Let’s kick it
Who doesn’t love a good video game sidekick? I’ve been playing through some of the old Ratchet & Clank games with a friend, and while A Crack in Time is one of the best of the series, my biggest gripe is that we don’t get enough Ratchet and Clank quality time. Maybe I’m just too sentimental, but I really love seeing best buddy characters in my games, and Clank makes just about the best sidekick a girl could ask for.
He’s got it all — an adorable personality, quippy dialogue, useful game mechanics, he never gets in the way, and his gameplay sections break things up and provide some cool puzzle mechanics. Clank is so awesome, he got me thinking about some other great — and not so great — sidekicks in video games.
No one likes a useless sidekick
The most classic example is Ashley from Resident Evil 4, and one of the most tedious, awful escort missions in the history of gaming. I haven’t played any of the Resident Evil games because I’m too much of a wimp, and even I know about this trainwreck. Players have used Ashley as the prime example of annoying sidekick characters and escort missions for years now, to the point that her name is evoked at game studios when discussing what not to do. She’s whiny, she gets in the way, and requires help to do basic tasks like using a ladder, which then triggers a long animation you have to wait through.
Ashley is less of a sidekick and more of a walking embodiment of frustrating game mechanics. Having another character around to bounce off of both narratively and in gameplay can be a huge asset, but when buddy AI is bad, it’s really, really bad.
Then we have characters like Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite or Ellie from The Last of Us, who feel like direct answers to the Ashleys of the world. They don’t get in the way, they help you out in combat and restock your ammo, and they play a big part in the story as well-written, complex characters. Ellie still needs help crossing any body of water because she can’t swim, but I find that small annoyance pretty forgivable considering she’s one of the best video game characters of all time.
The best of the best
Luigi is another character who always makes the best sidekicks lists, which isn’t surprising considering he was pretty much the first famous sidekick out there. He’s so iconic he even graduated to the main character of his own games, which is more than most other characters on this list.
Then there are the characters like Navi, Cortana, or Ghost who serve as a utility as well as side characters, which is a pretty good way to do things when you want the player to have ultimate freedom, but still convey important information to them in an interesting way.
B-12 from the recent release Stray is another great example of a sidekick character who is super helpful in gameplay, but also adds a ton to the narrative. Plus, even sidekicks like these that don’t get a ton of screen time are still beloved by fans because they’re well-written (maybe with the exception of Navi on this one) and add to the game’s overall narrative experience.
With single-player games seemingly on the decline these days, the sidekicks are fewer and further between, so this is my plea for developers to put more adorable, funny, interesting side characters in our games. In the past, they may have hurt the experience more than they’ve helped it, but the more recent sidekicks have come away being one of the best parts of their respective game’s experience. Just gimme a little buddy, and I’ll be happy.
Who is your favorite video game sidekick?
Story Beat is a weekly column discussing anything and everything to do with storytelling in video games.