The best games for couch co-op play

Gene Park & Elise Favis

THE WASHINGTON POST – Online gaming has pushed split-screen and couch cooperative play to the side. But offline multiplayer games are getting a lot more attention these days, thanks to the still-ongoing quarantine reality for many homes.

Outside of the arcade, couch cooperative games was the only way to play multiplayer before the Internet. After all, the first Nintendo consoles came with two controllers right at the start. In Japan, the controllers were tethered to the console.

In the last two decades, developers shifted resources to online multiplayer, a far more lucrative investment.

But studios know that some of our best gaming memories are with friends on the couch, so they can hear the banter (or trash talk) in person. One subreddit forum, r/localmultiplayer, is totally dedicated to finding and promoting local multiplayer games. Definitely check it out, as well as this Steam bundle, for more recommendations once you finish this list.

MINECRAFT DUNGEONS

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Diablo 3 is always a standing recommendation, but it’s also an obvious one. If you’ve already played that series to hell and back and crave something simpler, the first real Minecraft spinoff title might do the trick. Just released this summer, Minecraft Dungeons is a great introduction to the action role-playing genre. It’s a lot easier to understand than tried and true classics like Diablo, but it plays a bit more like arcade brawler Gauntlet, with even shades of Streets of Rage. Unlike more complicated action RPGs, Minecraft Dungeons is less about playing with statistics and more about just collecting whatever items or weapons have the higher attribute number and feels better for you. Once you get deeper into the game, it’ll require players to coordinate builds more, but that learning curve comes very naturally.

A screenshot of ‘Overcooked 2’ gameplay. PHOTOS: GHOST TOWN GAMES, SANDLOT & HAZELIGHT STUDIOS
A screenshot of ‘Earth Defense Force 5’ gameplay
A screenshot of ‘A Way Out’ gameplay

OVERCOOKED 2

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac

This frantic game about meal preparation involves two-four players, all working toward the same goal: Cook as much food as possible in the allotted time. Players work as chefs, divvying up tasks like cleaning plates, slicing up ingredients and cooking on stove tops to make all sorts of dishes. While that may sound mundane, the fast pace makes this charming game a blast, especially when playing in a larger group.

Overcooked 2 isn’t terribly different from its predecessor, but some small tweaks, like being able to throw ingredients to a friend and more challenging gameplay across the board, make it a more polished and fun experience. Overcooked 2 can be played through local and online co-op.

A WAY OUT

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

It’s both a prison-escape and buddy story, and probably the most “cooperative” game on the list. Each player will occupy a half of the screen, making their own choices but relying on the other for progress. The two male leads are charismatic and likable, and so is the story. The story requires a lot of coordination on key story decisions too. It’s a very directed experience, so don’t expect too much deviation from what’s essentially a two-seater roller coaster ride. As far as video games go, it’s less than 10 hours at most, and moderately priced. (It’s also frequently on sale.) It’s a steal for one of the more memorable and unique games on the list.

STREETS OF RAGE 4

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Objective fact: The best way to recreate the magic of playing a Streets of Rage game is to play a Streets of Rage game. Games like Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come to mind when you hear “brawler”, but the Sega Genesis series was the creative apex of the genre. Indie-driven project Streets of Rage 4 cements that legacy.

The game does very little to the classic formula of “run to the right and punch everything in your way”, and thank goodness. Nothing else should get in the way of the pure adrenaline rush of cheering on your buddy as they’re using your team’s last life to take down a boss that looks like evil Freddie Mercury. Get this if you miss the smell of arcade popcorn and token copper.

HALO: THE MASTER CHIEF COLLECTION

Platforms: Xbox One, PC

The recent PC release of this collection has no split-screen feature, but the Xbox One release does, and it’s still excellent. The Halo series was the real genesis of the console first-person shooter, and the original allowed for classic Goldeneye-style split-screen multiplayer. The updated five Halo games on this collection all feature a split-screen, two-player cooperative mode, all with adjustable difficulty modes. The games may be old, but the gameplay has rarely been outdone. The five Halo games in this collection represent the finest in the shooter genre, and they’re even better with a friend. While the levels aren’t necessarily designed for cooperative play like some of the other games on the list, it doesn’t matter. The chaos that ensues from the physics, explosions and tactically intelligent enemies are more than enough to occupy two heads.

EARTH DEFENSE FORCE 5

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

It looks ugly. It’s cheap. You’ve never heard of it before. You can fix that problem now. If you want an even simpler shooter experience, everyone should try the underrated cult hit series Earth Defense Force. Get any of them, they’re mostly the same. You can pick one of a handful of space soldier types, and you simply defend Earth from an invading swarm of space bugs. It’s pure video game nonsense. The graphics aren’t good, but the fun comes from you and a friend blasting away at an entire screen of giant ants, living out your purest Starship Troopers fantasies.

LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS SPACETIME

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac

With a bright, abstract look that harks back to games like the PlayStation 2′s Katamari Damacy, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is striking the moment you boot it up. It’s also a lot of fun to play. You control two characters who control a spaceship and are making their way through perilous areas of space. Through local co-op, navigating through levels safely requires careful coordination: You both divide tasks like steering, shooting turrets, activating shields and fighting fearsome bosses. Things can get hectic, and you and your partner may yell and laugh as you attempt to manoeuvre through peril, but that just adds to the amusement and excitement of this title.

CUPHEAD

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, Mac

Ever since the game was first announced in 2014, indie gem Cuphead has turned heads. It has a unique presentation, an homage to 1930s cartoons from Walt Disney and Fleisher Studios. Once released, it received attention not just for its aesthetic, but also for its tough-as-nails gameplay. Because of its difficulty, it’s best played with a friend. Through local co-op, it becomes more accessible and morphs into a team effort to take down baddies and bosses through many colourful levels.

PORTAL 2

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Puzzles and portals. That’s essentially the pitch for Portal, a series where you play as a test subject for an antagonistic company called Aperture Science that has little interest in whether you live or die. Portal is best known for its puzzles and inventive story line, and those continue in its co-op mode in Portal 2.

You and your partner coordinate to solve puzzles that slowly increase in difficulty. Nearing the end, you’ll both have to be a master at reflecting lasers, jumping through portals at appropriate times and avoiding lethal situations like pools of acid. Careful timing and teamwork are the only ways to stay alive.

GlaDOS, the female robot that finds pleasure in your misery, tries to sever you and your partner’s trust, as she comments on your performances. As always, her humour shines through to make this a whimsical experience, even during the most difficult puzzles. “These tests are potentially lethal when communication, teamwork, and mutual respect are not employed at all times,” she said to both players. “Naturally, this will pose an interesting challenge for one of you, given the other’s performance so far.”

KEEP TALKING AND NOBODY EXPLODES

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (VR support for PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive), Mac, iOS, Android

Explosions are stressful, especially when you’re trying to avoid them by learning to diffuse a bomb in a limited time. In Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes you print out a manual for one player to read, while the other pays attention to the screen and takes orders from the other who guides them through bomb diffusion. It’s an intense experience often rife with panicked conversations and laughter, making it a great game to play for two, but also a ball for parties.