Living the life of a sidekick isn't always easy. Trust me, playing second fiddle to some trumped up cowboy and doing all the heavy lifting while they take all the credit (and the medals) is sometimes a thankless task. But somebody's got to do it. Every Mario needs a Luigi; every Sonic needs a Tails; every Sherlock needs a Watson; every Luke needs a Han and every Han needs a Chewie. Wait a second. I'm the sidekick of a sidekick! Seeing as it was my turn to tackle the TA Top Five this week, I thought it was high time to shine the light on some of Xbox gaming's best sidekicks.
For the sake of giving the list some focus I've imposed a few restrictions on the choices. For example, I've avoided "party" games where there isn't simply one or two sidekicks to choose from but rather a large crowd of candidates and, depending on your personal experience, you'll have your own favourites. That means no Mass Effect (Garrus, duh!) and its ilk. I'm also trying to avoid characters who could be considered deuteragonists i.e. their role in the story is as important as the protagonist's and/or is what drives the plot, rather than them simply being brought along for the ride, so no Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite or Trip from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, awesome as they are.
WARNING: there are some minor spoilers within.
Sheva - Resident Evil 5
Sheva, you're looking in the wrong direction. Sheva! Behind you!
If you were lucky enough to have an actual real life sidekick to play Resident Evil 5's co-op focused campaign with, it meant you didn't have to deal with Sheva's dodgy AI behaviour. She has a nasty habit of getting in the way, getting pounced on by Majini, getting through all her ammo and getting on the player's nerves. Even with those issues aside, there is absolutely no point to Sheva's character and nothing in the way of personality, backstory or development. Ostensibly there to ease relations between Chris and the African villagers, in reality she just turns up, tags along and spends the rest of the time missing targets and yelling at Chris after she's used up all the supplies he dumped on her because he couldn't carry more than a handful of bullets.
Sheva - "I need your help! I need a herb!"
*Chris uses up all the herbs, even though he doesn't need them.*Honourable Mentions
Barry Wheeler - Alan Wake
"What... What are the Christmas lights for?" "Protection, man! Like garlic against vampires"
For some, literary agent Barry Wheeler's highly-strung, neurotic personality grates, but for me he's another reason why Alan Wake succeeds so well at weaving a story full of interesting and quirky characters in the same vein as its major influence, the cult TV series, Twin Peaks.
Let's not forget that although Barry suffers from allergies including dust, grass, pollen and...small towns...he forgoes these issues to travel to Bright Falls when he fears that his friend Alan is in trouble. And it's not just because he's Alan's agent and has a large financial interest in his well-being, as you might at first think. No, Alan and Barry's friendship is genuine and heart-felt, as revealed in some of the manuscript pages scattered throughout the game. He's helped with Alan's writers block and, in Alan's words, never let him down. Barry is the first person Alan trusts to relay his peculiar encounters to, although he at first thinks Wake is crazy. Well, wouldn't we all. Once he believes all the weirdness though, he's dedicated to helping Alan track down his wife.
He's also not entirely useless when it comes down to fighting the game's evils either as Barry has the frankly ingenious idea to wear a headlamp ("the Flaming Eye of Mordor") and wrap himself in fairy lights as protection against the illumination-shunning Taken, whilst all Alan himself can muster is the least energy efficient torch known to man. As with the other characters in the game, you develop a connection with the puffy jacket wearing lug. As Alan's true friend and ally, he's a loyal sidekick to the end.
5. Ishi Sato - Bulletstorm
"If you even look at a bottle, I am going to skin you alive."
The right hand man in Grayson Hunt's band of rogue assassins, Ishi Sato is the logical and professional Spock to Hunt's impulsive and reckless Kirk. Early in the game, Ishi has an unfortunate near-fatal head-on collision with a spaceship, leading to most of his body and half of his face being smooshed into paste. Luckily the crew's mechanic, Whit Oliver, is a dab hand at cybernetic limb replacement and manages to bring Ishi back from the brink as a new, improved and completely peeved cyborg. He ain't happy about Hunt getting them nearly killed and he's even less happy that he's now under 20% human.
Ishi accompanies Hunt on their quest to bring down their dodgy former commander but he does so whilst in constant agonising pain and whilst battling the AI intelligence that has been implanted in his brain to keep him alive. The AI side keeps overwriting Ishi's human side with its cold, heartless and ruthless personality, threatening to eradicate Hunt at multiple junctures. Because what's better than a gun-toting assassin cyborg in agony with a grudge against you and a split personality as your sidekick, right?
4. Johnson - Shadows of the Damned
Face it Hotspur, you'd be nothing without your Johnson
An ex-demon banished to the overworld for crimes unknown (they must have been pretty messed for a demon to be too bad for hell), Johnson is a floating and flaming skull who has formed an unlikely bond with foul-mouthed demon hunter Garcia Hotspur. Together they slay demons thanks to Johnson's ability to transform into all sorts of useful implements, such as the Boner revolver (it shoots teeth) and a motorcycle.
When Garcia loses his girlfriend Paula to an evil demon, Johnson acts as the protagonist's guide through the underworld. Oh, and his torch. And his gun. And his ride. In fact, if it weren't for Johnson, Garcia Hotspur would just be some guy, not the legendary demon hunter that he is.
With words like Johnson and Boner flying around and the very phallic weapons he transforms into, his character could have been (and kind of is) just one big dick joke, but the excellent voice work of Greg Ellis adds a touch of class to the proceedings and the banter between Johnson and Garcia throughout the game is a highlight.
3. Kazooie - Banjo Kazooie series
Do not underestimate a bird in a backpack; unless you want your eyes pecked out.
An example here of when it's actually the sidekick who does most of the hard work. Although the bear gets the majority of the face time and action, we all know it's the bird in his backpack who's in the driving seat. She's the smart one of the pair and, whilst Banjo would prefer to sit around eating honey and napping, it's Kazooie whose hatred of inactivity gets them into many an adventure. He's all simple-minded good nature, whilst she's all feisty witticism and cutting put-downs.
Sure the bear does most of the running around and jumping, but it's the bird who can fly, hurl abuse, peck and throw eggs at their enemies. Yes, she's even willing to sacrifice her unborn children to protect her buddy. That's how baller she is. And all from the confines of a no doubt disgustingly filthy and uncomfortable backpack. If that's not enough, she can also transform into a dragon in the sequel. A dragon. Who wouldn't want a dragon as a sidekick? No one. That's who.
2. Claptrap - Borderlands series
Modesty was not one of Claptrap's strong suits
One quality that tends to put sidekicks high on people's lists of their favourites is humour. A sidekick who can crack wise at the situation, usually at the expense of the "straight man" hero, is usually a memorable one. First introduced at the beginning of the first Borderlands, Claptrap immediately became one of the series most popular characters with his exuberantly enthusiastic personality, which is sometimes countered with a lonely side to bring out the pathos and player's empathy. His primary function in the first two games is as a guide and mission-giver, with most of his lines delivered with fervent hilarity. However, he also helps out in a variety of missions, aiding the Vault Hunters up to the end of the final mission in the second game when he has to accept defeat against his greatest enemy: stairs.
Despite his origins as a good-guy side character and sidekick, Claptrap has dabbled with different roles in the series. At one point, in one of the original game's DLC packs, he even switches sides thanks to being reprogrammed as an Interplanetary Ninja Assassin, set to kill Vault Hunters by "poisoning, setting traps and spreading catty rumours". He's also become such a popular character that Gearbox have made him one of the protagonists in the latest game, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (Xbox 360). That's a brave and possibly dangerous move. We all know how the Joey TV series turned out.
1. Cortana - Halo series
Don’t make a girl a promise…if you know you can’t keep it.
Although Cortana originally existed to provide Master Chief with vital tactical information and support, she is more than a mere guide. Throughout the course of the story she becomes instrumental in saving the galaxy numerous times, providing essential support, discovering the truth about the Halo installations and aiding in their destruction. And all this as a holographic AI. Her role in the first two games is so vital and her bond with Master Chief so strong that he fights his way through the Flood against all odds to rescue her in the third game. I don't think Solo would have done the same for me.
Aside from her importance in the story itself, Cortana's role is also vital for the engagement of the player in the world of the series. With Master Chief a faceless super soldier and a man of few words, she is a relatable and personable character who sometimes seems more human than the main character.
In fact, Cortana's become such a popular character that Microsoft have made her the voice of their Windows Phone AI/personal assistant/knowledge navigator/data miner. This means that now you can pretend to be Master Chief and ask her such important, universe protecting things as "Where's the nearest kebab place?" or "Why do men have nipples?". She's the only gaming sidekick to make the crossover into real-life sidekick so, for that reason if not all the others, she deserves her place at the top of the list.
Which gaming sidekicks are your favourite? Who would be your wingman and who would you bring along to a firefight? Let us know in the comments below. Just remember, let the Wookiee win.
The TA Team will be bringing you The TA Top Five every Sunday until we run out of coolness to debate and discuss. If you have an idea for a Top Five you'd like us to do, be sure to let us know in the comments!
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