Video games take us on all manner of wild adventures, but what is an adventurer without trusty companions at their side? Many a hero’s journey would’ve been doomed if it wasn’t for a loyal steed, a comforting pet, or a ferocious animal sidekick. Stian challenged me to list my favorite animal companions in games and I decided to take that challenge (too) seriously.
Here are the rules I set for myself:
- These have to be non-playable animal characters that the player closely interacts with.
- No purely fantastical creatures, unless they are wholly based on a real-world animal (i.e. a talking cat, a ghost, or a made-up breed)
- Anthropomorphic characters are excluded because they are more human than animal.
Dog – Dragon Age: Origins
Though I am more of a cat person myself, the dog from Dragon Age: Origins was the first entry that came to mind while brainstorming for this list. Rather than being some kind of pet sidekick, the dog is a full-fledged party member with a skill tree, level ups, and even equipment.
He is a reliable ally and often a source of hilarity in this otherwise-grim fantasy RPG. The dog even has interactions with the other characters and it was through watching those that I warmed up to some companions I was otherwise lukewarm about. Dog just brings the whole party together and he’s a mainstay in my squad anytime I replay Dragon Age.
Cheshire Cat – American McGee’s Alice
The Cheshire Cat is one of the most recognizable fantasy characters in literature and in American McGee’s Alice he’s given a morbid make-over. The colorful riddler is turned into a greyish, emaciated creature. Still, that freakishly wide grin is the friendliest face you are gonna find in this diseased version of Wonderland.
Though his aid is rarely actually helpful, encounters with him become a pleasant break from the usual hostility found throughout these games. He’s a reliable companion whose dialogue is a highlight of the game’s writing, though the fantastic delivery by voice actor Roger L. Jackson should not be underestimated either.
Mr. Pokeylope – Psychonauts
Mr. Pokeylope is an odd case on this list because he’s not strictly your pet. He’s a little turtle fellow that you end up saving near the finale of Double Fine’s 2005 3D-platformer Psychonauts. Despite only appearing late in the game, Mr. Pokeylope leaves a big impression and plays a surprisingly major role in the game’s plot, though I naturally won’t be spoiling how.
There is also a lot more to do with him than you’d assume. Players who have time to kill can take Mr. Pokeylope and just leave; you can just go back to camp and introduce him to all of your friends. There’s no point to it, but everybody has a unique, funny reaction to him. Talk about going the extra mile…
Cat – Oldschool Runescape
This is cheating a bit, I admit. I tried to focus on pets that are actually unique characters, but the cats in Runescape are literally just nameless pets that follow you around. Still, to a young teen in the mid-2000s, these fuzzy friends were a major reason to get a subscription.
You get your cat through a short & easy questline, after which you can have it follow you all around the game’s world. There are various ways in which you can interact with your pet, including several late-game questlines that unlock new types of cats. Of course, every edgy teen at the time went straight for the Hellcat variant; objectively the coolest thing a middle schooler could own.
Mr. Midnight – Fran Bow
Another lovable feline friend is found in Mr. Midnight, Fran Bow’s kitten and closest friend throughout the indie puzzle game that carries her name.
Mr. Midnight is all that remains of Fran’s family after the brutal murder of her parents and he is a beacon of support in her quest to regain control of her life. The love between the two of them formed the emotional core of the game’s story, and this convinced me to push through during puzzles that left me stumped for the longest time.
Masamba – Haimrik
This is a unique puzzle game in which you play as Haimrik, a scribe that one day finds a book that grants him magical, reality-bending powers. As he becomes involved in a revolution against the authoritarian king of the land, Haimrik finds himself befriending the lioness Masamba, though their friendship largely depends on how recently she has been fed.
An entire chapter of the game is dedicated to taming her, and from then on Masamba frequently reappears throughout the game to help in puzzles or play a part in the game’s story. She is a memorable, lovable character, and that she doesn’t always get along with Haimrik is a nice change of pace from the usual relationship between a hero and his mount.
Hoot – Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 had a lot of wow-factor to it. I don’t think we quite appreciate enough that this was literally among the first 3D platformer games to ever come out, and it already let you blast through levels in cannons and fly around freely, all without restrictions or loading times. But while flying in Super Mario 64 could be challenging if you didn’t want to invest the time to learn the controls, there was an alternative if you needed to take to the skies.
Hoot is a friendly owl who can help players out when they manage to find him. Players can grab unto his legs and Hoot will take off into the sky, where he’ll then fly all around the level. You can jump off at any time during the ride, making him a flexible taxi service that really shines in the vertical levels where he appears.
Polterpup – Luigi’s Mansion
I was no fan of Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon, but I’ll happily concede that the Polterpup was a phenomenal addition to the Mario universe. This adorable, ghostly doggo starts out as a nuisance, but he is eventually adopted by Luigi and becomes a helpful friend throughout Dark Moon and Luigi’s Mansion 3.
The cuteness is already through the roof with this guy, but I also enjoy Polterpup because it’s the most significant development the Mario universe has seen in years. Luigi being a loving dog owner is something I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it. I hope Nintendo realizes the immense potential in this and brings Polterpup into other Mario titles, or greenlights Luigi’s Mansion 4.
Jeane – No More Heroes
The No More Heroes games are cynical, grim, and violent, but one certainty in protagonist Travis Touchdown’s life is that he can always return home to the loving adoration of his cat Jeane.
In the first NMH game she is an unbearably cute kitten that players can bond with over the course of the game. This idea is then expanded upon in the sequel, Desperate Struggle, where Jeane is grown up and has become overweight. By playing various games with her, players help Jeane slim down and eventually learn a new move from her once she’s spry and energetic once more.
It’s an adorable little side-quest, though I have to admit that I haven’t checked how Jeane is fairing in the newer games yet.
Sparx – Spyro
Can we just appreciate how brilliant of an innovation Sparx is? He is effectively a flying HUD element that shows players their health, and manages to do so in a way that is constantly visible to the player without feeling like it’s in the way. A brilliant move that frees up screen space and contributes to the Spyro games feeling much more immersive than rival platforming games.
Later titles would expand on Sparx even more by integrating gameplay conveniences into his behavior. Grabbing collectibles at an extended range and pointing out where more are hidden are neat little touches, and they don’t interfere with Sparx’ core job of informing you of Spyro’s health.
Dog – Fable II
2008’s Fable II kicks off with a tutorial in your character’s childhood, where you end up saving a dog on what soon turns out to be, objectively, the worst day in your life. Your sister is killed and you are left for dead. Miraculously you manage to pull through, so both you and the dog grow up until you’re old & strong enough to take vengeance.
The dog serves as an all-around companion for you throughout this journey. It fights enemies with you, it tracks down treasures, and running around Albion with a barking friend at your side is just simply the best.
Agro – Shadow of the Colossus
Speaking of harsh journeys, how about Shadow of the Colossus. A game in which you play a misguided hero who has set out on a quest to slay the giants that populate a vast, forbidden land.
But even more tragic than the hero himself is the steed who accompanies him. Agro is a beautiful and intelligent creature who supports his master no matter how dire the journey gets. He stays brave even when facing off against creatures thousands of times his size, some of which can fly or harness magic against him. The battles on which you ride Agro are some of the most intense in the game and you truly grow to rely on this majestic friend.
Rad Shiba – Va-11 Hall-A
He’s so rad.
Hans- Valkyria Chronicles
It’s a pig! With wings! Fantasy creature design doesn’t get any better than this, I tell you.
Hans is an affectionate little piglet who is adopted by the militiamen of Squad 7. He becomes an informal mascot for the unit and is frequently seen hanging around with them, with the anime adaptation affording him even more screentime and comedic moments. He’s unbearably cute, so while he lacks any kind of in-game use compared to, say, Ragnarok from Valkyria Chronicles 4, I just HAVE to include him on this list.
The Crows – Dark Souls series
The Crows are one of the mysteries that make the story of the Souls series so captivating. They are invisible creatures, only interacted with through disembodied voices, who nevertheless turn out to be some of the most funny allies you’ll find in these games
Players can trade various odd items with these feathered friends, but the trick is that they never describe what they want exactly. One only wants items that are soft & warm, while the crow from Demon’s Souls asks for sparkling items. This gets hilariously obtuse in Dark Souls 3, where you are asked to bring “Pickle Pee” or “Pump-a-Rum”. The rewards are also a complete toss-up. You might get incredibly rare resources for literal trash or you might trade a one-of-a-kind item just to get something you could’ve picked as a starting gift.
Poochy – Yoshi’s Island
The Polterpup was by no beams the first dog to star in a Mario (spin-off) game. Poochy first appeared in 1995’s Yoshi’s Island, and has since had numerous appearances and cameos both in Yoshi’s adventures as well as the mainline Mario games.
Besides being an adorable character that fills my heart with joy whenever we get to hang out, Poochy also frequently helps out with gameplay challenges. In Yoshi’s Island he can help you cross dangerous terrain, whereas in Yoshi’s Story he sniffs out secrets when players set him loose.
Boo – Baldur’s Gate
What better companion for a powerful, raging warrior than a squeaky little hamster? Boo and Minsc are inseparable friends, who can be recruited into the player’s party in both Baldur’s Gate I and II.
While functionally useless, Boo is the center of much dialogue among the party members and is thus kind of an extension of Minsc himself, who is already one of the most likable companions in the game. Boo soon became iconic for the Baldur’s Gate series itself, and would make cameo appearances in other big RPGs.
Misha – Warcraft III
Rexxar’s storyline in the Warcraft III expansion pack The Frozen Throne is unique, in that you don’t do the typical typical strategy gameplay the series is known for. It’s more like an RPG adventure, where Rexxar and his bear companion Misha go on all kinds of quests.
Misha is a girl to be reckoned with for sure and a major help throughout this challenging campaign. When Warcraft then transitioned to an MMO, Horde players frequently got to join forces with Rexxar and each time Misha would still be at his side. Unlike those slutty hunter players who exchange pets based on whatever the new meta is, Rexxar and Misha have stuck together for years.
Enguarde – Donkey Kong series
Like we addressed in the last Top 10 list, water levels have been hated by gamers almost since their inception. They are obnoxious, difficult to control, and force you to deal with annoying air mechanics. Donkey Kong games have frequently avoided these problems, however, and Enguarde certainly has a role in that.
This swordfish companion can be found in many Donkey Kong Country games and even appears in Donkey Kong 64. He makes traversing water levels super easy and affords the Kongs a way of attacking enemies while underwater as well. This speed and utility makes him almost unmissable when Donkey Kong and his crew need to go for a dive, which also makes it absolutely painful whenever you mess up and need to proceed without his help.
Missile – Ghost Trick
I always feel like I dislike tiny, yappy dogs until I actually get to see one. How do they seem so annoying, only to always turn out so affectionate and adorable. Case in point: Missile from Capcom’s 2011 DS puzzle game Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective.
Missile is an unfortunate little pup who frequently dies throughout the game, after which protagonist Sissel needs to bend time and solve puzzles to bring him back to life. Through these encounters the two form a tight partnership, which is helped along when Missile gains powers of his own and becomes more capable of helping Sissel on his mission.
Oh wow, this turned out VERY long. I hope you enjoyed this list and I encourage everybody to share their own favorites and recommend me any other games I should seek out specifically for their cute animal companions. As for you, STIAN, I have a challenge for you as well. You know that feeling when you’re playing a mediocre or outright bad game, but it has that one idea, mechanic, or innovation that you wish would make a return in a different game? I want you to find that.
A Top x Mechanics (From Bad Games) Worth Salvaging, if you will? Feel free to come up with a catchier title too.