• Nintendo stars Princess Peach, Little Mac, Link, Luigi, Mario, Bowser, Kirby, Fox McCloud, Yoshi and Zelda. (Nintendo)Source: Nintendo
From heroic plumbers to princesses, monsters and whatever Kirby is, Nintendo has created some of gaming’s most iconic characters.
Rob Hunter

21 Dec 2018 - 4:11 PM  UPDATED 11 Jan 2019 - 2:27 PM

In recent years classic video game collecting has exploded as old-school gamers buy back their old toys instead of garbage like a house or health insurance.

In documentary Nintendo Quest (SBS Viceland, 10 January at 10.30pm) the hobby is taken to the extreme, as Canadian Jay Bartlett attempts to collect every Nintendo Entertainment System game in 30 days on a limited budget. With a library of over 600 games the task is immense, but remarkably for a console dating back to the early 80s, many of the games’ characters still appear in games released today.

Reflecting Nintendo’s ability to create beloved, enduring characters like no other franchise, these are some of Nintendo’s most iconic mascots.


Mario is the brainchild of legendary Japanese game designer Shigeru Miyamoto who combined strength, skill, agility and humour into a delightful Italian stereotype. First appearing in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong and known as ‘Jumpman’, Mario has since starred in more than 200 games showcasing skills as a doctor, pilot, go-kart driver, golfer, tennis player, Olympic athlete and time traveller. Despite a proclivity for crushing turtles to death, Mario remains the figurehead of the Nintendo empire.


First appearing in 1983 arcade game Mario Brothers, Luigi has since starred in his own franchise Luigi’s Mansion. Still, his most noteworthy appearances are alongside his brother in dozens of games, a live action TV show, movies and cartoons. Though lacking Mario’s popularity, Luigi is a favourite among gamers who like the colour green or who don’t select Mario quickly enough and get stuck with him.

Link and Princess Zelda

Starring in the iconic Legend of Zelda franchise, Link and Princess Zelda have been adventuring in the magical Kingdom of Hyrule since 1986. A master swordsman usually clad in a green tunic, Link has consistently played the hero, with Zelda’s role increasing over time revealing more than the ability to be captured and held prisoner. The characters are also infamous for being confused, causing hardcore gamers fierce aggravation despite being notoriously rational people.


Hailing from Dream Land on the planet Pop Star, Kirby is the pink blob thing starring in a successful series of action-platform and puzzle games. With the ability to inhale enemies and attain their powers, Kirby is also a star in Super Smash Brothers and the most likely creature to destroy humanity if ever brought to life.

Donkey Kong

Originally a villain, Donkey Kong rose to fame kidnapping women and hurling barrels at Jumpman in the classic Donkey Kong arcade game in 1981. Proving that rehabilitation is possible, Donkey Kong later became a hero, most notably in the outstanding Donkey Kong Country series on Super Nintendo. Some may argue that technically speaking the star of Donkey Kong Country is Donkey Kong’s grandson, but this argument can be countered using the simple but effective ‘barrel to the face’ response.

Princess Peach

Known for consistently getting captured by Mario Brothers villain Bowser, Princess Peach has become a star in her own right and is arguably the best character choice in Mario Brothers 2 for her ability to hover. Despite her talents, she is still captured on occasion, forcing Mario to come to the rescue, neglecting what at this point must be a crumbling plumbing business.

Little Mac

The scrappy young boxer from the Punch-Out!! series, Little Mac is a 17-year-old kid from the Bronx with big dreams. Unfortunately, the majority of his opponents are massive in comparison and consistently beat the daylights out of Mac as the game’s difficulty increases. Why a 48-kilogram boy is competing in the men’s heavyweight division should really be subject to criminal investigation, but his tenacity and disregard for his long-term health are undeniably impressive.


Introduced as Mario’s dinosaur friend in Super Mario World, Yoshi has a starring role in Yoshi’s Island among other games in the Mario Brothers franchise. Known for his cute appearance and long tongue, he is also famed for his ability in Yoshi’s Island to swallow opponents, digest them and thrust them out his backside as eggs to use as projectiles. (This is really what happens.) Understandably he is a fan favourite.


Inspired by Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley from the movie Alien, Samus is the lead character in the action franchise Metroid. Wielding an arm-cannon and a fierce attitude, the twist at the end of the first game was the revelation Samus was a woman. Nowadays the suggestion a woman could blow up aliens just as well as a man would be correctly accepted, but in 1986 it was considered a righteous step towards equality.

Honourable mentions

Special mention should also go to Billy and Jimmy from Double Dragon, Megaman from Megaman and pilot Fox McCloud from the Star Fox series. (For an added bonus, type “Do a barrel roll” into Google and enjoy all the fun of momentarily thinking your computer is broken.)

Like a bomb in Mario Kart disguised as a question block, there is more to Nintendo Quest than meets the eye. At its surface, the documentary is an entertaining challenge to hunt down games, but it’s also the subtle story of overcoming personal adversity and the ongoing friendship between the film’s director and star.

Classic Nintendo fans will love seeing the video games starring the iconic characters Nintendo is famous for, gawking with jealousy as the stack is collected. But an interest in video games is not necessary to enjoy the film. In this case, the journey truly is the ultimate reward, and like smashing a brick with your head or resolving an argument by throwing a barrel at someone’s face, it is a richly satisfying adventure.

Nintendo Quest screens on SBS Viceland at 10.30pm on Thursday 10 January, and will be available at SBS On Demand afterwards:

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