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Best Two-Player Cooperative Games

Share the fun and it doubles. Teaming up to beat the baddies is often much more fun than playing against each other. Me and my brother have had many screaming fights turning us into enemies for days over cheat goals in Elitserien ’96 and gutless play in Super Street Fighter II. If you are playing with each other, you don’t have to experience that. Unless both of my brothers play. If any of them accidentally hit the other in Streets of Rage II, the other one must be allowed to hit back to make it fair. But that hit will always be too hard compared to the first one, so they continue hit each other while screaming it isn’t fair and completely forgetting they are actually just making it harder for themselves. They have no sense of what co-operative gameplay really is, so before we begin presenting the best games with it, we have some tips for you.

Playing Tips for Cooperational Gameplay

  • Make up a well-balanced team. In some games, you need to complete each other to be successful. For example, Skate and Blaze are both fast and weak compared to Axel and Max in Streets of Rage 2. You’d better pick one strong guy and one who is fast to be at advance in all situations.
  • Give the cake to the hungry one. If someone is close to death, it is better to have him have both cakes rather than sacrificing a life to be even. It might even be better to give those extra lives to your friend even if he is worse than you; the point was to play as two as long as possible, right?
  • Make up some tactics. Just running around hitting incoming enemies won’t do you good. Sometimes it’s better to give yourselves some focused strategy. Let one man kill off the skeletons while the other handles Dark Guld in Golden Axe II. Have one man shoot left and one shoot right in T2: The Arcade Game.
  • Don’t fight each other. So what if your pal accidentally hit you or took that chicken when you needed it? Learning from your mistakes is what brings you forward, nothing else here!
  • Find The Game for your team. When you form a duo with one of your friends or brothers (or other relatives), it sometimes just don’t work out because one of you doesn’t like the game or your skills are too different. Experiment with different games to find out what game you both will love to play together, again and again.
  • Try out those old classic again. You might have gotten that mediocre brawler in a haul long time ago and left it to collect dust because it was so boring. However, the two-player co-op option gives many games a new dimension and a worthy chance for trying it again. Some games are MADE to play two, remember that!

Holy Grails for the 2-Men Army:

Adventures of Batman & Robin By Nick Gibson

If you’ve been doing the Genesis thing for any length of time, odds are you’ve played this game. Chances are also pretty high that you saw it merely as a stellar-looking run-‘n-gun with great music and bland gameplay. But have you played it with a buddy yet? If not, then you’re missing out. Without a doubt, AoBaR is the best two-player cooperative game I’ve had the pleasure of playing on the Genesis. Yeah, that’s right. Better than Gunstar Heroes and all the rest. The repetitive chaos quickly become electric once the difficulty ratchets upwards and you find yourself relying on your gaming partner for sheer survival. The intensity of navigating a screen’s worth of exploding bunnies and shocker dolls is indescribable. Sharing power ups, clawing health off the tough-as-nails bosses, dodging insane obstacle courses and fire traps – I swear, if you and your mate have the skill then a simple gaming session ascends into a waltz of coordination.

I remember when I was a kid, even before high school, me and my best buddy Derek held this game in high esteem. It was so phenomenally difficult, but we would play it all the time. When we first got our hands on the cart we would get slaughtered before the first boss, but thanks to long afternoons of practice we got to the point where we could play whole levels without taking any damage. And then one day we played through the whole game without skipping any levels at all. We didn’t use a single continue, although I died once. Derek made it through unscathed, and at the end we almost didn’t believe what we’d done. We’d dominated the toughest game we knew, and it felt awesome.

Bonanza Bros. By Nick Gibson

Ah, Bonanza Bros. I just recently played this game for the first time – well, a year ago now, I guess – but at the time I was shocked that such a gem had slipped by me. The premise is simple: take a rotund little thief into a variety of locations and loot the place clean, all the while avoiding guards. It’s decidedly different, and very fun. Your taser (I won’t say it) only knocks the guards out for a few seconds, so respite is brief and the tension never lets up. Add a oft-times cruel timer and you have a dandy knuckle-whitener that you should definitely buy. Odds are you haven’t played a game quite like this before, although you’ll get a sense of deja-vu when you press yourself flat against a hallway and let the enemies blunder by. Could Bonanza Bros. be the granddaddy of today’s stealth-action games? Maybe, maybe.

The other thing about the game is the way things always seem to go wrong at the end. I used to play this all the time with my buddies when I first got a hold of it. We were almost professionals at clearing the first stages, but that last one – the pyramid – always got us. I can’t count the times that one of us would die in the early going, leaving the other poor shmuck to gather all the loot himself while that timer counted down. We’d all cheer him onto victory, cringing every time a guard spotted him and laughing when he smashed SWAT guys with a door. And when he finally made it to the blimp, with only five seconds left? Ah, sweet triumph.

Sunset Riders By Nick Gibson

One of the things that irks me about most video games is the health/damage ratio. I never feel like a hero when I’m slopping through the level, taking damage just to squeak by the checkpoints. That’s one of the reasons I adore Sunset Riders – one hit and you die. So when you make it all the way to Richard Rose without kicking off even once, you feel like a god, an unstoppable dynamo. The graphics could use some help (I doubt it had to be so bland compared to the SNES port), but the music is nothing less than fantastic. It’s also very short, but in some ways I actually think its brevity helps the replay value. You can crunch through it in about forty minutes; since it’s so fun that you’ll find yourself popping it in more than once just to see if you can get a perfect playthrough. To put it simply, Sunset Riders is a largely overlooked game that is great by yourself and even better with something else. There’s a wonderful team dynamic as you cover each other’s backs, share power ups, and detonate dynamite in midair.

Personally I have a lot of good memories with this game, from picking out the melodies on a piano to the first time that eagle killed me from standing around too long. But the best memory has to be the afternoon I spent with my buddies in dueling mode. When we played we usually just did the arcade run, but this time we tried out the competitive side of the game and it turned into a friendly riot. It was incredibly hard to put a bullet into the other guy, and some of the matches seemed to go on forever. I’ll never forget the amount of smack and laughing going around the room, and the rush of guilty exultation at winning by putting a bullet in your buddy’s toes… Good times.

Contra: Hard Corps By Zebbe

While I play Gunstar Heroes with my friend, Contra: Hard Corps was the game to play with my brother. I assume my friend found one-hit-deaths of Contra to be annoying while my brother didn’t enjoy the weapon system of Gunstar Heroes. To each his own, I guess. I had some very fun weeks with brother where I was able to remove him from his PlayStation 2 and PC for some time. He didn’t enjoy the Mega Drive very much anymore, as it was too primitive for him. But, as I’ve always said, good gameplay lasts forever, and that is what Contra delivers. With four different characters and six endings via several routes, there are many weeks ahead of you for some blasting run-‘n-gun action. Since the game is so hard (we play the American version here!), it was basically getting to a boss, find out its tactics and die, try again, kill it, get to the next boss, find out its tactics etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. No trial-and-error, just intelligence and reflexes are what we need. The cooperation adds another dimension to it, as you are two thinking men instead of one, where fire power makes it easier while flawed tactics make it harder. You see, the four weapons (A, B, C and D) are different for all characters. Not having a certain weapon can be devastating at some bosses. At Norman Cascade, Browny’s homing yo-yo was essential while Ray’s exploding crash saved lives at the second meet with Deadeye Joe. As no character is flawless, two are needed to complete each other.

I find that wonderful, as every person is different and can help out in different ways. You are always good at something, and taking that and adding it with your friend’s doubles the effect. I notice this at work where my manliness and comforting character is of great use with the female employees’ experience when dealing with the feelings of the elderly. The American army lets their soldiers play video games to strengthen their abilities to co-operate. While they play these 3D shooting games, I’m happy with some run-‘n-gun experience a la Contra when the terrorists attack some day.

Golden Axe By Zebbe

While playing alone is just plain boring, there is lots of fun to be had when playing this primitive hack-‘n-slash series of Sega with a partner. It might even be entertaining watching your two little brothers play it. “I will have the dragon!” is countered with “No, you had it last time, it is my turn now!” It isn’t a team we are talking about here, there are simply two egoistic individualists who don’t care for anything but having fun. Having two controllers saves a lot of fights, for these two would have preferred to play the game alone.

I, on the other hand, have a great sense of leadership inside of me, and that is why I always succeed with either of the brother more than having those two play with each other. I know how to fool the minotaurs down the pits, so we can have a good laughter together. I also know who needs the magic and who needs the meat. I also know I am always the one who only takes one continue while a brother takes two. Then all of a sudden, when the lives are out, it is not funny anymore, so I am left alone to fight the knights in pink armour myself. Well, at least I get the “A+” rank while my brothers end up with “C” at best. OK, I exaggerated a bit there, but you get the point.

Gunstar Heroes By Zebbe

After acquiring some new games, I usually meet up with my pal to play them. Sometimes it just takes a couple of hours before we feel we are finished with them for the moment. So then we ask ourselves: “What should we play now?” “Gunstar Heroes, of course!” is the most common answer. We never get tired of it. It is one of those games that goes under the cliche “a game to pick up for just a few minutes or a few hours”. A key factor is that the two players can complete each other with different abilities. I usually take the Chaser weapon and run free with it, while my pal takes the more powerful Force to stand still and aim with it. On some bosses, like the first one, I can run around dodging bombs while my friend stands shooting. On the second boss, evasion is very important so I constantly shoot and let my friend rest his gun more. Other nice abilities include being able to throw each other at enemies to inflict damage. If someone dies, you can always split the remaining guy’s HP in half to continue playing as two. The shooter stage gives you even more co-operation with one lad controlling the ships and the other firing. All configuration alternatives with weapons and difficulty settings gives Gunstar Heroes an eternal longevity and not only a place in the co-op hall of fame, but also on the top list of the best Mega Drive games of all time.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 By Zebbe

If the skills between two players are unbalanced, playing as two in Sonic 2 is perfect. A beginner can begin trying out playing as the fox with unlimited lives and help out the blue hedgehog when needed. Or the roles can just be switched. Take for example the bonus levels. The first ones are a piece of cake, but later on there comes one where you practically almost have to be two. Why? First of all, the rings come at two sides much of the time, and it is impossible clean both with only one player. Second of all, the AI of Tails is so dumb, so you (hopefully) have someone who has the reflexes to avoid the numerous bombs coming. Since Sonic 2 was my first Mega Drive game, I had lots of good play time with my brother. Thanks to Tails, we could play this game as two, and getting help with all those boss fights was really needed back then. Especially at the last one in Metropolis Zone, where keeping the rings was really hard without that masochistic furball. The Sonic franchise may have been created with single player gameplay in mind, but the co-op functions incorporated into the sequels suited very well, especially for new players of the console.

Star Wars Arcade By Zebbe

The poor mushroom didn’t get many games at all. They are so few you can count the co-op ones on both your hands (yes, you can believe me). But here is at least one of them, and it is impossible to beat if you are playing by yourself. In Star Wars Arcade the graphics are lagging worse than Super-FX games and you see your enemies milliseconds before their fire is in your face. To add insult to injury, the whole gameplay feels like you are one old, overweight Triceratops getting attacked by dozens of hungry Velociraptors. That is why you need an extra head on that threehorned dino! Because that doubles your fire power, one guy pilots the ship and shoots, while the other only aims and shoots. Getting rid of one task is a gift from heaven, as it is literally impossible to shoot down ships at the left and turn right to avoid fire right after, when there are – uh, two frames per second? So if you want some Star Wars on your Mega Drive, have it with a friend, if at all. I could never beat that Super Star Destroyer myself after gazillions of tries, but with my brother we succeeded soon.

Sonic The Hedgehog 3 By Tom Lenting

The best co-operative game ever is Bubble Bobble, but since that isn’t (officially) released on the Genesis, I am nominating Sonic 3. Of course, a second player who plays as Tails only becomes handy when hitting end bosses or to fly Sonic across gaps or get to missed bonuses on hard to reach platforms. But when playing Sonic I get the main enjoyment in getting the second player frustrated by running Tails out of the screen and seeing the little fox fall on spikes, get hit by enemies or get crushed between moving blocks. I guess that doesn’t necessarily makes me a bad person, since the two-tailed mammal always returns healthy and breathing.

Streets of Rage 3 By Vince Thornburg

A long time ago, I rented a game called Streets of Rage 3. Then, the next time I rented a game, it was Streets of Rage 3. Then it happened again. Then again (It happened me as well! /Zebbe). I never bought the game, but me and my brother would play the hell out of the first half of that game. The first half until we hit the damn snowplow that damages you when you attack it (WTF?!).

Our rental shop soon stopped carrying Genesis games and we weren’t able to pick up Streets of Rage 3 before it was sold. So we were Streets of Rage-less for a good three years. The years themselves weren’t good at all though. One day I’m sitting in my room finishing up some homework (honest!) when my brother says he found a garage sale with an unusual date (as in, Tuesday at six p.m.). He then handed me a copy of Sonic Spinball, and a complete copy of Streets of Rage………2! We knew it wasn’t number three, but it WAS a Streets of Rage title, and we wanted to play something together like we had done before. I pop it in, pick Max right away, while he picked Skate, mostly because the horrible Nicktoon Rocket Power was somewhat popular at the time. When we started, we knew that this would be something that would be done a lot… us actually sitting down and playing something together!

Streets of Rage 2 is called overall the best of the series, and it deserves the calling! You have a game that not only promises awesome graphics and music, that’s just the icing on the proverbial cake (It’s a lie damn it! There I said it!). Overall, when you and your partner are trading punches with the Donovans and Galsias of the world, it creates an overall feeling of just plain fun! Streets of Rage 2 introduced the idea of your special “A” move to actually be from your own person, instead of a random police car shooting missiles at your opponents, while they stand and wait. This created another strategy in the game, where you could have more specials, you also lost life whenever it was used.

Not to sound like a total wuss, but the overall factor of SOR 2 being an easier game overall does help. There’s no frustration that make one partner quit, leaving the other to be fed to the wolves. Also, there’s no damn tractor/snowplow to slowly eat away at your lives! Yeah, this game is awesome, and I wish I didn’t sell it a year later when I got bored of it. Thank any sort of religious figure you may follow for the Virtual Console!

T2: The Arcade Game By Alex Burr

I think this game is really the only game I had that was both fun and realistically possible to beat with a buddy. T2: The Arcade Game is my favorite game to play coop with a buddy, because I can tell him EXACTLY what to do and then we work as a team to beat those impossible levels where you have to save the trucks. Those are nearly impossible if you are playing by yourself, and even with another player beside you, strategy is necessary to defeat the machines. I have never encountered another game on the Genesis that I have had more fun playing with a friend, even though the Lethal Enforcers games come close. The true strategy in this game is what makes it the most fun game to play alongside your friend, in my opinion, simply because it puts you in command of destroying things in a certain order and it also helps prevent damage that you would not be able to defend yourself from in the single player mode. My friend and I sat through and beat this game in about an hour so. It is not the longest game in the world, but if you put it on the hardest difficulty it will take you three or four times to get to and to defeat the T-1000 in the steel mill.

ToeJam & Earl By Kevin Wright

If there was one game made to be played co-op on the Genesis, it was ToeJam & Earl. Not to say that it can’t be played alone but making it through over twenty levels is an experience to behold that requires a few hours to kill. It’s not a terribly difficult game in that regard, it doesn’t take too much skill to beat. The controls are simple enough for first time players (A tip-toes or uses whatever item you currently have, B brings up the present screen, and C shows the map). The real joy of the multi-player comes from the dialog between ToeJam and Earl in the elevator between levels that can be acted out with your buddy along with the fact that you’re never playing the same game with randomized levels. Many games lose their luster after racing the same track or beating the same level over and over but not in ToeJam & Earl. Multi-player does have it’s occasional frustrating moment like when your partner decides to open a certain present the first time and it happens to be “Total Bummer!”, stealing a life from each of you but even that is not as bad as the fights over who gets to be the dwarf in Golden Axe. If you have a friend and time to kill, ToeJam & Earl is for you.

ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron By Benjamin Galway

I was honored to receive a personal reply from Greg Johnson back when ToeJam & Earl Productions was taking requests from fans during the development of the highly anticipated ToeJam & Earl 3. I had written in that my ideal follow-up would essentially be Panic on Funkotron with the original’s isometric viewpoint and random levels and present. Panic on Funkotron is unduly maligned for adopting the standard side-scrolling presentation, and many fans of the original allowed their disgust to blind them from the brilliance of experiencing this more fleshed out version of Funkotron.

Funkotron is truly alive, full of funky homes, psychedelic flower fields, and its own hell. Players finally get to meet Trixie and indulge themselves in the lives of the titular cast. We rap with Peado, gossip with Lewanda, and become confused by Chester and Lester. We entertain ourselves with dance games, pranking neighbors, and fungus flipping, all the while helping Lamont save the planet from naked men, bovine spirits, and other silly Earthlings.

I had a blast playing the game with my neighbor back in the day. The lack of split screen forces both players to really cooperate to bottle up the Earthlings and complete the game. In a series renowned for its team gameplay, Panic on Funkotron offers more team-based gameplay and fun than the original, with extended character interaction and humor for the duo. Being able to high five each other to share life, sharing presents, and using the other as a step ladder is not just a big help, but it really makes the game.

World of Illusion By Benjamin Galway

Donald Duck’s butt is too big to fit through the underwater palace entrance gap. There’s this part he needs to crawl under, but his bottom is to big to squeeze through it. Thankfully, World of Illusion is a co-op game, and his slimmer rodent friend can fit under and pull Donald through the narrow opening. World of Illusion is unique among two-player games in that it offers a completely different experience in its co-op mode. Of course, there are three ways to play through the game — as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and together — and each way offers an assortment of levels unique to that character(s).

World of Illusion simply doesn’t allow a second player to drop into a single-player game. No, it requires the players to cooperate as a team, overcoming obstacles which would otherwise be too much for a single player. Hopefully, your partner isn’t a jerk. There’s nothing there forcing Mickey to pull Donald through the gap mentioned above. Teamwork is required in the first level to use the seesaw logs to launch a teammate above who can lower a vine for the other to climb up. Of course, the selfish teammate won’t be able to advance any further, and once the teammate finally comes around, you can be sure to expect revenge on the next obstacle. I know I did.

World of Illusion is a terrific game, though a bit on the easy side, particularly surprising for the sequel to the challenging Castle of Illusion. With five beautiful, somewhat water colored looking stages, it is the perfect length for a quick two-player game that delivers an experience not available alone.


That is all, folks. Should there be another entry with more two player co-op madness, or is a round up with the best two player VS. games preferred? Only you decide, in the forums of course! Special thanks goes to everyone contributing.

One Comment

  1. The absence of Gain Ground from this list is criminal! Criminal, I tells ya!

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