Video game protagonists have existed for almost as long as video games themselves. Some of them are tools on top of being a sidekick, like Clank or Kazooie or any horse; others are sometimes playable or provide aid and tactical advantages in combat; some are glorified talking tutorials. To put it lightly, some are great and some are awful.
Here, we’re going to look at five of the best and five of the worst sidekicks in video games. These characters do not necessarily reflect their games as a whole, and the list has been limited to those sidekicks who can actually be said to have a concrete personality, either through their dialogue or their actions.
Do you recall the battle that Naughty Dog was said to have fought to have Ellie on the game’s cover art? This is an ongoing issue in video games when it comes to the mere existence of women. For The Last of Us, however, Ellie is an integral part of the game. She is the driving force of the plot, the source of protagonist Joel’s drive to move forward. She is playable, has her own dedicated DLC, and will be the focus of the game’s upcoming sequel.
Though generally superfluous for much of the game’s playable moments, she very much is the plot, and that would mean failure for this game if she weren’t so gosh darn charming, stubborn, likable, and commendable. Everyone loves Ellie; Ellie is the sidekick done right.
Well, Ellie was the sidekick done right until Atreus walked into the scene last year. Better known to many as BOY, the demigod son of Kratos is, like Ellie before him, the driving force of this game’s narrative.
While God of War explores the redemptive road that Kratos walks down, it is also very much Atreus’ story, as he comes to terms with the loss of his mother, sets out on his first adventure, and connects with his father. His voice acting is tremendous; the design and characterization is superb; his growth is spot-on. Though Atreus is not directly controllable in the game, he does have designated buttons during combat, meaning he’s more than a passive aid. Atreus works as a sidekick mechanically and narratively.
This one might seem a little cheeky, but I, at least, had more fun with Cappy as a sidekick through this game than I ever did with Yoshi, Luigi, Toad, or the little star guy from Super Mario Galaxy.
Cappy is in this for the same reasons Mario is: he’s got his own princess (sister) to save. He serves as the game’s tutorial, provides Mario with a ship, doubles the stakes of the plot (or what plot there even is in a Super Mario game), and best of all he’s the most excellent ‘tool sidekick’ ever.
Better than a horse like Epona or Roach and providing more creative mobility than Clank, Cappy allows Mario an incredibly clever amount of freedom of traversal. With a few extra buttons and moves offered by this little hat with eyes, your entire way of playing has been totally redefined. Bless you, Cappy.
Though he is far more of a narrative sidekick than a mechanical one, Sully is just great, isn’t he? The Uncharted Series is lovable, without question. Although Drake and Sully spend an uncomfortable amount of time mowing down enemies, their relationship is irresistibly lovely. This all comes down to outstanding writing and voice acting from Nolan North and Richard McGonagle. It's so beloved that it raises the bar of expectations for acceptable voice acting forever. The banter between Drake and Sully is a driving force for every game in the series, and any scene without Sully in it almost seems like wasted time.
The flipside of the Ellie-on-the-box-art battle, Elizabeth (the real driving force of the whole game) was left off the box art for BioShock Infinite with the marketing hope of creating mass appeal for "game with man and gun." This is frustrating given how Elizabeth is far more of a character than the basically faceless protagonist Booker is.
A woman who goes through strife, risks her life, blossoms like a flower, and guides the player through most of the journey is also the one to save you time and again during the game’s overwhelming encounters. She provided weapons, ammo, health, and tears through the fabric of space which alter the environment to your benefit. Elizabeth is pretty great.
You saw this coming. I say "Navi." You say "Hey, listen!" This floating orb with a rubbish personality is similar to Super Mario Odyssey’s Cappy in that she is not-so-cleverly disguised as the game’s tutorial and guide. She leads the player down the right paths and helps navigate its puzzles, as well as figuring out its controls and mechanics. But that’s all she does.
I said at the beginning that, to make this list, the sidekick must have a personality, and Navi does: she’s awful. We’ve all met those people whose personalities can be summed up by the word awful. Navi is that. She’s annoying, unhelpful, distracting, and loud.
Adding Trico to this list does come with a little bit of guilt. Trico is here because s/he is frustrating to control and guide, and is frightened of almost everything. All of this is not only excusable, however, but also premeditated. The game has certain button prompts which can be used to guide your giant baby griffin-thing to do different things and go to different places, but they don’t always work.
The developers have come out and said that this was intentional; Trico sometimes ignores you or gets confused because that’s what an animal sidekick does. They attempt to mimic the relationship we have with our pets. That’s smart. That’s really smart. It’s still bloody annoying, though.
Resident Evil 4 was the first game to do a lot of things; it has set the bar in the realms of genre, combat, inventory management, and survival. It was also the first big game to be entirely designed around what used to be the tired video game trope of helping and keeping a useless civilian alive in dangerous situations.
In Resi 4 ,this trope didn’t suck – it and Ico showed us how to do this kind of game well. Ashley, the civilian in question, does suck, however. She’s whiney and aggravating and a cardboard cut-out of a character. This is inexcusable, even in a game this campy and silly.
Side note: as I scan through this list it makes me sad to see just how many sidekicks are women and children, standing beside the big burly man protagonist. Stop that, video games. It’s boring.
This one hurts (though not quite as much as the next one) because I adore Persona 5. It and Super Mario Odyssey were my GOTY picks for 2017. But, unfortunately, the game’s sidekick, Morgana, is just an HD Navi. Although this list generally avoids part-based RPGs because it’s unfair to call members of your RPG party, like Tifa or Barret, "sidekicks," Morgana is different.
Each member of the Persona 5 family are fleshed-out, lovable, charismatic characters. Except Morgana. Morgana is another tutorial disguised as a character, and he’s the worst one of all. He’s always telling you when to go to sleep! In a game where you have 100+ hours to live an exciting life in the heart of Tokyo, you’re being told time and again by a cat when it’s time for you to go to bed. Shut up Morgana!
What hurts more than Morgana is Daxter, because the Jak series is a personal favorite of mine. The first game was my first on PS2, and the next two made such fantastic leaps in scope and design that they deserve more praise than they get.
The games also wouldn’t work without Daxter. He’s the comic relief, the personality, the color of the game. He’s well animated, beautifully voiced, and well designed. But he’s just so tiresome. If you try playing these three games back-to-back over the course of a few weeks, his voice will literally make you cry by the end of it. You’ll hear him speak and you will honestly start to weep. In small doses, he’s grand, but ultimately, he does nothing to aid in the plot’s progression. He shows little-to-no character growth over three games. We love you, Daxter, but we also really, really don’t.