In recent months there has been a noticeable rise in AI partners with two of the most popular games this year (Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us) featuring the partnerships of Elizabeth and Booker Dewitt as well as Joel and Ellie. Even in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim you are encouraged to recruit an AI travelling companion to haul your useless loot around and tank for you when required. The effective use of AI partners not only adds another dimension to game-play, but it also provides an opportunity for constant plot-driving dialogue which allows for a deeper level of character development. So, without further ado, I will be giving you a run-down on what I think are the top five double-acts in video game history. Prepare for a great deal of shoulder perching, silent protagonists and a large dose of platform icons. Kicking us off…
Red and Pikachu
Before I begin allow me to clarify something… I’m a big fan of Pokémon, one of the biggest, but I cannot stand Ash Ketchum. He’s whiney. He doesn’t evolve his Pokémon, and each season he forgets all of his previous experiences and tries to use his Pikachu on a ground-type Pokémon. There is a reason he has never won a Pokémon League tournament and I doubt he ever will. For this reason I will be referring to him as his video game counterpart: the elusive, and apparently mute character, Red, whom you can find at the top of Mount Silver in the Johto region. Here you battle his six-strong, level 80+ team including all three fully evolved Gen I starters, a Lapras, a Snorlax and his pride and joy, a level 88 pikachu (holding a light-ball). Ever since that morning all those years ago when 10 year old Red overslept and missed out on his choice of the conventional starting Pokémon, and reluctantly accepted a particularly troublesome Pikachu, an immortal bond was formed. Pokémon: Yellow for the GBC even had your buddy Pikachu visibly follow you from the moment you leave Prof. Oak’s Lab all the way to the Hall of Fame in the Pokémon League. That yellow electrically-charged mouse is one of the greatest companions in history and that is why these two belong in my list.
Crash Bandicoot and Aku Aku
At Number 4 is Naughty Dog’s psychotic rodent and his magical, floating tiki-mask companion.
Crash Bandicoot (originally named ‘Willie the Wombat’) is Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario and Sega’s Sonic. This mad-marsupial is crowned the King of Playstation 1 platform gaming with his whimsical idiosyncrasies often verging on lunacy, complete with spin moves and belly-flops. Aku Aku is the voice of reason in this insane world. Not only does he fulfil the role of adviser and guide to Crash, he also acts as an in-game bodyguard which results in relief and comfort whenever he is around. However, all good duos must have a nemesis whose darkness mirrors our heroes’ light. For Crash and Aku Aku this is Neo Cortex and Uka Uka. Cortex, the hapless evil genius and servant to his master tiki mask of shadow and brother of Aku Aku. This ying and yang dynamic results in an excellently balanced, yet absurd, battle between good and evil. Crash’s goofy range of yelps coupled with Aku’s words of wisdom and the memorable “Boodabugah” (or at least that’s what it sounds like) upon being summoned, give them the No. 4 spot on this list.
Jak and Daxter
At number 3 we have Jak, the pointy-eared protagonist with his wise cracking otsel (otter/weasel) companion, Daxter, perched on his shoulder. Aside from the excellently scripted witty interchanges between these two characters the animation team clearly spent a lot of time using their physicality to demonstrate this partnership. Daxter is constantly being tossed around like a ragdoll, clinging on for dear life as Jak jumps (jumping jack) around the beautifully designed free-roaming worlds.
The excellent thing about this series is the visible character progression throughout. In The Precursor Legacy Jak is a mute, naive and carefree being who roams around his vibrant home planet. Jak II sees our protagonist sent into a future dystopic world where he is tortured with dark-eco giving him not only dark powers which, when activated, transform him into an uncontrollable destructive being with pitch black eyes, grey skin and long vicious claws, but also the power of speech! In Jak 3 our characters have been exiled to the desert wasteland and we encounter the ancient being called Precursors who grant Jak light powers to balance his darkness as he fulfils his destiny. Daxter remains the same loud-mouthed rodent throughout. He certainly talks the talk but due to his diminutive size and the fact that he’s basically a rat with aviation goggles requires Jak to walk the walk for him. These two are Naughty Dog’s successors to Crash Bandicoot’s legacy and on this list they have beaten them to the 3rd place position.
Ratchet and Clank
Ratchet, the wrench wielding Lombax mechanic, and Clank, the physically stunted-yet-sophisticated robot companion with a goofy giggle are at Number 2. These two likely lads have saved the galaxy countless times using an increasingly absurd arsenal of weaponry making for some extremely entertaining destructive methods.
This double act is 11 years old and on July 10th of this year, the most recent instalment in the series: Into the Nexus was announced by Insomniac who claims that this game will be a return to the glory days of Ratchet and Clank 1, 2 and 3. A feature length film has also been promised for release in 2015, and is to be called… Ratchet and Clank. Not the most imaginative title but I am delighted that this partnership is making its transition from video games to the big screen! The beauty of this symbiotic relationship is that neither one of them would be half as competent without the other. Most of the time Clank acts as a gadgetry filled back-pack for Ratchet enabling him to boost with the thrusters, or glide with the heli-pack taking him to place no Lombax has gone before. Clank’s bolt-grabber function is also particularly useful as it draws all the currency towards Ratchet using the magic of magnets. He is basically a smaller and more robotic Inspector Gadget. Without him, Ratchet would still be mending hover-boards on the planet Veldrin. And without Ratchet’s acrobatics and firepower Clank would have certainly been squashed by the first ‘Thugs-for-less’ goon he came across.
Mario and Luigi
Topping the list we have, of course, our beloved moustached Italian plumbers garbed in green and red, covered by blue overalls. This dynamic duo are an institution in the video gaming universe and they hold this top spot with a resounding “Mamma Mia!” Mario is, of course, Nintendo’s poster-boy having made Nintendo a household name and rescuing it from the brink of bankruptcy. He made his debut as a carpenter named ‘Jumpman’ in the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong where the aim was to rescue his girlfriend, Pauline, by jumping over the barrels launched by his pet ape. It wasn’t until 1982 that he was renamed ‘Mario’ in the game Donkey Kong Jr. where Mario had captured Donkey Kong and locked him in a cage. It was your job as a Donkey Kong Jr, to rescue your father from his prison. This is the only game in history in which Mario is an antagonist. In 1983 Mario’s younger brother Luigi was introduced and they both got jobs as plumbers forming ‘The Mario Brothers’ and providing a co-operative game mode. Their sole aim was to rid the sewers beneath New York of vermin once and for all in Mario Bros. This game was so successful that the two brothers were able to make their transition from arcade gaming to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in Super Mario Bros. It was at this point that mushrooms started to become a fairly prominent feature in gameplay… These mushrooms have a certain magic quality to them… And with the mushrooms came magical kingdoms and princesses to rescue from castle fortresses. I’m going to be direct about this. Mario and Luigi hated their plumbing job SO MUCH that they had to take hallucinogenic mushrooms to make it through each day. There is no way to sugar coat it. Princess Peach isn’t a princess at all. She is just a mouldy peach that somehow made it to the sewers when M & L had a bad case of the munchies. And Bowser is a particularly nasty rat that was guarding that decomposing fruit with its life. There are no alternate dimensions or dream-worlds just dangerous sewers with two drugged up Italians. It goes without saying that since then, the franchise has just exploded giving way to further instalments of SMB, and endless spin offs including Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros and countless others.
I often feel as though Luigi gets over-looked as the less charismatic of the two brothers but without his athletic physique and measured behaviour to counteract Mario’s head-strong and foolhardy approach, Princess Peach would forever be trapped in the evil Bowser’s castle. One cannot help but think: if Mario represents the red and Luigi the green in the Italian flag, could there possibly be a long lost brother with a white uniform to complete this moustached tri-force… Don’t you love a good gaming conspiracy theory!
R2D2 and C3PO
No list of famous duos would be complete without these two. The reason they don’t make the list is because I can’t think of a single video game with this duo as its focus. This is probably a good thing seeing as R2’s role in life seems to be to “stay with the ship” which of course he ignores wherever possible and C3PO is dragged shuffling and groaning along for the journey. Just imagine if R2D2 was an obedient droid… The universe would be in tatters.
If a video game focused on this pair was made I’d buy it even if it was a human-cyborg relations simulator purely for their lovers’ tiffs. They provide the consistent and welcome comic relief to redress the balance in what could have become a very serious series of science fiction films…
So that has been my Top Five Video Gaming Duos! My opinion is not the only one out there, and I know there are some awesome partnerships that I haven’t mentioned. What are your favourite gaming duos? Let me know in the comments!