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Which Video Game Character Has the Best Running Form? A Nike Coach Weighs In

Could Sonic the Hedgehog be even faster? Would a number of other plumbers beat Mario in race? Should Banjo have ditched the bird-filled backpack?

Given their ability to rescue princesses, overthrow despots, conquer aliens and save galaxies — not to mention how much traveling they do by foot — you’d think that video game characters would have pretty pristine running forms. But is that really the case? Could some of them have been even more efficient during their harrowing treks through wastelands and battlefields if they’d only smoothed out their running styles?

To find out, I enlisted the help of Matt Daniels, Nike trail runner and coach of the Matt Daniels Run Club, to perform gait analyses on each of these heroes as he watched them sprint around trying to save the day during their most prominent adventures. Below are his findings.

Mario from ‘Super Mario 64

Mario has had to do miles and miles of game-screen running ever since his very first day on the job chasing down a giant gorilla and leaping over whisky barrels. While the plumber’s running form had undeniably improved by the time of his first 3D adventure in Super Mario 64, Daniels still found some technical areas in need of improvement. “Mario’s cadence and foot strike is superb,” Daniels tells me. “What he lacks, though, is efficiency in arm carriage. He runs with his arms spread out way too wide, which could lead to wasting energy.”

Sonic from ‘Sonic 2

Sonic is the main hedgehog of the moment thanks to the recent release of his second tent-pole film. He was sold as the most prolific runner in all of video gaming ever since his very first appearances, and Daniels finds that the praise for Sega’s flagship character has always been well-deserved. “As expected, Sonic is the ultimate runner,” Daniels confirms. “His form is flawless. He has a high cadence and a slight forward lean, wasting no energy in every step!”

Mega Man from ‘Mega Man 2

In his original 8-bit incarnation, Mega Man had one of the best-looking running styles. His form obviously improved into the days of Mega Man X and beyond, but Daniels says there is still much to like about Mega Man’s running form even during his earliest acts of heroism. “For a bigger dude, Mega Man has pretty good running form,” Daniels says. “He does lack an efficient cadence, though, and has very slow turnover.”

Crash from ‘Crash Bandicoot’ 

For many people, the absence of Crash from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was unforgivable; Smash was seen as the ultimate celebration of gaming, and as an exclusive character to PlayStation, he was viewed by many as Sony’s true mascot during the 32-bit era. Even so, Daniels believes Crash would have needed to make major upgrades to his running style if he wanted to escape from the Smash battlezone injury-free. “Crash has some work to do,” he explains. “His arm carriage is way too low, he heel strikes like no one’s business and he has a backward lean that keeps him from moving forward at a good pace. With this form in the real world, Crash would be done after a few minutes of running, or injured all the time.”

Pitfall Harry from ‘Pitfall!!

While he was a low-resolution character on what is now considered a dinosaur of a game, Pitfall Harry was easily the class of Atari in terms of his running style. That said, Daniels sees a few areas where it could have been refined by training. “Much like Crash, Harry leans back way too far when he runs, wasting so much energy with each stride,” Daniels tells me. “However, what he lacks in upper-body form, he makes up for with superb foot strike and lower body mechanics!”

Link from ‘Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The chief defender of Hyrule has been around since the 1980s, which has given Link plenty of time to develop his running style into its present pristine state. As such, Daniels has no advice to offer for everyone’s favorite mute hero. “Link is the ultra runner of the virtual world,” he praises. “His form is flawless even when carrying all of his items around. His form can change depending on what terrain he is running over, he wastes no energy and he would be able to go all day.”

Samus Aran from ‘Metroid Dread

Samus shocked the entire video game world in the mid-1980s when she revealed herself to be a woman at the conclusion of her adventure, having successfully conquered Kraid, Ridley and Mother Brain. Samus was always in the upper echelon of video game striders no matter what system she appeared on, and Daniels says that not much has changed in her most recent adventure, Metroid Dread. “Samus has a lean that propels her forward with every stride,” he explains. “For most, this type of form wouldn’t work, but I think it’s to her advantage. Her lower body mechanics are amazing. What makes Samus stand out is how steady she is with no extra movement.”

Bill Rizer and Lance Bean from ‘Contra

Contra was the ultimate side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up when it debuted in 1987, as Bill and Lance chugged through the jungle while gunning down everything in their paths. Despite their overwhelming firepower, they still got hit far too often, resulting in most people needing to rely on the famous Konami Code just to get through the game by the skin of their teeth. According to Daniels, both Bill and Lance could probably have improved their maneuverability if their form was a bit more efficient. “Bill and Lance spend too much time going vertical with every stride, which brings their overall cadence way down, thus allowing them to not be very efficient as runners,” Daniels tells me. “Their upper bodies, however, are strong and steady.”

Ryu Hayabusa from ‘Ninja Gaiden II

The world record for a Ninja Gaiden II speed run in under 10 minutes, which means Ryu Hayabusa is required to be impossibly fleet-footed to sprint through all 13 stages in that short span of time. Yet, Daniels cites this as an example of one of the most inefficient running cadences to replicate in real life, even before we evaluate the ludicrous foot speed. “Ryu Hayabusa runs with a very high cadence,” he says. “I’d have to guess that he’s pushing 220 steps per minute in real time. But his arm carriage and hunched upper body keep him from being as efficient as he needs to be. In the real world, Ryu would be cooked after a few minutes of running.” 

Banjo from ‘Banjo-Kazooie

Banjo-Kazooie is my favorite game of all time, so I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the bear who is always gracious enough to haul around his feathered companion Kazooie inside of his backpack. Doing so never seems to pose much difficulty for Banjo, who still manages to run through the villainous Gruntilda’s lair rather effortlessly. Still, Daniels notices several areas of Banjo’s running form that could use improvement if he wants to become a more efficient adventurer. “Banjo could use some work,” Daniels says. “His upper-body form is what we coaches like to call ‘swimming’; he flails his arms out side to side as if he’s trying to swim rather than run. His cadence is slow with a stride that’s too long causing him to slap the ground and break with every footstrike.”

Sora from ‘Kingdom Hearts

No video game character captured more hearts in the early 2000s than Sora during his adventures through the many worlds of Disney films, usually alongside Donald and Goofy. So beloved is he among video game fans that his revelation as the final downloadable character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate last year caused many fans to spontaneously burst into tears. Hopefully, he used all 20 of the years between his first video game appearance and the brand-new Kingdom Hearts IV to improve upon the form flaws of his early years. “Sora has a long slow stride but with good biomechanics,” Daniels observes. “He could use some work with his upper body and focus on being a little more upright rather than leaning so far forward.”