I hate sidekicks. I especially hate the videogame sidekicks who are always bumping you when you're trying to line up a headshot, standing in the door when you're trying to duck for cover and shooting the guy you were just aiming at. Don't even get me started on having to wait around while they figure out that a wall is not a door. With sidekicks like those, who needs boss monsters?
The perfect videogame sidekick is the one who sits beside you pointing out things you've missed and occasionally fetches a sandwich. All the rest seem to indicate that game designers are operating under the fallacious assumption that people playing videogames lack friends. Perhaps they are, but it's not the playing of games to which we turn for a solution to that problem. If I wanted to have my single-player experience muddied by the addition of a gaggle of brain-dead kill-stealers, I'd play online.
And yet, occasionally a videogame will get it right. Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, for example, implements what I'd consider the perfect sidekick system. While Player One is romping around kicking turtles and collecting stars, Player Two can wave their Wii remote around and ... well, collect stars. But it's unobtrusive and actually helpful. And you don't end up with two people attempting to play the same game at the same time and thereby annoying the crap out of each other.
Batman: Arkham Asylum and games like it do alright, too. In Batman, your sidekick is the never-seen Oracle, who we only hear in voiceover as she pipes her thoughts and observations to Batman's earpiece. Granted, she's more of an exposition machine than a sidekick, but that's how I like my sidekicks. Anything more and you're out of the realm of sidekick and into the realm of "helper," and the danger of that is that helpers need to be managed. I play videogames for many reasons, but practicing my personnel management techniques is not one of them.
Sidekicks in non-interactive media are just as bad. They're generally useless add-ons provided so that the main character will have someone to talk to. As if the same people who believe gamers need friends are convinced that super heroes would also benefit form a good cry and a chat.
MovieBob makes a great case for the existence of Robin in the Batman universe, and his points are entirely valid, but if Robin were really all that interesting or necessary, wouldn't he have his own gig? At one point, he did quit his sidekick job to become Nightwing, but nobody cared. You look at Nightwing and you think "Oh, that's the guy who used to be Robin, yawn."
So it goes with sidekicks. Somehow the world remains convinced that every strong, capable ass-kicker needs a less useful, but entertaining chum. They're more for us, really, than for the heroes. Without the sidekick, all you see is the badass doing badass stuff, which is generally so badass we can't relate to it.
Enter: the sidekick. Sidekicks don't have to be badass all the time (that's what the badass is for), so they can sit back, assess the situation through the eyes of a spectator and add color commentary that brings the whole picture into focus. It's kind of how the chorus functions in a Greek tragedy; while the action is happening on stage, they snicker and make jokes but somehow avoid doing anything useful.
In this week's issue of The Escapist we address the issue of sidekicks. Are they useful or useless? A help or a hindrance? A key component of any adventure or a needle wedged in the webbing between your toes? Read issue 268, "Second Banana" to find out. Then, tell us what you think.