A lot of the best moments in video gaming are those we share with friends, playing together whether cooperatively or competitively. Gaming makes all of this so easy and natural, that we often think of the best competitive games out there.
Titles like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat come to mind for classic gamers, but also Fortnite and PUBG. Competition, it would seem, is the core of every multiplayer experience and, true, it is a huge part of it. But there is also the flip side of the coin and that is a cooperative game, or those where you work with a friend to achieve some mutual goal.
Though co-op games do not get nearly as much press as their more competitive brethren, they are a huge part of the gaming pantheon and are an essential element in some genres.
Today I am going to talk about my favorite cooperative games from the past. From beat ‘em ups to Japanese role-playing games, there are co-op modes in just about every genre out there. You will see some familiar names on this list from others – do not worry about that. I am just focusing on the best co-op gaming today and, with that said, here are the 10 best cooperative games for a variety of systems and from many different gaming eras:
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10. Battletoads (developed by Rare, published by Tradewest; NES 1991)
I am going to be talking from the perspective of the NES version of the game, though there are so many ports of this title, that you could really find something on any system with Battletoads on it. The main theme of this game is that it is tough-as-nails, but it is also super fun – especially with a friend.
The only problem is that you both need to be on the same level in Battletoads or you are going to have a bad time. Because the game is just utterly unforgiving at a point and becomes even harder, with a friend tagging along.
Nonetheless, this title, probably more than any on this list, really, really rewards mastery and, if you can stomach the challenge, it is worth the uphill climb.
9. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (developed by The Game Designers Studio, published by Nintendo; GameCube 2003 JP, 2004 rest of the world)
You might not think of the Final Fantasy franchise when you think of cooperative franchises, but Crystal Chronicles changed perceptions of that somewhat, by employing a gameplay style that is between the Secret of Mana and traditional Final Fantasy games.
Arriving for the Gamecube at the peak of World of Warcraft mania in the West, Crystal Chronicles understood how fundamentally things like Everquest and MMORPGs would change RPGs and it incorporated that into its mechanics in its own way.
All you needed was a Gamecube and controllers to play a co-op RPG and, for many console gamers, that was enough. Though co-op RPGs were pretty huge on PCs in the 1990s, they are relatively unheard of on consoles and, when done right, are really awesome experiences.
Perhaps that is why Square is bringing Crystal Chronicles back in a remastered format for modern audiences.
8. Golden Axe (developed and published by Sega; arcade 1989)
This fantasy-themed sword and sorcery arcade title helped put Sega on the map when it came to beat ‘em up games, and it is no wonder: Deploying an aesthetic that is right at home with Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons, Golden Axe also offered up a similarly themed story with a Sauron-like baddie in the form of the awesomely named Death Adder, in a world that was both grim and fantastical.
Each fighter offered a different style of combat and magic, with the Gilius Thunderhead’s axe and its range becoming a favorite of many players. If speed was your thing, there was series bombshell Tyris Flare to provide that Chun Li style fighting, while the game’s pseudo-hero Ax Battler provides a good middle-of-the-road fighter.
The gameplay engine would eventually spawn the console classic Streets of Rage – Sega’s own answer to Double Dragon and Final Fight – but all of that began with Golden Axe which went on to spawn two sequels, multiple arcade games, and spinoffs.
7. Final Fight (developed and published by Capcom; arcade 1989)
A game that is often likened to Double Dragon – except for on steroids – Final Fight is actually a precursor of the explosion of popularity in the fighting game genre that came with Street Fighter II after it. In fact, originally called Street Fighter ‘89 while it was in development, Final Fight decided to take its own road, which eventually merged with that of the SF universe to bring the two together.
You will not find SF II style fighting here but, instead, a much simpler affair. There are three characters, each with a different fighting style (unlike games like Double Dragon, but similar to Streets of Rage and Golden Axe) and a loose storyline tying them all together. The emphasis here was on co-op arcade action and it handles that masterfully.
While it might lack some of the charm of the Double Dragon series or the cool narrative of Golden Axe, Final Fight is a study in style – and substance.
6. The Metal Slug Series (developed and published by SNK, arcade. First release: 1996)
The Neo Geo was a dream console most of us could never obtain. Thankfully, the local arcade had your back and provided one of those multigame cabinets that had a collection of SNK’s current hits.
One of the best games to ever hit the arcades or home consoles is Metal Slug and it is basically Contra without the maddening difficulty. It is also a lot more charming in appearance and somewhat more accessible – at least in the beginning.
Spawning a series of games, Metal Slug is enjoyable in both single player and multiplayer modes, which is a rarity for these arcade-style games that usually do push you towards cooperative play. Like Battletoads, Metal Slug is best when everything is firing on all cylinders – players included. That means that the better you and your partner are at the game, the more enjoyable the experience will be.
Given that it is premised on classic arcade mechanics, however, Metal Slug is more than happy to help you learn and, since it does not cost quarters any longer, you should dive right on into the game.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (developed and published by Konami; arcade 1989)
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a media sensation in the 1990s and it is no wonder. Using a quirky premise that worked, TMNT was everywhere and on everything. For this snippet, I am talking about the arcade game from Konami though there are many other turtles titles out there, that offer similar gameplay.
Since the core of the franchise is how the four turtle brothers work together, the arcade game and others offer multiplayer co-op options unlike many other titles of the day. You can have a frenzy with all four turtle at once or just you and a friend. If you were gaming on a console, you needed a multitap to let you play with more turtles, but it was possible.
With the game’s port to the online realm now, all you need is an online connection. Done up in an art style that mirrors the Saturday morning cartoons, TMNT: The Arcade Game is a classic of video gaming in general, not just cooperative play.
4. Double Dragon (developed and published by Technōs Japan; arcade 1987
The quintessential beat ‘em up and the game that many of us go back to when we think about something simple and accessible but challenging, Double Dragon is a hallmark series of early video gaming and, like many on this list, can be found across a variety of systems.
What set Double Dragon apart from many of the other arcade-style titles of the day was that it approached a relatively basic gameplay concept with such vim and vigor, that it is still relevant now.
From its cinematic story to its experimentation with combos, weapons, environmental hazards, and teamwork, Double Dragon is a game that takes the best of cooperative gaming, and amplifies it by using very simple mechanics.
3. Secret of Mana (developed and published by Squaresoft, SNES 1993)
Known as Seiken Densetsu in Japan, Secret of Mana was initially planned for the Super Nintendo’s PlayStation CD add-on that never came out. That is probably why the game is so gorgeous and over the top.
Released on one of the largest cartridges for the SNES at the time, Secret of Mana was a mystery to many gamers as it was not exactly marketed that well in the West. Those of us that did play it, however, discovered a game that is like a combination of Zelda and Final Fantasy. In other words, it is absolutely wonderful.
Fast-paced single-player or multiplayer action and a Final Fantasy setting are only two parts of this masterpiece. The soundtrack, the story, and the overall presentation drip with the quality that 1990s Square games were known for having.
Gamers are not going to stop singing this game’s praises until everyone gives it a shot and I cannot blame them – it is a hidden gem on the SNES and beyond.
2. Perfect Dark (developed by Rare, published by Nintendo; Nintendo 64 2000)
Originally billed as a sequel to GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64, Perfect Dark is, in many ways, a superior game to the James Bond outing that so many people fondly remember. This is mainly because Perfect Dark allowed for an innovative cooperative mode, that was somewhat unheard of at the time.
Competitive gaming, sure, and the Nintendo 64 was designed for that, but cooperative gaming was somewhat passé at this time. Perfect Dark changed that and offered a really exciting look into the future of first-person shooters.
There are some really cool single-player and multiplayer competitive modes here, too, so do not think you are going to have to make sacrifices to play Perfect Dark. What really takes it to the next level is the incorporation of cool weapons and “spy” technology into the game’s core mechanics.
Mario Bros. (developed and published by Nintendo; arcade 1983)
Before Super was appended to their name, the Mario Bros. were fighting koopas and crabs in the sewers of Brooklyn. You might recall the old arcade game with the POW block in the center of the bottom of the screen and tiered platforms leading to pipes, that spew bad guys at the top.
You could not jump on top of enemies but, instead, had to knock them down from underneath, then kick them off the stage. Naturally, this was way easier to do working together with Luigi. Of course, you could also work against one another, by bumping the bad guy again, so it recovers and kills whoever was trying to kick it off the stage.
There is a lot of depth to this game that many people often overlook, because of the later platforming greatness that the Mario Bros. franchise transformed into.
Vendetta (developed and published by Konami; arcade 1991)
Roll Final Fight and Double Dragon into one game and you might get Vendetta. A little more tongue-in-cheek when it comes to presentation, Vendetta does not really take itself seriously though you and a friend will just a few minutes into it.
The gameplay is wacky, the characters are goofy, the story is cliche but also, again, slyly making social commentary on 1990s urban America, Vendetta is a really strange game that does not get nearly enough love by the modern gaming press.
Rampage (developed and published by Bally Midway; arcade 1986)
Have you ever wondered what the life of Godzilla or King Kong would be like? Rampage gives you some clue though you do not actually hurt civilians. You have to remove them from the buildings you attack, before attempting to make the building collapse on itself.
This not only gets you points, but takes care of the pesky military guys that are trying to stop you. It is a classic arcade style game that is all about points.
Fans of older style games will really enjoy Rampage’s clean, minimalistic approach to mechanics and presentation. There is no filler material here, just great gaming.
Okay, number one is next, now, and it is a very “bubbly” game…
1. Bubble Bobble (developed by Taito, published by Taito for JP and Romstar for NA; arcade 1986)
Bubble Bobble is another one of those Japanese games that will disarm you with its charm and destroy you with its maddeningly awesome, but tough gameplay. With a friend, this game takes on a whole other level of challenge.
Think of the mechanics here as a combination of platformer, puzzle game and mascot title, all rolled into one game. Technically, Bubble Bobble is accessible for all levels and ages, but it will be hard for younger players that do not quite grasp its finer mechanics or players who just have no time whatsoever for puzzle elements in their platforming.
This title, alongside Bomberman, is the quintessential party game and almost begs for you to invite a friend over to play. I promise that, if you have not already, once you give it a chance you will not be able to put it down.
Another fun list is over, retro folks! Everyone has a different opinion about what makes a certain game compelling or the best, but what about you? Do you have any games that you would add to my list above? Any disagreements? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Till next post!
Yeah, we really love Bubble Bobble!