, part Charlie Brown, in his creators’ telling; a diminutive, potbellied, multisport superstar with a veritable jam for a theme song and a sea of adoring internet fans.
To quote actual MLB star Andrelton Simmons, with one small change for this bracket: “Don’t you dare disrespect Pablo Sanchez with these other [characters]. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. To this day the world hasn’t seen anything of that caliber.” —Zach Kram
Kyle Katarn, Star Wars
Kyle Katarn is every Star Wars character combined into one: He fought for the Empire, worked as a mercenary/smuggler, enlisted in the Rebel Alliance, and joined the Jedi order. As a formative figure in the now-decanonized expanded universe, Katarn foreshadowed the first decade of Disney’s Star Wars stewardship. He defected from the Stormtrooper corps (and discovered his Force sensitivity) before Finn did, secured the Death Star plans before Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor did, took down the dark troopers before Mando did, and rejected (and re-embraced) the Jedi before Luke Skywalker did. Katarn and his smuggling sidekick, Jan Ors, even lost their original ship, the Moldy Crow, in an explosion that predated the destruction of Din Djarin’s Razor Crest. The franchise’s current canon leaves little room for the morally fluid hero who did it all. But even if Katarn is never re-canonized (beyond the pages of Wookieepedia, where his nebulous classification is a subject of some debate), his status in Star Wars history is secure. After replacing planned protagonist Luke as the star of the Jedi Knight series, he proved that Star Wars video games could create compelling characters and tell engrossing stand-alone stories. Every subsequent Star Wars character who came from a game owes a debt to the Katarn of all trades. —Ben Lindbergh
Ryo Hazuki, Shenmue
To anyone in any relevant place of power or influence, please read this: I am still waiting for the next Shenmue to drop. Any day now, please.
Ryo’s story is one you’ve seen before—he’s a teen forced to grow up quick, driven by the desire to avenge the murder of his father. There’s not much ground broken there. But Ryo remains a video game character I hold close to my heart not because of his rare background, but because of familiarity. Such was the painstaking premise of Shenmue that you were forced to spend an unreal amount of time controlling Ryo—I can’t tell how many crates I made that dude move. And after all that time, you begin to peer into his soul (through his brown leather jacket) and see a deeply damaged person with a deeply pointed—and maybe disconcerting—drive. He’s a little broken, but too young to even notice or care. You just want what’s best for him, knowing full well that vengeance is almost always a dangerous motivator with diminishing returns. I’d love to know what happens to Ryo next. Maybe someday I finally will. —Andrew Gruttadaro
A video game bracket without Steve from Minecraft? What are we doing???
Steve is the main character of one of the most popular gaming empires of all time, spawning a billion-dollar empire full of spinoff games, books, movies, and an inclusion in Super Smash Bros. I know what everyone is saying—“It’s boring, you mine and you craft, that’s pretty much the entire game”—and you aren’t entirely wrong, but that’s what makes it special. You can do whatever you want in Minecraft: design a house, live your best life as an honest farmer, or even build a working computer. The possibilities are endless.
Gaming changed when Minecraft dropped, and the face of the franchise isn’t included in the list? We have to blow up this bracket. —Jomi Adeniran
Whitney’s Miltank, Pokémon
Whitney’s Miltank isn’t just an opponent—Whitney’s Miltank is a villain and a troll. Whitney runs the Pokémon gym in Goldenrod City, and you waltz in there thinking you’re on a cake walk through a bland roster. You wreck Whitney’s Clefairy, but then Whitney deploys her second and last Pokémon, a stupid pink cow ... with an infuriating moveset. Whitney’s Miltank can Attract your male Pokémon compromising your offense. And whatever damage you do manage to inflict on her, Miltank can mitigate it with Milk Drink, a move that restores much of her health. She attacks with Stomp, which can cause your Pokémon to flinch and waste turns. Far more frequently, though, Miltank will commit to her highest risk/reward move, Rollout, a sequential attack that starts soft but hits much harder with each turn, for five consecutive turns, until the attack misses or the sequence completes. Note, Rollout doesn’t abort once the move KOs an opponent. If, for instance, the move KOs your Pokemon in its third turn, and you deploy a replacement, your replacement still has to contend with the remaining turns. So if Whitney’s Miltank strings Rollout through a third turn—very possible if she’s topped her own health with Milk Drink and neutralized your Pokemon with Attract—you’re screwed. You can recruit Geodude, Onix, or Machop to resist Rollout and Attract. You can drop Miltank’s accuracy, you can paralyze her, you can put her to sleep. But in the end, many players shrink from this stupid pink cow in profound disillusionment. Powerful bosses can be powerful characters, too. —Justin Charity
Sly Cooper, Sly Cooper
There hasn’t been a new game starring Sly Cooper for eight years, and the last one ended on a cliffhanger. The Sly Cooper movie that was supposed to come out in 2016 never materialized, and the TV series it seemingly morphed into didn’t debut, as planned, in 2019. And now Sly was snubbed by our bracket. Why is the world sleeping on Sony’s coolest kid-friendly character? (Yes, I said it.) We’re bringing back Crash Bandicoot and (possibly) Spyro, but we can’t make room for the mask-wearing, multiracial, cel-shaded antihero who stole my heart (and lots of loot) despite my strong aversion to stealth games? We’re talking about a brave, loyal, and frankly sort of sexy rakish raccoon with an entirely-too-dark backstory for a friendly, furry mascot. (His parents were brutally murdered when he was 8.) If you liked Lupin, you’ll love this stylish vigilante, who’s descended from a long line of master thieves, flirts with the foxy former partner who’s trying to catch him, and never met a heist he couldn’t complete with his hooked cane and natural nimbleness. He doesn’t deserve to stay stranded in ancient Egypt forever. —Lindbergh
Revolver Ocelot, Metal Gear Solid
David Hayter gave us some great performances, but Solid Snake isn’t a great character per se. He often takes a back seat to the series antagonists, and even the junior hero Raiden, in dramatizing the key themes in Metal Gear Solid: the distortion of legacies and ideals, the prospect of a disillusioned soldier’s self-determination beyond the state. In his low-key persistence throughout the series—well, low-key until the bombastic chronologic finale of Metal Gear Solid 4—Revolver Ocelot embodies these themes most potently. He’s a triple-crossing cynic with no real convictions and a profound incoherence in his characterization from game to game. But this incoherence results in the characterization truest to the series creator, Hideo Kojima, and his creative vision—for better or worse. He loves six-shooters, Western movies, and plot twists. And honestly, who doesn’t? —Charity