“I miss the days of staying up until 4 a.m., Mountain Dew coursing through my veins, and tearing up Goldeneye with Oddjob’s hat”.
This is a standard comment I come across with regards to couch co-op. People talk about the good ol’ days of Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing, Worms etc. Well I’ve got good news for you: they’re still around today and they’ve been given a hefty coat of polish to boot, if you just open your eyes.
They’re so much easier to enjoy too as you don’t a cumbersome device to connect controllers to, or need to untangle a ball of wires that can only be comparable to a congealed ball of last year’s Christmas tree lights.
I think the principle argument surrounding local co-op is that there aren’t enough “AAA blockbuster titles”. Big games that are strictly party-centric. Why do they need to be AAA? In the same way that a film doesn’t need to have a budget of $400 million to be considered enjoyable, a game can be as niche as it wants – if it’s fun then it’s fun.
However, AAA co-op games actually do exist! A Way Out for example. A story-driven, two-player (only) journey chronicling the troubles of two brothers escaping from prison. A critically, well-received game that sold over 2 million copies. Did I also mention it was published by EA no less?
How about Diablo III? A hack n’ slash, dungeon crawler for up to four people. Developed and published by the gaming behemoth that is Blizzard Entertainment, more recently known for their successful title, Overwatch. As of 2015, despite only being available for three years, it had become the 10th best-selling video game of all-time. It’s even had a release on the Nintendo Switch to further expand its lifespan too.
Nintendo Still Leading The Charge
One constant that remains ever-present in the local co-op debate is Nintendo. With the continued success of their most popular franchises, Nintendo have been able to provide chaos to couches all the way into 2020. Nintendo’s newest creation, the Nintendo Switch, is instantly accessible and is providing players with even more opportunities to end friendships with blue shells and smash your bros…with Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
Mario Kart, Mario Party, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Kirby Star Allies. These are just a few examples of Nintendo exclusives that can all be enjoyed with the help of a friend or two.
With the use of the Switch’s excellent joy-con adaptability, it’s easy to play any of these games on the go and Nintendo are aiming to extend this vision for the coming future. As such, many games are being ported over to the Switch with two major examples being Cuphead (ported last year) and the upcoming Borderlands: The Legendary Collection.
Cuphead is the definition of a niche success, even spawning an animated series. A 1920’s, cartoon-inspired, side-scrolling action-adventure game with Dark Souls-inspired boss fights about two cups trying to get their souls back from the devil. Originally an Xbox exclusive, the game has since come to Switch and brought the dynamic duo of Cuphead and Mugshot with it. The game CAN be played solo, but you’ll have a much more rewarding, and frustrating, experience with a fellow cup. With DLC still to come, you can replay this games for hours on each new couch you buy, burning each one in anger
On the other hand, the Borderlands franchise has been around for the better part of eleven years now. It’s had several games, lots of success and is also going to slide its way into the Nintendo catalogue. Up to 4 players, locally and online, can enjoy the Borderlands games and once again, they will provide hours upon hours of entertainment.
Everything seems peachy so far doesn’t it? Couch co-op actually has more options than you thought…however. I believe one two-word term is solely responsible for the ideology of local co-op being a mere myth now.
Online Multiplayer > Local Co-op
During the mid-2000’s, online multiplayer just didn’t happen on consoles. It wasn’t entirely impossible on the major consoles to enforce, but it was fiddly, and as a result, not as many people did it. PC gaming thrived of course, but I don’t feel online gaming really took off, on all fronts, until the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 came along.
With wireless connections becoming prevalent, Xbox Live and the Playstation Network becoming a thing; this is when things really took off. I myself started in late 2007 with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Team Fortress 2 on my PS3 – and it changed my life. It was incredible. All those years of besting artificial intelligence, and now I could go finally go toe-to-toe with the likes of 12-year-old Tom, from Wisconsin.
The thirst for more online games only got bigger with the Call of Duty franchise dominating the online market through to the early 2010’s – and even now. With the popularity of online gaming increasing, I’m sure it’s conceivable that developers began to focus less on local co-op. However, it never actually went away.
Online titans such as COD and FIFA could still be played on a couch, Resident Evil 5 and 6 had split-screen co-op (big AAA games) and other games such as EA’s big gamble – Army of Two – was playable in two player split-screen. So it’s not so much that local co-op has died over the years, it’s just merely taken a rest in the backseat.
Indie Games and Team 17 Help Resurgence
I think one of the overwhelming plus points for this generation of gaming has been the continual support to the independent scene. Indie games have completely thrived in the last seven years, with the re-emergence of classic “Metroidvania” style games, 8-bit graphics and frankly a huge portfolio of creative ingenuity.
It’s led to some of the best games ever made, looking at you Undertale, and brought about some zany concepts that have proved to be big hits. I distinctly remember attending EGX 2016 and laughing my head off as myself and my friends enjoyed Gang Beasts. An utterly ridiculous, ragdoll game that was better than it had any right to be.
The last few years have produced some must-play, local co-op games: Lara Croft and The Temple of Osiris, Towerfall: Ascension, Rocket League, Magicka 2, Unravel Two, and others. Furthermore, I feel a huge deal of credit needs to go to Team 17 for making a considerable effort to ditch the headset, forget your Mbps and get some friends round for a pixel party. They’ve had a hand in developing and publishing so many of the best local co-op experiences in the last twenty years, and they aren’t finished yet.
Me and my fiancee have had so many laughs – AND arguments – playing Overcooked and Overcooked 2. They really are just simple, yet effective games with a bafflingly straightforward concept, cook food. The game mechanics are so easy to understand, yet subtle gameplay additions change the dynamic of the game completely. It becomes something rich and rewarding that urges you to get maximum stars for each level.
Team 17 have also provided you and a friend the tools to save super sheep in the Lemmings-style game, Flockers – and I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone about a certain Worms franchise either.
Moving into 2020 and Team 17 are wanting you to move out with the aptly-named, house moving simulator – Moving Out. Similarly to Overcooked, it’s two players, but this time it’s moving furniture out of a house. What could POSSIBLY go wrong? If that wasn’t enough, their 2016 Steam release, Golf With Your Friends, has gained so much popularity in the last four years due to YouTubers and Twitch streamers playing it that it’s now getting a full console release on 28 April, 2020.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the large, threaded couch of games that are available to play. I’m sure there are some gems hidden down the back of a cushion I’ve forgotten too.
Has the popularity of local co-op dissipated in the wake of modern technology and advances in worldwide, gaming interconnectivity? Sure. Does that mean that local co-op is dead? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Got anymore examples of local co-op that you enjoy? Let us know in the comments!