I played something recently
Recently, I did something that I haven’t done in a while. I played through an entire co-op game with someone. That someone was obviously my roommate since she’s been a bit of a gaming buddy to me since we moved in together and the game in question was It Takes Two. It was a title that I had heard amazing things about when it released, but had never had the chance to take a deeper look at. Well, a sale was enough to get me in gear to give it a play and I found myself falling in love all over again, but not entirely with the game.
Yeah, part of it was the game itself that I was in love with, because It Takes Two is really really good! However, it ended up reigniting my love for couch co-op games in a way that I had kind of forgotten. Sure, I had that sparked a little bit by Super Mario 3D World last year (which we had also played together) but there was something special about this experience that hit me different and I’ve spent the last few days since trying to figure out what exactly that was and I think I have somewhat nailed it down.
A Rounded Story
So, I think what really made me fall in love with the co-op elements of this game were a few different things but let’s start with the most simple one, shall we. It’s that this was a whole story told through co-op. So often do we see co-op or competitive modes that are a add on to the core experience of a game, something added after the main experience was completed and seen as a secondary way to play after you’ve done it all on your own.
For example, the online mode that’s meant to be after the story mode of any of the big first person shooters (though that might actually be the main draw for some), or a mode that adds the ability for a second player to jump in to what was generally made to be a single player experience, like with Super Mario Odyssey or Ghosts N’ Goblins Resurrection. However, in this case, the entire thing was built from the ground up to be a cooperative experience and there was no way to play through it all alone.
Well, maybe if you got really creative with two controllers you might be able to do it all on your own, but it certainly would have been a more stressful experience than a fun one. However, it’s so rare that we have games that are built entirely around being a cooperative experience and story. Granted, gaming can sometimes be a very solitary hobby, but the experience of getting trough something with a friend is a valuable one and I would love to see more story driven games that take on an approach where you need another person with you in a role that could not be replicated just by pairing you with an AI partner (despite how some of my favorite games of all time do have an AI companion).
I’m not saying that I think that I need a hundred co-op games all about how cooperating is great and wonderful and how we should solve our dysfunctional relationships in order to get to a better place as a pair. That would get old pretty dang fast. However, I think that there is untapped potential in co-op storytelling.
Removing the Combat Between Us
The other thing that I think It Takes Two did that made it special was that it separated the idea of competition from the game when it came to progression. So, that’s not to say that there’s not parts of the game that have competition in them. There absolutely are. The amount of mini-games spread through this bigger game that allow you to go head to head against your partner are all varied and really fun. For some people those might actually be the best part of the game. However, none of these mini-games are something that requires you to compete against the person you are playing with in order to make progress forward in the story. The competition is segmented off from everything else as a fun side piece rather than the main attraction.
So many co-op experiences are based in competing with the other players that you are playing with or against, so it can be refreshing to have a game where there isn’t any of that unless you want there to be. The competition part can be completely optional if you would like and if you’re looking more for cooperation than competition, you are free to curate your experience in that way, especially since it takes both players agreeing to play against one another for the game to start. You cannot force the other person to join you.
It’s funny. I never realized how many co-op games really were a competition until I started thinking about it. Even Super Mario 3D world has it. You may be trying to get through the levels together, but when points are involved and players are getting them, inevitably it’s going to turn into who was able to get the most. The only other game I have played lately that had this approach was Overcooked, but that’s so frantic it’s its own stressful experience.
Or Maybe it’s Something Else
I don’t know. Maybe you’ve gotten something about my need to ramble about a game that sparked my urge to talk more about it. There’s just something about co-op experiences that seem to be dwindling and I have hope that they’ll make a big resurgence. I love a game that I can play all on my own as much as the next person, but there’s something about sharing a game when both are holding the controller that’s really special.