The Ten Best Video Game Animals

Being a human is boring sometimes. Yes, we have things like comfy chairs, art and Jaffa Cakes, but I’ve been using the internet long enough to have seen all of those being enjoyed by other species, so I’m starting to think that humanity is overrated.

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See? Even other species have art. Arguably, anyway.

In video games, there’s no firm requirement that you play as someone even remotely similar to yourself, or even as a fellow human. You can be a plumber who jumps on tortoises, a spaceship, a flower petal, or a weird yellow blob who munches pills in the dark, listening to an electronic soundtrack. Actually, I know a few people like that last one. Regardless, video games give us the opportunity to be someone new, or even something new, and animals are regular protagonists of some of the best games out there.

Here, then, is my list of the greatest animals in video games. Be warned: some of them aren’t real. Actually, if you needed that warning, it might be time for you to step away from the screen.

Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic the Hedgehog - 1991)


Since his first game came out in 1991, there have been countless titles featuring Sonic, the teenage anthropomorphic blue hedgehog who runs at incredible speed. Let’s just take a moment to reflect on how utterly bizarre that sentence truly is.

Created by the great Yuji Naka, Sonic became a rival to Nintendo’s Mario in the 90s, giving the two companies figureheads for their rivalry. He has since sold 80 million games for Sega, based almost entirely on the premise of running really fast. Sonic can’t swim, however, because Naka-san assumed that all hedgehogs can’t.

Sonic makes it onto this list purely because of the greatness of his first few games on the Megadrive, as well as one or two others along the way. In more recent years there has been a tendency to try and give him a personality, which I find makes him more irritating than a flat tyre on a rainy day, but the original Sonic games were fast, colourful and fun, and gave Sega a great mascot.

Fun Fact: Sonic’s first video game appearance was not in Sonic the Hedgehog, but Rad Mobile. He was an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror.

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Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong - 1981)

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Donkey Kong gets a regular mention in this blog, not least because he was the antagonist of one of the best and most important arcade games, but also because games with monkeys and apes in them are inevitably great.

We all know by now that Donkey Kong was the first game to star Mario, that it was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, that it had a massive impact on Nintendo’s fortunes, and that Universal Studios attempted and failed to sue Nintendo over the character. If you didn’t know any of those things, I suggest that you pay closer attention to my earlier blog posts. There’s going to be a test, you know.

Donkey Kong gets a place on this list for making a successful switch from antagonist to protagonist, starring in some of Nintendo’s hardest SNES games, and managing to look stylish by wearing a tie and nothing else.

Fun Fact: Miyamoto-san, Donkey Kong’s creator, believed that “donkey” meant “stupid” and so the character’s name would evoke “stupid ape”.

Mother Badger (Shelter - 2013)


Smaller, less expensive, independently-produced games are on the rise, with the result that independent game developers are able to take more risks with creating new intellectual property and don’t have to make something like “War Shooter Death Game 2015” in order to make money. New experiences are being created in the interactive media scene. Experiences like that of being a badger.

Playing in the role of a mother badger, you are charged with the task of protecting your five cubs from starvation, fires, treacherous rivers and eagles. The entire point of the game is to get from an old burrow to a new one and keep the baby badgers alive, and yet strangely this manages to be enjoyable. Perhaps that’s because no-one is trying to cull you and stamp out tuberculosis.

The mother badger gets onto this list for being a vulnerable, realistic depiction of a wild animal, who fights foxes to the death and feeds the spoils to her cubs. Games don’t need to be fantastical to make you feel empowered or emotionally affected, you know.

Fun Fact: Shelter 2 is coming later this year, and promises to be the best game that simulates life as a pregnant lynx that has ever been made.

Pikachu (Pokémon Red & Blue - 1996)


If you haven’t heard of Pikachu, and that picture doesn’t look familiar, then it’s probably time for you to go out and buy your first electronic device. Maybe a television, or a computer. Perhaps even a Game Boy, the console that was home to the first Pokémon game back in 1996, which sold a bajillion copies. Come back when you’ve caught up with at least the 20th century, if not the 21st.

Right, now that you’re back, we can talk about how Pikachu has been attached to all sorts of merchandise from trading cards and cuddly toys to Toyota cars and a Boeing 747 aeroplane, how a ligand molecule has been named after it (Pikachurin, which promotes visual acuity), and how it was almost named Time Magazine’s person of the year in 1999, losing out to Ricky Martin (but beating JK Rowling and Prince William).

Pikachu gets onto this list for being a fictional animal that somehow almost everyone recognises, and all that without even being able to say more than its own name.

Fun Fact: “Pikachu” comes from the Japanese words for the sound for a spark of electricity and the noise a mouse makes. 

The Dog (Duck Hunt - 1984)

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Anyone who played the original Duck Hunt on the NES will remember two things: how amazing it was to point a gun at the screen and be able to shoot things, and the annoying dog that laughs at you when you miss.

Duck Hunt was packaged in with Super Mario Bros. for a long time, meaning that most NES owners had a copy of this game. Despite the repetitive nature of shooting ducks (or clay pigeons), it kept kids engrossed for hours. It was a simpler time, I suppose. The duck hunting levels have you shoot at two ducks at a time, and the dog pops up holding them as they fall behind a hedge. Miss, and the irritating canine giggles at your failure, which almost inevitably prompts irritated players to try shooting him instead. It never worked, of course.

The dog gets onto this list for causing annoyance to the point where I can still see him laughing if I close my eyes, and making what could be a bland and dull game into a memorable and lighthearted one.

Fun Fact: Duck Hunt was developed by the late Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the Game Boy, the Game Boy Pocket and the Bandai WonderSwan.

Yoshi (Super Mario World - 1990)


Yoshi is supposedly a dinosaur, of a fictional species called Yoshis (confusingly). If you can tell me why he’s wearing boots and yet no other clothes, I’ll send you a special prize.

In Super Mario World, Yoshi appeared as a sidekick to Mario, running around eating enemies and pooping them out as eggs while you ride on his back. He’s since had a whole series of games featuring him as the star, including the fantastic Yoshi’s Island, and as such is almost as recognisable as Donkey Kong amongst Nintendo’s characters. He’s still weird-looking and nearly naked, though.

Yoshi gets onto this list for being the cutest dinosaur ever. I don’t think you can really ask me for a better reason than that.

Fun Fact: Since appearing in the Mario Golf games, Yoshi has become the only dinosaur ever to play golf. Unless you count Colin Montgomerie, that is.

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PaRappa the Rapper (PaRappa the Rapper - 1996)


Kick! Punch! It’s all in the mind. Yes, you may remember the astonishingly odd yet catchy music to this game from my post on The Catchiest Video Game Music of All Time, but as a character PaRappa is worth mentioning. He’s a dog that learns to rap, probably because his name rhymes with “rapper” and he’s fed up with disappointing people.

PaRappa the Rapper was arguably the start of the rhythm-action genre of games that led on to SingStar and Rock Band, though there was only a single sequel and PaRappa hasn’t appeared much in the last decade or so. Despite that absence, he remains a well-liked character due to his striking yet at-least-partially insane design, and the fact that he can cook, drive and haggle with flea market employees, all while rapping.

PaRappa gets onto this list for being the best two-dimensional rapping cartoon dog to ever rap his way to the front of a toilet queue while on a quest to declare his love to a flower.

Fun Fact: There was a PaRappa the Rapper television series in 2001. It features almost no rapping, or entertainment of any kind, incidentally.

Conker the Squirrel (Conker’s Bad Fur Day - 2001)


Conker was supposed to be a cute, family-friendly mascot character, but somewhere along the line the developers, Rare, changed their minds. As a result, Conker became an alcoholic, misogynistic, murderous squirrel on a hungover quest to get back to his girlfriend. 

Along the way, Conker takes on aliens, weasels, Nazi teddy bears and Scouse dung beetles, all while swearing, drinking and womanising happily. The game is full of toilet humour; sometimes literally, as probably the most memorable scene in the game has you fighting The Great Mighty Poo, a sewage monster who sings opera while you fling toilet roll at him.

Warning: this video contains swear words, anti-gravity chocolate and a player who’s not very good at the game.

Conker gets onto this list for being the most uncouth, foul-mouthed and unpleasant squirrel in all of history, and for making me like him for it.

Fun Fact: Despite appearing in a game with Diddy Kong, Donkey Kong’s partner, Conker has never been acknowledged as part of the Mario series of characters. I can’t imagine why.

Special Mention: Sam and Max

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A wise-cracking dog in a sharp suit, and a homicidal “hyperkinetic rabbity thing”. They solve crimes together, often in the most creatively violent ways they can imagine. Though they’re most well-known for their video games, they started out in a comic book series, and thus don’t make it onto my list.

So, those are my picks for the ten best video game animals. Apologies go to Crash Bandicoot, Ecco the Dolphin and Spyro the Dragon, as well as the many dozens of other forgettable mascots that gaming has unceremoniously vomited onto our screens over the years. I’m glad games developers no longer feel like they need to have a cute character to make their game around, though at least it made 90s games colourful. Oh well, can’t have it all.

If you think I’ve missed any great gaming animals off this list (and let’s face it, I probably have), then let me know! You can get in touch with me through the comments below, via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, or email [email protected].

Written By: Dave Morgan

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