During Monday's stream, we were playing The Last Stand, which is a wave-based arena survival mode in Dawn of War 2: Retribution. None of us had played it in years, yet we were able to jump in and it felt like being reacquainted with an old friend. We all had a blast, and it got me thinking. We've all got a stable of reliable co-op games that we return to long after the gamers have moved on.
Since I had an editorial coming due, I figured I'd catalog a few of my personal favorite co-op games that never get old. I toyed with calling them "comfort" games, but I think I'm going to go with "endlessly replayable". Whether you have a boatload of free time or only a few minutes, there's something here for everybody.Diablo 2
If you've followed the pattern of games I end up reviewing around these parts, it should surprise nobody that the king daddy of Action RPGs is on this list. During college, I literally spent thousands of hours playing on our campus LAN with buddies, doing loot runs and seeing how far we could make our characters last in hardcore mode. Combined with the Lord of Destruction expansion and ladder seasons, I'm almost scared to think about how much time this game took from me. I've since "moved on" to Diablo 3, but I go back to its ancestor quite often.World of Warcraft
While I had dabbled in MMOs before WoW, about four years of my life were lost to its incredibly addictive raiding endgame, with its large-scale co-op and shiny, shiny loot. While it's actually impossible to return to the game I fell in love with back in 2004 (aside from dabbling in private servers, anyway), every so often I dive back in and absorb the new content and see how many former guildmates I can still find playing. Exploring Azeroth for the first time with many of my good friends in tow is something I'll never forget.Contra
We all know the code, but do you include the Select button when you recite it? If so, you might just be a co-op gamer. I return to this bad boy about four or five times a year, because it's easy to excite anybody's nostalgia and get a partner. It doesn't hurt that blazing through the game takes about 30 minutes. Rockin' soundtrack, and gameplay that still holds up, even if half of my friends always forget to duck when the enemy brings a turret along.Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2
Though I loved the original Dawn of War, the way its sequel shifted to squad-based tactical combat spoke to me a lot more. It didn't hurt that you could bring a friend along for the ride. With two expansions and the glorious Last Stand mode that graced Retribution, this is one of my all time favorites.The Red Star
This is a good one: based on a relatively unknown comic property, The Red Star is a top-down beat-em-up that also shares DNA with bullet hell SHMUPs. It was originally developed for the Xbox, but was never released (although leaked to the internet). Years later, near the end of the PS2's lifespan, it somehow found a release. It's totally worth playing, and can be found for a pittance.
And finally...Dark Souls
I can hear Nick's head exploding already. Love them or hate them, the Souls games are unique experiences, and I absolutely love going back and exploring the glorious level design, and screwing around with silly builds to co-op with. When I play these games, I settle into a zone that few others provide. Praise the Sun!
I also polled the rest of the staff and found a somewhat common thread: quick arcade-style games with simple mechanics that allow for anybody to drop in and have a good time.
Nick, Locke and Marc all chimed in with good examples:
Nick: "Smash T.V. and the Raiden series are ones I always return to. I think the arcade style games tend to hold up well over the years and don't require as much of a time investment, so it's perfect to rekindle a co-op romance."
Locke: "I really like the old beat em up games like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, and such. They are nice to just hop in and play. If you have a larger chunk of time, toss some RPG elements on them and give me some Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance, Dungeon Siege, or something along those lines."
Marc: "Arcade style co-op is something we go back to over and over: Castle Crashers, Geometry Wars, and pretty much any of the retro remakes that have been so popular the past few years. Short time commitments and no learning curve to speak of, perfect for any occasion."
Of course, not everybody returns to the golden age of the arcade for their co-op fix, as John and Jason are quick to point out:
John: "For once, I won't talk about a game that was released more than 20 years ago! Sol Survivor is a tower defense game released in 2009 that I've gone back to a number of times. On the surface it's pretty much an ordinary TD game with a smooth 3D camera system and some nice co-op modes. When you jump in with other players you very quickly realize how important it is to work together. You don't have access to all of the game's towers and abilities. Instead, you pick a character with themed units (fast and shooty, defensive, tactical, etc.) and go into battle with just that loadout. This pulls some of the strategy out of the levels themselves and encourages players to choose complementary abilities to ensure everyone's survival. It's very well-balanced and has just the right amount of challenge to keep me playing even five years down the road."
Jason: "Secret of Mana - Still one of the greatest co-op experiences in my book, especially for couch co-op. Action RPG where the second (or third with that funky controller extend pack) player gets full control over their character and can equip them however they see fit. Plus, all characters are involved in the overall story so everyone feels like they're a part of what's going on."
So there you have it - games that are either beloved or mostly forgotten, but still provide great co-op experiences that you can return to time and again. Now I'm turning it over to you, dear reader. What games do you find yourself going back to?