1. Bill Clinton, NBA Jam (1993)
While most of the secret characters in the original NBA Jam come out of left field—the only playable athlete among them is NFL quarterback Warren Moon—none are weirder than the inclusion of then-president Bill Clinton. When NBA Jam hit arcades in 1993, the nation’s image of Clinton was an affable, saxophone-playing McDonald’s patron—thanks in no doubt to Phil Hartman’s portrayal on Saturday Night Live. Clinton certainly wasn’t seen as a gifted athlete capable of dunking against Dikembe Mutombo from outside the arc. However, by entering the initials ARK—the other thing we knew about Clinton was he was from Arkansas—Slick Willie gets suited up, and he’s ready to take alley-oops from Scottie Pippen. In a game where Michael Jordan, at the height of his powers, wasn’t playable due to licensing issues, the game’s creators took it to the next level and got leader of the free world into the game instead. In the 2010 version of the game, you can play as Barack Obama, who at least is known to play basketball on a regular basis. It’s hard to imagine Bill Clinton, in any era, going up for a contested layup in real life.
2. Gon, Tekken 3 (1998)
The Tekken fighting-game series has always been wacky. By the time Tekken 3 came out, its character roster included kangaroos, velociraptors, and bears amid the usual kung fu masters and cat-mask-wearing wrestlers. But Gon was the weirdest addition of all. The star of a long-running comic book series in Japan, Gon is a tyrannosaurus roughly the size of an office trash can with giant cartoon eyes. Gon was always a novelty, so it’s no surprise that he didn’t become a Tekken mainstay, but his inclusion in Tekken 3 did provide us with one of the series’ best moments. After using him to punch and headbutt your way through the game’s “Arcade Mode,” you get to see Gon’s ending video, which is little more than a montage of the T. Rex bouncing through the jungle and riding on animals. Bless you, you tiny dinosaur freak.
3. Danica Patrick, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed (2012)
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed is a fantastical hodgepodge. The cast begins with a blue hedgehog who hangs out with a rough-and-tumble echidna and a two-tailed fox. The “Sega All-Stars” part adds a hip-hop-loving vandal, a dream jester, and a singing news reporter to the mix. The cars also transform into boats and planes when needed, which, as you may or may not know, is not a thing that cars normally do. The one unifying factor among the all these disparate characters and ideas is their cartoonishness. That’s why Sega’s decision to include a real person on the game’s roster—star NASCAR driver Danica Patrick—is extra strange. The 2013 Kids Choice Award winner for “Best Female Athlete” drives a race car festooned with Hot Wheels and GoDaddy.com branding, right alongside the rest of the game’s sky pirates, ninjas, and anthropomorphized animals. Her realistic in-game depiction is a jarring standout amid the bubbly, bug-eyed cast, but this was clearly a marriage arranged by lawyers and marketing types—nearly half of the game’s opening copyright screen is devoted to Patrick’s, Go Daddy’s, and Hot Wheels’ respective trademarks.
4. Spider-Man, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000)
The best secret characters inject new life into already-good games. Such is the case with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, the sequel to the most popular video game ever to feature the band Goldfinger on its soundtrack. If you complete the game in Career Mode with your own custom-built skater, you get to be Spider-Man! He even has a new trick, the Spidey Flip. One problem: What the hell is Spider-Man doing in a Tony Hawk game? The game’s other unlockable characters all make some sense, like ’80s Tony Hawk and Officer Dick, an ingenious sendup and a role reversal for skaters accustomed to being harassed by the cops. But Spider-Man just feels like he was thrown in there, and in fact he was. Spider-Man is only part of Pro Skater 2 because the game’s publisher, Activision, was also putting out a Spider-Man game at the same time, using the same graphics engine. So this was a synergistic “oh, what the hell” cameo—the way all great crossovers are born.
5. Darth Maul, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (2001)
On the other hand, it makes a certain amount of sense to put Darth Maul, the demonic evil Jedi dude from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 as a playable skater. Skaters are famous for pissing off their parents by shirking their responsibilities, and Maul had a pretty rough childhood. From birth, he was trained to be an evil assassin by a vicious man named Darth Sidious. Like so many angsty teens before him, Maul takes to the halfpipe to escape his tedious chores—hunting space princesses—by living out a fantasy life of beefing major BS Noseslide + Pop Shove-It + Sith Saber Spin combos. The developers missed an opportunity, though, to make this novelty character even more novel: They opted to design Maul with the lower half of his body intact, despite the fact that he loses it in the film. Rosemarie Siggins proved on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not that skateboarding without legs was more than possible. (It’s also inspiring.) It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch for a Sith Lord to use the Force to keep up with the rest of the skaters, legs or no legs.
6. Tofu, Resident Evil 2 (1998)
Despite nearly a decade of spinning its intricate web of nonsensical horror-tinged melodrama, there’s one intriguing character from the Resident Evil series who has been largely forgotten: Tofu. If, for some reason, you played through Resident Evil 2 six times—and on at least one of those treks finished the game in under three hours without using first-aid sprays—you would open up the game’s “Tofu Survivor” mode. It’s pretty much the same as the secret “The 4th Survivor” scenario, a short challenge starring a mercenary named Hunk who must use limited resources to escape from the zombie-infested Raccoon City. In “Tofu Survivor,” Hunk is replaced with a block of tofu who is armed only with a knife and a handful of healing herbs. But where did Tofu come from? Is it just another grotesque experiment gone wrong from the evil masterminds at the Umbrella Corporation? Is it really just a joke model used by Capcom while the company tested the game? Yes, Hunk appears to be eating Tofu aboard their escape helicopter in a post-mission cutscene, but no one really dies in Resident Evil. Perhaps we have yet to hear the last high-pitched yelps from this fearsome soy soldier.
7. Fred Durst, Fight Club (2004)
As Steve Heisler has previously pointed out, the video game version of Fight Club ranks pretty high in the pantheon of game adaptations that completely missed the point of their source material. But among all of the Fight Club game’s missteps, the presence of Fred Durst, lead rapper/singer/knucklehead for Limp Bizkit, stands out. Durst is no stranger to off-key digital cameos—he weaseled his way into WWF Smackdown! Just Bring It when the developers wanted to use the band’s song “Rollin’” in the game—and in this appearance, he holds his own against the other doughy combatants. He also has the special distinction of being the only celebrity who actually looks like the person they’re based on, as Ed Norton and Brad Pitt wisely declined to have their likenesses associated with the game. In an interview with 1UP, Durst was circumspect about the cameo: “I understand the fun of special characters and the purpose they serve. I can’t imagine a lot of people want to be me and fight as me so much as they want to beat me up. And I’m all right with that.”
8. Shaquille O’Neal, UFC Undisputed 2010 (2010)
Shaq’s cameo in this UFC tie-in wasn’t the first time that the NBA champion appeared in a fighting game. In video game circles, O’Neal is more famous—or, rather, more infamous—for starring in Shaq Fu, a 1994 game so awful that there was a website dedicated to destroying every copy in existence. But Shaq has never paid much mind to the haters, so he returned to the virtual world in UFC Undisputed 2010, dispensing with the Shaq Fu to instead focus on good old-fashioned kicking and punching and elbowing. After players enter an old-school cheat code—for instance, by pushing right, up, left, right, down, left, up, right, down, left, X, Y, Y, X, start on the Xbox 360 version—O’Neal is unlocked for play. He features a strength rating of 83, which, according to the game’s announcers, allows him to put “an incredible amount of torque” into his punches. Maybe that’s what Shaq Fu needed—more torque.