Co-op has gone hand-in-hand with gaming since the industry’s early days. It has been reveled as a great way to get together with friends and enjoy an adventure together. Co-op games have marked extreme bonding experiences with my friends and family, as we’ve tackled challenges together and overcome the most dangerous of obstacles. Co-op gaming represents one of my favorite aspects of gaming, which is getting together with people and playing video games.
Nowadays, there are games that don’t include any form of offline co-op in favor of online-only modes, which is a scary and stupid trend. There are games that still allow split-screen and offline co-op, and I implore everyone reading this to support those games with your dollar vote, and not the ones that forgo such inclusions. A huge part of gaming will die if couch gaming dies, but with the Wii U reinventing couch co-op and multiplayer in just a couple of months, maybe I’m worrying about nothing.
In the meantime, these 15 games are 15 of my favorite co-op games of all time. Each one will provide countless hours of enjoyment and entertainment, assuming one has a buddy along for the ride. If you’re looking for a new co-op game to play with your friends, family, or significant other, then this list will be a good place to start.
15. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2/Xbox/PC) -
What’s this? Grand Theft Auto had co-op? Yes, it did, though it was hidden away. If players extensively explored the beginning areas of the game, they were likely to stumble upon a strange floating icon in the middle of the projects. Activating this icon allowed a second player to join in on the game and even change their appearance to look like any number of the different character models roaming the streets of San Andreas.
Why Rockstar didn’t fully advertise this co-op mode is beyond me, but it is ridiculously entertaining. Both players are on the same screen and can explore the world of San Andreas, wreaking havoc, inputting cheats, and having a marvels old time just enjoying Grand Theft Auto the way GTA was meant to be enjoyed: by messing around.
It was majorly disappointing to me when Grand Theft Auto IV axed this co-op mode. It was simple, yet it was so damn entertaining. You could go through the main game, complete all the side missions and find all the hidden collectables, yet there was still this co-op mode that was infinitely entertaining. With Grand Theft Auto V returning to San Andreas, I can only hope that we see the return of GTA co-op that is not online-only.
14. World of Warcraft (PC)
At the end of the sixth generation and throughout a healthy chunk of the seventh generation, we saw the true rise of MMORPGs. The genre began in the 90s, but it didn’t reach a massive audience until Blizzard released World of Warcraft, the most ambitious MMORPG project to date, which continue to rake in the cash with its millions of subscribers. And with Mists of Pandaria expansion pack releasing very soon, WoW fanatics will have even more content to enjoy.
World of Warcraft is the ultimate online co-op game. Players create their own character and choose whether they wish to be aligned with the Horde or Alliance. Players work together to level up, grind for loot and equipment, complete quests, and defeat bosses. The popularity of World of Warcraft may not be as strong as it once was, but the game has maintained a solid fanbase of millions, and there are sure to be millions more to rejoin when the new expansion pack releases on September 25th.
What helps make an MMO unique in the co-op realm, though? Players not only team up on the game, but they also interact outside of the game as well, setting up times to meet up online and play with each other. These are called clans, and it’s interesting to see how real-life relationships can result from playing MMORPGs.
13. Gauntlet: Dark Legacy (PS2/GC/Xbox)
As a franchise, Gauntlet has been hugely important to co-op games. When the first Gauntlet released in arcades, it really helped kick-start the idea of co-op, and it wasn’t that long after that many other arcade cabinet developers started churning out their own Gauntlet clones and attempting to emulate the thrill of teaming up with strangers in an arcade to play, at the time, what was the best video game representation of a table-top RPG like Dungeons & Dragons.
I feel that the latest representation of Gauntlet that was of any real quality was Gauntlet: Dark Legacy on sixth generation systems. This game recaptured the same basic qualities of the original game. Players chose between different classes and then experienced dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash action, with the game retaining many of the key elements and little nuances from the arcade original.
With only a 70% rating on GameRankings, there are not many people that agree with me on the quality of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, but I assure you, if you give this game a chance, it may just become one of your new co-op favorites. Fans of the original are sure to get a kick out of this more modern update, and here’s hoping we see another high quality Gauntlet game like this sooner rather than later.
12. The Warriors (PS2/Xbox)
Another Rockstar game on the list? Despite the flak they receive about not being able to truly capitalize on the success of co-op, especially in recent years with their online-only fares, Rockstar has proven in the past that they have a good grasp on how to make co-op as entertaining and engrossing as possible. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is proof of that, and The Warriors is even more proof.
Based on the 1979 film, The Warriors sees the player take control of various characters in the titular gang as they go through the events depicted in the film. Of course, this means a lot of brawling with rival gangs and run-ins with the police. The Warriors is, to me, the best example of how the beat ‘em up genre can thrive in a realm outside of being a purely 2D side-scroller.
This game is not only incredibly fun in co-op, but it retains the signature Rockstar art style that really gives it its own personality separate from the movie. The game also serves as a prequel to the film, building up to “the meeting” and then going through the events depicted in the movie.
Fans of the movie NEED to play this game. Fans of co-op NEED to play this game. Fans of Rockstar NEED to play this game. The Warriors is an underrated gem from the sixth generation of video gaming, but don’t let it slip by your radar as well.
11. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (PS2/GC/Xbox)
While the PC origin series may be more popular, there is something to be said about the console versions of the Baldur’s Gate games. These hack-and-slash titles allowed up to three players to play in co-op, choosing between a fighter, an archer, or a sorceress. It featured a lot of enemy types, varied environments, and of course, very fun co-op gameplay.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and its sequel are two of the best co-op games available on the sixth generation consoles. It’s just so much fun to explore dungeons with a couple of friends, collect loot and gold, and outfit your character to be as powerful as possible. Unfortunately, this series has been completely ignored in the seventh generation, so here’s hoping we see a revival soon.
10. Contra (NES)
Contra is one of the godfathers of co-op gaming, and I believe the first true co-op game on a Nintendo home console. Most players are very familiar with Contra, which sees one or two players take the role of soldiers that are fighting off not only enemy soldiers, but an imposing alien menace.
Contra is famous for its use of the Contra Code, and its incredibly high level of difficulty. Players that really want to conquer the game need to learn to work together, which is the true spirit of co-op gaming. Learning which power-ups work best together, figuring out how to synch jumps just right to avoid making each other fall off screen, and more all make Contra one of the premiere co-op titles.
The game can be enjoyed in a number of ways nowadays, and there’s really no excuse for newer games to not play Contra. The game holds up just as well today as it did in the 80s, and it’s sure to provide a co-op experience that just can’t be found anywhere else.
09. Left 4 Dead (360/PC)
Valve used to really like the Xbox 360, remember? Nowadays they favor the PS3, but I digress. Valve created two zombie-based shooters rooted in co-op for Microsoft-exclusive platforms, Windows on PC and Xbox 360. Both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are fantastic co-op games that bring a little bit of everything to the table.
Like Contra, the Left 4 Dead games require an incredible amount of teamwork in order to conquer. Up to four players can join up and take on the undead horde together, with the goal of reaching the safe house and then escaping the campaign alive. There are defensive moments, run-and-gun moments, and plenty of meaningful co-op interaction, when one might have to decide to sacrifice a first-aid kit in favor of saving the life of a teammate.
Even the competitive multiplayer is just brimming with co-op potential. There are two teams in Left 4 dead multiplayer. One team controls the humans, and they retain the goal of working in tandem to survive the undead and complete the level with everyone together. The other team is comprised of the special infected, and they also have to work together, but this time they are working together to stage elaborate ambushes for the human players. A smart team of special infected can absolutely obliterate the humans, but if the humans are able to work together better, than there’s no hope for the zombies.
Other co-op centric modes have been added to the Left 4 Dead games in the form of DLC as well as the sequel. Players can team up together to try to live the longest in the Survival Mode of the game, and more. Left 4 Dead is one of the best current-generation co-op games for a reason.
08. Secret of Mana (SNES)
When people think of the best RPGs of the fourth generation, they think of the Final Fantasy games or Chrono Trigger. They very rarely think of the action-RPG Secret of Mana, which marked one of the first times that co-op and the RPG genre really mixed together. It’s a crime how underplayed this forgotten fourth generation gem is.
Secret of Mana allows up to three players to control the three different main characters in the game. they have to work together to traverse the environments and defeat the enemies they encounter in the overworld. Solving puzzles and clearing dungeons requires teamwork and co-op grinding. Secret of Mana allows players to share equipment through its inventory system, and if there are no friends to play with, people will still have the AI controlling their teammates.
Co-op and RPGs actually go quite well together nowadays, like with the Tales franchise that has traditionally allowed a second player to take control of one of the other party members during battles. Games like that owe it to Secret of Mana for paving the way for the co-op RPG.
07. LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (PC/MAC/PS2/Xbox/GC)
The last two generations of co-op games has been dominated by Traveller’s Tales new franchise of LEGO games. Traveller’s Tales has built a very strong foundation of co-op video games, creating LEGO versions of popular franchises such as Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, but it all started with LEGO Star Wars in the Spring of 2005.
This game created the formula that Traveller’s Tales have use endlessly since then in their LEGO games. Two players control a huge variety of characters from the license (in this case, Star Wars) and go through a series of levels based on the license. They collect LEGO bricks and studs that they can use to purchase new characters and unlock secret content.
While it seems like a simple formula now, and it needs to be changed up in a major way, back in the day, it was revolutionary. While they may all be quite the same, the games still bring an undeniable charm to the table, and a lot of entertainment value for people of all ages.
06. Halo 3 (360)
Really, any of the Halo games could fit in this slot, but I just went with the latest-released numbered entry (plus, Halo 3 is my favorite Halo game!). Since the original game, Halo has been about providing incredible FPS experiences that were once regulated to being exclusively for PC players, but when Halo: Combat Evolved released on the original Xbox, it redefined split-screen co-op gaming for an FPS.
Halo 2 took what made the original game and then built on those concepts even further to create one of the best console FPS games in history. Halo 3 made co-op an even more important focus. In the first two games, the second player doesn’t even “exist” in the cut-scenes or anything, but Halo 3 actually created a storyline reason why there would even be two characters at once.
One player controls Master Chief and the other controls the Arbiter as they battle the Covenant and save the universe from the titular “Halo” rings. Halo 3 took it another step forward by being one of the first console games to support four-player co-op play, with split-screen online supported as well.
Future Halo games would add more co-op modes, like the incredibly entertaining Firefight. Halo 4 is now on the horizon, and it promises to improve on the Halo co-op experience even more. Halo 4 will be releasing episodic DLC called “Spartan Ops” for 10 weeks after the launch of the game, for free, that will tell a whole new co-op story separate from the main campaign.
05. Resident Evil 5 (PC/PS3/360)
Resident Evil and co-op sounds like it would go together like ham and peanut brittle, but in reality, Resident Evil is ripe for co-op play. Resident Evil 5 takes the foundation laid about by the revolutionary Resident Evil 4 and then builds on it by adding co-op play, a new mission structure that focuses on replayability, and more focus on inventory management and upgrading.
Resident Evil 5 is disliked by many fans for being too much of an “action” game, but I feel that it manages to retain the survival horror elements that the series is known for quite nicely, and its story is one of the best in the history of the series. RE5 retains the corny goodness that the franchise is known for, with Chris punching a boulder into lava, and all the hilarious one-liners one could possibly hope for in a Resident Evil game.
Resident Evil 5 features Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar in the lead roles, with one person controlling Chris and the other player controlling Sheva. Co-op interaction is a huge focus for Resident Evil 5, and Capcom does their best to create horror tension, despite the inclusion of a co-op partner.
Resident Evil 5 also contains the “Mercenaries” game mode that was made popular in the previous games. In this mode, players choose between a variety of different main characters from the game and then see how many points they can rack up before the time runs out.
Resident Evil 6 is on the horizon, and it doesn’t look too good, in my opinion. However, diehard co-op fanatics will be happy to hear that the game is supporting three co-op campaigns and has up to seven different playable characters. In the meantime, Resident Evil 5 remains one of the strongest entries in the series to date, and one of the best co-op games I’ve ever played.
04. Borderlands (PC/PS3/360)
Just recently released was Borderlands 2, the sequel to this game, which received a huge amount of critical acclaim. I myself haven’t had a chance to play Borderlands 2 just yet, but I am assured that it is just as excellent as the original.
Borderlands is an amazing concept, really. It is a cel-shaded, free-roaming FPS/RPG combo that is just downright fantastic in execution. The game allows up to four players to choose between one of the four characters and classes in the game, then take their game online or play with a partner in split-screen (Borderlands 2 even allows players to combine split-screen and online play, an important feature that was not included in the first Borderlands game).
The combination of FPS and RPG gameplay just fits so well together that it’s surprising more developers didn’t go this route earlier. It’s incredibly addicting to level up and improve the abilities of the characters, and looting is also very, very entertaining. It’s amazing that Gearbox has managed to have the games run perfectly in split-screen, despite their open world nature, and it makes me annoyed when developers don’t include split-screen because it is “too demanding” for their game. No. Borderlands can do it, anyone can do it.
Borderlands combines the leveling and XP inspired by Japanese RPGs with the Western RPG concepts like accepting multiple quests and grinding for loot. Borderlands and Borderlands 2 are both excellent choices for a co-op adventure, and the original game also features four different DLC packs that add even more awesome content to the experience.
03. Gears of War (360)
There’s something special about the original Gears of War. It was the flagship title for Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 console, much like Halo was the flagship for the original Xbox. It brought to the table an original co-op concept and in the process, innovated co-op gaming and the third-person shooter genre in incredible ways. Each entry in the franchise tends to innovate even more, which has me excited for Gears of War: Judgment in 2013.
In the meantime, the first Gears of War holds a special place in my gaming heart. My first seventh generation system was an Xbox 360. I received it as a Christmas present in Christmas of 2006. I told my grandma I wanted “Gears of War” to go with it. I’m 100% sure she went into GameStop and told them, “the war game”, and they promptly gave her a copy of Call of Duty 3. I’m not regretting that at all, but I still very much wanted to play Gears of War.
So, I went out and rented the game during Christmas break. My cousin Josh came over and me, him, and my brother took turns swapping the controllers around, taking turns playing through the campaign as Dom and Marcus. We beat the entire campaign that day, and it was an amazing co-op experience.
Then Gears of War 2 came along and included yet another awesome co-op campaign. However, Gears of War 2 also introduced Horde Mode, a feature that has been endlessly copied by virtually every major shooter released these days, including Halo and Call of Duty. In Horde, up to five players on a team work together to defeat wave after wave of the Locusts.
Gears of War 3 has taken co-op in the franchise even further, making Gears of War the premiere co-op title for Xbox 360 owners. Co-op in Gears of War 3 allows four players to play through the campaign, plus five players in Horde and five players in Beast Mode. Beast Mode is where players take control of the Locusts instead of the Cog that are fighting the Locusts. Horde Mode also saw a huge upgrade in Gears of War 3 to include elements of tower defense games.
02. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii)
Mario games have always allowed two players to play. Back in the arcades, Mario Bros. allowed two players to play simultaneously as Mario and Luigi as they defeated all the enemies invading the sewers. Then Super Mario Bros. on NES switched it up, making players take turns between levels, with one playing as Mario and the other player controlling Luigi.
This has held true for much of the entries in the Mario series. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 had a form of co-op where a second player could use a second Wii remote to collect star bits off the screen and to help Mario’s jumps, but true, simultaneous co-op play in Mario didn’t come out in a big way until New Super Mario Bros. launched for the Nintendo Wii.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is one of the best co-op games of all time. It is a four-player co-op platforming game that supports multiple controller set-ups. Players have the goal of beating each level, obviously, but there is a lot of replayability in going back and collecting all of the Star Coins and unlocking all of the secrets.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii has inspired a new type of platformer. The critically acclaimed platformer from Ubisoft, Rayman Origins, was directly influenced by New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo has continued the legacy of the sub-series on 3DS with New Super Mario Bros. 2, which allows two players to play through the entire game together, one as Mario and one as Luigi, assuming the two players each have one 3DS system and two copies of the game.
On November 18th, Nintendo is releasing New Super Mario Bros. U, which looks like a throwback to one of the best Mario games ever, Super Mario World. New Super Mario Bros. U is retaining the four-player co-op that made this game so popular, but is also adding a fifth player that can use the GamePad touchscreen to help the other players. For more information about New Super Mario Bros. U, stay tuned to Cheat Masters in the coming months, as I will be providing full coverage of the game when it launches alongside the Wii U on November 18th, and there will be a major preview for it in October as a part of my monthly Looking Forward series.
01. LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)
Sony has hit quite a few home runs this generation with new IPs. Heavy Rain has broken into mainstream press with its inventive gameplay and mature subject matter and storytelling. Uncharted has become a massive success, and other games like inFAMOUS and Resistance have also helped push PS3s off the shelves and into the hands of gamers. However, none of those new IPs have been quite as successful as Sony’s own LittleBigPlanet.
LittleBigPlanet has truly become Sony’s “Mario”, and Sackboy has allowed Sony to finally have a true, definitive mascot that they’ve been trying to create since the days of Crash and Spyro. LittleBigPlanet is really genius, and one of the best new IPs this entire seventh generation has offered.
Play. Create. Share. That is the motto of LittleBigPlanet. Four players can play the game in co-op, going through platforming levels created by the game designers at Media Molecule. They can customize their Sackboy in a wide variety of ways, take real life pictures and use them in the game, and much more.
Player can also create levels together with the LittleBigPlanet level editor. This mode has seen the creation of truly fantastic user-created levels, and in the case of LittleBigPlanet 2, entire games. Online and offline co-op are seamlessly integrated together, helping making LittleBigPlanet 2 the ultimate co-op experience. Offline is important. Online is important. LBP and its sequels recognize this and help them work in harmony.
LittleBigPlanet has retained its co-op traditions no matter which system it has released on. The original LittleBigPlanet started it all, and the PSP spinoff helped continue it. LittleBigPlanet 2 took everything that was awesome about the original game and maximized it by 10. And Sony recognizes the power of co-op and the power of LittleBigPlanet, as they broke the street date for LittleBigPlanet: PS Vita to try to improve the sales of their fledgling eighth generation handheld.
These 15 co-op games make up some of the best co-op experiences I’ve ever had personally during my many years of gaming. What co-op stories do you have? Please share in the comments below.