For those of you forced to do boring things in your life like work or take care of your children, a quick summary: Asymmetric Production’s free, browser-based MMORPG-spoof-that’s-actually-more-involved-than-most-MMORPGs Kingdom of Loathing has blown up from a dinky little comedy game riffing on nerd properties into a hefty nerd property of its own. In typical role-playing fashion, this game casts you as an adventurer in the titular magical land who must battle against the Naughty Sorceress and an awful lot of horrible, horrible puns. As you may expect, the quirk factor is high: the in-game currency is “meat” and the reference-heavy humor ranges from jokes about Scott Bakula to a secret area that riffs on Gothic and Romantic literature. The primary joke is that the game only appears to be simple. Most of the characters are stick figures and the palette uses maybe five colors total, but there’s enough combat, status effects, character classes, skill sets and environments to explore that it may, in its own way, actually match a puny production like Skyrim in its complexity. Surpass even, since KoL is a) constantly introducing new content, and b) never really ends, as players can (and often do) replay the main quest again and again in hardcore runs in order to earn various rewards.
Which leads us (kind of) to the familiars. These are special companion creatures you can have with you to help during the game and they range from useless to almost unnecessarily awesome and often come with their own rules and equipment. They are acquired by putting “hatchling” items in the Terrarium at your campsite, and can usually only be used one at a time. Many of them are expensive and can only be bought with a certain in-game accessory (that requires actual money). While certain companions are required for specific situations, any committed quester will rack up as many as they can get their grubby low-res mitts on. Some do many things, some only do one thing really well, some do nothing, and some actually hurt you or impede your progress. Many of the more popular/well-known familiars are relatively easy to make/come by: the Levitating Potato, the various Gravy Fairies, the Cocoabo, the Grue and the iconic Sabre-Toothed Lime. Classics all! The following familiars, however, are among the most well-rounded you can hope to pick up. By no means are they the funniest, though. Special thanks to the KoL Wiki for all the (tiny, tiny) images.
10) MagiMechTech MicroMechaMech
Looking for something to help out in a fight? If you’re just playing the game to have fun and adventure around (as opposed to the serious runners trying to play through over and over as fast as they can) then you can’t go wrong with this simple but effective combat assistant. The MMt MMM is guaranteed to attack every turn, whether it be a weak or strong one, and deals out occasional hot elemental damage with its laser (for n00bzors the elements of Loathing are Hot, Cold, Spooky, Stench and Sleaze. Yes, Sleaze is an element). Even better, it can be constructed out of relatively common tinker parts that shouldn’t take you an absurd amount of turns/battles to collect. Which is much more than I can say for some of the entries of this list. I mean, not to give it away or anything…
Venturing in the dreaded Slime Tube of your clan’s basement will eventually lead you face to disgusting gelatinous face with the hideous Mother Slime. Beating her may net you a slimeling larva, which will bulk up into one of these after a quick trip to the terrarium. Once grown, it’ll convert enemy hp into your mp–a handy trick done by many familiars–but the really interesting stuff happens when you feed it, which you need to do in order to “charge it” and get it ready for battle. If you give it meat stacks, it will regurgitate acidic “slime stacks” you can use to deal corrosive damage in combat. What’s more, there’s a chance it’ll cough up equipment from other enemies–think of it as stealing from them. So I wouldn’t count on him specifically for freeing up inventory space, but if you’d like to do something constructive with your trash, why not convert it into toxic weaponry? What else were you going to do with it? Recycle? Ha! Take that, Al Gore!
8) Rock Lobster
To count the number of characters, adventures and items in this game inspired by song titles would take about as long as most people seem to take to play it, which is to say a lifetime. Aside from that, a lobster covered in magical rocks doesn’t sound particularly helpful, but you’ll be surprised at the amount of perks there are to keeping one around. This B-52’s-inspired crustacean will once again convert your opponent’s hp to your mp, and can breathe underwater. Sometimes it’ll deal hot damage, too, which is a little weird but welcome anyway. There’s also the rare chance that it’ll drop “floaty sand”; this can be used to pep up your initiative and your moxie for ten adventures. For everything it does, it’s relatively simple to make, although unfortunately this is a case where the once-common items needed to construct it can be somewhat difficult to find nowadays.
Would you buy an action figure of Emilio Estevez? If so, would you then tickle it, especially if it was wearing a leather jacket and quoting Young Guns all the time? Described as “the youngest of guns”, this sentient doll does a whole mess of functions during combat, much like other familiars. What sets him apart is the nature of his status messages, all of which make up a veritable Festevez of references (his hp/mp-restoring speech is his inspirational Mighty Ducks monologue). Unfortunately this was another limited-offer deal, obtainable only through the limited-appearance area Crimbo Town, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get ahold of one if you’re willing to shell out the meat. How much meat is Emilio worth to you? I hope that’s the first the first time you’ve pondered that question…
Anyone familiar (ha!) with the politics of Loathing will know of the constant struggle between Orcish Frat Boys and Hippies on the Mysterious Island of Mystery. It’s not entirely clear where hipsters fit into this equation, exactly, but having one on your side gives you a wealth of advantages larger than Kimya Dawson’s hair, including restoring hp/mp and stat increases. It’s true that making hipster jokes is like shooting fish in a barrel made entirely out of guns but it’s hard not to crack a smile at the description of the item this particular familiar hatches out of (“This is a fairly large can of beer with a big blue ribbon painted on the side. It definitely didn’t win the first prize in any competition having to do with beer”). The downside is that if you travel with him you’ll probably have to fight a special enemy, usually a not-at-all-veiled Scott Pilgrim reference (especially if you have your guy equipped with a chiptune guitar or fixed-gear bicycle). The thing is, the Mini-Hipster is probably a boring, terrible person at heart, but you adore him anyway, because he has huge eyes.
5) Rogue Program
Another parody, this one of both Tron and the infamous Tron Guy Jay Maynard, and he even comes with a cute little lightcycle. There’s a real incentive to having him around, and that’s his occasional drop of tokens for the Game Grid, which allow you to access the arcade located on The Wrong Side of the Tracks. Like much of the others on this list, this familiar spawned from an item of the month, available only by trading in a “Mr. Accessory” obtainable by paying actual money. I tried not to put too many of that kind of familiar on here, since that sort of thing adds up pretty fast, but the Rogue Program combines the best elements of two different other familiars: he can once again convert enemy hp into mp for you and decrease enemy accuracy. He can also attack and block simultaneously, making him surprisingly versatile for a one-note joke. Is it all worth ten real world dollars? You’ll have to ask someone who bought it when they had the chance.
4) El Vibrato Megadrone
If you’re lucky and industrious enough to build a Shimmering Portal from your campsite to the fantastical El Vibrato Island, you might be able to eventually convince the local constructs to assemble this otherworldly programmable buddy for you. What’s neat about the Megadrone is that it, like the other Vibratos, receives commands via punchcards (the easiest way to defeat enemy constructs is by commanding them to attack walls and floors). So unlike most multiple-use familiars, you can actually control what this one will do in combat by giving it the right commands. Depending on the active cards, you can have it attack, defend, heal you, enhance your attacks and de-enhance your enemy. Sounds good to me. Just make sure you don’t get your cards confused…
3) Knob Goblin Organ Grinder
Very few of the familiars are simple in concept, often combining two or three different crazy ideas. Not that you need to know that to appreciate them, of course, but it helps, and this guy is a great example. In this case, “organ grinder” is to be taken literally: in addition to increasing meat drops from your enemies, he will fight for you in combat and grind your foes into meat pies, each of which have different status effects depending on who you fight. If you have him around for a successful boss battle he might crank you out a “badass pie”, which gives you tons of extra adventures and some great buffs. He also speaks in Cockney rhyming slang, which I guess is supposed to compliment the whole Sweeney Todd vibe but really just comes across as random. Which is to say, totally normal for this game. You’re better off just eating his pies and not trying to figure out what he’s saying, especially when he starts talking about his “Jacksons.”
2) Green Pixie
This ferocious little bastard will serve you well in combat and get you a whole bunch of meat, but the real reason for putting up with his nigh-incomprehensible status messages are his item drops: sometimes in battle he’ll produce a tiny bottle of absinthe. All booze is vital to being a KoL player, and drinking this particular spirit will give you a special status effect called “Absinthe Minded” that allows you to adventure in a secret area of the Spooky Forest known as the Worm Wood. An alcoholic lit-major’s dream, you’ll find scores of in-jokes there, including probably the only videogame enemies based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems ever. Probably. Beyond the novelty factor, there are also extremely valuable items and pieces of equipment to be found and the battles are great for leveling up quickly. Certain Worm Wood adventures will give you permanent stat gains, too, which is just icing on the boozy, hallucinogenic cake. The best part, though, is that this verdant bugger’ll toss you absinthe five times a day, so you’ll always be able to go back, or make a fortune selling it to poor schmucks who can’t.
1) Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot
Given its reputation, I couldn’t not put this ridiculous hybrid specimen at number one. There are a few familiars that require an epic amount of effort to achieve, and sometimes they’re not entirely worth it, depending on your goals. The Misshapen Animal Skeleton, for example, is great in combat but can only be constructed after collecting an ungodly amount of dusty animal bones. This thing, on the other hand, is like a bizarro Swiss army knife of a companion. You definitely have to work to assemble the NPZR, and finding/constructing every piece of the body will likely take up most of your time and adventures (not to mention meat: the zombie pineal gland alone can only be bought from the in-game mall these days and can set you back quite a bit). But it can heal, attack, give meat, and make you toast (seriously). What’s not to love about that? When it was first introduced its origins were made mysterious, though even having the instructions public doesn’t make it any easier to construct. What’s even better is that its wide range of skills appeals to all levels of players: “softcore” first-timers can use it for its combat prowess while level-runners can take advantage of its meat farming abilities. True, there are other familiars that outclass it, but at least it won’t cost you a Mr. Accessory for those of you lacking in real-world funds. Plus, it’s sort of a distillation of the appeal of the series: if you’re not at least little excited about having a ninja zombie pirate robot by your side, you’re probably better off just playing something else. And I’m pretty sure it’s the only familiar that has its own original dance.