Cooperative video games we love

I have always enjoyed playing video games, and over the years I’ve gotten my spouse (and now our daughter) to play games together too. Before we had our daughter, my spouse and I played World of Warcraft (Wrath of the Lich King) together, and we had a ton of fun! We were in a casual guild with many couples, and raiding Icecrown Citadel (ICC) was fun because of the challenge, and also because of everyone in the guild. I view our time in the World of Warcraft as playing a cooperative game, since we played with other people in Player-versus-Environment (PvE) challenges.

I clearly recall one night in ICC, we were waiting near a group of trash mobs (i.e., enemies we had to clear before the bosses), and taking a short break. Suddenly, one of my guild members started inching forward, a little bit at a time. Finally, he got close enough to the trash mobs that he attracted them to himself, and by extension, the rest of the party. We were killed by those mobs, since most of us were still away on our breaks. When we gathered our wits again, the guild member explained that his kid had gotten onto his lap, and was mashing the keyboard, causing his character to move forward. All of us found the incident hilarious, and we would subsequently ask him if his kid was at the keyboard whenever we saw his character inching forward.

Beautiful art work of my spouse and I at the Dalaran fountain, by one of our guildies in World of Warcraft.

Over the years after my daughter was born, I slowly introduced her to the games I play. At one point, I taught her how to control my World of Warcraft character, and she loved changing my druid’s form from humanoid to cat to bear and so on. Then, when she was older, we made a hunter character for her, mainly because she loved having a pet follow her around.

Now that she’s relatively older, she can play games with considerable skill, and especially because of COVID-19 and the resultant stay-at-home notices and shelter-in-place orders, we have been playing a number of local cooperative games together at home. In this article, I’ll describe some of the best co-op games that we’ve played and loved! We played these games on a PC (with gamepads) but many of them are available on various consoles too.

Heave Ho

Heave Ho is the first and best game that I’ll recommend to anyone who is looking for a local cooperative game to play. We’ve had hours of fun, with tons of crazy shenanigans happening by accident, and lots of tears of laughter.

Screenshot of Heave Ho. Credit: KnowTechie

Essentially, each player controls one “person” in the game, where each person consists of a roundish body, two arms, and two hands. The game is split into multiple stages, and the goal of every stage is to bring everyone from the starting location to the goal location.

How does the game work? As you may guess from the title, it’s all about joining hands, swinging around, and throwing each other across the screen! Hopefully, with some planning and teamwork involved! 😆 The game is Physics-based, so the more you swing, the greater the moment of inertia and so on.

We played Heave Ho with gamepads, and the controls were very intuitive — one joystick controlled both arms, and the left and right triggers controlled each hand (to grab and release). The stages start off relatively easy, and as the game progresses, more environmental hazards are added (e.g., spikes) and things start to get more… interesting. I played it to the point that my palms would get sweaty and I would leave my “paw prints” on the gamepad after a stage was done.

It was a ton of fun though! Here’s an example of an incidental shenanigan that happened in-game completely by chance and/or brilliant design of the game. One of the methods that the my spouse, my daughter, and I used frequently was to form a chain with our hands, and then swing as a long rope from platform to platform. In this particular case, the next platform was out of reach, and we would need to swing as a group, gather some momentum, then release the hand holding onto the first platform in order to swing towards the next. The person at the other end would then have to use their free hand to grab the next platform once it was in reach. We swung, and we swung, and finally we let go of the first platform. As we approached the next platform, I readied my hand on the gamepad trigger (I was the player on the end who needed to grab the next platform). Finally, it was within reach and I grabbed the platform! Perfect execution, right? Nope! In my excitement, I had grabbed the platform with my right hand (as planned), but released my left hand. So, now I was the only one on the platform, and my spouse and daughter plummeted to their in-game deaths, splattering their brightly-colored blood all over the game platforms (and me)! Since I had caused their demise, I decided to release my hold on the platform, so that we could all restart from the beginning together. Right after I released my hand, I realized that they had been saying “no, no, don’t!” to me, because they could have swung as a chain of two till they reached me again. As my character plummeted to her death, I grabbed and released her hand, in a vain attempt to grasp the air, or perhaps as a way of waving goodbye before becoming a splatter of paint as well. 🤣

Overcooked!

Overcooked! and its sequel Overcooked! 2 are the benchmark for this genre of games (e.g., other games like Catastronauts is Overcooked in Space, and Moving Out is Overcooked with furniture), so I’ll first describe the Overcooked! series, and then discuss how Catastronauts and Moving Out are similar/different.

Screenshot of Overcooked! Credit: team17

In Overcooked!, the goal is to prepare orders for hungry customers, and each player controls one chef in the restaurant. There are a variety of dishes, and each dish has a specific combination of ingredients. For example, in the screenshot above, there are 5 burger orders in the queue, but the burgers are slightly different: the first burger (left-most) only requires a bun and meat, while the second burger requires additional lettuce and tomato. Besides gathering the ingredients (from the bins on the left), they also need to be prepped and cooked, similar to an actual restaurant. For example, the lettuce and tomato have to be chopped, and the meat has to be grilled on a pan. The order is then assembled on a plate and served to the customer. Over time, dishes will be returned from the customers, but they will require washing (no automatic dishwasher, sadly!). Thus, there are a variety of tasks that need to be done in order to fulfill the orders. As each order is completed, the restaurants gets a certain number of coins, and these coins are used to determine if the players complete the stage, and if so, whether they completed it with one, two or three stars (more coins are requires for more stars).

If my description of Overcooked! sounds complex, that’s because it is! Playing the game effectively requires coordination among the players, especially in later stages as orders become more frantic and there are more tasks to be done (e.g., putting out fires). For example, sometimes conveyor belts have to be used to pass items from one side of the restaurant to the other.

When the three of us started playing Overcooked! together, it took a little bit of time for us to learn how to work together effectively. For example, mutual encouragement worked a lot better than laying blame on any one of us. We also learned how to take breaks, and also have debriefs to brainstorm on better techniques to complete a level. Oh, and because my spouse really loves Overcooked!, “completing” a level meant getting three stars, which gets progressively harder and harder! All in all, I’m really happy we played the game since we learned to work together as a family better! I’m very proud that we got three stars in every level of Overcooked! and Overcooked! 2 😁

Catastronauts

After we completed Overcooked!, we were in a post-game melancholy — we loved the game, but now that we were done, what were we going to play? One of the next games we played was Catastronauts! Catastronauts is pretty much Overcooked! in space, where the goal is to defeat an attacking alien ship, by firing our ship’s weapons, while repairing the ship and keeping it intact as the alien ship attacks.

Screenshot of Catasronauts. Credit: True Achievements

The main difference between Catastronauts and Overcooked! is that there are no “orders” to be fulfilled. Instead, the players have a shared health bar for their ship, and the alien has their health bar for their ship. Completing a stage essentially means destroying the alien ship before your own ship is destroyed. There is also no time limit per se, although the time is used to determine whether you get one, two, or three stars.

The game mechanics are also somewhat different, involving tasks around the ship like repairs, putting out fires, clearing mines, charging batteries, and firing weapons. Overall though, it feels similar to Overcooked!, and we found that our lessons and skills from Overcooked! transferred over to Catastronauts pretty well.

Similar to Overcooked!, we had a goal of attaining three stars for every level. As of this writing, we are at the last “stage” of the game, which has 5 levels to go. We are confident that we will get three stars for every level before long!

Moving Out

Even though we haven’t completed Catastronauts, we started playing another game simultaneously. Moving Out is akin to Overcooked! but with furniture, although the mechanics are also slightly different.

Screenshot of Moving Out. Credit: Video Chums

The players in Moving Out are employees of a moving company, and each level is about moving a certain number of furniture and items into a moving truck. Some items can be carried by a single person, while others (like large sofas) require at least two people to hold together.

The game itself has a quirky theme to it, and is totally not serious at all. For example, it’s ok to break down windows and doors, throw items out the window, and so on. We haven’t made it very far in the game (yet), so there are probably more mechanics that we will uncover as we go along.

It’s been fun for the three of us to play Moving Out, since it’s overall less stressful and more relaxing than Overcooked! and Catastronauts, although that may well change as we progress further in the game.

Unrailed!

Unrailed! is a very different style from Overcooked! and others in its genre. Unrailed! is a game where players are place train tracks to lead a train from one station to another. In order to place the train tracks, the tracks first need to be built from wood and iron. Where do wood and iron come from? Well, the players have to cut trees and mine rocks for them! 😄 In a nutshell, that’s the overall gameplay loop of this game.

Screenshot of Unrailed! Credit: High Ground Gaming

As the train progresses through stations, it starts to move along the track more quickly, so players have less reaction time to gather resources and build tracks. To counter that effect, you can upgrade the train at every station, by purchasing additional wagons that add features such as converting wood to iron or vice versa, or creating dynamite to blast terrain (clearing land and gathering resources). Besides new wagons, you can also upgrade existing ones, for example to craft tracks more quickly, or to allow more resources to be stacked on the train to be crafted into tracks.

When we play Unrailed!, we’ve found that it’s easier if everyone specializes in different tasks. For example, sometimes my daughter will want to be the one laying tracks, so my spouse and I will gather resources and load them on the train. Sometimes, she might want to chop trees, so my spouse and I will do something else instead. My favorite specialization is the dynamite engineer, where I’ll pick up the dynamite from the wagon, run towards some rocks or trees (hopefully with a conveniently carved passageway to maximize the blast effect), drop the dynamite, and then scurry away before it explodes. Then, I’ll run around like a happy ant gathering all the new resources and moving them to the train 🐜 Sometimes, our coordination is a little off, and I might end up blasting one or more of us into little voxels. But not to worry, we respawn!

We’ve had a lot of fun playing Unrailed! but we’ve found that after a certain point, the train becomes way too fast for us to handle (which is how the game increases the difficulty). Even though we already play on “easy” difficulty, it would be great if we could lower the difficulty even more, or even customize how quickly the train increases its speed, so that we can play at a more leisurely pace, and perhaps play through all the different biomes in the game.

Farm Together

Farm Together is very similar to Farmville, but multiplayer, and on a PC. My daughter and I love to play Farm Together, and we’ve spent almost 60 hours in this game together. What is this game about? Well, we farm, together!

Screenshot of Farm Together. Credit: True Achievements

What’s interesting about Farm Together is that the game world continues even when we’re not playing. For example, planting a crop may take 1 hour to mature. That 1 hour refers to an hour in the real world! So, we can log on, plant the crop, log off for an hour, then log back in, and the crop will be mature and ready for harvesting.

When we play the game together, each session is perhaps 30 minutes to an hour long, and we do a bunch of maintenance on the farm, like harvesting crops, watering our plants, feeding our animals and so on. There are quests to complete, and those quests typically influence which crops we grow next. Over time, we have expanded our farm to have more space, and we have automated a bunch of tasks.

My daughter enjoys the creative aspect of the game, so she is in charge of laying out the furniture inside our buildings, and placing fences around various sections of the farm. One funny story that happened in-game was when my daughter was happily running around the farm placing fences. I was interested to grow watermelons to increase the gold in our farm, because watermelons have a 3–4x return of investment, and take 24h to mature, so they have a good ratio of effort-return. I planted watermelons basically everywhere I could, and my daughter was not pleased with me. Mainly because it meant she had more and more fences that needed to be built, and also because I would sometimes plant watermelons on both sides of her fences, which implied that she would have to move the fences 😅

Nowadays, since our farm is in a relatively stable state overall (and I stopped growing watermelon), one of our favorite activities is to play hide-and-seek in the farm. One of us will run somewhere in the farm and hide, and the other has to find her based on clues in the environment. My daughter has gotten very good with hiding, to the point that she placed decoy objects around herself to make it appear that she was hiding in a completely different part of the farm!

We Were Here

We Were Here and its sequels (We Were Here Too, and We Were Here Together) are a game series that involves solving puzzles to get out of a building of sorts. It feels somewhat like a video game version of an Escape Room.

Without spoiling too much, We Were Here is a two-player cooperative game, and often requires cooperation and coordination between both players. Each player is typically in a different room, so both players have different views of the world. For example, one player might see some clues that will help the other player solve a puzzle.

Screenshot of We Were Here. Credit: Moby Games

My spouse and I have played We Were Here and We Were Here Too, and it’s been a lot of fun. We will probably play We Were Here Together (the final part of the series so far) sometime soon!

We Were Here is free on Steam, so I highly recommend trying it out!

My family and I have had a ton of fun playing the cooperative games above, and we hope you will enjoy them as much as us!

Proud mom, roboticist, software engineer.

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