Updated: Aug 21, 2022
(Photo Source: Getty Images)
Video games: regardless if you love or hate them, the video games industry is massive these days. In fact, according to Marketwatch.com, in 2020, the video game industry produced more revenue than the global film industry and the North American sports industry combined!
Many people see video games as a solitary activity, but many games are more enjoyable with one or more friends. I've picked just a small handful of games that I enjoyed playing in the past that I would recommend to anyone interested in playing a game with a friend or a group of friends.
There won't be an exhaustive overview for each game, but I'll give you a little detail and background for each one. I've listed this in chronological order (i.e., older to newer).
Before we start, here is an acronym and terminology legend:
ARC = Arcade | DS = Nintendo DS | GC = Nintendo GameCube | NES = Nintendo Entertainment System | NS = Nintendo Switch | Others = It was re-released later on other platforms | PC = Personal Computer (generally on the Steam storefront) | PS3 = Sony PlayStation 3 | PS4 = Sony PlayStation 4 | GEN = Sega Genesis/Mega Drive | SNES = Super Nintendo Entertainment System | XB360 = Microsoft Xbox 360 | XBO = Microsoft Xbox One
1. Contra by Konami (1988, NES, Others)
As a co-op game: 9/10
Overall fun: 9/10
Man, this box art screams the 80s, and I love it! We've got an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike straight out of Predator next to Sylvester Stalone from Rambo. No, seriously. Video game companies, particularly in the 80s, were notorious for ripping off popular Hollywood blockbusters on their cover art.
Anyway, this game is a classic. It's a testosterone-filled run-and-gun action-platformer where you're infiltrating the enemy base to destroy an evil organization that *spoilers for a game where you probably don't care about the storyline* is being controlled by aliens! It's nonsensical and dumb, but since it's fun...who cares?
Gameplay primarily consists of avoiding enemy fire and making your way to the end of the stage. There are two main level types: traditional, side-scrolling stages comprise six of the eight, and two are third-person, behind-the-back view levels. Personally, I enjoy the side-scrolling levels more, so I'm glad that's what Konami focused on the most here (though the third-person levels do add some needed variety to the game).
There are several Contra games out there, and most of them are great as far as co-op games go. I just picked this one because I've played it the most. Some games worth checking out are Contra 3 on the SNES, Contra: Hard Corps on the GEN, and Hard Corps: Uprising on the PS3 and XB360.
While it wasn't the first game to do so, Contra was probably the first game many people know of that used the famous Konami code. The classic 'Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start' code is easily the most well-known input code in video games. The code has been referenced numerous times in pop culture, such as in TV shows like Family Guy!
For good reasons, this is one of the most popular cooperative games on the NES. Its notoriously difficult yet fair difficulty and extremely well-designed levels make for an excellent game for you and another person to play!
2. Gunstar Heroes by Treasure and Sega (1993, GEN, Others)
As a co-op game: 9/10
Overall fun: 9.5/10
I first played this at a neighborhood friend's house when I was young (something like eight or nine years old). I immediately loved the fast-paced, relentless action of the game! Gunstar Heroes, similar to Contra, is a side-scrolling run and gun game. However, there are a lot of differences that make it a vastly different game.
Gunstar Heroes is a unique game (especially for the time) in several different ways. One unusual thing is that the game has four base weapons that can be combined to make different weapon combinations. Here are the base weapons:
· Force (Fast shooting bullets)
· Lightning (A blue lightning-looking energy beam)
· Fire (It's actually fire...no gimmick here! It's the most powerful weapon overall.)
· Chaser (Green homing arrows that chase after enemies)
Including the base weapons, you can use 14 different weapon combos. For example, one of my favorite weapon combos is when you combine lightning with the chaser. You get a beam that targets one enemy at a time (as long as you're holding the fire button), which lets you focus on dodging enemy fire. Since it's fast and focused, the damage is average to help balance it out and not allow it to be too overpowered. The other weapon combos also have pros and cons that make them more or less suitable for your situation.
One of my favorite levels in the game is the Dice Palace. It's a unique level where you roll a dice on a board. Depending on what you get, you will have to fight or (if you're lucky) get an item. Obviously, the goal is to get to the end of the board to fight the boss and beat the level. I thought this was a great concept and would love to see more games do this again.
The game is relatively short; a playthrough will last most people somewhere between an hour or two using continues. However, the game's intensity and the various weapon combinations you can use make Gunstar Heroes a fun game to play with a friend and a game that warrants coming back to!
3. Kirby Super Star by Nintendo (1996, SNES, Others; 2008 Enhanced Version, Kirby Super Star Ultra, on DS)
As a co-op game: 7/10
Overall fun: 9/10
Kirby Super Star is another game I first played at a neighborhood friend's house...though it was a different friend! It is not only arguably the best Kirby game out there, but it's also a great one to play with a friend.
As implied on the box art, Kirby Super Star consists of a series of shorter games. Some of these, like Meta Knight's Revenge and Milkyway Wishes, are reasonably lengthy. Others like Gourmet Race and Samurai Kirby are akin to minigames. Some of these games are multiplayer, while others are not.
If you've played a Kirby game (or a Super Smash Bros. game, where he is a playable character), you should know what you're getting yourself into. Kirby, a little pink blob, can inhale and digest his enemies, most of which will give him an ability. Yeah, pretty gruesome stuff if you think about it! There are 25 possible abilities you and a friend can use. When the first player presses the A button on the controller, he can make a helper character. This character, as you may have guessed, is the character the second player controls.
Gameplay varies depending on which game you are playing, but a good chunk of them are platformers where you need to reach the end of the level. The game is pretty easy, so it makes a great game to play with someone younger, like a son, daughter, niece, or nephew.
The game was remade on the Nintendo DS as Kirby Super Star Ultra with additional games added (there are 13 now!). While many handheld games are single-player only, all two-player games can be played with another person, as long as they have a DS and a copy of the game. There are other additional changes, like redone graphics and sound. While many purists will tell you to stick with the original SNES version, the remake does offer new and more content, so I'd say go for this version if you have a choice between them.
While it may not be the most challenging or even best co-op game ever made, this is an excellent choice for younger players who want something fun yet not frustratingly difficult.
4. Shock Troopers by SNK (1997, ARC, Others)
As a co-op game: 8.5/10
Overall fun: 9/10
Shock Troopers is among the most underrated co-op games ever made, in my opinion. Created by SNK, best known for arcade fighting game series like The King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown, Shock Troopers is vastly different from their standard fare in that it is a top-down action shooter.
Shock Troopers has a lot to offer and rewards replaying the game with its variety. The game has eight playable characters, numerous branching paths with unique levels, and 16 stages (though you won't be able to play them all on a single playthrough). Another cool thing about Shock Troopers is that you can play as a single character or toggle between any two characters of your choice.
The game is challenging but fair, which makes it a great game to play with someone else. All of the levels are well made and are easy to navigate. One of the more unique elements of this game is that you can roll to avoid taking damage from enemy fire. While this ability may seem overpowered, there are often many bullets flying around on the screen at any given time, and avoiding them is not always easy.
A sequel was later made titled Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad. While it's not a horrible game, I feel it's a huge step down from the first and a disappointing follow-up. While the core gameplay is still very similar, there are now only two branching paths, only four characters this time (not a huge deal, but it still feels like a downgrade), and only seven levels. If you liked the first Shock Troopers, keep your expectations in check, and you'll probably still enjoy this game.
While Shock Troopers is generally regarded as a cult classic, it deserves checking out due to its variety and consistently intense action. It has since been re-released on other platforms, like Steam, making it easier to buy and play.
(Thanks, Hardcore Gamer! I wasn't certain about the number of levels and branching paths.)
5. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles by Square-Enix (2004, GC; 2020 Remaster on NS, PS4, and Mobile Phones)
As a co-op game: 9.5/10
Overall fun: 8/10
This is a running theme, but Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is yet another game I played when I was younger. FFCC is a bit of an oddball as far as Final Fantasy games go. Before its release, most Final Fantasy games were single-player, turn-based RPGs. FFCC opposes this tradition by being a co-op, real-time action game with very light role-playing aspects.
The game involves you and up to three friends trying to rid the world of a poisonous gas, miasma, by collecting myrrh, a liquid that can help power the crystals and protect the world from the spread of miasma. You and your caravan (a cart carrying you and your friends) are tasked with going through various levels looking for myrrh to put into a chalice. Unfortunately, a player must hold the chalice when not fighting enemies, which is one of the more unfun elements of the game. You and your friends will battle various enemies through the levels and end each level by fighting a boss. After beating the boss, you're able to select an artifact. These artifacts have many different purposes, such as increasing your maximum health or magic power.
The game involves you and up to three friends trying to rid the world of a poisonous gas, miasma, by collecting myrrh, a liquid that can help power the crystals and protect the world from the spread of miasma. You and your caravan (a cart carrying you and your friends) are tasked with going through a variety of levels looking for myrrh to put into a chalice. Unfortunately, this means that a player will need to hold the chalice when not fighting enemies. Along the way, you will battle various enemies through the levels and end each one by fighting a boss. After beating the boss, you're able to select an artifact. These artifacts have many different purposes, such as increasing your maximum health or increasing your magic power.
The game is also unique because the magic system requires players to work together to fuse magic spells to create more powerful versions of them. For example, after holding down the A button to prepare the targeting circle to attack the enemy, your friend will also need to do the same thing by hovering his circle over your ring, and you'll both need to release the A button at around the same time. This will allow fire, for instance, to turn into fira, a more powerful version of fire.
However, the most unusual thing about the game is its control scheme. Suppose you want to play the game in multiplayer instead of single-player (as you should, as it was designed as a multiplayer game!), you and your friends will all require a Game Boy Advance and a GameCube-Game Boy Advance link cable each to play. Using the Game Boy Advance allows players to manage their inventory in real-time without pausing the entire game. While this is a great concept and makes the game more enjoyable overall, it was crazy to think that Square-Enix thought that it would be a good idea to require multiplayer to be locked behind an expensive paywall! While several other games utilized the cable, generally for optional bonuses and modes, this was arguably the most significant design flaw with the game.
FFCC also got a remaster in 2020 for the NS, PS4, and mobile phones. It has some issues, especially when it was released on launch day (many of these have since been patched out through updates, though). While I won't go over every issue in detail, the short version is that it removed certain features, most notably not allowing everyone to travel in the caravan together on the world map and in towns, with only the leading player able to. This effectively means that the game is now only co-op inside the dungeons. While the game may be online now, it still feels like a massive step down by not feeling like a larger journey you and your friends can embark on.
Despite the game's flaws (primarily just due to how hard it is to get three people with the right equipment together), I had a great time playing this one and would recommend the original GameCube version if you find yourself in a situation where it's even possible!
6. Resident Evil 5 by Capcom (2009, PC, PS3, XB360, Others)
As a co-op game: 9/10
Overall fun: 8.5/10
Many will argue that RE5 was a big step down from its predecessor (I would agree, as RE4 is easily one of my favorite games of all time). Despite this, there's still a ton of fun to be had with 5. Besides this, there's something 5 has that 4 doesn't: cooperative multiplayer.
You and a friend (or a computer) play as either Chris Redfield from previous entries in the series or Sheva Alomar, a native of Africa where the game takes place. In typical Resident Evil fashion, you shoot a bunch of infected humans along the way, encounter cheesy villains, and have a great time doing so. Resident Evil 5 is a lot shorter than 4 (almost half the length), but it does feel like the natural progression of the gameplay that 4 had.
RE5's controls are similar to RE4, but the control scheme is more fluid than 4's controls. Classic Resident Evil games were known to have what is known as tank controls. In the games before 5, pressing left or right would physically cause your character to rotate in that direction, and pushing forward or backward would cause them to move back or forth like a tank. In 5, controls are still tank-like and follow a similar movement convention, but, in my opinion, they have been modernized without losing the charm and design philosophy of previous games. In 5, pressing left or right allows your player to strafe in that direction instead of rotating. Rotating is now regulated to the right analog stick. This is a smart change, as it allows for more freedom of movement without giving the player too many movement options (a gripe I have with 6...but that's a story for another day). Your character can still not move when aiming, committing you, as the player, to take responsibility for making every shot count while aiming.
A re-release of the game, Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition, includes all the bonus downloadable content (DLC) on the disk. There are two new mini-campaigns, each around an hour or so, and both are co-op. The first of these campaigns, Lost in Nightmares, focuses more on survival and exploration, while the second, Desperate Escape, focuses more on the action. Both are great additions to the game and help flesh out parts of the campaign that weren't fully touched upon.
Arguably, the best part of the game is not the game's campaign but a bonus minigame. The Mercenaries, a mode featured in 3, 4, and later 6, involves you running around trying to kill as many infected as possible within a time frame. This is, essentially, a score attack mode where you have to rack up as large of a score as possible within the time limit. You can choose from several different characters, each with a unique weapon and item loadout, and pick from one of the numerous stages to play on. There was even an expansion called The Mercenaries Reunion, a separate mode from the base game and featured new playable characters and enemy placements.
The game was later released on the NS, PS4, and XB1. One of these versions will be the version you'll want to play (especially one of the latter two, as they both run at 60 frames per second, as opposed to the 30 the NS runs). Despite a better graphical performance overall and having all the previously released content on one disk, there is one more significant benefit to playing one of these versions: a new bonus mode, The Mercenaries United, is exclusive to this version. United combines all aspects of the original The Mercenaries and Reunion, effectively making this the definitive version of The Mercenaries in any version of Resident Evil 5 and the best version of The Mercenaries of any Resident Evil game, in my opinion.
Both the campaigns and The Mercenaries are multiplayer experiences, making this, in my opinion, the most well-rounded co-op Resident Evil game. While Resident Evil: Revelations 2 was a close second for me, I ultimately have to put Resident Evil 5 ahead of it due to the wider variety in content and, overall, more fun gameplay.
7. ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove by HumaNature Studios (2019, NS, PS4, PC, XB1)
As a co-op game: 10/10
Overall fun: 9/10
ToeJam & Earl, both the first game on the GEN and BitG, might be the epitome of what makes a good co-op game. As a single-player experience, it is, admittedly, rather dull. However, throw in a friend (or three, in the case of BitG), and you'll likely have a blast!
Before BitG, three other ToeJam & Earl games were made. BitG is much more like the overall fan favorite, the original on the GEN, in that it follows the same general premise. In both games, ToeJam and Earl find themselves trapped on Earth and need to find the scattered ship pieces required to repair their rocket ship and return to their planet, Funkotron.
BiTG, like the original, involves navigating through various randomly generated levels (unless you choose the fixed world mode), titled layers. Presents (the items in this game) and food that heals or hurts you can frequently be found while walking around each layer. Presents are your means to protect (or hurt!) yourself. Each present, until identified or opened, will be labeled as a series of question marks. This means that, unless you find the non-playable character who identifies your presents, you will have to decide whether or not it's worth opening a present. Presents will have various effects; to list a few: you can throw tomatoes to defeat enemies, Icarus Wings help you fly to new areas and avoid enemies, and Total Bummer instantly takes away one of your lives!
On each layer (outside of the starting layer), you will encounter Earthlings, some of whom are helpful and others that are not. The helpful Earthlings will heal you, identity presents, defeat nearby evil Earthlings, and more. The bad Earthlings come in many varieties, but what they all have in common is that they will harm you, whether that's by reversing your movement, causing you to lose presents, taking away some of your health, or another negative effect. Learning to avoid and deal with each bad Earthling is the key to survival.
TJ&E: BitG is a great co-op game because it involves a lot of cooperation and communication to succeed. Since the game goes into a split-screen mode (when played locally), letting the other player or players know what you're seeing and doing is necessary to collect all of the ship pieces and complete the game.
While I was tempted just to put the original game down (again, I have fond memories of the original Sega Genesis game), it's clear that BitG is a superior game in virtually every important aspect and is a fantastic successor to the original game. The original creators of the series created a Kickstarter campaign to get this game made, and, fortunately for us, I feel they succeeded in making an awesome game!
The previous seven games are a very small handful of the cooperative games I've played that I enjoyed and would recommend. Since it would have been impossible to put every co-op game I like into one article, I would like to revisit this concept and touch upon more multiplayer games that are worth checking out. If you haven't played any of these games, you should check out at least one that sounds appealing!
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