Dragon Ball is about as cultural institution-y as it gets in the world of anime and manga. There’s no understating the impact Akira Toriyama’s work made when it was running, and definitely no understating the lasting impression it made on the creative world.
Protagonist Goku, with his unending transformations and goofy demeanor, has proved to be an icon all the way to a Thanksgiving balloon over here in the States. A true legend.
Goku does cause some problems sometimes, though. For example, Goku kind of clogs his own pipes thanks to all the different forms and variations of Goku.
This is really only an issue in videogames, in which Goku’s various iterations and historical moments of progress are made into distinct bodies in games like Dragon Ball FighterZ. Thus the modern conundrum of “How Many Gokus” has become a thorn in mathematician gamers’ sides.
But deciphering the total volume of Goku-ness in a fighting game only solves some of the matter. What about the presence of Goku in those who are not Goku? Throughout history we’ve seen Goku make appearances in videogames, without actually being Goku himself.
That number is still going up, by the way, as recently as the day I’m writing this ridiculous list. But how does one take on the role of Goku but, at the same time, not be considered Goku? That’s what I’m here for.
The Best Non-Goku Gokus in Videogames Which Aren't About Goku
Super Sonic (Sonic the Hedgehog 2)
Dragon Ball videogames have been around since the 80s, pretty much as early as the comic began to gain steam. But in the 90s, Goku transcended his own physical form and appeared to inhabit the body of one Sonic T. Hedgehog.
If you can collect all the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, then get a specific number of rings, you’re able to become Super Sonic - or in other words, Sonic transforms into a Super Saiyan. This is a regular thing now in the series, with other characters also getting the ability. This includes Silver the Hedgehog, who is basically just Trunks.
Goemon (Legend of the Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon)
Dragon Ball’s inspirations are pretty specific at times, and some of those connections go back to Japanese cultural history and other eastern mythological stories.
So in Legend of the Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, our titular hero’s expanding pipe weapon and other qualities evoke a certain Goku-ness, which is even harder to miss once Goemon gets his Sudden Impact strength upgrade. You mostly use this to move heavy objects, but also invoke the Super Saiyan imagery in the process.
Super Mario (Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury)
Mario is a cat, but also a kaiju now? And that kaiju cat Super Mario also appears to become a giant lion in the latest trailer for Super Mario 3D World's Bowser’s Fury expansion. Then ostensible lion-cat Mario turns to face the camera and he’s just a dang Super Saiyan.
So does Mario expand the number of Gokus in the world, or does Goku expand the number of Marios? Both?
Rajang (Monster Hunter)
This is a big ol’ monkey beast monster with lightning powers, and I wasn’t really sure what it had to do with Goku at first. But once you get to the Monster Hunter games with the Hard Core-level fights, it becomes obvious. The more powerful version of Rajang takes on a much spikier and golden appearance, and if that’s not enough it even uses a Spirit Bomb sort of maneuver.
The whole Golden Oozaru thing in Dragon Ball GT is a hot topic of debate among fans, but for now I maintain Rajang counts as a videogame Goku.
Nasus (League of Legends)
Honestly I don’t know a damn thing about League of Legends, but I found this in my research to make sure I didn’t miss anything. This strange, dog-like creature has an optional skin that sees him rage up and transform into a more golden form, so that’s a Goku right there.
Wang-tang (Power Stone)
You’d think Goku’s out of body videogame experiences couldn’t get more overt than Super Sonic, but here we are. Wang-Tang, a martial artist in Capcom’s gone too soon arena fighter Power Stone, is definitely a Goku. He starts out as a dark-haired, goofy-faced martial arts boy, then powers up into a beefier, blonder version of himself when he gets serious. Goku.
Todd Ingram (Scott Pilgrim vs The World)
Todd Ingram isn’t necessarily a videogame character, and his evil Vegan powers were first introduced in comic book form. But as Ingram was adapted into a videogame character, his transformation immediately took on multiple anime references at once, from Akira to Dragon Ball.
We aren’t sure if this evil Vegan incarnation of Goku truly counts as a Goku, but he surely needs to be included in further studies to make that determination.
Dear readers, this is the fruit of my Super Mario-inspired trip down the Goku reference videogame rabbit hole. I’m sure there are more discoveries to be made, and more iterations to appear in the future. After all, the power of Goku has transcended time, space, species, and common sense.
Perhaps Goku is all of us in a way, and Goku-ness is the collective friendships we’ve made on the way. That, or Mario is just an anime fan and found a cool way to cosplay. Regardless, we aren’t sure what this means going forward, but it seems like the “Goku in Smash” crowd has a hell of a monkey paw to deal with.