Growing up I always enjoyed playing games. From fighting through dungeons in Zelda to racing against my dad in Jet Moto 2 for the original PlayStation. But my most enjoyable memories usually involved anything that was couch co-op. My earliest memory of playing a couch co-op game is playing Rampage in the NES with my best friend. Causing sheer mayhem as Lizzie with my buddy as he played George. We would tear into buildings, flip tanks, and get high scores. It was a blast! Some of my favorite memories. Being side by side with a friend, downing Mountain Dew and eating junk food was a incredibly fun social experience for me as a kid. But with online gaming breaking into the scene, do we take for granted couch co-op games today? Has couch co-op as we know it died out?
In order to play games like Contra or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cooperatively back before the mid to late 90s you had to either go to a friends house or meet up at the arcade. Both created a enjoyable social experience. Although it may have been a burden to mom or dad it's something that will forever be apart of our childhood.
Even games that were considered really bad were in a sense fun. There were a lot of fond memories that I had with Star Wars Jedi Power Battles even though it got such bad reviews. To me I had a lot of fun playing it with my friend over a long weekend. Maybe if I had spent that time playing it alone I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much.
Getting into the late 90s we start getting to the massive multiplayer online role-playing game era also know as MMORPG along with competitive online shooters. With these games breaking into the scene and becoming very popular within the industry, couch co-op starts to become shadowed over. Games like ultima online and unreal tournament would be the gateways to online gaming. Although these games play a big role in social gaming, it still isn't the same as couch co-op gaming. Sure, you do interact with real people but it's not face to face.
Is couch co-op a dying means to playing games? Over the last few years I've caught myself in conversation saying “I wish this game had co-op” or “why is this the only online co-op?” Although we can play games online with our friends, it seems that we are seeing less and less of a couch co-op option from game developers these days.
Two things caught me off guard this year. The first is a game called Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. I've never heard of this game before it was released as one of the free games of the month on Xbox Live. In this game you take control of a spaceship which requires you to take care of multiple responsibilities to get it operating correctly. While flying this vessel you are fighting your way through aliens and searching for lost bunnies to collect which allows you to progress through the game. While the gameplay was fun and the art style is really pretty, that's not what caught my attention. Rather it was the fact that this game that could offer online co-op, doesn't. The only way to play this game is with a friend locally in the same room on the same console. What co-op this day and age restricts players from online co-op. Wouldn't that potentially hurts sales? For whatever reason it was, I completely respect it. Getting people back together in the same room to play games creates a different gaming experience.
The second thing that caught me off guard is that at E3 they showcased a game during EA’s press conference from Hazelight Studios (Tale of Two Sons) that was a split screen co-op only game where the protagonists Leo and Vincent break out of prison called A Way Out. While the game looks great and the puzzles look intriguing, what stood out to me was that it's a split screen co-op ONLY game. That is such a bold move in today's industry. The fact that they could have your partner be controlled by AI but chose not to is incredible. Are they taking a risk? Could they potentially lose sales and money? Whether they do lose sales or not I think this could be a stepping stone for a co-op only market. That’s an area of gaming I would personally love to see be built up. More co-op games can bring not only friends and families together but it could bring the community as a whole together.
So is couch co-op dead? No, we have just seen a draught but from recent releases, future releases and the indie market I think we will see couch co-op games rise again. We need these games to continue to be made. I want to be able to sit next to my daughter in the same room and play a game where we are accomplishing the same goal together. Things may have gotten a little dark with couch co-op games but the future sure is bright.
Written by Kyle Federline be sure to follow on twitter