Video games can be a solitary hobby. Fortunately, game developers quickly learned that people like to play games together, and there’s a long, rich history of co-op games on consoles and in arcades. It’s hard to pick the best… so we took the liberty of doing it for you.
One of the rare NES games that actually had a simultaneous two-player mode, instead of forcing kids to take turns, Contra was probably the closest 8-year-olds could get to actual military combat. The only reason we’re not ranking it higher is that we’re pretty sure it caused more broken controllers and fistfights than any other game in the ’80s after your idiot friend got killed and stuck you fighting the boss on your own.
Really, all first-person shooters with a multiplayer mode have their roots in Counter-Strike, the mod turned game that PC fans obsessively played and refined into a team vs. team shooter. It was also, as you can see above, more or less completely ridiculous, and yet its fans take it so seriously that it’s now technically a sport.
Most gamers of a certain age remember, fondly, hooking up a dial-up modem, logging onto Battle.net, and finding a friend to dungeon-crawl with. It’s a tradition that endures to this day, along with ganking loot, but bitter memories of getting disconnected right in the middle of a dungeon leaves it at number six.
5) Turtles in Time
Back in the ’90s, beat-em-ups were all the rage, and arcades ate millions of quarters as kids played them relentlessly. No game forged, or ruined, more friendships than Turtles in Time, as up to four friends go up against Shredder, his army, and those damn planks on the pirate ship level to save the timeline. The SNES version arguably improved it by letting you throw Foot into the screen.
4) Portal 2
The original Portal came from out of nowhere to popularize first-person puzzlers and create far too many tiresome memes about cake. For the sequel, the development team found themselves wondering how to bring in a friend. The result was arguably one of the best puzzle games in recent years, making two friends work together to solve some of the most complicated puzzles Valve has ever put out, not to mention serving as a sequel hook. The only downside was that you could only bring one friend. Ah, well, something to look forward to if Portal 3 ever happens.
3) Left 4 Dead
Gamers have killed billions of zombies, but Left 4 Dead brought a new twist to a common enemy by making four friends work together as they fought through a city against the undead, but mostly against the game’s director, a dynamic AI that decided item placement and exactly what undead you’d go up against as you fought from safe room to safe room, usually Tanks and Smokers, because we can’t have nice things.
2) NBA Jam
Part of the fun of sports games is working together for the shared goal of glory. Or, in the case of NBA Jam, the shared goal of being ON FIIIIIIIIIIRE and unlocking Bill Clinton. NBA Jam almost tops simply because you don’t have to know anything about basketball to play, making it perfect for anybody to pick up.
1) Borderlands 2
As strange as it is to think, four-player online co-op in an open world is a relatively new concept in gaming. What Borderlands did, though, was make it dynamic and put it in a rich open would chock full of things to blow up, and made it flexible, which is why it tops the list. Yeah, you can meet up with three friends and play the whole game, but if only one shows up, you can still do pretty much everything in the game and get better loot for it.
With games like Evolve, we’re only seeing better ideas for co-op, bringing in four-on-one competitive play and new ways to approach teaming up and loading out. So, find some friends. The best games you’ll play need them.