It's good to have friends, right? That's sadly untrue in many video games, when the main character is burdened with the presence of an annoying sidekick. Sidekick characters can be a very good thing, providing social interaction, combat assistance, and character development for the player character. We're not talking about those positive sidekicks here, though. This is the Weekly Rant, so we're going to get angry at the many terrible companions we've been saddled with throughout the years.
The Obnoxious Personality
There was a plague of these characters around the turn of the century, when forty-year-old men decided it was a good idea to attempt to create characters that would be "hip" and "edgy" to teenage boys. Fortunately for all of us, after the mercy killing of the Loonatics, entertainment companies started rethinking that particular marketing strategy.
Obnoxious personalities still crop up from time to time, though, sporting everything from poorly written wisecracks to annoying tutorial text that ruins the flow of the game (I'm looking at you, Nintendo) to embarrassing racial stereotypes. These guys make otherwise good games into things you turn off whenever somebody else enters the room.
The Artificial Idiot
Many video game sidekicks assist the hero in battle, but that help can be more of a hindrance when artificial intelligence fails to live up to its name. These often ill-fated sidekicks are particularly rampant in RPGs and shooters. You know you have an artificially idiotic sidekick when you find yourself yelling at the screen, "No, don't charge the tank!" or "If the ground is on fire, for crying out loud, run out of it!"
Generally stupid sidekicks are bad enough, but some games are sadistic enough to force the player to keep these mobile lemmings alive. There's nothing worse than slogging through a lengthy quest or level only to have one's sidekick fall off a cliff or run in a completely unnecessary direction get eaten by a dragon, causing the dreaded "game over" screen.
The Helpless Victim
Perhaps the most infuriating sidekick of all is the helpless victim. These sidekicks offer no assistance, but are instead a burden placed on the player in the name of challenge and heroism. Often frightened of conflict or even vulnerable to dying if so much as breathed upon, helpless victims are an exercise in frustration and sometimes even controller-throwing rage. Some of them have a tendency to wander off or get stuck, and some even need to be carried or assisted whenever traversing difficult terrain. Helpless victims are a pain to deal with and are frequently rather sexist portrayals of female characters, to boot. Most games are far better off without them.
The Hall of Fame
We all have our rogue's gallery of annoying sidekicks, and here are mine. Playing the role of the obnoxious personality, we have Navi the fairy from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This infamous sidekick stars in many negative top ten lists for a reason. More a flitting, glowing tutorial than an actual companion, Navi constantly assails the player with useless hints and advice with his, "Hey! Listen!" prompt. First-time Ocarina of Time players may find themselves answering Navi's call, hoping for some useful information, but they soon learn better. Navi never helps find that last Skulltula or reminds you where you last left Princess Ruto in Jabu-Jabu's belly. That kind of information is far too helpful for that stupid jingling ball of light.
For Artificial Idiot, I nominate Alesia, the healer henchman from Guild Wars. Back in the days before this MMO had customizable heroes, players who didn't have a complete party could hire NPC henchmen in order to complete missions. Alesia was the healer henchman who could be hired in the original Prophecies campaign, and was responsible for many a mission wipe. Most battles went the same way: Alesia would inevitably get the attention of half the monsters on any pull, then proceed to madly run away from them in a random direction as they chewed on her. This tended to either result in her death—especially if the player was a melee character and couldn't pull the monsters off Alesia because she kept kiting them away—or in pulling additional packs of monsters and wiping the entire party. Alesia's only saving grace is that she and other Guild Wars characters at least had the wherewithal to run out of sustained area-of-effect spells, a simple A.I. instruction that many video game sidekicks inexplicably lack.
Finally, for Helpless Victim we have Ashley from Resident Evil 4. A black mark on an otherwise excellent game, Ashley's annoying tendency to be unable to climb up a three-foot-tall crate on her own is matched only by her abrasive personality. She spends most of the game being kidnapped, needing protection, or saying ungrateful things to Leon should she happen to have a few moments during which she's not kidnapped or having her face eaten by not-zombies. Most of us would have been more than happy to let her be eaten alive by a parasite, but nooooo, the game won't let us do that.
On behalf of all gamers, I plead with developers to be thoughtful when designing sidekicks, because a poor one can really derail a game. So, readers, which companion characters have made you grit your teeth or yell at the TV screen? Let us know in the comments!
Date: May 7, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*