Lots of games have co-op modes, but not all of them truly encourage meaningful cooperation and teamwork. Two (or more) guns are always better than one, but the games on this list go beyond mere strength in numbers by brute force. These are games that prove that two brains can be better than one too, and that sometimes lending an assist to your friend can be just as satisfying as getting the kill yourself.
Contributors: Tyler Nagata, Henry Gilbert, Carolyn Gudmundson, Charlie Barratt, Chris Antista, Matt Keast
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Lara is most known for her very solitary adventures, so it’s surprising that Guardian of Light has such amazing co-op elements. Each player has unique abilities: Lara has a grappling hook while Totec has spears and a shield. When you play the game in co-op, the puzzles actually change to accommodate two players, providing awesome moments like a giant stone staircase that slides inward and there’s a race to climb it before each stair-step disappears - players must help each other climb by standing on the shield, pulling each other up via grappling hook, and jumping on spears thrown into walls. Moments like this are incredibly exciting as players must communicate and coordinate to solve the puzzle in limited time.
Other puzzles require each player to bypass an obstacle in a different way – for instance Totec creates a bridge of spears for Lara to jump across, and then she creates a tightrope for Totec to balance across. Even in many moments where traps or enemies don’t require specific abilities the game demands communication, as each player can maximize their effectiveness by communicating the timing of their bombs and the various enemy attacks.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Though most games on this list are made to foster a connection between players who know exactly what they’re doing, Super Mario Galaxy 2’s co-op gets away with being friendly to new and inexperienced gamers without being insulting to the “real” player of the game. Perfect for younger siblings or casual friends, the co-op mode in Galaxy 2 lets one person play as Mario while the second player takes up a Wii Remote and offers support as a Luma floating beside the red-hatted one. Obviously it’s not the deepest experience for player two, but it has just the right balance of abilities and consequence to make it fun for both parties.
Unlike the pretty informal role of mainly collecting Star Bits in the first game, player two’s Luma in SMG2 can help Mario in so many ways. They can stun enemies, move harmful obstacles, carry health-replenishing coins, and give an underwater Mario air bubbles. There’s so much to keep player two active and helpful to the main player, while the fact the Luma can’t take any damage removes any worry on the part of the second player of slowing down their friend. Maybe it’s not the most hardcore game around, but it’s a very clever way to turn this particular solo experience multiplayer.
Team Fortress 2
We're not the best at Team Fortress 2, but that's okay because we have a lot of teammates. We have Heavies on the frontlines with Medics keeping their health topped off. We have Engineers holding the line with turrets and building teleporters to keep our army mobile. We have Pyros checking for Spies, Snipers keeping the enemy team honest, and Soldiers launching storms of rockets for splash damage.
You can’t help cooperating in Team Fortress 2. By the very nature of its design, the class-based shooter fixes it so that teammates naturally complement and cover for each other just by playing their class of choice. But when you do work closely with your team (or even just a few other players), it really pays off. Few things feel more gratifying than several well-timed ubers pulled off by Medics to create a temporary wall of invincible teammates to power through the enemy’s defenses.
World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft doesn't require regular cooperation. It requires massively multiplayer online cooperation. Even if you want to run an entry level 10-man raid, you'll need to know your class inside and out and have a strong set of gear from running Heroic instances. You'll also need a headset and mic to communicate with your party, but mostly to listen to instructions from the raid leader. And that's only if you want to run a raid. If you actually want to clear a 10-man or 25-man raid in WoW’s endgame, everyone will need to know everything about each boss encounter.
If you've never been in an MMO raid before, check out this tutorial video from TankSpot – and note the precision and teamwork required by all raid members needed in order to down the encounter. At the very least, everyone in the raid needs to know the boss's abilities, the different phases of the fight, and where they should be to avoid taking damage.
Above: TankSpot's guide to beating Omnitron Defense System. Your reward for mastering this encounter and defeating all constructs: glorious loot
Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers
Just when we thought we’d run out of reasons to reiterate that Capcom developed the most badass Disney games the world, thank goodness we get to look back at this most sensational corporation. Back in the NES days, single-screen co-op was generally reserved for games with guns or games with balls (think Contra and/or Tecmo Bowl, kids).
So not only was it super rare to have two players in a sidescroller occupy the same screen, but the idea of being able to partner up and form a strategy was downright mythic. You could bludgeon your buddy with apples, and even throw each other for an early instance of friendly-fire, but you could also put one chipmunk on defense by using what very well could be gaming’s first glimpse at a cover system. Pressing down while holding crates provided a one-time protective shield against attacking enemies, however, should one player grab an elusive steel box, he could take infinite hits and conceivably run a block on ground based enemies while the other chipmunk took care of the rest.
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