“Couch co-op” (local co-op) was all I knew when I first started playing video games in the late 90’s. It was all many people knew, as the majority of kid gamers in the 90’s didn’t actually have their own systems. But as a kid gamer with kid gamer friends, chances are you knew someone who did. And let me tell you, that kid’s basement (my neighbor’s) became a sanctuary; racing Rainbow Road late into the night; Mario Party for hours on end; 1080; Banjo Kazooie; Jet Force Gemini; Monsters in my Pocket…stop me when I’ve lost you. Hell, even well into my PS2 years, I was playing games almost entirely co-op with my best friend/neighbor, and wow was that fun. We’d even take single player games and make them co-op. One of us would load up his latest save in Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland, go to work at Bob’s Ranch (8am sharp!), and, since the longer you stayed, the more you got paid, proceed to stand there all day while the two of us played knee hockey in my basement (well, it was much more of him slap-shotting the ball into my face repeatedly as I sat in front of the net…but I digress). The point is: co-op is where it’s at. Well, at least, where it used to be at. It seems like more and more games nowadays aren’t giving co-op much of a thought. From a business standpoint, I suppose I can understand, but I’m not CEO of (insert game company here). I’m a gamer. I want co-op.
Fewer and fewer games being released today are implementing co-op, and the ones that do only do so by a technicality. As a business, game producing companies need to make money. I understand this, because duh. These companies want more people to buy their game/s, and a plethora of co-op features dilutes some of the need for all of a group of friends to make the purchase. More and more of these games are instead focusing on their online features, and this is smart. All serious PC, Xbox, Playstation, and even Nintendo gamers are going to be playing online at some point in their careers. Online is often where a game sees its replayability and gains its longevity (just look at CoD, Battlefield, Destiny, Super Smash, and every MMO ever), with only a select few being worth their weight ($$$) without sporting online features (Skyrim cough). Now, yes, I realize there are different types of gamers, and for some, CoD’s single player campaign might be the bees knees, enough to warrant the $60 plunge. But for most (and for me), it is not. With so much focus pouring into a games’ single player story and online features (combined with tighter-than-ever deadlines for its release), co-op usually gets the short end of the stick.
Now, you may be ready to argue: “A lot of games have two-player options!” Do they really? Playing through the same story with two players as you did by yourself is not co-op; technically I guess, but no, not really. In some cases, this simple strategy works and is even a ton of fun (hi Halo), but for most this just isn’t enough. I want co-op gameplay that differs from my single-player campaign. I want my co-op content to actually require two (or more) players to complete. So…
Let’s take a minute to spotlight what I deem the greatest co-op game of all time: Portal 2. Just…wow. This game absolutely nailed what it means to be co-op. Yes, there’s a single-player story and it’s great fun, but its co-op is both extensive and completely different. The co-op levels were designed with the sole purpose of two players going in and cannot even begin to be completed with only one. Each player even gets their own unique robot! (I don’t think I even know how to play if I’m not the tall orange one). Portal 2 co-op is five stages consisting of many, many levels, each getting more complex and harder in difficulty, and this is only the beginning. After you beat the co-op story, you can go on to play 1000’s of levels designed by members of the Portal community, some of which are truly mind-bending, requiring sound logic and clever intuition to complete. Then, you and your friend/s can go on to make your own levels, and thus the cycle continues…
This is what co-op is all about. Two players required to take down a challenge, working in tandem as a team to accomplish a goal. I’m tired of playing through a single-player campaign, doing it again with my friend, and calling it co-op. Sure, it’s fun, but it’s just…the same. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is another (albeit random) game I remember having some fun co-op. Is it great? No, but it’s two-player missions outside of the main story that require teamwork and coordination to complete. Hell, even CoD has a few unique co-op missions. But I want more.
I want a game to focus entirely on co-op, like Titanfall focused almost entirely online. I already can’t wait to play Portal 2 again with some new friends on some new levels. Trine 2 (and probably the first as well) is also worthy of a mention as one of my favorites (and, funnily enough, I’m playing this with the same Harvest Moon/knee hockey-playing friend mentioned above, who is also the same friend whose N64-filled basement served as our childhood sanctuary).
But my list doesn’t stop here. Portal, Trine, Borderlands, Left 4 Dead, Rayman Legends, Diablo III, Monaco, Castle Crashers, Minecraft, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (a little nostalgia here…), and many others serve as outstanding co-op experiences. We just need more of them.
Game companies, let’s show our friends a little appreciation. Let’s bring back co-op.