(he/him/his). Recovering English graduate. Avid gamer, reader, and general nerd.
Gamers have often been stereotyped as shut-ins and anti-socialites.
Sure, we can be a little solitary and introverted, but don’t be fooled: video games are often best when in a social setting.
Play provides a unique space that gives people room to communicate, collaborate, and compete with one another.
With close friends, it can strengthen bonds. With strangers, it can help break some ice and ease tensions. Video games provide another source for interpersonal communication in the modern world.
There's a problem though.
Despite being more widespread than ever, video games can still be an acquired taste-- and some of them have steep learning curves.
Whether you are looking to bond with a partner or friend who is graciously humoring your interests, or you're just trying to do something when visiting family for the holidays (yes, those are fast approaching), there's a way to find a game that is appropriate for couch co-op with a non-gamer. Even for the noob-iest noob.
It seems like tensions have been high enough this past year without encouraging more potential animosity through competition. With that said, here's my list of the best cooperative games you can play with your non-gamer friends and family to invite a little solidarity into your life.
I cannot communicate to you through words how friggin’ cute and fun Snipperclips is. Laid out like an elementary school art project, players take control of shapes--adorned with stick legs and googl-y eyes--and try to "cut" pieces out of each other by having one player overlap the other, thus creating new haphazard shapes to solve increasingly complicated puzzles...
If you read that and that makes zero sense, you're probably not alone.
If you read that and thought, “that doesn't sound very fun”, you're right to assume that.
But, I'm telling you, it's the best time you've never had. It takes true teamwork to solve puzzles in Snipperclips. While the controls are not necessarily a breeze to master, they are simple and easily teachable.
The game's strongest attribute is that puzzles can be solved in multiple and often unconventional ways, which leads to plenty of hearty laughs... especially when you unintentionally (or purposefully) take a large "cut" out of your friend.
This game is approachable and heavily underrated. It's easy to pick up on a whim, and only requires the Nintendo Switch system and its two Joy-con controllers to engage in couch co-op, so it is a great candidate to play anytime and anywhere.
The ironic thing about Mario Party is that, while it is touted as a family-friendly source of competition, I feel this is the game that has come closest to ending long-standing friendships. Having your stars stolen, or losing to someone who was awarded for MOVING THE LEAST AMOUNT OF SPACES (WTF) is a lifelong grudge waiting to happen. Why not circumvent all that tragedy and team up against CPU's? Or play mini-games?
Mario Party is great for beginners. It's a board game in practice, which should be relatable to most players who aren't familiar with video games. The only difference being that you compete in mini-games in-between each round of player movement on the board.
Mini-games revolve around a simple concept, requiring minimal controls. Best part is, the group gets to practice each mini-game on screen before committing to the real thing.
Mario Party is whimsical and chaotic enough that everyone can (at least) be amused, while not taking things too seriously.
If you have worked in kitchens or in food service, Overcooked may resurface some unrealized trauma.
Overcooked quickly evolves from a fast-paced kitchen arcade game, into a maelstrom of madness. Moving platforms, fires, portals, aliens and wizards are all out to bamboozle your culinary dreams in this simple, yet bat-shit crazy cooking game.
Overcooked will test your communication skills, which will become largely more useful than pure speed or button mashing--which makes this game the perfect team-building experience for 1-4 players. As long as you’re content jettisoning hopes for high scores and perfect marks on each challenge, this game is fairly approachable for any skill level.
Although be wary, the stress of a kitchen is palpable here. If you’re not too careful, “communication” can take a sour turn into the dark underbelly of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.
The original Overcooked is great for beginners, while Overcooked 2 slightly complicates the gameplay formula. Since O.G. Overcooked is generally cheaper, I would start there. Or opt for both in the recently released Overcooked: All You Can Eat collection of both games and DLC for a full blown buffet of anarchy.
Despite having an egregiously obtuse title, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a great modern take on the classic Mario side-scroller that can be played in tandem with a friend.
Most folks are at least somewhat familiar with the premise of Mario moving from left to right across a gauntlet of obstacles. Even if your loved ones somehow missed one of the greatest cultural phenomena of the 90’s (hell, maybe they weren’t even born yet), the design of Mario’s controls are prestinely intuitive to pick up.
The art and level design of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is some of the best in the series. Even if your non-gamer friend isn’t very good at the actual gameplay, it will at least be nice to look at. One of Mario’s greatest strengths is simply the cohesion of sound, sight and feel that create an honest expression of joy that is hard to resist.
And, the best part is, Nintendo wants you to experience this joy in its modern setting. The original Super Mario Bros. had no save points, required you to meticulously stockpile lives and had a high degree of difficulty. In New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, you can save, lives are easy to come by, and your co-opting friend can easily come back if they die.
If you’re looking for a good time without too much challenge, this is a classic option.
Who the heck doesn’t like Halo?
The distinguished killer-app of the Xbox that allowed Microsoft to come swinging into the Console wars-- Halo is about as classic of a shooter as you can get.
In Halo: The Master Chief Collection, you have access to the remastered versions of these games where you can pulverize aliens with a friend in couch co-op.
Halo is a great option for anyone new to shooters because guns are approachable and consistent throughout the game--so you don’t have to learn a ton of weapon types or be too accurate if you don’t want to. Jumping has some floaty hang-time to it and can be more forgiving when traversing. And, while driving vehicles may be a bit tricky for some, operating a heavy gun on a Warthog or a Scorpion tank is a blast to play around with.
As long as you are skilled, it's a zero-gravity walk in the park to carry a friend through the campaign on Normal mode while you kindly (and patiently) teach them the ropes of playing a shooter. I think Easy mode can be approachable for almost any level of gamer who is willing to give Halo a shot.
Even if your couch co-op partner isn’t contributing much to your progression, most people will appreciate the therapy of sending screaming aliens into the abyss.
Diablo is a classic franchise for anyone who owned a PC in the early 2000’s and had any inkling towards dungeon-crawling through Hell and back.
Diablo III: the Eternal Collection is arguably the most approachable of the series. Since releasing in 2021 the game has seen plenty of updates and has since landed on most modern consoles, making it easy to pick up and play. Players can hack and slash through unending armies of hellish creatures in this top down action RPG fantasy game which heavily leans into its Dungeons and Dragons inspirations.
It can be overwhelming for a novice gamer to sort through copious loot drops, adjust gear and navigate stats. However, these can also be safely ignored for the cause of bullying the underworld in an easygoing play session.
Like Halo, a more experienced gamer can carry a lesser friend through much of the campaign without breaking too much of a sweat.
Another dungeon crawler (sort of), Castle Crashers brings light-hearted freneticism into a side-scrolling beat-em-up game.
Anyone who played TMNT, The Simpsons, or X-men arcade cabinets will be familiar with this play style. Move to the right, smash buttons, and keep going.
You don’t need to be precise or particularly skilled to have a grand ol’ time with Castle Crashers. The simplicity and presentation of this game is well suited for anyone just looking to have a good time. Castle Crashers excels at making you feel powerful: enemies are numerous and delicate, while levels are fast-paced and frantic.
Castle Crashers is inexpensive and available digitally all over the place.
I’m not crazy. Yes, this is on my list of best couch co-op games. One of the most fun nights I’ve had playing games with friends was with Until Dawn. I’m not kidding.
Until Dawn is a narrative game where you make choices and engage in limited cinematic actions in order to help a group of teenagers survive an incredibly campy slasher-horror night of mishaps while cozying up in a winter cabin.
Starring familiar actors Hayden Panetierre (Heroes) and Rami Malek (Mr.Robot, Bohemian Rhapsody), the acting is both expectantly cheesy and well-executed.
When played with friends, you have several options:
This is for all my puzzle fans out there.
The Witness is a follow-up by Jonathan Blow to his hit indie darling Braid (2008). Blow coaxes players to explore a tranquil island filled with puzzles that must be solved by drawing “lines” on circuit boards-- and even in the environment itself. Sound simple? I promise there is much more to it than it sounds.
Brilliantly designed and deceptively addicting, The Witness intuitively teaches you a complex language of puzzles that empowers the player to explore more of this mysterious island.
While not a true co-op game, I think The Witness is best experienced with a friend.
The game inevitably gets quite complicated, and another set of eyes can be proved invaluable. I played this game with several friends and the controller often passed around the room when one of us got stuck. Regardless of who held the reigns, everyone was equally invested in the Witness.
If you are looking for a challenging puzzler in an eerily inviting world, this game is for you.
A nice surprise for 2021's slow year in gaming was a new entry in the WarioWare series.
WarioWare: Get It Together takes the chaos and whimsy of MarioParty and completely goes off the rails into absurdity. With a teammate, players navigate a fever dream of "micro-games" that require fast reflexes, teamwork and the ability to remain focused while asking, "what the hell am I looking at?".
The art fully embraces its Japanese absurdist roots, with a heavy dose of memes and potty-humor.
It can be a great time if you can hold on for the ride, or an odd concoction of vexation and confusion if you can't jive with this niche in gaming.
Gameplay is forgiving in that you use a variety of characters who use one function, (Wario flies and punches to the right, another character can jump, another throws discs in any direction) who you will use to solve quick-timed puzzles--making it more approachable for a casual gamer.
Your non-gamer friends may think you need help after showing them WarioWare: Get it Together. And, despite it being less palatable for some folks compared to Mario Party, it's an excellent option for a quick party game that can be picked up and put down easily.