Gaming has been a great way for people to connect from afar during COVID. However, with the rolling out of vaccines, people are now able to see each other again. While many game developers have chosen to forgo local co-op in recent years, there are still a few great and inexpensive options for those who want to bond with others while gaming. In celebration of a summer that is looking much brighter than the last, here are a couple of games available on all major platforms that I have been enjoying with friends in-person and recommend for others looking for the same.
ULTIMATE CHICKEN HORSE
I highly recommend this hidden gem for those wanting a healthy dose of friendly competition. Ultimate Chicken Horse is a multiplayer platformer in which you compete against others to win the most points by completing the level the most times. The game can host 2-4 people in couch co-op in addition to online multiplayer. Each round, you are provided with a random selection of obstacles and platforms to place in the level to either make it easier for yourself or to hinder others. This leads to a naturally balanced level that is different every time and never gets boring.
It is satisfying to strategically place traps and moving parts to make the map increasingly ridiculous and dangerous. Though you can create impossible scenarios, the game is never frustrating because there are always options to edit the level. In addition to the fast-paced competition of a platformer and the creativity of designing your own level, the animal protagonists are whimsically adorable. I have a particular fondness for the snake on a skateboard. The jazzy, upbeat music adds to the playful theme, making it hard to feel upset even when you are falling behind.
Rayman Legends is another local co-op game with an uplifting, colorful, and lush art style. The fluid animation and motion controls are incredibly satisfying, especially during the rhythmic and musical platforming sections. The game is full of content to keep you busy, including hidden puzzle rooms, collectibles, platforming, bosses, and a competitive soccer-inspired minigame which has kept my friends and I entertained for longer than I care to admit.
Each level is creatively designed around a unique game mechanic matched with a fitting soundtrack, such as the Bond-esque underwater stealth level. The simple controls are easily enjoyable by anyone, yet the gameplay still provides a challenge. Though you may die a lot, it never feels unfair, and it’s quick and easy to try again with the generous checkpoints and ability to revive your teammates. You can drop in and out as you wish, with a max of four players. This game is a blast for everyone, both experienced and new.
SLAY THE SPIRE
Slay the Spire, the deck-building roguelike dungeon crawler, is probably an unexpected pick for a list of games to play with friends because it is single-player only. The game offers a choice of four characters to play as, each with unique playstyles and card options. You proceed through a randomly generated dungeon that contains enemies, bosses, chests, stores, and random encounters. You build your deck as you go, choosing a new card from a selection of three randomly presented options to add to your hand each encounter. It is a blast to discover ways that certain cards and relics (items that provide a passive advantage) interact with each other to make you into an unstoppable force.
Because Slay the Spire is a strategy-based game in which you can take all the time you need to decide your next move, it is a surprisingly great game to play with a friend. You can discuss strategies for what move to take next and learn from each other. Through playing with a friend, I learned when it is ok to play more aggressively, and he learned from me when to play more cautiously. We also exchanged tips on which cards synergize well together, allowing each other to incorporate new ideas into our own playstyles. This helped me to break out of my tendency to choose my favorite cards every time rather than adapting to the options I had already been given in any particular run. Together, we were able to make more progress than either one of us alone.
While gaming can provide a great solitary experience, it can also be a fantastic way to bring people together. It doesn’t get much better than sitting back and playing games with a few good friends, especially after such a lonely year.
Alex Tansey is an intern for the*gameHERS, a gaming community that is a safe space for women, femme-identifying gamers and non-binary gamers who are comfortable in spaces that center women. She is from the Boston area and is currently studying psychology at Vassar College in New York. When she is not playing games, she can be found reading, drawing, dancing, or listening to music.