Iconic video game mascots and how they came to be

video game Mario Sonic Donkey Kong Mega Man

Ever since video games became popular in the 1970s and 80s, thousands of video game characters have been created. Some have since faded into the background whilst others have become household names and are instantly recognizable even to this day. Some characters are so popular that they have in essence become the face of the companies behind them. See if you recognize these popular video game mascots and learn a bit more about how they came to be:


Mario first appeared in Donkey Kong in 1981 and later became the main character in the Mario Bros. video game franchise. He has been in approximately 200 games since his initial creation. Mario was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, a Japanese video game designer and producer, well-known for his groundbreaking work at Nintendo. Originally Mario’s profession was that of a carpenter in Donkey Kong, but he was later turned into a plumber because the Mario Bros. franchise mostly plays out underground and involves travelling through pipes.

Mario’s signature look of overalls and an undershirt was the result of graphic limitations at the time. He wears a cap because the creators didn’t want to go through the effort of animating his hair as he jumped. Also, when he was first created his overalls were red and his undershirt blue but as time went by the colours were switched round.

Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong was Mario’s first opponent in the Donkey Kong franchise and he would go on to star in his own series of games. Donkey Kong was also created by Shigeru Miyamoto, the same video game designer responsible for Mario at Nintendo.

When thinking of what to name his human-like ape creation, he was inspired by a famous primate by the name of King Kong. The word “donkey” was added to Kong because Miyamoto falsely believed that the word meant “stupid” in English. Thus, in his mind, the name Donkey Kong would mean “stupid ape”. When he explained the character name to Nintendo America they found it very amusing. However, the name still stuck despite its comical beginnings.


Pac-Man is the main character from the video game series of the same name, and he is also the official mascot of the video game publisher Namco.

Originally, Pac-Man was called Puck-Man in Japan. The name is said to be derived from the Japanese slang paku-paku, which is the word used to describe the sound you make when opening and closing your mouth. However, Puck-Man was changed to Pac-Man when it was released in America, because Namco feared vandals would be tempted to change the “p” in Puck-Man to an “f”.

Lara Croft

Lara Croft

Lara Croft is the fictional female protagonist from the Tomb Raider franchise. Croft is an English archaeologist and adventurer that strays into perilous tombs and ruins across the world to save historic artefacts. In 2010 Lara Croft received six Guinness World Records including ones for the most real-life stand-ins, the most detailed game character, and the most successful video game heroine.

Croft became well-known for her overtly sexual appearance whilst also being criticized for it. However, she has been praised for being one of the most well-rounded female video game characters in terms of athleticism, bravery and intelligence – she’s fluent in six languages. The Tomb Raider series was the first successful adaptation of a video game into a movie, called Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which starred Angelina Jolie.

The character’s original name was to be Laura Cruz, to signify her South American heritage. But creators Eidos Interactive (now Square Enix) wanted her name to be easier on British ears. The character’s name was selected according to listings in an English telephone directory that sounded similar to Laura Cruz, and subsequently her nationality was also changed to British. Lara Croft’s look was inspired by both pop singer Neneh Cherry as well as the tough comic book character, Tank Girl.

Nathan Drake

Uncharted is an action-adventure shooter game created by Naughty Dog for the Sony Playstation. Its main character is Nathan Drake who is the self-proclaimed direct descendant of famous explorer and sea captain, Sir Francis Drake.

Drake’s appearance and personality was modelled after the cool demeanour of actor, and Jackass daredevil, Johnny Knoxville. The character also shares the witty, snarky personalities of action stars Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis. Drake’s voice actor further influenced the character’s personality through his constant ad-libbing during voice recordings.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog was created in 1991 by Sega to, in a way, be the rival to Nintendo’s wildly successful Mario. Sonic, with his signature blue colouring and spiky hair, is well-known for his ability to move at supersonic speeds and curl into a ball to attack his enemies.

Sonic’s original name was going to be Mr Needlemouse and the blue colouring was chosen to match the Sega logo. His funky shoes were inspired by both Santa Claus and boots worn by Michael Jackson’s on the cover of his 1987 album Bad.

Before Sonic came into being many other mascots were designed by Sega as possible candidates. Some of these character designs included a rabbit that could extend its ears to collect objects, an armadillo (who later became the Mighty Armadillo character), a dog, and a pajama-clad man that looked like Theodore Roosevelt.

Mega Man

One of Capcom’s most recognizable mascots, Mega Man, first appeared in his very own game in 1987. He used to be the assistant of his creator, Dr Light. When one of Dr Light’s colleagues turns villainous, he is repurposed into a battle robot to fight against this threat, and ultimately becomes Mega Man.

Many names were proposed for Mega Man including Rainbow Battle Kid, Mighty Kid and Knuckle Kid. His Japanese name is Rockman and is meant to be a reference to the rock ‘n roll genre of music. Originally, he had a sister robot named Roll (get it?) that would help him fight baddies, but she very rarely made an appearance.