Monday, 19 August 2013

TOP 10 - 2-Player Retro Games To Play With Your Partner

It Takes Two...

I have been lucky enough to have been blessed with a wonderful girlfriend who is also a gamer. Though, obviously, not the borderline obsessive retro gamer I am proud to be, she appreciates games no matter their age or graphics, and enjoys watching me play story driven titles as much as playing the fun 2-player games alongside (or against) me.

Over the years we have played many titles, both old and new, some of which we played through to the end, others just for short bursts. While many games have kept us entertained, the following 10 games are the ones we have enjoyed the most, and the ones I would recommend to anyone else out there who wishes to enjoy retro gaming with their better half.

This idiot not only cannot keep still while playing, but has also 
failed to give his girlfriend the second controller. What a selfish bastard!

It can be hard to find suitable games that couples can enjoy. For instance, Bomberman 2 on the SNES offers some brief fun, but is very repetitive and only so much fun can be had in a game primarily aimed at 4 - 8 players. Many adventure games can be fairly engaging, but are often spoilt by a camera that won't move along unless both players are at the edge of the screen or favours player 1 to such an extent that player 2 can spend most of their time off-screen waiting to respawn or be rescued. Spelunky and Herc's Adventures (PSOne) are examples of this. Clearly, this list would be very different if it were retro games I played with friends growing up, and would probably comprise of first person shooters (Goldeneye on N64 for example) and classic beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage 2 and Street Fighter 2 Turbo, but when gaming with a partner it is often better to choose games that rely more on puzzles, exploration, or racing than mindless punching or blasting - that's not to say the odd fight here and there can't bring smiles to both party's faces!

You too could be sporting the lobotomised grin of a freshly 
indoctrinated cult member, thanks to the joys of gaming together

So, without further ado, here are the 10 games you should look to first for relationship strengthening (or destroying) entertainment:

World Of Illusion (Mega Drive)

World of Illusion is another Disney platformer on Sega's 16-bit console. While not as good as either the sublime Castle of Illusion or Quackshot, it is the only one with 2 player co-op, so is well worth playing. As with all Disney platform games of the 1990's the graphics and animation are top notch, and it really feels like taking part in your own cartoon adventure. It has a slower pace than most platformers and can initially seem quite sedate, but once you get used to this more relaxed pace it proves to be lots of fun. Taking control of Mickey & Donald (I call dibs on the angry duck every time!), you must stroll through beautiful, lovingly crafted stages, assisting each other as you go. Instead of just throwing two players on screen at once, here you are required to lend a helping hand to one another to progress, whether bouncing on see-saws to propel your buddy to lofty heights, or lowering a rope to heave them up onto a platform, it is far more interactive than your average sidescroller, thus making it a lovely game for two of you to sit back and enjoy together.

Goof Troop (SNES)

Here we have a quirky top down maze puzzler from Disney and Capcom - always a winning combination. Goof Troop puts you in the shoes of father and son duo Goofy and.. er.. the little one, as they attempt to thwart Keelhaul Pete, who has kidnapped their friends. As with all 16-bit Disney games, the visuals are extremely colourful, charming and well animated, and the SNES pumps out some catchy ditties to accompany your adventure. While perfectly playable on your lonesome, Goof Troop is a game designed with 2 players in mind as it's infinitely more enjoyable exploring and working together to solve the puzzles - usually involving the correct pushing of blocks onto panels, or defeating all onscreen enemies using throwable pots or bombs. As the player can only hold one item at a time it encourages team work, and causes you to discuss who will carry what - for example, a grappling hook needed to cross a pit, or a key to open one of the many gates. While not the most challenging game in the world, it does have a few head scratching moments, but it's the charming world that you explore and the enjoyable team gameplay that really shines through to make it a great co-op experience.

Penguin Brothers (Arcade)

There are many of these single screen 2D platformers out there, from Bubble Bobble, the classic Taito coin-op from 1986 that, arguably, popularised the entire genre, to lesser known titles such as Don Doko Don, Tumble Pop, Parasol Stars, Joe & Mac 2 and Rodland. While each of them have their strong points, and my heart will always belong to Bubble Bobble due to it being the first Arcade game I ever played, Penguin Bros is the one that held my (and my partner's) attention long enough to finish the game in one sitting. Taking control of two impossibly cute penguins, you must both work together to obtain a key and then use it to open the stage exit. These objectives are split into two halves, with the collection of the key bringing a new batch of meanies to dispatch as you make your way to the exit door. Luckily your feathery avatars are equipped with an endless supply of bombs that can be thrown at enemies or loaded into cannons situated on many levels. There are also platforms that you can stick to and spin around, flipping your bird around to the platform above or below, not only is this a neat way of escaping hazardous situations, but they can also be used to bounce bombs - simply drop one on the top, then spin underneath to catapult it in the desired direction. Penguin Brothers is great fun for two and is certainly one of the best co-op games of its type.

Pieces (Super Nintendo)

A videogame adaptation of a jigsaw puzzle sounds like an extremely dull prospect, right? Well, surprisingly, no, it transpires that it can actually be damn good fun. Pieces (or Jigsaw Party as it is known in Japan) is a puzzle game that simply tasks you with putting the correct pieces of the picture in the right places - I am sure you all know how a jigsaw puzzle works. What elevates it above the level of snooze-fest is the colourful and cheerful nature of the presentation, and the addition of power-ups that can assist you during each game. By slotting in pieces in quick succession you can earn special items that can be used at any time to help you, or hinder your opponent. These special items range from clues to the correct position of your currently selected piece, revealing the image in the background for a short while, or even filling in pieces automatically, to slowing down your opponent's cursor and hiding their forthcoming pieces from view. Much like all other console puzzle games, you can play against the CPU if you are on your lonesome, but it is the 2-player versus mode that really shines. Arranging the jigsaw puzzle with the added pressure of a human adversary sitting next to you doing the same is a frantic and tense experience - who would have thought assembling a jigsaw could ever be exciting? Each match consists of three pictures, which you complete in succession. If one player finishes theirs they move on to the next while you are left to finish the one you are working on. This really puts the pressure on as you frantically try to catch-up, making silly mistakes as you rush to complete the picture. Pieces is great fun and extremely accessible to anyone, so it comes highly recommended.

Balloon Fight (NES)

The oldest game on this list, but a goodie. I probably only got my other half to play this with me as I am an avid collector of NES games, and she felt sorry for me playing this ancient looking title on my own. But I am glad she took the plunge and picked up the NES controller as we ended up having heaps of fun, and played it fairly regularly for a while. One of the early 8-bit Nintendo games, Balloon Fight is an 80's arcade game through and through. You control a strange looking character attached to two balloons who you must navigate around the single screen levels killing off similar airborne opponents by bashing into them from above, thus popping their balloons and sending them crashing down to earth. Once there they will attempt to re-inflate their balloons, but a quick bash from you will kill them off for good. You control your character via a combination of the d-pad and hammering the button to stay airborne, which is both intuitive and enjoyable. Gameplay starts of slow, but soon becomes fast, frantic and extremely challenging. Also worthy of note is the excellent second game mode which tasks you with avoiding shining stars in an infinite sidescrolling stage. So far, so good, but Balloon Fight is even better with 2 people. This time you can work together to kill off the enemies, but you can also burst your partner's balloons should you accidentally (that was an accident, right?) bash into them from a higher position. It lends the game a stranger sense of tactical play, as you really have to think ahead in order not to hit the other player. Bonus stages are also great fun as they pit you against one another to see who can nab the most balloons as they appear randomly from a set of ground-level pipes. Overall, Balloon Fight is good, old fashioned arcade action on your NES and comes highly recommended.

Crash Team Racing (Playstation)

Aside from the absolutely spectacular Super Mario Kart, a game that I must have wasted hundreds of hours on over the many years since its release in 1992, I am not really a fan of kart racers. While Mario's second karting adventure on the N64 was great, the proceeding follow-ups left me cold. The Gamecube outing was very childish in comparison, even going as far as having the characters race in prams, and the introduction of the infamous blue shell was the point at which I lost interest for good. My girlfriend also played Super Mario Kart in her younger days, but she has never got hang of the slippery feeling of having to use the drift button to navigate corners at speed and finds it frustrating to play. We played the Wii incarnation but that was, again, quickly tired of due to the unfairness involved (irritatingly good computer controlled racers and that damn blue shell). The one that has provided the most enjoyment, however, is the excellent Crash Team Racing on the Sony Playstation. While extremely formulaic in execution - it looks and feels similar and uses the same weapon types - it stands out due to awesomeness of the Crash character, the cartoony, but not sickeningly childish, visual style and the excellent courses to race on. I would never claim that it is better than the original Super Mario Kart, but it's a lot more appealing to non-kiddywinks than the slew of babyish kart racers out there (the extremely overrated Diddy Kong Racing especially). There are some great recent kart racers out there that are worth checking out - ModNation Racers and Sonic & Sega Allstar Racing Transformed spring to mind, but for retro thrills I would plump for the rogue Bandicoot's racing debut.

Athlete Kings (Saturn)

I was thinking of including the original 1983 Track & Field arcade game by Konami, which is excellent, button mashing fun for two, but of all the thumb destroying athletics games, we enjoyed this slightly zany offering from Sega the most. Originally released into arcades in 1994, it was only ported to the 32-bit Saturn console. Athlete kings (or DecAthlete as it is known in the USA and Japan) retains the same button hammering gameplay we first saw in Track & Field more than a decade earlier, but presents it in 3D, with new events and a roster of wacky participants that give the game a unique charm. From Jef Jansens, a English black dude sporting a zebra print leotard and massive afro, to Alexsei Rigel, a humongous Russian meat-heat with a Thunderbirds chin and ridiculous sunglasses, all the characters will raise a smile, and inject the game with some much needed character - something usually lacking from the more straight-laced sporting games. The music is cheesy and the victory (and defeat) animations for each character are hilarious, making the game incredibly goofy and lighthearted. The events include favourites such as the 100, 400 and 1500 meter dash (the latter of which will give you serious wrist ache), throwing events like shot put, discus and javelin and jumping of the long and high variety. Each event is clearly explained before it starts and so the trick is simply mastering the speed and timing of the button mashing required of you. It can actually be quite tricky to master some of the events, but this only keeps you coming back for more to try harder. As you might expect, playing with two of you is infinitely better, and it is a game that provides some laughs and good natured rivalry. There are similar games available on the Playstation and PS2 (among others), but this Saturn only home version is the most entertaining. I would also recommend playing the original Track & Field game as it is available on XBLA and can be enjoyed in HD.

Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (Mega Drive)
Kirby's Ghost Trap (SNES)

I have included two titles here as they are basically the same game, only using different graphics and characters  unique to each system - Kirby's Ghost Trap on SNES uses the pink blob, while Sega's Mega Drive version uses Sonic's long time nemesis Dr. Robotnik. It is a simple puzzle game that requires you to match 3 of the same coloured blobs as they fall from the top of the screen. Both are adaptations of the original Puyo Puyo series, which uses a sickening anime presentation style, but is essentially the exact same thing again. What makes this a great 2 player game is the split screen mode which sees you both working simultaneously to clear your side of the screen before the other player. Removing chains of blobs causes a cascade of transparent 'rock' blobs to fall on your opponent's side, usually messing up their carefully arranged blobs. It is fast and frantic just like most puzzle games aren't, and it beats the shit out of Tetris, one of the most over rated games in history (in my opinion). The character that the, er, characters bring to the table is what makes Mean Bean Trap (as I will now collectively call them) a charming and enjoyable romp, rather than a rather bland and unexciting one that would get tiresome very quickly.

Kirby's Ghost Trap (SNES)

Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (Mega Drive)

Micro Machines V4 (PS2)

Micro Machines made its debut on the 8-bit NES in 1991, with the simple top down racer that uses the licensed miniature toys becoming a huge success, resulting in it being ported to pretty much every console known to man, and spawning a plethora of sequels - the most recent of which being Micro Machines V4 on the PS2, XBox and Nintendo DS. While the later iterations took a 3D isometric, rather than straight overhead, viewpoint, the core gameplay has remained the same. Each level takes place in a familiar household setting such as a kitchen table, bathroom floor, garden, pool table, bathtub or dining room, with each having its own particular tiny vehicle, be it a race car, van, tank, helicopter or speed boat. Races are decided by a system that awards a point to the player who manages to get far enough ahead to make the screen leave the other racers behind, and whoever fills up the points meter first, or who has the most when all laps are completed, is the winner. Very simple and very addictive stuff, but what sets it apart is the childlike sense of joy when racing a teeny little speedboat around a bathtub filled with rubber ducks and bars of soap. It's a great head to head game for 2 or more players, and it is a great family game that will appeal to people of all ages. While all the games in the series are worth playing, I have plumped for V4, as it has great 3d visuals that really bring the environments to life, yet retains the same great gameplay.

V4's fancy 3D visuals really bring the levels to life

The original iterations of Micro Machines are also excellent, and some may argue that they are better due to the 2D overhead view - my advice? Try out different versions and see which you prefer!

Toejam & Earl (Mega Drive / XBLA / PSN)

This quirky space adventure puts you in the sneakers of two funky aliens named Toejam and Earl who must recover parts of their spacecraft after crash landing on Earth. What follows is a wacky top-down (and slightly to the side) viewpoint collect-em-up that plays brilliant in one player, but absolutely shines in split screen 2 player mode. Each of the levels, bar the very first one, are randomly generated which adds an almost roguelike feeling to proceedings. Each stage works as a floor, with an elevator taking you up to the next, while falling off the edge will return you, with a bump, to the one below. Collecting presents is the order of the day, most are not labeled, making their opening a risky business - it could be super hi-tops to give you a turbo boost, tomatoes to hurl at the zany array of adversaries you encounter, a rocket pack, spring boots or something horrible like a thunder cloud that follows you around, zapping you, or even instant death in the form of machinegun fire. Presents can be identified by paying a wise old man in a carrot suit (yes, really) to reveal its contents, and players can swap gifts should they need health food, leveling up, or another pair of flight-giving icarus wings. It is exceptionally good fun, and is one the greatest examples of team work I have seen in a videogame. The funky soundtrack and bizarre humour really elevate this above the usual dungeon based roguelikes and cement its place in gaming history as one of the best 2 player co-op games ever made. You can enjoy it in lovely HD-o-vision via either XBLA or PSN, so get downloading and enjoy.

Toejam & Earl - the most fun you can have with another person that doesn't  require a shower afterwards

Honourable Mentions:

Of course, this is merely scratching the surface as there are loads of other great 2-player retro games out there, and it can be fun searching for the ones that you both enjoy the most. 

Here are some more titles I recommend trying out:

Worms (Various)

Everybody has probably played Worms on one system or another over the years as there seems to be a ludicrous amount of ports and sequels of the annelid annihilation sim. Taking turns, each player controls one of their team of worms and can select from a wide range of crazy weapons including rocket launchers, baseball bats, holy hand grenades, exploding sheep, banana bombs, Dragon Punches and many more, in order to inflict the maximum amount of damage to the opposing team's wriggly combatants. The original 2D versions are by far the best, with the original game on Playstation and Worms Armageddon on N64 being memorable highlights for me. The recent Worms Revolution, as well as the Worms Collection on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC are all worth checking out, and may be more appealing to a wider audience due to the wonderful HD cartoon graphics and added variety and weapons. There is also a brand new, PC exclusive, Worms game being released this month called Worms : Clan Wars, which I expect will also be worth checking out.

Rampage World Tour (Arcade / N64 / PS2)

Working together to achieve a common goal is a winning formula when playing co-op with the one you love, and what better common goal than complete destruction of an entire city and its inhabitants. Taking control of a giant monster - a result of a newly released and under tested Cola drink - you must simply knock seven bells out of every building and vehicle in sight. Skyscrapers crumble as you punch and kick the cement away, helicopters crash and burn, cars are kicked like footballs or hurled like pebbles and humans are tossed in the air and eaten. The armed forces try their best to rain fire upon your furious behemoth, but to little effect. You simply carry on with your reign of terror until each stage is cleared of its many structures. Then you move to the next area and repeat the process. Repetitive? yes. Fun? You betcha! Rampage World Tour - the second in the main trilogy - is by far the best as the original from 1986 really shows its age and is pretty slow and dull to play, while the later Rampage : Total Destruction on PS2 is visually cluttered and fiddly to play. Stick with World Tour and you are in for some enjoyable mayhem.

Unirally (SNES)

A strange racing game from the makers of Lemmings and the GTA series, DMA design, Unirally is a 2D sidescrolling racer that puts you in control of a unicycle. Insane speeds, extremely colourful graphics and tricky courses make this both an extremely original, and highly enjoyable title. Two player mode comes in split screen and pits you head to head with your rival in a mad dash to the finish line. Speed boosts are gained by doing tricks in midair using the shoulder buttons, and the devious course design featuring multiple twists, turns and loop-de-loops make it a frantic and exhilarating racer.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES / Mega Drive)

A wonderful ode to classic monster movies from the, now defunct (sob sob), Lucasarts. Zombies Ate my neighbours is a skewed top down view blast-a-thon at heart, but will appeal to more casual gamers thanks to the incredibly quirky presentation. Two player co-op is fantastic - even better than the already excellent one player mode. Playing as a young male and female duo you must rescue your zany neighbours from impending doom at the hands of the undead and a plethora of famous monster movie knock-offs, such as werewolves, mummies, chainsaw wielding maniacs and even a giant baby (yes, really), by using your water pistols, cans of soda and bazookas (to name but a few). Thanks to the great humour and variety in the many stages on offer, Zombies Ate My Neighbours is the best top down blaster out there - it beats the crap out of Gauntlet or its many clones. It would have featured on the Top 10 had it had a similar split screen mechanic to Toejam & Earl as opposed to forcing the players to stick together, but it is still enjoyable.

Mr. Do (SNES)

I love Mr.Do, as you will see in my recent review of the original arcade classic from 1982. It was a bizarre choice on the part of Nintendo to release a port over a decade later, but I am sure glad they did as it is the best home version of the game you can get. The thing that really elevates this version to awesomeness is the co-op two player mode, not found in any other version. You can speed through levels as you both rush to grab cherries, and can help each other out of tight scrapes with your powerball projectile - just be careful not to hit your comrade as it will stun them. An essential experience for two that is very easy to grasp, but difficult to master.

Super Bomberman 2 (SNES)

While I have never been a huge fan of the Bomberman games - I find they quite get boring after only a short amount of time in single player - I am partial to the odd multiplayer game. While I hear that Saturn Bomberman and the PC Engine iterations get a lot of praise, the one I have played the most is Super Bomberman 2 on SNES. This is mainly due to the slightly more interesting single player mode, but I also enjoy playing a versus battle with my girlfriend and 2 computer controlled players. A top down maze game where you simply have to blow up the other players using the bombs at your disposal, the Bomberman games are simplicity itself, but highly enjoyable with it. Pick any version you like, but I recommend sticking to the classic 2D iterations as, like with the majority of platform games, switching to 3D makes the gameplay needlessly fiddly in comparison.

Happy Gaming Together!