Squad 51 vs. the Flying Saucers

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The Holy Grail: Searching for the Oldest Co-Op Classic
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The Holy Grail: Searching for the Oldest Co-Op Classic

Goal IV - the Grail?

I have been writing for Co-Optimus for just over six years now. My personal interest in classic video games led me to work on this very column from early on in my tenure as a Co-Optimus editor. For the first couple years, there were plenty of games that I could cover that I had vivid memories of playing, such as Diablo, X-Men, and Turtles in Time. Eventually, though, the nostalgia well ran dry, and it became more difficult to find inspiration for Co-Op Classics articles.

I began to do a little digging to find older co-op games that I had never played before. Thanks to the power of emulation, I was able to experience some amazing games like Ninja Baseball Bat Man and Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa. It wasn’t a huge leap to record my sessions with these and other new-to-me Co-Op Classics, and the Video Editions of the column were birthed. Plenty of articles were spawned in this way.

However, over time, even this wellspring dried up. There are hundreds of co-op arcade games out there that I haven’t played, but I suspect the majority range from obscure to mundane. This doesn’t make for interesting columns, and so I began to look for games that were significant in some way. The holy grail has been to find the oldest cooperative video game that ever existed. The original Mario Bros. and Joust were released in 1982, but Space Invaders II predated them by two years. I ran across Fire Truck reading a book on video game history, and for a great while it had the crown with its 1978 release date. Then I learned of Sea Wolf II, which came out in the same year. These two games, which hit arcades nearly four decades ago, are the oldest games currently in our co-op game database.

I knew there had to be something older, and kept looking. My gut told me that the highest likelihood was that a Pong variant would be the oldest co-op game. Computer Space is generally thought of as the first true arcade game, but Pong, released in 1972, was the first to make money, and lots of it. Hundreds of Pong clones hit the market, each one tweaking the formula to attract more quarters. Atari, Pong’s creators, generated a slew of sequels, each one adding in some new feature. Surely one of these Pong variants would be the first co-op game, with two human players teaming up against the computer.