Woe it is to be a sidekick.
No-one ever cuts them any slack, let’s be honest. Eternally they dwell in the shadow of the protagonist, a cheap mockery of the gleaming hero. Who needs a Boy Wonder when they have a Dark Knight?
Well, like it or not, the sidekick is here to stay. Whether it just be for comic relief or a voice of reason to a conflicted title character, they have their uses. This is especially true, I’m happy to say, in video gaming. Because, let’s confess, even a hardened gamer could do with a bit of back-up, slithers of advice or even the odd chuckle during his experience. In this regard the sidekick is invaluable, maybe even worthy of a bit of recognition for a change.
Today, we honour gaming’s great supporting cast: players who may be just left of the lime-light, but who will forever be remembered. We salute you, noble side-kicks. May you continue to irritate and amuse us in equal measure…
20: ELUM (ODDWORLD: ABE’S ODYSSEY)
Playstation’s loveable frog-face, Abe, had a pretty rough ride the first time around. His fellow mudokons were being made into meaty treats by a greedy corporation and every scrab, paramite and slog on Oddworld was just as keen to take a bite of his (supposedly delicious) green-blue hide. Though the journey was, for the most part, a lonely one (save the scores of mudokons we’d have ‘follow’ him and inadvertently lead to a messy demise), there was one ill-mannered, fly-ridden, pug-ugly steed to see Abe through some of the toughest times. Enter Elum (yup, that’s ‘mule’ backwards), a loveable (if not thouroughly annoying) mount, able to carry our intrepid hero from pursuing enemies with a burst of speed and great leaps over gaping chasms. And all at just a simple ring of the Elum-Bell. Very useful indeed. His undoing, unfortunately, was a rather intense addiction to honey. Pass a pool of it and ol’ Elum was all too quick to abandon his rider for a quick feed. The remedy? Angry bees. Animal cruelty? Perhaps, but the on-off relationship between one man (or mudokon) and his steed is one that can’t be underestimated. Especially when bloodthirsty monsters are hot on your tail.
19: THE DARKLINGS (THE DARKNESS)
For the record, the entity which is known as ‘The Darkness‘ was technically in control of hitman hero, Jackie Estacado. It would therefore be unfair to refer to it as a ‘side-kick’. The Darklings (Darkness-created imps at the player’s beckon call), on the other hand, sport all the qualities of both sidekick, henchman and hideously deformed pet. Able to perform a range of duties from gunning down enemies to kamikaze missions, the Darklings are a versatile (and indeed well dressed, if you can find the right clothing sets) bunch of psychotic gremlins. In fact, the expression ‘gremlin’ might be a fairly accurate one because, much like Gizmo’s destructive brothers, Darklings have a rather low tolerance of ‘bright light, bright light!’ So don’t be thinking of taking your new found buddy on a summer holiday any time soon, lest you’re planning on hitting a lot of clubs (and, of course, slaughtering people)…
18: LUKE TRITON (PROFESSOR LAYTON FRANCHISE)
A fact many will agree with: kids can make annoying sidekicks. Their childish ignorance and plucky natures do not, in fact, seem to charm the masses as much as their creators think (examples: Robin from Batman, little Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I, Short Round from Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom… I could go on). Lucky for Professor Layton fans then, because Layton’s self confessed ‘apprentice’ isn’t actually that annoying at all (a lot of the time). In fact, he’s got something of a brain on him, which is certainly a testament. Who can blame him? I mean, he’s living in a world of perpetual puzzle-solving, who wouldn’t need to be on the ball? A young Dr Watson to Layton’s Holmes, little Luke Triton actually offers up the charming dueteragonist many story-tellers had hoped for before (and failed miserably to achieve). Hopefully we shall see more young ‘uns doing the ‘sidekick’ role proud yet in this article…
17: RUSTY GALLOWAY (LA NOIRE)
Throughout LA Noire, protagonist detective Cole Phelps is partnered with a range of memorable allies. Everyone has their favourite; whether it be corrupt Vice detective Roy Earle or traffic partner Bekowsky (he certainly seems to be one of the friendliest). But none of them comes close to Rusty Galloway of Homicide. An old school detective who’s not afraid to throw away the book when coming face-to-face with the bad guys, Rusty can often be lazy, sassy, a borderline alcoholic and consistently misogynistic (he’s been divorced a few times). All ‘qualities’ which make for one very seasoned, but also thoroughly amusing sidekick. Plus, let’s all be honest, ‘Homicide’ is by far the ‘coolest’ department to be in (CSI can eat its heart out), with some of the most memorable cases in the entire game. And it wouldn’t be the same without our man Rusty. No partner quite measures up by comparison.
16: MIDNA (THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: TWILIGHT PRINCESS)
Some Legend of Zelda fans will note that Ocarina of Time‘s fairy accomplice, Navi, is not present on this list. That’s because, I think it’s fair to say, she was intolerably irritating. ‘HEY!’ ‘LISTEN!’ ‘HEY!’ ‘LISTEN!’ It was enough to make us scream! Why couldn’t Ganondorf have swiped her instead of the lovely Zelda? Needless to say, Navi required a replacement by the time of the release of the Nintendo Wii’s Twilight Princess, one who wouldn’t drive the gamer to bloody murder. Enter Midna, a diminuitive imp-like ‘Twili’ who has it in her to give ‘Wolf-Link’ all the best advice without becoming so infuriating that you’re desperately seeking an electric fly-swatter. Better still, completion of the main game allows players to see Midna in her glorious ‘true form’ and hot-blooded males will be more than happy to know that their loveavle blue partner-in-crime was nothing less than a bonafide beauty the whole time. Alas, many nostalgia-inspired gamers will still argue that Navi was the original and, therefore, best sidekick of the two. For you people, just imagine she’s got a spot at #21 and move on.
15: KAZOOIE (BANJO-KAZOOIE)
Okay, so it’s both of their names on the box, but their’s always one who’s destined to play second fiddle in every duo (you’ll note this in other entries below). In the case of Rare’s bear and bird partnership, it seems that the feathered Kazooie is this unfortunate individual. Of course, there’s no shame in being a sidekick (as we’re all finding out) and Banjo’s adventures would be short-lived indeed if it weren’t for his oddly convienient accomplice. It’s not often a sidekick can happily fold him or herself away into a rucksack, for example, let alone one which can fire eggs and give enemies a good old whack of the wings. And don’t be fooled into thinking Banjo’s always the one exhausting himself: when flipped over Kazooie can even do the running for a period of time, carrying the hefty bear while he takes a load off. Talk about playing fair. It goes without saying any intrepid traveller would do well to have their own Kazooie in a back-pack (Disclaimer: keeping birds in your bag is not a good idea).
14: PIKMIN (PIKMIN & PIKMIN 2)
Imagine you’ve just crash-landed on an unknown and presumably hostile alien-world. Your ship is trashed and you’ve but precious days left until you run out of oxygen. You find giant, sharp-teethed predators dwelling in the woodlands and general peril at every concievable turn. Pretty scary, right? Be nice if say, for example, a side-kick could just pop out of the ground and give you a hand. Heck, make it two. Or three. Or a hundred. And imagine that the help these little side-kicks offered was unconditional. Imagine all you had to do was toot a horn or blow a whistle and they’d be at your beckon call, offering themselves up for all the most dangerous tasks such as pouncing on sharp-teethed monsters, carrying explosives and generally letting you hurtle them about wherever you please. I think I’ve made my point. Pikmin are, without doubt, unmatched when it comes to team-work. Call them henchmen, if you will, but to me every pikmin plays a key side-kick role to tiny hero Captain Olimar. They’re what lemmings could have been if they had a leader with half a brain. Adorable, loyal and flat-out dangerous if you’re in their way. We all wish we had pikmin.
13: CORTANA (THE ‘HALO’ FRANCHISE)
I think it goes without saying that a lot of franchise-inspiring science-fiction must have been concieved my men. Let’s be honest, which of us males hasn’t dreamt of a day when all computer A.I. takes on the holographic form of a gorgeous, scantily-clad lady? The design of Halo holo-babe Cortana was, apparently, inspired by Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. In-game, however, she’s the result of cloned synaptic networks from the SPARTAN Project’s creator: Dr Elizabeth Halsey. This gets me to wondering, however, if lonely space-nerds had been assigned the task of creating the Cortana AI. Not that anyone at the UNSC is arguing, however–least of all our man Master Chief. Don’t let her alluring appearance fool you, however. Cortana’s a learning computer; one able to adapt and expand beyond her pre-programmed parameters. She’s adept at hacking alien systems and decoding transmissions and even manages to find space in her massive brain for a sense of humour. Without her, Chief would be blind, deaf and dumb in a wealth of situations. Practical and pleasing aestheticallly, Cortana is the sci-fi geek’s dream of the companion of tomorrow.
12: GARRUS VAKARIAN (‘MASS EFFECT’ SERIES)
Not exactly the eye candy of the previous side-kick, Mass Effect’s Garrus Vakarian makes up for it in flat-out heroic quality. Originally an officer of the Citadel’s C-Sec Investigation Division, Garrus holds the principle of justice at the highest regard (easily with as much conviction as any beloved superhero). He has little patience with criminals and may, at times, require a gentle word from Commader Shepard on the morality of killing. If you feel that way, of course. There’s just something about Garrus that sets him head and shoulders above the rest of your Normandy crew-mates: his smooth, commanding tone, compassionate nature, unmatched sharp-shooting skills and generally awesome design (the Turian’s ain’t exactly a cuddly bunch but, damn, they look cool). For female Shepards sufficiently wooed by Garrus’s charisma, things only got better in Mass Effect 2… yes, that’s right, he even made for a viable lover too. Is there anything this guy can’t do? They should be giving him his own series of games, at this rate…
11: DIDDY KONG (DONKEY KONG FRANCHISE)
Monkeys make awesome sidekicks. This is a non-debatable fact of life. The world is a better place with monkeys (particularly when they’re not carrying military-created diseases). This monkey wears a hat. That makes him about a hundred times more awesome. Apparently the son of superstar ape, Donkey Kong (though how an ape begat a monkey is anyone’s guess), Diddy Kong has gained himself something of a fan following for his peanut-popgun-firing antics, leading him to star in his own spin-off, Diddy Kong Racing and securing him appearances in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Power Tennis. Diddy’s another example of the kid side-kick done well: partly because annoying one-liners are replaced with cheeky primate chitters. Which leads me to my original point: this would not be a list of top side-kicks without a monkey. And Diddy Kong’s the best damn monkey team-mate there is, paws down.
10: MILES ‘TAILS’ PROWER (SONIC THE HEDGEHOG FRANCHISE)
For a lot of people, Tails may well be the Robin to Sonic the Hedgehog’s Batman. That’s not a compliment. What is, however, is the fact that Tails holds a place in the hearts of the kids of the Nineties as the very definition of ‘side-kick’. Players of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 will remember the option to play as Sonic & Tails at the same time, with Player 2 being able to control the two-tailed fox. However, this player was just as doomed to that ‘side-kick’ moniker as the character they played as, when Sonic blitzed his way through the level and left Tails struggling to catch up, literally disappearing off screen (only to hear the grim sound of their own unseen demise). On the other hand, there was the whole ‘flying’ thing. Able to lift Sonic and carry him over deadly chasms for a short period of time, he became invaluable on cliff-riddled levels such as the Hill Top Zone. Also to his credit, Tails is something of a mechanical prodigy, engineering a bi-plane that allowed him and Sonic to chase after Dr Eggman’s Wing Fortress. Heck, he even took a missile shot and managed to land the plane. That takes a heck of a lot of skill. Say what you may about Tails, he’s certainly proven himself to be a side-kick of many uses. His annoying childish qualities are the only thing stopping him from realising he’s smarter than Sonic (and. possibly, taking over the world).
09: THE STARTER POKEMON (‘POKEMON’ RPG SERIES)
Without them your first step into the long grass would probably end with you being beaten black and blue by a disgruntled Pidgey. No adventure can begin without a traditional ‘Starter Pokemon’, a selection made by the trainer between a grass-type, a fire-type and a water-type. In the first generation Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue games, the choices were Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle respectively. Gaining experience quicker than most pokemon you’ll later find, able to evolve twice and packing mean skill sets and stats all-around, your starter choice is one which will hold its own right up until the game’s climactic face-off with the regional Champion. Needless to say, many of us find ourselves more emotionally attached to the starter pokemon than any other. Some gamers even make it their mission to focus solely on their starter, blitzing the Gym Leaders with a massively levelled up Charizard or Blastoise. Pets make good side-kicks. Warriors make excellent side-kicks. Ergo, Pokemon make superb side-kicks. It’s simple logic.
08: DAXTER (JAK & DAXTER SERIES)
As pointed out earlier, just because two characters share the title of a game doesn’t mean they both measure up equally as the hero. One is always destined to fill the supporting role. In the case of pointy-eared Jak and manic ‘ottsel’ (that’s part otter, part weasel) Daxter, the latter fits the bill nicely. He’s annoying, no doubt about that. But this is not a characteristic of a side-kick that’s necessarily damning. It’s what stops them from being the protagonist, after all and, though I’m ashamed to admit it, sometimes Daxter’s nuisance antics start to…well, grow on you. He’s like the irritating friend we’ve all had, whom we continue to hang around with simply because they unwittingly amuse us. But what really boosts Daxter into the spot at #08 on this list is the manner by which he both compliments and opposes the personality of the game’s hero, Jak. A quiet, headstrong hero not dis-similar to many a protagonist, Jak would be a thoroughly boring character indeed if he didn’t have a partner with contrasting traits. Daxter’s loud, witty and an utter coward most of the time (almost an opposite to Jak). Though the two don’t necessarily work well as individuals, they’re perfectly matched as a duo… and that, at the end of the day, is as good a sign as any that the side-kick’s job is done.
07: CLANK (RATCHET & CLANK SERIES)
Another example of a deutragonist/side-kick, Clank forms one half of the Ratchet & Clank duo. It’s the hope of this writer (and, indeed, many hundreds of others) that, in the absence of monkey butlers in the future, we will all be in possession of our own midget robot side-kick. In particular, a series of Clank-like bots wouldn’t be far off the mark. On first appearances, Ratchet’s buddy doesn’t exactly seem equipped for the trials of adventuring. But, like any great gadget, the round-eyed android interacts with a vast range of upgrades, including (but not limited to) helipacks, thrusterpacks and hydropacks. He’s even got it in him to transform–Optimus Prime style–in to a Giant Clank UltraMech, which looks even better on show than it does on paper. But his customisabile ‘swiss army knife’ accesories aren’t what propels Clank to the #7 spot on this list. No, it’s because unlike Daxter of the Jak & Daxter duo, Clank forms the ‘stuffy intellectual’ to Ratchet’s jokes. His humour is dry, his laugh is awkward and oddly adorable and his mannerisms charming. He is, in many ways, an instantly more likeable character than his team-mate Ratchet and that’s no small feat for a side-kick. Maybe one day, in the not so distant future, Apple will stop hurtling out all these touch-screen tablets and start making us some ‘iClanks’. It’s 2011, for crying out loud, time they pulled their fingers out.
06: WHEATLEY (PORTAL 2)
Still on the topic of robotic companions, Portal 2 introduced us to Wheatley, a ‘Personality Core’ voiced by none other than Bristol-born comedy legend, Stephen Merchant. During the first half of the game, the blue-eyed orb acts as a guide and comic-relief side-kick, though (without giving too much away) his role in the game becomes more central in the later stages. Despite this, his seemingly short period as a cohort is, undisputedly, golden. This may largely (if not entirely) be down to his fantastically frantic, stammering babble, brilliantly concieved by Valve and pulled off with much aplomb by Extras star, Merchant. Though all the computerised characters in the Portal series offer their own individual brilliance (a special mention goes out to sinister super-computer GLaDOS, voiced by Ellen McLain), it’s seemingly Wheatley who steals the show. Sure, the dim-witted characters are most often the annoying ones, but the guys at Valve have carefully crafted a character who’s never too much to tolerate. It’s this fanastic balance between the village idiot and HAL 9000 of ’2001: A Space Oddysey’ which has pushed Wheatley to this notable position at #6.
05: LUIGI (THE ‘MARIO’ FRANCHISE)
This list wouldn’t be complete without Luigi, let’s be frank. Sure, he was created as simply the ‘green, second-player version of Mario’ and, yes, maybe he hasn’t moved too far from that summary since… but Luigi is, without doubt, as close to the stereotypical side-kick as one can possibly get. So much so, in fact, that many of the latest titles in the series have started to knowingly mock it. It’s in these games, particularly the Mario & Luigi handheld RPG’s, where Luigi’s role as ‘the other guy’ really shines. He’s always in the shadow of Mario, a bit of a klutz at times and maybe even slightly cowardly. And yet, in spite these facts, a Mario game just doesn’t seem to be a Mario game without him. This, at least, sets him apart from Sonic the Hedgehog’s sidekick, Tails (whom none of us particularly misses when absent). He’s tried to go solo once before, in Luigi’s Mansion, though reception of the haunted-house adventure was luke-warm in comparison to, yes, the new Mario games. Thus it is Luigi shall ever remain the supporting star. Mario will always get the princess and the praise. But the fact that Luigi has always taken his brother’s popularity in good nature is a testament to his sibling affection. Bravo Luigi. Never taking for granted the importance of family. A true hero.
04: EPONA (THE LEGEND OF ZELDA SERIES)
Forget Navi and even forget Midna, there was only one side-kick who stood hoof and shoulders above the rest when it comes to The Legend of Zelda. I highlighted earlier the majesty of the noble steed and Epona, Link’s white-maned mare, is about as majestic an equine as they come. A simple toot of ‘Epona’s Song’ on the Ocarina and she’d come running, much to the glee of players fed up on running everywhere. Undyingly loyal at the price of just a few carrots, she’s not an expensive friend either. Along with fishing, the art of horse-riding was one of the most exhilarating ‘extra-curricular’ activities in the incredible Ocarina of Time and even the hardest players came to love Epona as their own. It damn near broke our hearts when she was kidnapped by Skull Kid in Majora’s Mask and our elation at finding her again only supported that fact. Best of all, she’s a horse and, therefore, can’t talk. Such is the bliss of having an animal as a best friend (unless it’s a parrot or a genetically-enhanced Super Ape).
03: DOG (FABLE 2)
In light of my previous statement about animals making the best friends, who can forget the pride and joy of finally owning our own dog in the fabulous (or rather, Fable-ous… sorry) Fable 2? Born a pup of the mean-streets, just like our character, the loyal pooch grows and adapts to mirror the nature of the player. So if you’re of the heroic breed you can expect dog to take on a golden sheen, whilst villainous types will nurture something of the dark-coated hell-hound variety. Matching the aesthetics of its master is a level of loyalty never seen before in video game canine. When you add that to the facts that A) he never leaves your side, B) he is capable of learning a range of attack and socially based tricks and C) he has a nose for treasure… well, I defy anyone to train a real dog to be so jaw-droppingly perfect. Luckily for the sentimental types among us, the dog was incapable of dying (even when slammed by some ill-tempered troll), but that didn’t stop a shared ‘awwww’ from rising every time the poor blighter took a hit and had to pitifully limp on. Apparently the UK is a nation of animal lovers, dogs in particular. It goes without saying that most of us feel more despair at the idea of an injured puppy than a human being. Thus, the dog deserves a spot in the top three simply on the merit of sympathy alone. That and the fact that we can barely play the first Fable any more without feeling emotionally deprived.
02: HK-47 (STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC)
We’ve had the charming prudishness of Clank and the loveable idiocy of Portal 2′s Wheatley… but neither of them even dents the bronzed armour of the ‘psychotic C-3PO’ that is HK-47. Easily the most memorable character in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games (or any Star Wars games, for that matter), HK-47 is an assassin ‘Hunter-Killer’ droid with an unnerving habit of prefixing sentences with a statement which summarised the type of speech, such as: “Commentary: It is our lot in life, I suppose, Master,” or “Recitation: Yes, as I said, I am an assassin droid.” His programming also gives him a feeling of superiority over organic life-forms, which he constantly refers to as ‘meat-bags’. The only exception to this is the player character. His eagerness to kill and the unsettling manner in which he discusses it make for flawlessly dark comedy and give HK-47 a personality a hundred times more authentic than most of Lucas’s prequel trilogy cast. As HK-47 put it: “Observation: I am a droid, Master, with programming. Even if I did not enjoy killing, I would have no choice. Thankfully, I enjoy it very much.” Twisted, eloquent, brilliant… enough said.
AND SO WE COME TO THE GREATEST SIDE-KICK IN VIDEO GAME HISTORY…
01: YOSHI (THE ‘MARIO’ FRANCHISE)
Say what you will about this result, but first hear me out. If you’ve ever played a Mario game, you’ll know one thing: there is no greater joy than hitting a question block and finding a Yoshi egg. Nothing else comes close: fire-flowers, frog-suits, invincibility stars… not one. Why? Because Yoshi is the ultimate side-kick. A pet, a steed, a race-car driver, sports superstar and available in a range of exotic colours, there is virtually nothing the Yoshi race isn’t capable of. Hatch one and you’ll be devouring enemies and pooping out eggs left, right and centre, leaping over previously unconquerable chasms and generally laughing like a child wired on sherbert the whole time. Of all the side-kicks ever created, however endearing or annoying, none of them fills a player with more joy than the sticky-tongued dinosaur. With his addition to Super Mario Galaxy 2, Yoshi was even able to power up with his own accessories, including the Dash Pepper, Blimp Fruit and Bulb Berry, adding more exciting abilities to his diverse range. Adorable, devoted and about as much fun as can possibly be enjoyed in a platform game, Yoshi reminds us why we play in the first place. About as brilliant as a side-kick can be and a standard by which others are measured.
Obviously there were a wealth of side-kicks who didn’t make the cut. Perhaps you feel someone who isn’t on the list should have been? Do you agree with the result? If not, let us know why. Let’s get a bit of friendly (and please keep it friendly) banter going, people…
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This article was first posted on September 23, 2011