I've noticed a trend lately and it is really starting to upset me. Actually that’s being nice about it. I don’t want to be nice about it. I am starting to get pissed off! Co-op games, and in particular those that allow for single console co-op are being hunted and killed. There are a number of games that say they support single console co-op but there is only a handful that do it right. The Halo franchise, Borderlands 1 & 2 and Diablo III are shining examples of how to do co-op properly. these games shine at co-op play online and on single console couch. They also will allow you to do both at the same time! I shouldn’t be shocked by that but sadly I am.
Back in the good old days
I grew up with consoles but turned to PC gaming and online play with Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D and endless sessions of Warcraft II over a 56k modem. That changed in 2001 when a buddy of mine bought an Xbox. He invited a couple of us over for game night and we played Halo on 4-player co-op. The next day I bought the game and the console and we rotated our game nights. We had lan parties and death matches but the most fun we had was when we were working as a team against the Covenant on legendary.
With the advent of Xbox Live, online gaming exploded into the console world. Even so, Mrs. Soup and I spent hours playing Baldur’s Gate and other RPG/ Hack and Slash games together. Halo 2 changed that. Co-op was still supported but we didn’t have to leave our houses. That actually worked well for me at the time as we were expecting our second Souplet at the time. Staying at home with the first and a very prego Mrs. Soup while still being able to play with my friends worked out very well.
However I would single out that the success of Halo 2 and Xbox Live meant that it became harder and harder to find good games that Mrs. Soup and I could play at home or that friends could play co-op online. The focus turned from gaming together to online deathmatch and all of it’s iterations.
That is where I come from in terms of co-op, and likely many of you had some of the same experiences. What is really pissing me off is that for those games that could benefit from it, same couch co-op seems to be a complete afterthought (if it is actually there) and punishes those people who play with you. I now have a family of four that loves to play games and we love to play together as a family. Our choices of games to do that is an increasingly short list but worse yet is a trend that actually deters people from doing so. I will give you some examples.
Disney Infinity, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, Rayman Legends, Child of Light and Disney Universe have one single fatal flaw. Whoever starts the game is the ONLY one who gets recognition for playing the game. The other players don’t get any achievements or trophies. I still have fun, but I feel cheated in the end. If I am doing the same thing my 8 year old daughter is doing and I hear that little bock sound I expect both of us to get the achievement.
Sadly, not one of those games recognizes that. PvZ:GW comes right out and says it. The player playing with me is a guest and gets no recognition. When it’s me and my 11 year-old playing and I am the one holding up the team, she gets the achievement. WTF!?!? You know what PvZ:GW? Fuck you! Am I being greedy? Selfish? Admittedly, yes, but I am also a believer of credit when credit is due. When they hand out team medals they don’t pick one player at random to get the medal. Each player on the TEAM gets a medal in recognition of their combined effort. You could argue that there is only one Stanley Cup, Super Bowl or Grey Cup and you would be right. However, you failed to remember that each player on the team gets a ring and likely a healthy sum of cash to go along with it.
New Super Mario Bros Wii, Rayman Legends, Little Big Planet and Disney Universe also like to punish the weak and slow, or those that are helping the weak and slow. If the one person goes too far ahead, the people behind either turn into bubbles or die. In NSMB and RL, if everyone is in a bubble the level starts over. This usually ends our fun family time with tears and yelling. Awesome...so awesome. My oldest daughter used to race for the end of the level while my youngest would have trouble navigating some of the obstacles. This devolved into at least one in a bubble yelling at the other to stop or if we went back to help that meant we likely ended up in a bubble only to watch helplessly as we die. Now everyone under the age of 12 is in tears and those over 12 are frustrated as fuck! Well done game designers! Well fucking done!
What’s Your Definition of “Design”?
From a game design standpoint I understand you need an element of expediency to push the player through the level. However, if you are making an E for everyone or E10 game keep that audience in mind! Pushing a player through a level works when you have a game that is built for the more seasoned players. When the game is designed for kids why punish them and in turn their parents? Here is a tip. When I watch my kids play sometimes they could give two shits about getting to the end of the level but would rather screw around and see what they can do...or as some may call it...play!
Neither the lack of recognition nor the “if you’re too slow you die” rule are fun. Can you hear me UbiSoft? EA? Nintendo? games in general should be FUN! Co-op games should be fun and rewarding for each player not a big ol’ F.U to the face when you work together to bring down the final boss! This latest trend is killing the fun and killing House of Soup co-op night. Sadly I find these games are at their best as single player. I don’t have to endure yelling or tears because someone missed their jump and is now dead. I don’t have to endure my or others disappointment that they didn’t get the achievement or trophy. I am master of my own destiny.
Problem is, that gets lonely after a while.