Me and You / You and Me: Video Game Duos

We speak out on the duos in video games that made bringing a friend along not only hip, but necessary. Don't forget to hug your Player Two!

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By Staff
Design by Collin Oguro

Cagney and Lacey. The Captain and Tennille. Mork and Mindy. The world of high art has truly graced us with these and other classic examples of partnerships, and, through them, has taught us sometimes more than we cared to know about life, laughter, love, and turning our companions into ladders. The world of video games has given us a fair share of inseparable pairs and unstoppable duos as well. Of course, not all of them will be as obvious as the titular twosomes or the familial-bound, but all of them depend entirely on the strength of each other. The following is a list of some of the most memorable pairs in video gaming. If they had been separated, our gaming experiences wouldn't have been nearly as interesting.

Ratchet and Clank

Ratchet and Clank need each other more than they let on.
Ratchet and Clank need each other more than they let on.

Ratchet and Clank are the quintessential video game twosome. One is a catlike alien from a race called the Lombax; the other an accidentally stunted robot from a factory. Together they travel between planets, solving puzzles and defeating enemies, and ultimately trying to thwart the plans of various evil geniuses attempting to take over the universe. Though, in their three games to date, both get a turn at playing without the other, the Ratchet and Clank games have always depended primarily upon their collaboration. Ratchet, the muscle of the pair, wields his trusty wrench, as well as all of the weapons, while Clank is responsible for finessing their movement and the more technically related encounters. The two are joined at the hip, literally, as Ratchet wears Clank like a backpack for the duration of most of the games.

The story is driven by their interaction. Pitting the stolid robotic Clank against the brash and emotional Ratchet has always created quite an interesting dynamic. And even though their initial relationship was rocky at best, their touching connection at the end of the first game was close to tear-jerking. Throughout the series they've grown simultaneously closer and independent, until finally, in the fourth game of the series, Ratchet will be embarking alone, without the aid of his buddy Clank. It could be argued that of all the duos in game history, Ratchet and Clank are the most stereotypical. The games have depended upon the duo's ability to work together, and they've had equal relevance to the storylines. We can't help but think that Ratchet will sorely miss his buddy in the upcoming game Deadlocked, for it surely won't be the same without both of them together.

Manny Calavera and Glottis

I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.
I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Manny Calavera can't catch a break at the beginning of the classic film noir adventure game, Grim Fandango. Calavera is long dead and now resides in the underworld, where he is a skeletal travel agent in a world of traveling skeletons. But for some reason, he can't land any good clients. Over the course of the game, his urbane and easygoing manner becomes less and less of a cover for his intensely competitive nature, especially when he loses his best client, the innocent spirit of a deceased nun, to his most hated rival.

Over the course of the game, Manny goes from being frustrated to melancholy to devious to cowardly--all less-than-noble emotions you'd expect from a proper film noir leading man. Fortunately for him, and for us, he's got a funny man to his straight man in the form of Glottis, a bulbous elemental spirit (and mechanic) with a carefree attitude and a big, big heart. (At one point, Glottis dramatically tears out his own massive cardiac muscle and foolishly hurls it away, leaving Manny to run out and find it.) You could say that Glottis is mainly there to provide moral support, since he's not exactly the sharpest elemental spirit in the afterlife--being both an obsessive gearhead and a compulsive gambler. Many times, it's Manny who has to come to Glottis' rescue. But if nothing else, his friend's well-meaning bumbling helps offset the travel-agent-turned-adventurer's gloomy, introspective moods, just as Glottis' bulky, orange-colored form occasionally helps draw the eye from the solemn blacks and whites of Manny's typical business suits and tuxedos. Even though Grim Fandango tells many fantastic tales with many, many endearing characters, the story of these two misfits is probably the most memorable of them all.

Bub and Bob

You could play Bubble Bobble alone, but why would you want to?
You could play Bubble Bobble alone, but why would you want to?

Bub and Bob are the twin bubble-breathing dragons that have graced a few of Taito's games. However, they are known best for being the protagonists of the 2D action platformer, Bubble Bobble. The mission for the two dinosaurs in Bubble Bobble is singly focused: get through the 112 levels of the cave of monsters to face off against an enemy known as Super Drunk, and rescue their two girlfriends from his evil clutches. Bub and Bob, also known as Player One and Player Two, were distinguishable only in color, green and blue, respectively. Though you could play through the game as only one player, the game featured a number of incentives for playing through as a team, including another body for Beluga the Times-Up whale to chase after, more firepower against some of the tougher enemies, and someone with whom to fight over the great pickups and the E-X-T-E-N-D bubbles. Always determined to act as a team, Bub and Bob would even share lives with each other, at least on the NES version. The trick was that once one of them died, you simply needed to pause the game and push the Select button. Later games like Bust-A-Move featured Bub, Bob, and other evil variations on the duo, but there was no other game like Bubble Bobble, which really capitalized on the power of the pair.

Toejam and Earl

Toe Jam and Earl were too cool for this world.
Toe Jam and Earl were too cool for this world.

Toejam and Earl were a couple of laid-back aliens from the planet Funkotron who happened to crash their Rapmaster Rocket Ship on the planet Earth. The three-legged Toejam and the portly orange Big Earl weren't out to save the world, or rescue a princess, or even foil the plans of an evil madman. No, they just wanted to find the pieces of their ship so they could leave the painfully unfunky planet Earth. When they weren't putting their ship back together, they spent their time listening to funky beats on their ghetto blaster, munching tasty treats, and occasionally busting a move in their high-top sneakers. Toejam and Earl were funky alright, but their style was never forced or overplayed. The duo first hit the Sega Genesis in 1991, after MC Hammer took rap to the mainstream with his wacky pants and patented stuttering shuffle, but just before Dr. Dre came along and made rap dangerous again with a little album called The Chronic. Toejam and Earl didn't buy into any of that, though. They had a more urban vibe that was old school before that term became a worn-out cliché.

The duo had the chemistry of a less illicit Cheech and Chong team with the same brand of harmless ignorance and chronic bad luck that made for some hilarious moments. Unfortunately, that fun attitude and dope style only lasted for one game. The follow-up on the Sega Genesis took the open-ended gameplay and turned it into a plain, old side-scroller that just didn't have the same hook as the original. To further sap the cool out of the series, the duo became a trio in 2002 with the addition of the stereotyped Latisha in Toejam & Earl III on the Xbox, and the whole dynamic was thrown offbeat. It looks like Toejam and Earl have hung up their high-tops for now, but those who played the original game will never forget the hip-hop strut of the two coolest aliens to ever appear in a video game.

Solid Snake and Otacon

Every man needs a nerdy sidekick.
Every man needs a nerdy sidekick.

While Solid Snake and Otacon get along well enough, they really don't have much to say about affairs of the heart, or the nature of the soul. Then again, they aren't really the kind of archetypal duo you see in most TV shows or movies. They aren't the hard-boiled undercover cops wearing pastel-colored coats and skinny ties of a TV show like Miami Vice, nor are they the goofy buddies of a movie like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Instead, Solid Snake and Otacon have paired up in two games (not including the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 4) to instruct us on how bad it would be to have a mobile tank--capable of launching nuclear shells from any kind of terrain--fall into the wrong hands. A valuable lesson, and hopefully one that you'll be able to apply to your own mobile-tank-filled life.

Whatever your opinion of their merits, you could say that this team of operatives has taken a page out of motion-picture superspy James Bond's book (and that of Bond's trusty gadget expert, Q). One is a man of action, sent into a harsh and unforgiving world; a world that doesn't understand what he does, nor appreciates the necessity of it. The other is a scientist, a man of ideas, a man of almost unrelenting nerdiness. Together they form an inseparable pair and have proven themselves capable of ridding Alaska of genetically enhanced soldiers, watching helplessly while madmen steal top-secret military technology and subsequently sink a ship belonging to the US military, and then sitting back and letting an insufferably annoying teenager attempt to rescue the world. These are the actions of true heroes.

Sure, Solid Snake and Otacon aren't exactly bosom buddies, but together, they've proven that they can thwart conspiracies with the best of them, even when "them" includes the aforementioned annoying teenager. And above all else, they've taught us that no matter how desperate your situation becomes, no matter how low you may think you've gone, you'll always have an annoying voice buzzing in your ear. And that's something we can all agree on.

A Boy and His Blob

A blob is the perfect partner, so long as you have jellybeans to appease him.
A blob is the perfect partner, so long as you have jellybeans to appease him.

Notorious designer David Crane's A Boy and His Blob was one of the more bizarre games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the relationship between the two main characters certainly had everything to do with that. The game focuses around a boy...and his blob, two normally unpaired characters who must work together to save the blob's hometown of...Blobolonia. Because, as everyone knows, blobs love jelly beans, the objective of the game was to, as the boy, navigate through the environment and feed the blob jelly beans. After being fed, the blob would mutate into various shapes that would enable the pair to progress.

Without the blob, the boy certainly would have been lost, since there was little he could do without using some aspect of the blob's form. Whether it was in the form of a trampoline, a bridge, or a key, or any one of his of mutations, the blob provided all kinds of aid. It seems like taking around a blob would be a much more suitable alternative to what other game protagonists have to do, which is lug around a backpack with all of those items in it. Though some of the jelly bean transformations made sense, like a coconut-flavored jelly bean turning the blob into a coconut, others, like the vanilla bean inspiring an umbrella transformation, require a far greater suspension of disbelief. But the boy needed his amorphous buddy to change into whichever shapes were needed, while the blob needed his young friend to supply those delicious sugary treats. Only together could they make beautiful music (and umbrellas, and trampolines, and ladders, etc.).

Sam and Max

Look out evildoers: it's a lagomorph and an extremely tall dog.
Look out evildoers: it's a lagomorph and an extremely tall dog.

What do you get when you assemble a team with a 6-foot dog and a hyperactive, naked rabbitlike thing? You get the most powerful crime-busting contingent in law enforcement, of course. (Or, maybe you just end up stuck with a 6-foot dog and a hyperactive, naked rabbitlike thing.) Fans of this anthropomorphic animal duo will tell you that they've never gotten a fair shake, even though Sam and Max have graced comic books, computer games, and even a short-lived children's cartoon. But that still isn't enough for devotees of possibly the zaniest crime-fighting duo this side of Shaggy and Scooby.

Sam and Max are cartoon gumshoes out to crack the toughest cases the world can throw at them. Considering that they live in a world where a dog and a rabbitlike thing can not only walk and talk, but can also solve crimes, those cases are usually pretty bizarre and involve some truly ridiculous adventures, like playing "Wak-a-Rat" at the local carnival or becoming an "honorary" Bigfoot in a secret ceremony. Thankfully, both characters have an appropriately fractured take on life, the universe, and everything else. Sam, ostensibly the straight man (or, straight dog, if you will), goofy jokes notwithstanding, coolly pursues the leads on each case, taking even the most ridiculous things in stride. This includes his hyperactive partner Max, who always seems to be running and talking a mile a minute, and isn't opposed to taking a few liberties with criminals to get the information they need. In this way, Sam and Max make up the classic straight-man, funny-man partnership (or in this case, maybe a "funny dog, funnier insane rabbitlike thing" partnership) that loyal fans continue to remember fondly. And now that the Sam and Max license has been acquired by a new developer, maybe we'll be able to revisit them sooner than we think.

Little Mac and Doc Louis

Doc Louis whispers sweet no...great boxing advice into Little Mac's ear.
Doc Louis whispers sweet no...great boxing advice into Little Mac's ear.

Little Mac was a 107-pound scrapper coming out of the Bronx when he met up with ex-heavyweight Doc Louis, the trainer who convinced him that he could take on the baddest boy in boxing in the NES classic Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. Little Mac was clearly the underdog at every single one of his fights, coming in at half the size of his opponents, although they suspiciously remained in the same weight class that he was in (the kid must have been made of bricks). It just took a little fancy footwork and some encouragement to make him the reigning champ.

Whether resting between rounds against Soda Popinski or basking in the TKO of Piston Honda, Doc Louis was always there, cheering on Little Mac and giving him tactical advice like "Dodge his punch then counterpunch!" Of course Doc Louis wasn't always looking out for Little Mac's best interests. He didn't warn Little Mac about the perils of wearing a pink jumpsuit to training, and sometimes his advice was less than helpful: "Join the Nintendo Fun Club today! Mac." But who could forget the handy trick with the Select button, which, when pressed between rounds would make Doc's encouraging advice actually replenish Little Mac's health bar. Of course Little Mac may have been the one risking it all in the ring, but it's still hard to imagine him getting all the way to Tyson (or Mr. Dream for the unlucky) and beyond without his trusty coach by his side.

Banjo and Kazooie

Banjo and Kazooie were like Mario with a split personality.
Banjo and Kazooie were like Mario with a split personality.

One of the earliest platforming titular duos was Banjo and Kazooie, the honey bear and the cranky bird who lived in his backpack. Banjo and Kazooie played second fiddle to Mario 64, which wasn't necessarily the fairest role for them, but there were more than a few similarities between the two games. In fact, what made Banjo-Kazooie stand out the most from other platformers at the time was the very fact that they were a twosome. The characters contributed their own skill sets to the game's movement and attack mechanics, which made them more complex than single characters at the time. This has now become a lot more common, but Banjo and Kazooie can be thanked for its popularization.

The moves from Banjo and Kazooie, even the physical positioning of Kazooie perching on Banjo's back, had to have been a source of inspiration for Ratchet and Clank. The larger of the two, the bear Banjo, did almost all of the major movement and fighting, while the perched Kazooie was responsible for more of the finesse. He monitored feather intake so that the two could alight, and he spit out eggs at enemies. Though there were two iterations of the platformer on the N64, this generation completely missed out on its chance of a sequel, unless you count the GBA game, that is. However, the duo was not forgotten, and rumors have circulated that they'll show up on a Microsoft console sometime soon.

AWP and Deagle

The ultimate 1-2 shot.
The ultimate 1-2 shot.

The AWP sniper rifle and the Deagle handgun combine to form one of the most fearsome duos in all of gaming. Gamers might spend all day arguing over whether the AWP sniper rifle made famous by Half-Life: Counter-Strike is called the Artic Warfare Police or the Arctic Warfare Magnum, but there's no debating that the "one shot, one kill" weapon is the deadliest in the game. In early beta releases, catching an AWP slug on any part of your player hit box was enough to take you out of the round. Later releases reduced the power of the weapon so that only head and torso shots were instant kills (getting hit in the toe no longer knocked you out of the fight, but you'd still end up with dangerously low health). This small change to the AWP added extra importance to the sniper's secondary firearm, as many players preferred to switch to a quicker-firing handgun to finish off an opponent after landing a sniper shot.

The AWP user's secondary weapon of choice is the .50 Desert Eagle, often referred to simply as the "Deagle." The default Glock and HK USP pistols are serviceable weapons, but neither match the power of the Desert Eagle hand cannon. The Deagle isn't as accurate as other pistols in the game, but it's deadly in the hands of a skilled player. While the standard pistols can down an opponent with a couple of headshots or six or seven normal hits, the Deagle can do the same with a single headshot or three normal hits. You can also fire the Deagle through thin walls and other physical objects, making it extremely useful for tagging a fleeing terrorist running in and out of sight. The booming report of an AWP followed by a single Deagle blast has ended the careers of countless terrorists and counterterrorists alike.

Jak and Daxter

A man, an ottsel, four games... Jak and Daxter.
A man, an ottsel, four games... Jak and Daxter.

Through three games and a number of interesting character alterations, Jak and Daxter have remained best friends. Originally they were two young boys with a knack for getting into trouble. It didn't take long for their antics to go awry. Early on in the first game Daxter falls into a pool of sinister stuff called Dark Eco and changes into an ottsel, an otter-weasel hybrid. Of course the change didn't damage his over-the-top personality, and even though Daxter didn't do as much work when it came to gameplay, his mouth sure covered a lot of ground. The purpose in the first game was to control the mute Jak, while Daxter skittered about and provided comic relief. And classically, after finding each of the game's precursor orbs, the two would launch into a scripted animation, giving each other high-fives or otherwise celebrating.

Things began to change slightly in the following two games, as Daxter got his name dropped from the title, and Jak got both an edge and his voice back. Daxter still spends most of his time running around at Jak's feet, although you do get the opportunity to control him for a few of the game's sequences. Though little mention was made of why Jak began talking again, or at least, why he chose not to speak in the whole first game, it allowed the friendship to develop more, with him sharing the audio limelight with the previously over-the-top Daxter. In an interesting twist, the next game in the series completely switches genres...to combat racing. But regardless of the name or the style of the game, you'll be sure to see both members of the pair, as inseparable as ever. And no matter how the game changes, they'll still always be together--a boy with a tendency for anger, and his little furry...ottsel thing.

Mario and Luigi

The first brothers of gaming.
The first brothers of gaming.

If you're thinking of video game buddies, probably one of the first pairs to come to mind is Mario and Luigi. It's reasonable, considering how iconic the twosome is, but not necessarily justified, since they so rarely work together in the franchise's most popular games. Still, it's almost impossible to think of one without the other. One is short, wears red overalls, and is played by erstwhile professional wrestler "Captain" Lou Albano; the other is tall, lanky, and is dressed in green. Mario gets the Princess and Luigi gets...a haunted mansion, but they both get the honor of bearing the last name of Mario.

One of their first appearances together was in the Game & Watch version of Mario Bros., in which one or two players would use the duo to move cardboard boxes across conveyer belts into a truck. Later, appearances in the Mario Tennis games and Mario Kart: Double Dash gave them the ability to work as a team. But it wasn't until the GBA game Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga that their potential as a duo was fully realized. With that game, they were given team moves to both attack and navigate, which allowed them to jump higher, move farther, and stomp even harder. Mario may be the dominant force of the two, but they've proven that they can work even better together. And even though you may not have always used them in conjunction, it's hard to think of one and not the other.

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