A Loving Ode to Video Game Health Bars

Listen here, nerds; gaming discourse always seems to go in the same direction. Everyone always talks about the best characters, weapons, abilities, or levels; never do I hear a brave soul venture to discuss one of gaming’s most ubiquitous features. I, of course, am talking about the health bar—an often underappreciated work of art.

I’ve come across many health bars in my old, decrepit, mid-twenties age. There’s something to be said for games that are able to craft their own unique health bar creation. A health bar can be remarkable for many reasons, ranging from how well it represents the general aesthetic of the game, to how informative it is in regards to your health-related concerns, to sometimes for just how irresistibly bizarre, and goofy, it looks. 

Health bars have long wished to garner the respect they so rightly deserve. I—being the oh-so merciful ruler (i.e. the biggest nerd)—will oblige. Here are seven picks for health bars that are truly the epitome of remarkable. 

Super Mario Sunshine (2002)

Super Mario Sunshine has a cute spiral sun health bar.

Kicking off the list is a somewhat controversial title, since some consider it to be the black sheep of the mainline 3D Mario titles: Super Mario Sunshine. Not to get overly political or anything, but I’m an anti-summer and anti-beach person. Super Mario Sunshine is the rare exception to this rule. 

This includes the game’s pleasant-looking, sun-inspired health meter, which looks like the sort of cartoonish sketching you’d jot down in your textbooks as you try to brave through the perils of math class.

Resident Evil (1996)

Resident Evil's health bar

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Resident Evil series, which is hardly a joyous or upbeat experience. While these kinds of games aren’t my cup of tea, the health bar of the Resident Evil franchise deserves praise for simply how unique it is. 

The game uses an ECG (electrocardiogram) to measure the status of your character; it’s the most appropriate thing that I’ve ever seen in anything. Like, nothing—not even the casting of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool—can hold a candle to this magnificent decision.

Pac-Man World Series (1999-2005)

Screenshot of Pac-Man World.

Don’t tell anyone, but one of my core beliefs is that the Pac-Man World series deserves an HD remaster. There are plenty of aspects about this underrated platformer series I cherish deeply, including its simple health bar that makes me giggle with how perfect it is every time. 

Making a health bar that wasn’t based on the legendary pie design would’ve been an insult to our thick yellow boy, so this health bar is an example of when people do their one job and do it well.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom (2003)

Underwear is the health bar of Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom.

Is there anything more befitting of the sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea? With the remaster just recently being released, I got to thinking: Has any game ever used underwear as a main commodity as much as Battle for for Bikini Bottom

Before any nerds reference, like, some obscure Commodore 64 game, let’s just say it’s not every day you see underpants used to tally hit points.

Kingdom Hearts Series (2002-Present)

An example of video game health bars, in Kingdom Hearts.

I’m not even going to attempt to begin to explain Kingdom Hearts, but I will say that the health bars serve, in a way, as the perfect symbolism for the convolutedness of the series. This monstrosity is actually kind of hilarious to look at.

The health bar also serves as one of the better visual representations of growth in an RPG that I can think of. Seeing your tiny wedge grow into an entity longer than the equator line is immensely satisfying. 

Spider-Man on GameBoy Advanced (2002)

Not only is Spider-Man my favorite character fictional character in existence, but I remember playing this game a ton. When my mom would drive me to school, I’d spend some time trying to beat whatever level I was stuck on; I swear the boss fight against Shocker was impossible.
The health bar came in the form of a literal red web that would see chunks of it disappear. Despite how arbitrary the amount of damage you took seemed, the thing was just plain rad.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)

photo of conker from video game with chocolate health bar

This should be pretty self-explanatory for anyone that enjoys good things (i.e. chocolate, which is an extremely good thing). While a lot of the jokes and crudeness of Conker’s Bad Fur Day don’t exactly age well, the boldness and “how in the world is this game real?” sentiment of the game can’t be understated. 

Honestly, I’d put forth a bill to the senate to have more games use chocolate—or any number of other delectable treats—as their health bars. 

Originally published September 3, 2020.

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