Unlockable characters have been around almost as long as there've been video games on consoles. They can serve as cute little easter eggs for long-time fans, rewards for players for their devotion to a title, or even reasons to add on to the game's replay value, creating a better value proposition to potential buyers. That said, as the medium continues to change and grow, unlockable characters are slowly becoming a thing of the past. In their place, we're seeing rosters expand through downloadable content, with characters being introduced that players can spend money for and immediately play them. Of late, it's even felt like some fans have outright pushed back against unlockable characters in competitive games, for a number of reasons. With that being the case, it's seeming more and more like that secret, unlockable characters are eventually going to become a thing of the past.
So while they're around, let's take a look back through video game history and examine some of the worst (and best) unlockable characters the medium has had to offer. For the worst side of this list, we're looking at characters that weren't particularly good when players unlocked them, but that's not all. We're also examining just how hard they were to get to in the first place, meaning some fan-favorite characters might wind up on the wrong end of this because of the requirements to make them playable. But of course, there are still some characters who were undeniably cool that we just have to pay homage to. Ready to find out which was which?
22 WORST: TOFU - RESIDENT EVIL 2
A lot of sillier characters found their way into video games in the ’90s, but as things go a giant…piece of tofu is probably one of the most over the top. If you were able to beat every mission in the game with nothing but A Rankings, you could play the game with this hidden character, who originally only existed to make sure the physics of the game were in working order. Unfortunately, despite the work you put into getting Tofu, even if you beat the game with him, he just gets munched on by Hunk at the end. Bummer.
21 WORST: MEAT MAN - SKATE 3
Gaming has quite the obsession with cuts of prime beef. In Skate 3, players are able to unlock the character known as Meat Man, if they can complete the on the nose “Hall of Meat” challenges, all of which involve damaging your character as much as possible. If players pull it off, they get rewarded with a new character in the form of a steak with no limbs, riding a skateboard. To be honest, if anything has been pretty great about this gen, it’s that people have been better about not putting literal meat in a game and calling it a character.
20 BEST: SPIDER-MAN - TONY HAWK PRO SKATER 2
First off, let’s all acknowledge the world needs another major skating title, and preferably one that allows itself to be silly enough to add characters like Spider-Man. You can get him in THPS 2 by 100 percenting the game’s career mode with a created character, and he comes with a better set of stats and array of tricks. Even better, when the skateboard gets too far away from him the character actually webs it back to him before continuing to bust out more sweet moves. The only way this gets cooler is if they let you control his web shooting while doing tricks.
19 WORST: REPTILE - MORTAL KOMBAT
So we’re clear, Reptile is an awesome character now that they have an actual background and history to who he is. He stands out from the other ninja now, but this wasn’t always the case. When the character was initially introduced, he was one of multiple palette swap characters who stood out in no discernible way from the others, visually. You couldn’t play as him either, you could merely unlock him through scoring a double flawless victory without blocking on The Pit stage, then performing a fatality. He was quite the threat, possessing the ninja powers of both Sub-Zero and Scorpion.
18 BEST: DEVIL JIN - TEKKEN 5
Given how much work it is to unlock this character, he almost ended up on the worst side of this list. To get him players have to beat the Devil Within mini-game, or play over 200 matches in the game’s arcade mode, which is both difficult and extremely time-consuming as an ask. But Devil Jin is just…too awesome an alternate evil look for one of the main characters of the series. He’s got sweet wings and laser eye beams that leave the player feeling like an unbeatable, otherworldly god of destruction. How can anyone love fighting games but not be a fan?
17 WORST: MOKAP - MORTAL KOMBAT: DEADLY ALLIANCE
One of the coolest things about Mortal Kombat is how they’ll take characters who aren’t even supposed to exist and make something happen with them, even slotting them into the lore of the game’s world. And while some of these are actually pretty cool, Mokap is decidedly…not. To get him you have to beat Konquest with all the characters in Deadly Alliance, which is a chore in itself. But once you do have the character it’s not as if they do anything special—players expend a ton of effort to get a guy without an actual moveset of their own.
16 BEST: AKUMA - SUPER STREET FIGHTER II TURBO
Some of the coolest characters in video games have come from mistakes. Take Akuma, a guy who didn’t initially exist until some gaming journalists from the early days posted a practical joke about a character known as “Shen Long”, a secret boss who would appear if players could satisfy intensely difficult requirements, and knock M. Bison aside on the final stage to challenge you himself. At least the M. Bison part isn’t too far from the truth, as Akuma has often been known to ignore the master of Shadaloo in favor of other main characters in Street Fighter. Plus, you have to respect a guy whose finish is so fearsome it isn’t even shown on screen.
15 WORST: MEWTWO - SUPER SMASH BROS. MELEE
Mewtwo is one of the coolest Pokémon ever created. Literally, since he was grown in a lab to emulate the psychic Pokémon, Mew. His incredible abilities and fighting prowess make him something of a natural fit for a game like Super Smash Bros, but to unlock him you have to go through twenty hours of play. That would be semi-okay if the character were decent, but ultimately after all that effort, and in one of the most competitive versions of Smash to ever be released, he isn’t even that good. It feels like a waste of such a well-designed character, though he was done right in later games.
14 BEST: VERGIL - DEVIL MAY CRY 3
The lead antagonist of Devil May Cry 3, Dante’s brother Vergil was undeniably cool from the second they introduced him. Having given in to his demon side, he’s got far more control over his Devil Trigger abilities. They don’t even ask much from players to get the character—simply beat the game as Dante, and his older brother is unlocked. Subsequent playthroughs on higher difficulties grant players other versions of the character, eventually unlocking one with an unlimited Devil Trigger meter. That’s pretty hard (especially for DMC3), but that’s not the base character and players probably should have to work for that extra power.
13 WORST: DAN HIBIKI - STREET FIGHTER ALPHA
Master of the Saikyo-ryu, Dan Hibiki is one of Street Fighter’s over the top joke characters. On a quest to get revenge against Sagat for killing his father Go, Dan is basically the character your friend uses to make fun of the fact that you’re bad at the game. His fireball doesn’t leave his hand, his punches and kicks aren’t the strongest or fastest, playing with him is really a way of putting on the limiter, like Goku trying to fight an opponent in base form. Plus no matter how good you are with the character in-game, in the story he’s still a joke—he fights Sagat finally in the story mode of Alpha 3…and Sagat reveals he actually threw the fight. Oh boy.
12 BEST: DARTH MAUL - TONY HAWK PRO SKATER 3
Despite Darth Maul being one of the most likable characters in Star Wars mythology, he still almost ended up on the other end of this. The game requires you to beat every goal in the game and get every gold medal possible while playing as the game’s titular skater to unlock him normally. But, there’s a simple cheat to be put in to get the guy instead, and it is one of the coolest Sith characters, complete with his dual lightsabers. Also, he chokes the skate shop guy out with the Force if you pick him, and that’s...neat, if odd.
11 WORST: THE TOILET - SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD
Saints Row had a significant amount of popularity for being a game in the vein of GTA that cranked the absurdity present in Rockstar’s open-world franchise to the absolute maximum. It’s no surprise then that they offer something as absurd as allowing players to become a…toilet. It’s a costume you only wear to complete one mission, but after it’s done you can put the costume back on and…become a toilet whenever you want. The character can still fire guns somehow and yank people out of cars, despite completely lacking any arms or legs. Impressive, but still a tad silly, and something you’d only do to say you could.
10 BEST: SENTINEL - MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3
Sentinel's one of only a small number of characters that even needs to be unlocked in the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 roster, with players needing to gain 4,000 Player Points to gain access to him. A machine designed to destroy mutants in the Marvel Universe, it absolutely dominates the screen, reflecting its giant size and making it incredibly difficult to dodge their attacks. But worse than that, Sentinel deals out incredible damage, and had the highest health in the game, making this Sentinel feel far more powerful in the game than these massive automatons ever have in the comics themselves.
9 WORST: MORINTH - MASS EFFECT 2
This was fairly unexpected. For most of Mass Effect 2, you work with an Asari known as Samsara, who’s looking for her daughter Morinth. Morinth is a danger to anyone she shares the Asari mind-meld with due to a genetic deformity, and after you track her down, Samsara and Morinth wind up fighting each other. But the player can choose to work with Morinth, leading to Samsara dying and Morinth pretending to be her for the rest of the game. And yes, while you can romance and share the mind-meld with her as well, it results in you dying. Some partner.
8 BEST: MAGUS - CHRONO TRIGGER
Here’s a pretty sweet trick. In Square’s SNES magnum opus Chrono Trigger, players can actually recruit one of the primary villains to their party. After the death of a key character in the party, players are given the option to either fight Magus or leave him. For those who choose to leave the morose prince, Magus decides he’ll be coming with you on your journey for the remainder of the game. He doesn’t allow you to turn him down, so you’re essentially stuck with him for the remainder of the game. Cool if you like having extra magic firepower, not quite as cool if you don’t like a man who plunged the land into war.
7 WORST: HORNET - FIGHTERS MEGAMIX
Fighters Megamix was a game Sega released on the Sega Saturn in 1996 that was meant to be this big mash-up for multiple Sega properties. And one of Sega’s largest properties at the time was the arcade Daytona USA. And while most developers would simply gloss over their racing game in favor of properties with more anthropomorphic representatives, Sega loves to aim high. (Unless the Sonic franchise is involved.) So they took the Hornet car from Daytona and allowed it to fight on two wheels. Unfortunately, the character wasn’t really any good, and was only amusing for a match or two before you went back to better fighters.
6 BEST: TIR MCDOHL - SUIKODEN 2
Konami’s Suikoden series is one of the hidden gems of the PS1 and PS2 era for RPG fans. The series was beloved by a small group of fans for both its massive casts as well as stories which emphasized political intrigue over the usual “save the world” narrative RPG fans had grown used to. The sequel to the first series was hailed not only for this, but also because they starred several characters from the original series, including the main character of the original game. If a player loads their save from the original Suikoden, they can recruit Tir into Suikoden II to help them with their battle.
5 WORST: COLONEL SANDERS - PHANTASY STAR PORTABLE 2
There’ve been entire video games based on mascots before (Burger King had a series of games in 2006), so it’s not as if something like this hasn’t ever happened. But at least The (Burger) King is more of a walking meme machine, while “the Colonel” feels completely out of left field by comparison. Japan’s well-documented love for Kentucky Fried combined with Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity launching in the 40th anniversary of KFC made this almost a given. The character not only existed, but had their own unique animations and attacks, giving players a chance to serve extra crispy beatdowns.
4 BEST: CLOUD STRIFE - FINAL FANTASY TACTICS
The best of the Final Fantasy series also has one of the most iconic main characters from the franchise accessible as a guest character. It’s a quest unto itself to get the character into your party, and you’ll need to find nearly every other hidden character to even make it happen, plus the character will start at level one at a time where Ramza and his troops will be…significantly more powerful. However, he comes with all of his incredible Limit Break moves and is capable of dealing all sorts of damage. Plus, this is one of the best team-ups we’ll ever get outside of team-up games.
3 WORST: ANDROID 21 - DRAGON BALL FIGHTERZ
Created for ArcSystemWorks’ popular 3v3 fighting game, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Android 21 is actually pretty awesome. Her design (made by Akira Toriyama) is cool, even boasting a neat little alternate form that finally gives everyone the female version of Majin Buu fans have wanted for years. But what makes her the worst is she’s only unlocked after finishing the game’s massive story mode. While that can be a reward for many players who enjoy going through a fighting game’s single-player content, it’s nothing more than a pain for more competitive minded players who just want to jump into the online play.
2 WORST: BARNEY - XENOPHAGE: ALIEN BLOODSPORT
In the early ’90s, NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat changed the face of gaming, with developers wanting their own mature fighting games with blood and absurd deaths. Enter Apogee Software, with Xenophage: Alien Bloodsport for the MS-DOS in 1995. The game was staged on an alien spaceship, where abducted species battled to the death. So of course, this is exactly the place everyone expects to see 90s children’s mascot, Barney the Dinosaur. Known as Blarney in the game, the character is capable of actually breaking the game in certain conditions, which seems like proper karma for trying to be edgy in the laziest way possible.
1 BEST: HIDEO KOJIMA - MGS: PEACE WALKER
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is regarded by many MGS fans as one of the best Metal Gear games in the franchise. Perhaps that’s why the creator of the series thought it’d be an opportune time to slip himself into the game. The game allowed you to recruit a number of soldiers for missions, and if you picked out a specific truck in the Crater Base’s garage, he’d join up with you. Kojima actually didn’t stop here, but included a number of the voice cast of the game into the title. Generally, random celebrity guest appearances feel like a waste of a character…but definitely not when it’s the creator of the game.