My wife and I have played video games together for years now, and we have a special place in our hearts for cooperative gaming experiences. She began her video game education as a youngster, enjoying Super Mario Bros. and the occasional heated Mario Party outing—but in adulthood, she played precious few video games.
Re-learning the hobby has been a joyful experience for her. I’m relieved I can say that, because I opened the floodgates by requesting we play Cuphead together (more on that later). There’s a unique rush that comes from playing games together, whether it’s with an experienced partner or a relative gaming rookie. (If your favorite gaming comrade fits the latter category, I highly recommend checking out Razbuten’s Gaming for a Non-Gamer series on YouTube.)
What began as a resurgence of interest in gaming for my wife quickly evolved into a renewed vigor for gaming on my part. Together, we hunt for top-tier co-op gaming experiences. It’s easy enough to find battle royales or competitive online games, but we much prefer sitting down and overcoming challenges as a unit.
Our gaming journey has introduced us to numerous titles that fit the bill, and together we’ve faced many challenges have been tough (but satisfying) to overcome. If you’re looking for cooperative games to play with a partner, friend, or family member, there’s sure to be something to fit your preferences. Here are eight games you can play together, ranked from easiest to hardest.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land—Nintendo Switch
Nintendo’s pink puffball explores a mysterious world and the ruins of a lost civilization, absorbing enemy powers and solving puzzles along the way. Kirby and the Forgotten Land ranks first on the list because it’s incredibly forgiving; dying is a setback, not a game-ender. Kirby lends itself well to beginning gamers, but there’s plenty of extra content for the secret-seekers to find. Plus, if you’re playing with an experienced friend, you can up the difficulty by toggling Wild Mode, which gives you less health and generally ups the challenge level.
One critique: Kirby and the Forgotten Land relegates player two to Bandana Waddle Dee, who has limited powers and can’t absorb abilities as Kirby can. Still, it’s a fun and whimsical game, and it won’t demand too much of you.
Unravel Two—PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox
Each player takes command of a Yarny—a creature made of yarn—in this imaginative puzzle platformer. The diminutive string-things make the real-world settings seem larger than life. There’s also a harrowing and emotional story happening in the background as you play, adding depth well beyond the amazing gameplay.
And what gameplay it is! Unravel Two requires players to solve various puzzles. You’ll swing from the yarn your Yarny is made of. You’ll cast lines over objects, creating pulley-like systems to help you surmount large obstacles.
Unravel Two doesn’t concern itself with stalling your progress, though some of the puzzles are challenging. It’s one of the easier games on this list and it’s definitely worth your time.
Luigi’s Mansion 3—Nintendo Switch
Ghosts! Ghouls! Gooigi! Luigi’s Mansion 3 has ‘em all. Player One takes the helm as Luigi, cavorting through a terrifying mansion on a mission to rescue Mario. Player Two controls Gooigi, a gooey simulacrum of the green-hatted Mario brother.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 plays like a dream. The ghost-catching combat feels utterly intuitive, and the level design will satiate even the most puzzle-savvy players. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s an amazing two-player experience. Gooigi has powers Luigi can’t use and vice versa, so each player has distinct agency and abilities.
Add all this to the Pixar-quality animation and humorous cast of characters, and you’ve got a top-notch co-op experience. You may encounter the occasional sticking point, but Luigi’s Mansion 3 is by no means crushing in its difficulty.
It Takes Two—PC, PlayStation, Xbox
Stunned. I can’t think of a better word to describe our reaction to It Takes Two once my wife and I watched the credits roll.
It Takes Two is one of only two true co-op games on this list; two players are required. Cooperative play is fundamental to the experience, and the game is not possible without both players.
The game stars May and Cody, a married couple going through a rough patch. Their daughter Rose confides in doll-like recreations of her parents. May and Cody then awaken as the dolls and must traverse new environments as a team in order to return to their bodies.
It Takes Two has a charming story, but the gameplay wins the day. Every level is designed perfectly to suit Cody and May’s complementary abilities. New powers and mechanics regularly enter the fray, and the only way to use them properly is collaborating together. My wife and I had a blast conquering the challenges set forth by It Takes Two. If it wasn’t for the two titles that conclude this list, It Takes Two would be my favorite featured game.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure—PlayStation
You may know him as the protagonist from Little Big Planet, but Sackboy has transformed into a full-fledged 3D platforming beast. Sackboy: A Big Adventure airlifts the titular character from the side-scrolling, level-creating franchise and drops him in an immaculate 3D platforming adventure. You can play with up to four people, though I think it’s best balanced with two players.
The evil, jester-like Vex has captured Sackboy’s friends and threatens to turn Craftworld into a nightmarish landscape devoid of imagination or creativity. Sackboy ventures into Craftworld’s vibrant locales to stop the villain.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is tragically underappreciated, if you ask me. It plays incredibly smoothly, with fluid, responsive controls and a steadily growing arsenal of moves and abilities. The levels are downright amazing. Some levels feature a popular tune—Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” to name just a couple—and obstacles that move to the beat. Sackboy oozes charm and offers impeccable platforming design. Every inch of this wonderful adventure is best played with a friend or two by your side.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze—Nintendo Switch
Now we’re getting to the good stuff, the real hardcore co-op experiences. Originally released on the Wii U, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was reignited for the Switch, bringing the precision platforming franchise back into the limelight. An army of arctic beasts has frozen Donkey Kong’s home and nearby islands, rendering the banana crop fruitless. DK and his cohort must find the creatures’ boss and eliminate him to save the bananas!
Player One controls the tie-wearing ape while player two chooses between Dixie, Diddy, and Cranky Kong. Each side character has a unique special ability to help with platforming challenges. Beware, though: if your partner dies and you live, you’re still losing a red balloon. Lose all your red balloons, and you have to start the level over.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is unforgiving but fair. You’ll seldom feel like the game screwed you over. Instead, the mistakes belong solely to you and your partner, and there will be a lot of them. Every level requires a soft touch and well-timed jumps, rolls, or grabs. New mechanics join the party from time to time, requiring players to steer a minecart through a treacherous track or guide a jet-pack barrel through a gauntlet of falling hindrances.
Beat a level and you’ll feel accomplished. Lose and you’ll feel motivated to try again. And if you want to take the edge off, you can try Funky Kong mode, which implements new mechanics to make the experience a tad easier.
Portal 2—PC, Nintendo Switch
You can get Portal 2 on PC or as part of The Portal Collection for Nintendo Switch. The game boasts a co-op campaign that will challenge even the most skillful puzzlers. The cooperative campaign of Portal 2 is the second true co-op game on this list, requiring two players from start to finish.
ATLAS and P-body, the player-controlled robots, will die plenty in Portal 2, but the game isn’t predicated on violence. Instead, it’s about trial-and-error, discovering solutions over time.
Each robot is armed with a portal gun: shoot a portal onto a compatible surface, then shoot a second one onto another surface. You’ve just created a shortcut through reality. Walk through one portal and you’ll exit out the other at the same speed and trajectory. Now factor in the need for two portal guns in every level and the game starts to feel like you’re solving a Rubik’s Cube without algorithms or any idea where to start. But as the mechanics become clear, the puzzles start to make more sense, even as the difficulty ramps up.
Portal 2 isn’t a brute-force game. You can’t shoot through hordes of enemies or blast open a wall to progress. It requires a keen mind and a sharp eye for puzzle-solving. My wife and I might spend an hour in a single room. It’s frustrating, but hell if it isn’t satisfying once we figure it out.
Cuphead—PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox
Cuphead is the single most challenging game on this list, and it’s made to be that way. Studio MDHR has crafted a masterpiece of platforming and run-and-gun gaming. Every frame of Cuphead is hand-drawn, and the backgrounds are hand-painted. It looks like a 1930s rubber hose cartoon. Don’t let it fool you: Cuphead is devastatingly difficult.
Arguably, Cuphead is even harder with two players. Double the firepower means you do half the damage, so each player needs to be accurate. If one player dies, the other can save them, a solid trade-off for the nerfed damage. No matter what, you’re going to lose in Cuphead. You’ll die hundreds if not thousands of times before you finally beat the devil, the game’s final boss. But that’s the glory of it: No death in Cuphead feels cheap. My wife and I could always pinpoint where we screwed up, and we could never blame the game. Our foibles led to our failures, which then led to our successes.
Achieving a knockout (beating a boss) in Cuphead is a gaming rush unlike any I’ve ever felt. Victories only come when they’re backed by numerous deaths, and that final success is a potent mixture of relief and pride.
The Delicious Last Course, a separate DLC pack, adds 12 new bosses into the mix and is a must-play as well. The base game and DLC combine for a whopping 40 bosses, plus a handful of run-and-gun platforming levels.
All told, Cuphead is my favorite game of all time, and it’s extra fun when you play it with a friend. As mentioned above, I threw my wife into the gauntlet and made her play along with only a minimal amount of previous platforming experience from childhood. It was tough at first, but she mastered the game and happily accompanied me all the way to the end.
Admittedly, I’ve left off a bunch of great cooperative games here because the list was growing unruly, so if you have favorites I missed, let me know in the comments!
Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.