"Poochie is one outrageous dude!"
Everyone remembers Poochie, right? The rapping, too-cool canine who appeared in the 8th season of The Simpsons, Poochie satirically skewered everything - from mindless executive meddling, to rabid and overly protective fanbase - taking the premise of a 'new character, designed by committee' and warping it into an acerbic, whip smart parody. It's important to recall that the television of the time was chock full of these 'Poochie-types', characters blatantly intended to renew interest in a flagging show by appealing to some boardroom's concept of cool.
Given that gaming has a long and storied history of copying its cousins in TV and film, it stands to reason that similar practices may have occurred here too. Today's big list of stuff takes a good long look at eight likely candidates and asks - just how Poochie are these new playable characters? Did they fall flat and hit the bricks, or soar on to new, spin-off heights? Let's have a looksee, shall we?
Kurtis Trent (Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness)
Close your eyes and you can almost hear the company bigwigs pushing the prospect of Kurtis Trent onto an unreceptive studio. "No no, I said more like a nu-metal musician, damnit. And for the love of God, throw in a spot of trustafarian chiq while you're at it - something that says 'I'm well travelled, but still a massive twat'. Excellent. Now am I to understand that Miss Croft is still fighting most of her own battles? No, no that won't do at all - girl power is so last year. Let's have Kurtis handle it. Oh, and don't forget to give him an outrageously impractical weapon. Glorious! By the power of spreadsheets, I have spoken!"
In true Poochie style Kurtis checks out just as abruptly as he arrived, fulfilling his destiny as the meat on a douchebag kebab. Skewered by an overgrown mosquito Kurtis is never seen again, though that's also part of the point. It turns out that Core Design was adopting a wait-and see-approach as to whether to resuscitate Trent. If the fans took to him, he'd likely have returned in a sequel. Not that that sequel actually happened mind you, as Angel of Darkness bombed to the point that the Tomb Raider brand was completely rebooted by Crystal Dynamics.
Verdict - Nine Poochies out of ten
Raiden (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty)
Ah, Sons of Liberty - the greatest fakeout since Keyser Soze papped a snap of the Loch Ness monster. Having begun the game as good ol' gravel-gurgling Snake himself, as expected, players were initiall none too pleased to discover that the latter two-thirds starred a pouting, bleached blonde mannequin. With commitment issues. And a bloody good cartwheel.
Director Hideo Kojima designed Raiden as the ultimate in rookie clich - innocent, impetuous, and seemingly starved of testosterone. The kind of bloke who'd have to Pritt Stick his own face and flop onto a barbershop floor before he could achieve anything approaching stubble. In short, he was the anti-Snake: 'Les enfant insufferable' - someone who made the man look even more manly, simply by way of comparison. Later iterations of the character would include some nifty ninja attire, though considering 'ninjafication' would transform just about anyone - from Slippy Toad to Ashley Graham - it's hard to say if Raiden ever truly improved.
Verdict - Eight Poochies out of ten
The Arbiter (Halo 2)
For all of its alien-punching prowess, the Halo series has never been one for enthralling stories - a wonderful setting certainly, but lacking the in-game narrative to match. It's all 'go here and press that', 'shoot this, then pilot that'. With the obvious exception of the Flood, Halo's biggest twist might well be the time it introduced a whole new hero to the mix. Enter the Arbiter, a member of the villainous 'Elite' species intent on ripping mankind a new one, presumably via its throbbing pink battleships - aaand I've veered into fan fiction territory
Though the move to include a second playable character may seem a speck unnecessary - what with the game being played from a largely first-person perspective - the Arbiter's introduction actually makes perfect sense. What better way to illustrate the fracturing of the Covenant forces than by seeing it up close - through their own alien eyes? Add to that the fact that the game's core mechanics remained largely untouched, and fans had no legitimate reason to dislike old 'four jaws'.
Verdict - Two Poochies out of ten
Ciri (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt)
Geralt, eh? What a big bloody diva. Three games and a half dozen books under his belt, and the man's still loathe to share any of the limelight. When The Witcher series finally did receive its second playable character, CDProjekt RED certainly picked a winner. Ciri is every bit as dangerous as the big man himself, having been trained in many of the Witcher's own winning skills. In addition, the platinum-haired powerhouse boasts a few neat tricks of her own, namely the ability to outscream even the most insufferable of E3 conference crowd plants.
Suffice to say, she's both familiar and different - always a good place to start when selling fans on a 'brand new' hero - even one so well established in earlier franchise lore. Sadly, we weren't given a great deal to do as Cirilla, who's limited interactions prove both sparse and linear in the extreme. That being said, the character never once detracts from the experience, and given her pivotal role in the plot has every right to be there. The anti-poochie, if you will.
Verdict - One Poochy out of ten
Munch (Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee)
Its not often that a brand new character receives top billing over a more established act, but that's exactly what happened here. Having already bested the worst that Oddworld had to offer, lovable mudokon Abe took his place as a second string hero - presumably throwing a bloody great fit the moment someone stopped by to inform him. "Hello. Wait. Follow me. *angry nasal sounds* Yo-yoyo-yoyo-yoyou need to get that bastard agent of mine on the phone right now - I want another 10 mil, minimum!".
In truth, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee was just as much about Abe as it was the game's titular toad-beast. And yet - like the male members of every female-fronted band in existence - Abe wound up being almost completely ignored, hacked off the headlines and relegated to the rearmost portion of the 'album cover'. The lesson here is clear - adopting a sidekick is great, but just make certain you aren't becoming one yourself.
Verdict - Five Poochies out of ten
Tails (Sonic the Hedgehog 2)
Ah, asymmetrical co-op - otherwise known as 'the friendship ender'. How many heated arguments have you started, how many sweat-drenched pad swaps? It goes without saying that no player likes to feel inferior, especially when sat next to a friend. Co-op may be all about working in tandem, but competitive types will always find a way to compete. Most points accrued? Sure. Biggest contribution. Absolutely. Least deaths endured? Well, you get the picture. Sadly, all of that comes to a screeching halt the moment teammates are divvied up into specialist roles. After all, no one wants to play as the lame, slowpoke sidekick.
No character better represents this phenomenon than Sonic 2's own Miles 'Tails' Prower. Yes, he can fly - though not when under player control - but he just isn't as cool as Sonic, and in the most cool-focused platforming series of a cool-focused platforming decade, that was a problem. Disparities aside though, Tails proved to be a largely successful addition to the widening Sonic mythos - with his successful integration leading to the equally well-regarded Knuckles in Sonic 3. And that's where the entire series just suddenly ended, leaving us fans with only the merriest of childhood memories *begins humming obnoxiously loud noise*
Verdict - Four Poochies out of ten
Coco Bandicoot (Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped)
Yes alright, so maybe she did appear in Crash Bandicoot 2, but only for the briefest of cutscenes. As some fans of the franchise may already be aware, Coco was initially introduced as a 'less sexy' alternative to Crash 1's buxom belle Tawna. A sister, rather than a love interest this time, Coco finally became playable with Crash Bandicoot 3.
Following on from Crash's unfortunate exploits in Malaga - namely smashing a jet ski into a banana boat and drunkenly punching a tiger - Coco would handle both the water racing and animal wrangling duties this time around. Sure, it might've made more sense for Coco to be made the overall vehicle expert, tackling the game's aircraft and motorcycle sections too, but this way she never risked outstaying her welcome and/or overshadowing Crash. Nice going Naughty Dog. Now if we could just have that proper Crash 4 already.
Verdict - One Poochy out of ten
Lucia (Devil May Cry 2)
Hey, if you're going to gamble on a game's development, you might as well gamble big. Where Devil May Cry 2 should have amounted to a relatively simple win for the publisher, Capcom instead opted to hand over development duties to a brand new studio, relocating original director Hideki Kamiya in the process. With so much already unknown and in flux, introducing a second playable character should have been dead last on the company's list of priorities.
That's not to say that Lucia herself is a bad character, rather that her creation represented an extreme spot of bravado on Capcom's part. Her inclusion overstretched an already embattled dev team, resulting in what is easily the single worst entry in the series.
Verdict - Six Poochies out of ten