Gaming For Love
By Justin Matusiak
As we head into the month of February, where love is in the air, thoughts of Valentine’s Day are sure to be dancing in your head. What will you do with your significant other? Or yourself if you’re without a significant other, Singles Appreciation day still counts! How will you spend that time?
For many, the thought of Valentine’s Day is one of arbitrary commercial values, where one HAS to buy something for the other or do something for the other and while it may be true to some degree, I believe it’s much more important to use that time to simply reiterate the relationship you may (or may not have) with your partner–and an easy way to do this is through cooperative gaming!
By cooperative gaming, I literally mean games that allow for two players to play at the same time, on the same team, working towards the same general objective. This was generally done with the two players sharing the same couch, thus dubbing the term “Couch Co-Op.” It was a feature that was very commonplace for video games back in the Playstation 2 days, but as time went on and hardware developed, priorities were shifted, leaving this mode to be something that could only be added to a game if the development time or budget allowed. What is more common these days are the “online only” co-op modes which are really only helpful if you happen to have two copies of the same game as well as two different systems to play on. Not that I’m saying that’s wrong, it just … seems a bit much to buy all that just to play with a friend.
With this article, I hope to underline the importance of couch co-op gameplay as well as mention a few games that may help you all out this coming Valentine’s Day, so let’s jump into it!
Why We Need Couch Co-Op
As we all know, video games are a live and active form of entertainment. They won’t do a thing until the user inputs something for the game to translate into action. This action can be translated to anything from slaying the dark overlord to flirting with the girl at the tavern, to shapeshifting into a beast or even something as simple as jumping. But these are moments and experiences that happen in an instant, and while one may be able to carry them close to their heart, its difficult to convey that experience to another. It’s so much easier to explain the difficulty of beating Tartarus in Halo 2 on Legendary when you and a friend find themselves dying over and over to his insanely powerful hammer attack. But when you two finally beat it there is a huge payoff, both in and outside of the game.
Couch co-op thrives on these moments of triumph. It flourishes on the human experience, and the new elements of gameplay that can arise from having more than one player. Whether that be getting the most points, developing strategies to overcome challenges, trying to pull off dumb things in front of your friends, or being emotionally involved in an engaging story, the entire experience is amplified when partnered with a friend. And that experience is genuine and lets players carry those experiences with them long after the game is removed from shelves, this passion is what keeps gaming alive in the first place after all.
Now of course it is understood that couch co-op simply cannot exist in all games, but the focus on a genuine moment of triumph for a player to experience should be the focus of any game, which just so happens more often than not through co-op game play. It must also be understood that, sometimes couch co-op isn’t even possible due to how graphically demanding some games can be, which is fair, as I don’t think anyone would want to play a game with me that ran at 15 frames per second with two players and 30 frames with only one. I also want to bring attention to games that attempt to add co-op as an accessory rather than as a core element. If a challenge is not scaled to the presence of a second player, then that player is going to feel like an awkward third wheel, as opposed to a hero. Sonic Colors is a game that comes to mind, which had weird generated co-op challenges entirely separate from the main story. The levels consisted of blocks just floating in an empty space and also prohibited either player from being too far from the other. How can you truly experience the thrill of going as fast as Sonic when you’re literally kept on a leash?
There are plenty of challenges that come with adding a second player to a game, there is no denying that. But below I have a list of games I consider to handle the aspect of Co-op as best as possible. These games take in mind the potential variance of skill level of each player, the fun factor that is required to keep two people playing one game until its finale, and most importantly, utilize, rather than accessorize player 2.
Army of Two
This game is more or less the poster child of couch co-op gameplay. This third person shooter, involves a duo team of mercenaries blasting their way through an epic modern warfare setting. Everything about the game was determined by how you and your partner worked as a team to engage the enemy with the agro-meter being the most centralized part of that experience, allowed one player to get the enemies attention while the other moved to a flanking position to get the edge on the battle. Not the most romantic game, but great for fans of shooter games looking to prove themselves to friends.
A Way Out
This narrative driven adventure game allows you and a friend to take the role of one of two friends that escape from prison together and attempt to rebuild the life they lost. Focusing on challenges that demand actions from both players to progress as well as dramatic plot elements, A Way Out is much like an interactive movie that you both watch with your friend and live through.
Gauntlet – basically any of them
Gauntlet is a well renown series all the way back to its glory days in 1985 arcade cabinets into today. Gauntlet allows up to four players to get a unique character and customizable attributes to plow through hundreds of enemies and provide a rewarding sense of progression through impossible dungeons. Teamwork is vital in Gauntlet for the varying monsters will quickly set onto the party if action is not taken, and the difficulty only increases, the farther into the darkness adventurers dare to tread.
Left 4 Dead – 1 or 2
This one is an obvious pick for most gamers as it is so beloved in the community for its ability to bring together up to 4 people for some good ol’ fashion zombie killing. While the game is entirely possible to play solo, the AI partners are never better than a human player with whom you can cry out to when a zombie pounces your character, or when you see a throwable item that could explode when shot and using that item to strategically clear a whole wave of zombies. Left 4 Dead does a good job of letting players carry out goals of their own within the mission, without having an overly difficult design to scare away newer players.
This unique comedic puzzle game allows you and a friend to play as two robots who are guinea pigs to a deranged Computer A.I.s series of tests designed to challenge the limits of the human mind…or just kill people, its not entirely clear. Much like A Way Out, there is a story being presented that plays alongside the main story of the game and requires various tasks to be taken from both first and second player to clear any specific test. Though, with the ability to create portals anywhere in a given space, hilarity can ensue when you send your friend through a portal that opens up above a pit of acid. A great game for players who want a mixture of fun and engaging gameplay as well as comedic bits thrown in.
Literally Any Turn Based RPG/JRPG
You read that right, the genre that carved itself out as a series of single-player only games, actually has some of the best co-op available–you just have to get a little creative with it. A good example of this is Final Fantasy X, which has a roster of 6 characters to switch between. When I played this game, I remember assigning certain friends to certain characters while I would play as the other. This would work pretty well because it meant each player got three characters, and with the turn indicator on the side of every battle it was easy to sit down and strategize how best to optimize encounters, and as an added bonus, the game has one of the best stories in the series which you are then experiencing with a friend as well.
Another good example of this is any of the “Tales of” games which actually have co-op aspects in their game. If a second controller is plugged in, that person can control the second member in your party for every battle and since various characters have certain team attacks that only work under certain conditions, it is beneficial to have a human player to trigger these conditions.
Super Puzzle Fighter – and any game like it
We all know that girls have the advantage when it comes to puzzle games, especially so with tetris-style games and that isn’t even trying to be sexist, its just fact. Regardless, tetris has always been a very accessible game to a wide-array of players which was what made it so possible back in the day but these aspects where enhanced when Super Puzzle Fighter hit the scene as it incorporated cute chibi graphics of popular Street Fighter characters, given both fans of street fighter and fans of a good bout of puzzling, something to associate with while playing the game together. Remarkably, this game is technically not co-op as it pits one against the other, but, it does so in such a simple manner, that losing a game isn’t exactly infuriating, as it is incentive to try again, leading to hours being poured into a game. And hey! They put it in the Playstation Mini, so if you bought that, you’re already set!
There are plenty more games than this that I could document for co-op gameplay but this list, is not a list of recommendations, but rather, examples of how co-op should be handled. For shooters there is always Halo, Gears of War, Call of Duty and for Gauntlet style games we can’t forget classics like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate and of course there are a plethora of Nintendo games that offer co-op as well. Co-op games are a special breed that deserve all the love and attention they can get, and we can only hope that as game development trends evolve, the importance of these genuine moments of fun carry over into the future. If you’re hankering to sit down and play a game with the love of your life, or even just your friend, know that there are plenty of games out there for you to overcome together.