The addition of online multiplayer to consoles has had an unfortunate side-effect; the near-death of couch play. Many games no longer offer any form of a cooperative mode by default, and those that do often make no accommodation for the second player’s presence, which can lead to some wonky results.
There are still, however, some titles that faithfully provide an excellent couch experience for multiple players. They either allow for up to four people to play at once, or provide an entertaining enough experience to keep those left to watch entertained while they wait for their turn. Games that can successfully pull of couch co-op are the cornerstone of dorm room gaming, and a great way to keep broke college students entertained.
Halo (Xbox, Xbox 360)
The original Halo was a revolutionary title for many reasons, and co-op was among the most important. While shooter fans had been enjoying online competitive and co-op gaming for some time on PC, Halo finally brought that experience to the couch. Even back then, when the game had limited modes and competitive local play was usually restricted to four players on the same couch (bigger matches were only possible via LAN play).
Over the years the game has changed, but it remains a great co-op experience. The latest entry, Halo 4, includes both the option to play the campaign with two-player co-op and a massive library of “Spartan Ops,” stand-alone missions that are best played from a couch and only take ten to fifteen minutes. You can also team up with a buddy and beat the snot out of strangers on Xbox Live; if you have multiple friends with Xbox 360s, you can form a party big enough to fill out an entire team in competitive online play.
Guitar Hero (Xbox 360, PS2, PS3, Wii)
Guitar Hero quickly became the go-to party game when it released in 2005. That was my second year of college, so I remember the game’s magnetic effect on anyone who passed by. Today the franchise has become a bit mundane, even burnt out, depending on who you ask, but Guitar Hero remains one of the best co-op experiences for any dorm.
There’s a ton of content available, so you should probably pick the version you buy based on how well you and your buddies like the song selection. However, beware that the first Guitar Hero didn’t have cooperative play; that wasn’t added until Guitar Hero II.
And here’s a protip; don’t buy a boxed set even if you don’t have the guitar peripheral already. A bazillion copies have been sold, so second-hand controllers can be found everywhere from used game stores to Craigslist, and even at thrift shops like Goodwill. Brand new in-the-box controllers are starting to become collectors’ items, but used ones can be had for $20 or $30, max. Just make sure you get the right controller for your console.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why Guitar Hero instead of Rock Band, it’s really a practical matter. Rock Band requires a bunch of different devices to offer the full experience, as do some of the newest Guitar Hero games. You’re not going to have space for all that in a dorm room, so stick to the guitar.
Rayman Origins (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC)
When you think of co-op platformers, you probably think Mario; but not so fast! Rayman Origins might be a better choice. This beautiful 2D side-scroller may not have everyone’s favorite plumber, but it makes up for it with hand-painted visuals, precise controls, and incredible level variety. Just when a gimmick is starting to grow old, the game throws it away, replacing it with some new and different mechanics.
Rayman Origins supports four-player couch co-op, and unlike the Mario games, player characters do not collide with each other. This means you won’t be constantly bumping into each other and potentially even sending other players to their doom. That sort of play can be fun, if you’re in the dorm, you may not be close friends with everyone playing – and folks will get mad after you bump them into a Koopa for the 10th time.
Dragon’s Crown (PS3)
A group of gamers who want co-op action with an old-school flavor may have trouble finding a game to suit them. One potential offering is Dragon’s Crown, a 2D scrolling beat-em up that blends classic arcade fighting mechanics with RPG progress and beautiful graphics.
The game offers a roster of six characters, each with unique attacks, abilities and upgrades. Gameplay is basically a progression of a fight on 2D battlegrounds that offer experience, gold and sometimes loot and skill points. Controls are tight, as they need to be in this kind of title, and there are three different difficulties with a level cap up to 99. Up to four players can play co-op locally, though player one always controls quest progress and quest items, so everyone else may feel like a side-kick.
But remember; this is an old-school game. There’s not a lot of variety, but instead a healthy dose of challenge and the chance to perfect your skills. This is one to play with hardcore gamers, not the guy who has mastered Call Of Duty: Black Ops II – and only Black Ops II.
Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
Does this recommendation even need an explanation? Mario Kart has always been one of the best competitive local games ever, thanks both to its intuitive gameplay, hectic matches and support for four-player co-op. There’s an incredible breath of content available, including different types of carts and cycles, along with a vast array of levels. And the game remains playable after a few drinks, which is a definite boon.
There’s just one caveat; the default Wii controller, though it will work, is pretty annoying. You’re better off tacking on a gamepad, which is an added cost and another doohickey to keep track of. Otherwise, Mario Kart is the perfect game for dorm-room co-op.
If you’re really short on funds, consider a Gamecube (they can be had for $30) and Mario Kart: Double Dash. This older title is actually very similar in look and feel to Mario Kart Wii, so it’s great to play even today.
Street Fighter IV (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
While the golden age of competitive fighting games has passed, they can still be fun when you have friends nearby to beat up – virtually, of course. Fighting games have two traits that make them great for the dorm; matches are quick, and they’re fun to watch. Only two people will be playing at a time, but everyone else can sit back and cheer (or jeer).
There are quite a few fighting games to choose from, but Street Fighter IV is probably the best. Capcom’s game can be very technical when skilled players go toe-to-toe, but it’s also relatively easy to learn, and classic characters like Ryu and Chun-Li will instantly draw in gamers. The game is cheap, too, generally no more than $20 new.
If you don’t like Street Fighter IV, then try Injustice: Gods Among Us. This newer fighting game is based on the DC comic book universe, so the characters are instantly recognizable to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock. That will help draw in people who play games, but don’t know gamer culture well enough to get misty-eyed over Street Fighter nostalgia.
These six games are my favorite picks. If you can only buy a few games, I think they should be from this list. But with that said, there are some honor mentions, including Little Big Planet 2, Borderlands 2, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and New Super Mario Bros Wii/Wii U.
Let us know your favorite couch game in the comments.
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