While modern gamers live in an age of fully-rendered 3D graphics and semi-lifelike visuals, there will almost always be a special place in many players’ hearts for simple sprite-based graphics. From 8-bit to 16-bit and beyond, sometimes the most incredible characters can be created with the right arrangement of pixels.
Many of Nintendo’s greatest characters began their lives in arcade cabinets and on the NES (changing drastically over the years), and were once more recognizable as bit-sprites than the fully-realized representations that came after. Some of them have been around for so long that even modern indie titles have reverted back to using their original characterization. After all, classics never really die.
10 The Boxers (Punch-Out)
During its original release, a big selling point for Punch-Out on the NES was the cast of colorful and creative opponents that Little Mac went up against. Loaded with punch and personality, these champion fighters are arguably more recognizable than the player character, a rare quality for games at the time.
From Glass Joe to Mike Tyson and later Mr. Dream, the list of boxers that Little Mac pits himself against was loaded with cleverly-designed characters that absolutely popped in the ring. For 8-bit graphics, the visuals were very impressive.
9 Chrono And Company (Chrono Trigger)
As games grew from repetitive arcade titles to fully-realized adventures, so did their visuals. Considered one of the best RPGs in history, as well as one of the most treasured games of the ’90s, Chrono Trigger had a lot behind it to earn such a stellar reputation.
A swordsman, a scientist, a princess, a robot, and a frog might sound like the most unusual RPG party ever assembled, but they made up an absolutely charming team. Though their sprites might have been tiny at times, they came with vibrant and expressive personalities that broke through the 16-bit pixels.
8 The World (Aggelos)
Not even modern titles are immune from the use of pixelated graphics. With such phenomenal games like Shovel Knight and The Messenger taking things back to the ’80s and ’90s with their visuals, it should come as no surprise that the Switch would play host to dozens of games that did the same.
In the case of Aggelos, the entirety of the experience is designed with a glorious 16-bit purpose. From the hero to the bosses, it’s all a beautiful hybrid of Metroidvania and Zelda-like platformer, and the game feels like it would be right at home on the SNES. With its various bits, beeps, and boops powering the nostalgia factor, it’s nice to know developers still appreciate the art form.
7 Simon Belmont (Super Castlevania IV)
Although the series is already home to many wonderful platforming entries, it’s the fourth title that truly feels the most polished and perfected. While some of the monsters look less familiar than fans of the franchise might be used to, Simon himself has never looked better.
With his long, flowing locks, silver armor, and a deadly assortment of monster-slaying weapons, Simon looks like everything a real vampire hunter should be. Half high-fantasy hero, half seasoned monster slayer, all dashing and daring, he’s everything he needs to be to take on Dracula.
6 Kirby (Kirby’s Adventure)
To be fair, the little pink ball of fun hasn’t exactly changed much since the days of the original Gameboy. That being said, his arguably most definitive appearance was in this NES classic. While the game itself was considered a last hurrah for the system, Kirby truly came into his own here.
Not only did the game shape Kirby into the character many gamers know and love, but it was also the first appearance of his famous copy ability. By literal exaggeration, it was this version that established the character to his very core.
5 Samus (Super Metroid)
Samus Aran already had a pretty impressive career before this SNES juggernaut appeared, but Super Metroid was what cemented her and her adventures in the halls of gaming history. Being one of the games that gave players the Metroidvania genre, it helped that the graphics improved and enhanced the experience.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why modern games in the genre like Blasphemous and Iconoclasts rely on similar graphics to Samus’s SNES adventure. Along with updating and upgrading her suit and weapons, the sprite-work helped shape a new breed of game.
4 Link (Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link)
The Hero of Hyrule has had a variety of many looks in his lengthy career. From green tights to knight armor and nearly every shade of hair imaginable, the game that gave Link his fully-formed appearance has to be the side-scrolling rendition seen in Zelda II.
While his most recognizable look might be something like the version presented in Ocarina of Time, a game that changed the gaming industry forever, this fine collection of pixels was one of the first to show Link as a fully fleshed-out character. From the toes of his boots to the tips of his pointy ears, he is every inch a classic hero.
3 Donkey Kong And Diddy Kong (Donkey Kong Country)
A special round of applause has to go to the graphics presented in Rare’s Donkey Kong Country series. DK’s jump from an 8-bit boss in an arcade game to a 3D sprite created by clever sprite-work is truly something to be admired.
As well as being some of the sharpest and most-challenging platforming titles on the SNES, the graphics and characters were a big stepping stone in game development history. It was a series that showed exactly what the system was capable of handling.
2 X (Mega Man X Series)
Mega-Man is one of those characters whose games have remained consistent throughout most of his career. Even though some of his more modern titles have gone back to 8-bit graphics, the Mega Man X series is perhaps the most detailed and most well-polished in his collection of games.
The Mega Man X games were a breath of fresh air for the SNES, complete with a new Mega Man for beginner players. It was a more defined comic-book-style look that deserves both a mention and a modern comeback.
1 Mario And Luigi (Super Mario World/Super Mario All-Stars)
As the faces of the Nintendo company, Mario and Luigi have undoubtedly had to keep up with the times. However, if long-time fans were to be asked about the definitive Mario title, many would resoundingly answer with Super Mario World.
Along with being one of the best titles on the original SNES, the game was perhaps the most ambitious Mario game before the N64. While Luigi’s depiction would be polished with the edition paired with Super Mario All-Stars, the iconic red plumber’s overall design and concept have remained consistent with this rendition even after all this time.