I’ve always had a strange affinity with pooches. I just really love dogs. So, naturally, I really like it when a game features a hound or two. Some of my fondest ‘growing-up’ memories in life involved playing with my dog Molly, so its no surprise that I have a few favourite virtual mutts to go along with them. Here are my top five.
Dogs – Zelda Series
All the Zelda games have featured dogs for some reason, and I’m very grateful for it. There’s no specific moment which I can pick, but the Doggy Racetrack found in Majora’s Mask left such an impression on me, that I came to use Mamamu Yan as one of my first online screenames back in the day… I’ll always remember how the market square in Ocarina of Time is full of packs of dogs roaming around at night time – possibly the only time I felt safe anywhere in that game after the sun had gone down. And then of course in Twilight Princess, as if adding the ability to play fetch with the little dogs in the market (and pick them up!) wasn’t enough, Link himself could transform into a damn wolf. I was all over that.
Frank – Minecraft Wolf
I’ve recounted my story of Frank before. Notch added pet wolves (pretty much dogs) to Minecraft a few months back, and they are the perfect sidekick for any explorer. I felt so proud the first time I managed to tame a wolf, and we immediately went off to discover new lands together. Then he caught fire and died and I was heartbroken. For a game to make me care about what is essentially a bunch of animated rectanglar cuboids as much as this shows just how good an idea it was to add them as a feature. Frank defended me from zombies, skeletons and even creepers, by selfishly leaping into the fray and biting my enemies to death. And all he needed in return was a few cooked hams. I wish all open world games with a heavy emphasis on exploration would give me the opportunity to tame a pet pooch to accompany me – they really are man’s best friend.
Dogmeat – Fallout 3
When I stumbled across that scrapyard in the middle of the wasteland, I had no idea the bond of friendship I was about to discover. Dogmeat is in the middle of mauling an entire group of raiders who happened to wander into his territory when you show up, and it doesn’t get much more badass than that, quite frankly – I knew immediately that he and I would get along. He became my most loyal companion – never judging any decision I made, he defended me through all manner of dangers, growling if enemies were nearby, running off to fetch ammo if I was running low, and whenever he did die due to my total incompetence, I simply had to reload my latest savefile because I couldn’t bear the thought of carrying on without him. The fact that I could so easily have never discovered that scrapyard and played the rest of the game without ever meeting Dogmeat makes our time together that much more special.
DOG – Half Life 2
Technically, DOG is a giant robot gorilla, but there was no way I could leave him out of this list. He only appears in about 5 or 6 scenes across all three Half Life 2 games, but they happen to be some of the best moments in the entire story: he teaches Gordon how to use the Gravity Gun in one of the most inspiring tutorial moments I’ve ever played; he destroys a small squad of combine soldiers in City 17, ploughing an armoured car into the side of a building; he gives you access to the Citadel by throwing a car across a chasm WITH YOU INSIDE; and he single-handedly kicks the arse of a Strider in the forest, no doubt saving Alyx and Gordon’s life in the process. And then, making a habit of showing up at the perfect moment, saves you both again in the climactic scenes of Episode 2 which I’m compelled to cease detailing for fear of spoiling what you absolutely should have experienced by now. Seriously, forget Alyx, Half Life 2’s real sidekick will always be DOG.
Hewie – Haunting Ground (AKA: Demento)
But my absolute favourite canine companion belongs to a game that most people have probably never played. Hewie from Haunting Ground on the PS2 is undoubtedly the best dog in all of gaming. You play the helpless Fiona, a young girl who finds herself trapped in a castle, and must somehow escape. You soon rescue Hewie from his own entrapment, and he accompanies you for the rest of the story, acting as your only means of self defence from the horrors that stalk you. Hewie is your only weapon, and is remarkably well implemented into the mechanics of the game, so well animated, so useful, so adorable. He helps you to solve puzzles, he can distract your hulking psycho enemy while you find a place to hide, and when you get too scared and lose all control of your legs (something that can happen due to Fiona’s fragile mindset) he will come charging in to rescue you. There were so many moments when I thought I would die, and felt a genuine flood of relief as Hewie leapt heroically at my enemies – I lost count of the number of times he saved my life. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact I marathoned the entire game in a single 16-hour sitting one weekend with my friends that Hewie is so engrained in my mind, but that doesn’t matter. Hewie is brilliant.