I’ve been playing a lot of cooperative games lately. It started innocently enough with Rayman Origins. But that game’s become known as the “gateway drug” in my household. Since finishing Rayman completely — yes, including beating the incredibly challenging “Land of the Livid Dead” level — I’ve move on to the co-op portion of Portal 2, playing it for the first time with my roommate who is completely new to the Portal universe (crazy, right?).
This whole co-op binge I’ve been on lately has got me thinking about all the amazing cooperative experiences I’ve had over the years in gaming; the ones where you and your friends sit around with some junk food and drinks (juice if the game released during my adolescent years) and play a title front to back together, going through the same awesome highs and frustrating lows alongside one another.
So with that in mind, I came up with this list of 10 amazing cooperative experiences that build better friendships, whether it’s through experiencing an awesome game together with a buddy or through laughing hysterically at the absurdity of a title (there’s definitely an example of that below). So here we go. Oh, and before I forget, these are in no particular order.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
You know what, I’m going to chalk up playing Sonic 2 as my first real date as a young gentleman. I used to have a friend who just so happened to be a girl and I vividly remember going to her house after school to play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 all the time back in the day. Better yet, she let me be the one who wears the pants in the relationship — or, maybe more accurately, the blue, spiky skin. Sonic 2 is also a title that no doubt tested your platforming merit, and at the tender young age I played the game at, besting the game was no small feat. I’ve expressed my frustration with Robot Sonic before, haven’t I? Either way, if I’m remembering correctly, Sonic 2 registers as one of my first cooperative gaming experiences, and what a wonderful one it was (a large part of that is probably because I was in the presence of a living, breathing girl, mind you).
Gears of War
The original Gears of War got me to buy an Xbox 360. The reasoning: a friend of mine wanted to play through the game’s bro-tastic campaign cooperatively. I obviously gave in to his wishes, yet I never regretted the purchase after it was made. The original Gears of War’s cooperative experience was, as far as I’m concerned, a revelation for how to handle a campaign experience amidst the current generation of consoles where multiplayer is the big selling point.
I mentioned this one in the opening paragraphs, but I can’t short change Portal 2 to just that off-hand reference. Portal 2’s co-op is special because it actually requires you and a buddy to work together to solve puzzles, not just pump hundreds of bullets into the chest cavity of some grotesque alien monster. It’s brains over brawn, which Valve smartly designed to force players to coordinate to push forward. While definitely not a pick up and play type of co-op experience, Portal 2’s cooperative campaign stands out because of its unique approach to testing a friendship’s coordination skills.
Again, much like Portal 2, Rayman Origins is a game that sparked the idea for this list. We’ve talked plenty here at Crave about how amazing Rayman Origins is from every conceivable level; that includes the cooperative experience, which offers 4-player drop-in-drop-out co-op. When it comes to playing a 2D platformer cooperatively, I’d argue there’s none better than Rayman Origins’ experience. Whether you’re moving from level to level collecting all the girl scout-looking Electoons, or chasing down the nimble treasure chests for those rare skull teeth, the cooperative experience of Rayman Origins is one of the most rewarding I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. Easily.
TMNT: Turtles in Time
I think it’s unanimous that Turtles in Time is the best side-scrolling Turtles beat ‘em up ever made (was that ever debated?). A large reason for why that is is because the cooperative experience lets you and up to three of your friends pretend to be Ninja Turtles who travel back in time to fight Foot Clan soldiers riding dinosaurs. That’s really all the explanation you need as to why Turtles in Time makes this list.
Full disclosure: I’ve never personally played Diablo II. And while most of this list has been written with a personal touch, featuring co-op experiences that have had a lastly impact on me, I can’t leave Diablo II off this list simply because my fellow writers, Joey Davidson and Mike White, swear by it and would probably kill me if it were left off. And in the words of Tyrion Lannister, “I very much like living.” I’m sure anyone who’s played Diablo II can attest to how fun the cooperative experience can be when you’re with a gaggle of your fellow dwarf buddies.
Left 4 Dead
We get a lot of zombie games these days. Too many, probably. But before the market was oversaturated with things that moan and love to eat brains, Valve blessed us with Left 4 Dead; a zombie game that brought friends together… to shoot undead in the face with lots of weapons. The co-op campaign required every ounce of coordination and teamwork your rag-tag squad could muster to survive the zombie apocalypse. And there’s something disturbing, yet hilarious, about making the hard choice to leave behind a friend in a video game — whether it’s because your group is being overrun, or, more realistically, you really want that shotgun that’s just around the corner and there’s no time to go back and save your buddy. Left 4 Dead asked those hard question of us, and we all gladly answered, even if they did reveal some shocking truths about how our closest friends would sell us down the river in a heart beat for a shiny new toy.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
Oh, shit! It’s Fiddy! 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is absolutely a guilty pleasure type of experience. We can babble on about how important story is in gaming, or praise the likes of Skyrim for its technical achievements, but at the end of the day sometimes you just have to unwind by suiting up as the G-Unit and blowing thugs away while trying to get back your f**kin’ skull. Yup, that’s 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, and I dare you to find a game better to load up and laugh at in the company of your closest friends.
Halo: Combat Evolved
Ah, I have incredible memories of the co-op campaign from the original Halo. To put it into perspective, I played through Halo cooperatively at least five times. And I’m sure a lot of the folks reading this can say the same thing — maybe even more. Frankly, Halo’s cooperative campaign might not have made much sense with two Master Chiefs running around, but I dare you to find a shooter on the original Xbox (or PS2 or GameCube for that matter) that rallied friends together as often as Halo managed to do. Halo’s true testament is that it continued to entertain even after we all beat the damn thing a hundred times over.
Transformers: War for Cybertron
I’m going to keep this one simple. What’s better than morphing from a robot into a vehicle and back again on the fly while shooting massive robots? How about morphing from a robot into a vehicle and back again on the fly while shooting massive robots with friends. Yup, Transformers: War for Cybertron allowed you to do just that with up to three players at a time during its campaign, and it was absolutely glorious. ‘Nuff said.