For reasons I’ll never completely understand, I’m not a very competitive person. I prefer to make peace with others rather than fight or struggle to prove who is superior. These personal traits extend well to my favorite meta-genre in gaming, cooperative multiplayer games. For now, we’ll call them “co-op games” for short.
In cooperative games, two players join forces to take on digital antagonists in the game, sometimes sharing power-ups, lives, or even score. They’re great to play with friends, partners, or children. The only problem is that co-op games can sometimes be hard to find, so I’ve been making lists of some of my favorite ones for over a decade now.
To introduce this topic, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite co-op titles for Nintendo’s ultra-popular 1980s-90s 8-bit console, the Nintendo Entertainment System.
If you asked a typical NES fan for a list of co-op games to play, they might mention popular games such as Bubble Bobble, Contra, Gauntlet II, Mario Bros, TMNT, or even River City Ransom. But perhaps you’ve played those already, so below we’ll look at seven generally underrated and overlooked co-op games instead.
Every one of these games is fun to play with friends. Happy gaming!
This colorful single-screen arcade platform title, released only in Japan and Europe, reminds me a lot of Bubble Bobble in its playfulness and personality. There are two cute playable characters (Rit and Tam), silly enemies, and plenty of fruit to go around. But only in Rodland can you and your friend collect flowers and bash enemies into oblivion. What could be more fun than that?
Ms. Pac-Man (1990)
One of the most prized secrets of retrogaming is that in the 1990s, Tengen developed two-player simultaneous versions of Ms. Pac-Man for various platforms, but few remember it. The NES version is no exception, allowing you and a friend to play as Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man, chomping down dots and dodging ghosts. Even cooler, you can turn on Pac-Boost mode, which allows you to speed up with a button press. Features like this (and new mazes) make Tengen’s interpretation of Ms. Pac-Man well worth checking out.
Don Doko Don (1990)
If you enjoy the aforementioned Rodland and Bubble Bobble, you will likely also enjoy Don Doko Don, a lushly illustrated Japanese-only title that features two charming gnome-like fellows with hammers. Of course, you and your co-op buddy can use said hammers to smash enemies, which proves highly satisfying. Strongly recommended.
Legendary Wings (1988)
Fans of vertical scrolling shooters like Xevious should check out Legendary Wings, a well-crafted title with good graphics set in a unique fantasy universe. In solo mode, it’s far from easy, but a second player helps quite a bit. The joy of the game comes from overcoming very difficult challenges together—and watching two men with wings fly around gigantic stone heads.
Clu Clu Land (1985)
If PCMag forced me to create a list of Nintendo’s most underrated early games (hey, there’s an idea!), I would put Clu Clu Land somewhere near the top. It’s an arcade-style, single-screen action game where you and a friend work to uncover a hidden pattern in each stage by moving and spinning between posts. It’s hard to describe (and tricky to get into at first), but can be quite fun once you get the hang of it. I personally love it because it has the early NES first-party game look and feel, which I’ll never get tired of.
Monster in My Pocket (1992)
If you’re around my age, you may have collected tiny rubber monster toys called Monster in my Pocket back in the early 1990s. I loved the way the series drew on mythical beasts across cultures worldwide to create its stable of toys. So it’s even more of a treat to see those toys come to life in the masterfully designed NES action platformer by Konami. It plays a little like Castlevania on the kitchen floor (since you’re only about 2 inches tall), and that’s a good thing. The cooperative effect is in full force as the two of you explore fanciful levels and cope with being an actual toy in a seemingly gigantic house.
Smash TV (1991)
In 1982, Eugene Jarvis designed a frenetic arcade shooter called Robotron: 2084, basically inventing the twin-stick shooter genre in the process. Eight years later, Jarvis expanded on that formula with Smash TV, which allows two players to battle through a violent game show set in 1999. Smash TV received several home ports, and the NES version is notable, allowing two players to use two control pads each (with the Four Score) to control their characters. One D-pad is for movement, the other for shooting direction. It’s an absolute blast that can’t be missed.
7 Forgotten NES Classics
There is much more to the library than Super Mario Bros. Here’s a look back though the classic NES catalog and some of the most interesting and underrated games that are still enjoyable today.