11 of the best Video Game Cameos
There was a time not so long ago when celebrities would turn their noses up at endorsing video games, let alone star in them. But that’s all changed now, thanks in part to bigger budgets, larger audiences and greater technology. Going from only doing voiceovers to now lending their entire likeness to a game, the era of the celebrity gaming cameo is in full swing. Ahead of the release of Cyberpunk 2077, which arrived on December 10th and sees Keanu Reeves take on a starring role, we’ve put together a list of the 15 best celebrity video game cameos as a reminder of just how far they’ve come.
11 - Michael Jackson – ‘Space Channel 5: Part 2’ (2002)
After having already worked with Sega on his own game, 1990’s Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, the King of Pop’s appearance in the original Space Channel 5 came at his own request. According to former Sega developer Jake Kazdal, Jackson was rushed in at the eleventh hour, right before the beta stage, after he asked Shuji Utsumi, the head of Sega’s development at the time in Japan, if he could be in it. Introduced as ‘Space Michael’ in a stage which sees aliens dancing along to the legendary pop star’s signature moves, his role was later expanded in the rhythm-action sequel, including a stage where he battles a singing robot.
10 - Bill & Hillary Clinton - ‘NBA Jam’ (1994)
Lacing up their sneakers and getting involved in some hardwood action, the inclusion of the Clintons in NBA Jam is quite possibly the most bizarre celebrity video game cameo of all-time. When the popular basketball game - which was once crowned the highest earning arcade game ever by the Amusement & Music Operators Association - got ported to home consoles, all sorts of secret characters made appearances, including the former US president and First Lady. It wasn’t the couple’s only foray into video games, though. In 2000, they appeared in Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2.
9 - Ozzy Osbourne - ‘Brütal Legend’ (2009)
Although Tim Schafer’s love letter to rock music features a number of heavy metal cameos - Motörhead’s Lemmy and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford among them - it’s The Prince of Darkness who makes the greatest impression. While technically Ozzy isn’t playing himself, his character The Guardian of Metal couldn’t be closer to his real life persona if it tried. Complete with his trademark Birmingham accent, the Black Sabbath frontman opens with an f-bomb and tells the game’s protagonist Eddie Riggs (modelled on actor Jack Black): “You've got some demon flesh on your bumper.”
8 - Vin Diesel - ‘Wheelman’ (2019)
Wheelman isn’t an official Fast and Furious video game, but it might as well be. If being jam packed with car chase sequences and death-defying stunts isn’t enough to warrant a comparison to the blockbuster movie franchise, how about after one of its lead actors is added to the mix? Starring as Milo Burik, an undercover agent in Barcelona whose particular set of skills are needed to stop a dangerous threat, Vin Diesel lends his likenesses and voice to the game developed by Tigon Studios and Midway Studios. The game was set to get a film adaption starring the action star, but it never got off the ground with no real reason as to why.
7 - Ariana Grande - ‘Final Fantasy Brave Exvius’ (2017)
The Final Fantasy franchise hasn’t really featured all that many celebrity cameos. So when its 2017 free-to-play mobile title Brave Exvius recruited pint-sized pop star Ariana Grande it was a little unexpected. Described in the game as “a beautiful singer from a distant world”, you can play as Grande, complete with her ‘Dangerous Woman’ music video bunny mask, once you’ve fought your way to the dimensional vortex and hammered through a series of not-so-tough enemies.
6 - David Bowie - ‘Omikron: The Nomad Soul’ (1999)
David Bowie’s one and only video game cameo was in sci-fi adventure Omikron: The Nomad Soul. Launched on Windows in late 1999, before receiving a Dreamcast port the following year, the Quantic Dream title sees the Thin White Duke star as Boz, a techno-spiritual revolutionary who leads an anti-government movement called The Awakened. Boz only appears on screen for a little over five minutes, but Bowie’s likeness is used a second time to portray a member of The Dreamers, the game’s resident house band who perform songs written by Bowie himself.
5 - Kristen Bell - ‘Assassin’s Creed’ (2007-2010)
Kristen Bell might be best known as the voice of Anna in Disney’s Frozen, or even for her roles in films and shows such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Veronica Mars, but she’s also appeared in several games from the Assassins Creed franchise. Starring as recurring character Lucy Stillman, Bell’s likeliness and voice were used in Assassin’s Creed (2007) and Assassin’s Creed II (2009), before meeting an untimely demise at the end of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010). She was rumoured to be in talks to reprise her role for the big screen, but upon the release of the 2016 film adaptation Lucy Stillman was nowhere to be seen.
4 - Stormzy - ‘Watch Dogs: Legion’ (2020)
The most recent cameo on the list goes to London’s own grime champion Stormzy. Adding to the incredible run he’s had over the last few years with an appearance in Watch Dogs: Legion, the rapper’s mission sees him ask for help in getting his music video out to the masses after SIRS shuts down his servers. Completing the mission unfortunately doesn’t unlock Stormzy as a playable character, but it does unlock his in-game outfit. In addition, ‘Rainfall’, the video he fights to broadcast in the game, got a real-life release, complete with in-game graphics.
3 - Ellen Page & Willem Defoe - ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ (2013)
Ellen Page and Willem Defoe aren’t the only celebrity cameos in Beyond: Two Souls, but they are the main stars of Quantic Dream’s interactive drama and action-adventure game. Other stars who appear include Kadeem Hardison and Eric Winter. Despite being a video game, Beyond: Two Souls premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, marking only the second time the event recognised a video game. However, although critics praised Page's character portrayal of Jodie Holmes and Dafoe's performance as Nathan Dawkins, the game wasn’t the hit its creators had hoped for.
2 - Phil Collins – ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories’ (2006)
Believe it or not, Phil Collins was the first real-life celebrity to feature in a Grand Theft Auto game. Everyone prior to the Genesis frontman’s appearance were either spoofs of themselves or radio DJs. As ex-soldier Vic Vance, you’re tasked with protecting Collins from mafia assassins who are trying to take him out due to a debt owed by his manager. Best part of the PSP spin-off? Getting the opportunity to see Collins perform ‘In the Air Tonight’ at a stadium concert as a reward for keeping him safe.
1 - Run The Jewels - ‘Gears Of War 4’ (2016)
Just when you thought Gears of War couldn’t get any better, Epic Games introduced playable versions of rap rebels Killer Mike and El-P. Launched as part of the Run The Jewels Air Drop for the franchise’s fourth instalment, it was the first time two artists had been reimagined as playable characters in the game. Kicking ass and taking names in the Versus Multiplayer and Horde 3.0 modes, the real-life bond between the pair perfectly matches the soul of Gears, which at its core is about brotherhood - as well as causing mass carnage at every turn.