Princess Zelda may get all the glory of having her name on the box, but the silent Link is the real hero of the Legend of Zelda series. Having been portrayed as everything from a small boy in search of his kidnapped sister to an elf fated for greatness, Link's primary characteristics are his courage, his quietness and his left-handedness. It's only the first two of these which earn him a place on this list though.
Wario might not be the most popular character in the Nintendo catalogue - and was in fact designed to be a deliberately divisive 'anti-Mario' - but he nevertheless wins a place on the list thanks to the quality of the games he stars in. The Warioware series in particular, with the fast-paced nonsense minigames and oddball characters, helped popularise the Wii to players of all ages and tastes.
Originally set to be called 'Mr. Video', Mario ended up debuting under the name of 'Jumpman' in the original Donkey Kong arcade game before going on to launch an entire mega-franchise all of his own. Since then he's become the flagship character and mascot for the entire Nintendo corporation, often appearing alongside his brother and in a series of rather unfortunate spin-offs we'd rather not have to recollect.
Despite all the titles he's appeared in though, Mario's stayed relatively unchanged over the years and is only rarely seen without his trademark red overalls. Nintendo's even made sure to use the same voice actor, Charles Martinet, for nearly every one of his digital appearances!
2: Samus Aran
Decades after she first appeared in the original Metroid, the reveal of Samus Aran as a woman and not a muscle-studded Neanderthal is still considered an important moment in videogame history. Back then, when videogames were thought to be the exclusive preoccupation of teenage boys, it was unheard of for players to control a woman who was on equal footing to the dominant male characters.
Mario may still be Nintendo's most popular hero, but for the way she opened our eyes to the implicit and damaging stereotypes in the industry, Samus will always be far more important to us. In fact, there's only one character who we consider to have played a more vital role in Nintendo's history...
1: Donkey Kong
Mario may be the most popular, Samus may be the most eye-opening and Waluigi may be the most annoying, but Donkey Kong was the first. The Donkey Kong arcade game was what started catapulting the Japanese console manufacturer to electronic success, laying the foundation for all the characters which followed.
Most interestingly of all though is that, while Donkey shares his race and surname with King Kong, Nintendo figurehead Shigeru Miyamoto has attributed the concept not to film, but cartoons. In 1981 Nintendo was working under license to create a new Popeye arcade game and when that fell through the team was forced to improvise. Miyamoto ended up recasting the characters, turning Popeye from a sailor into a carpenter called Jumpman (who would become Mario) and the apish Bluto into a
The rest, as they say, is history - and it's all owed to the success of Donkey Kong.