The industry has heard the demands of the people! We are entering a new cooperative play renaissance! At least that’s how it seems. All we can hope is that when developers try to woo us with sonnets involving multiplayer scenarios and full co-op campaigns, they look to the best of what the past has to offer. So we’ve decided to help them out.
10. The Gauntlet Series
Atari Games 1985
The game that started it all by bringing player classes into the multiplayer experience: Wizard, Warrior, Elf and Valkyrie. Gauntlet has influenced modern gaming and popular culture alike. Phrases such as “Elf shot the food!” and “Wizard needs food badly” are likely to be read off of t-shirts and heard in trendy comedies. Simple Dungeons and Dragons style and charm gameplay made for a quick arcade success. Attempts to remake Gauntlet have fallen flat. Both Dark Legacy and Seven Sorrows focused on graphical upgrades and contemporary fantasy art styles that many thought missed the point of the classic. Gauntlet stays on the list, but its inability to stand the test of time brings it down to number ten.
9. Golden Axe (Sega Genesis)
When beat ‘em ups were all the rage, Golden Axe was the first hack and slasher on the scene. A Barbarian, an Amazon and their pet Dwarf are looking for the warrior Death Adder. Via a giant turtle and gargantuan eagle, the heroes hack, slash, and bash their way to Death Adder and his weapon of inappropriate metal: the Golden Axe. The fights are satisfying and the little gnomes that take your potions are frustratingly hilarious. It was a good adventure back when things were simple and new, and it’s not just nostalgia making us all teary-eyed.
8. Rune (PC)
Human Head Studios 2000
Rune was an unexpected melee hit on the PC market. Ragnar, the Viking hero of our tale, is the sole survivor of a massacre brought by Loki to destroy the Runestones. Like all who suffer survivor’s guilt, Ragnar descends into the underworld to fight the armies of various Norse gods. Rune would be farther up the list of “Best Hack and Slash Co-op Games of All Time” if it weren’t for one nagging fact: It doesn’t offer co-op. At least it wasn’t until some enterprising community members fixed corrected that error. The co-op mod was a big success even a year after the initial retail release. Still, you don’t win points after the buzzer, and if ain’t an official patch it just doesn’t count. So Rune sits at the back of the longship at number eight.
7. Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords Adventures (Gamecube/Gameboy Advanced)
Gauntlet was released a year before the original Legend of Zelda in 1986. Anyone who played Zelda cried out for a two-player mode. Actually, it was the friend behind them watching them play that cried out. It took Shigeru Miyamoto almost twenty years to dry our eyes with the Four Swords Adventures. Your basic elf meets girl, girl meets evil wizard, elf meets mystic cloning sword. With up to four players, Four Swords meets the criteria for the top five. On the surface it’s a great way to get four friends together, and with a badly placed bomb or two, it’s a great way to lose three of them. The innovation behind Four Swords is also its most stymieing quality. It required not only four friends, but four friends with four GBAs. A lot of product crossover with only marginal gameplay improvement. In the end, the full Four Swords experience would cost $450 minus the Gamecube. Good co-op should make adding players a simple process, so requiring a $100 controller brings Four Swords down to number seven.
6. Secret of Mana
Remember that game that was great, but didn’t have any co-op? Well Square figured out something before Miyamoto did: Co-op is great. A great chapter in the tradition of Japanese RPG’s with hugely fantastical plots, Secret of Mana is a classic. Much like Golden Axe, Secret of Mana follows a boy, a girl, and half-man sprite child ironically found in a dwarf town. You must re-energize the Mana Sword by visiting Mana Temples and stop the empire from breaking the Mana Seals to revive the Mana Fortress. Lo and behold, the secret of mana is that everything is about mana. Aside from being Zelda mixed with Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana allows a second player to control one of the two other characters in the party. This affirms the great rule of co-op, because adding the second player is a painless process; provided you have the title that invites cooperation. A Japanese RPG for two people to share? Marriages have occurred with less time spent together.
5. League of Legends (PC)
Riot Games 2009
The only game on the list without a single-player mode or a plot, League of Legends is an online versus title from the designers of the Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne mod Defense of the Ancients. A mod so popular it became its own gameplay concept. The DotA style has inspired games such as Demigod and Heroes of Newerth. League of Legends maintains its position over other titles by focusing where it counts. Graphics are moderate and tend to focus on art over complexity. There are over 56 different characters to choose from and each has at least three costumes to unlock. With 5v5 or 3v3 support, co-op is the only mode League of Legends supports. It’s the easiest LAN game you’ll ever setup. Include the reasonable price of $0.00 for your download and it’s hard to say no. League’s only real weakness is the number of maps included, which clock in at a total of two.
4. Dynasty Warriors 4
If hack and slash was a drug, you would need a prescription to play Dynasty Warriors due to its dangerous levels of both hack and slash. Choose a general, build your army of expendables and then you’re off to carve a bloody path through your enemy’s army and take their general to school. When they added split-screen co-op the vast enemy armies of digital Chinese shuddered collectively in fear. As well they should, aside from being split-screen, co-op in Dynasty Warriors 4 is a breeze: Pick, Choose, Warmonger. The only downside is its unbearable lack of variation. Once you’ve plowed through 200-300 soldiers in one map, you’ve done it all. Still, for co-op hacky slashy goodness in a no muss no fuss platform.
3. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (I and II)
Snowblind Studios 2001
With the exception of Secret of Mana, co-op hack and slash leaves a lot to be desired in the story department. As always, Dungeons and Dragons comes to the rescue. Based on the Forgotten Realms series, Baldur’s Gate takes place in city of the same name. Thus far, five video games worth of shenanigans have taken place in Baldur’s Gate, so they should probably have that looked into at the next tourism board meeting. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance I & II bring a level of story you’d come to expect from any game based on the Dungeons and Dragons license. Its not too dense, but retains an entertaining cast of colorful characters and adventurous subplots. More than anything it brings permanence to the table. With full campaign co-op you and a friend experience the story together as you level your characters and upgrade your gear. It’s all the fun of a fantasy MMORPG without all the monthly fee’s and intolerable online experience.
2. Castle Crashers
The Behemoth 2008
Taking a technological step back, the designers at The Behemoth have proven that gameplay and art are all we have ever needed. A four-player side-scrolling hack and slash beat ‘em up, Castle Crashers functions much like its forebearer Golden Axe. Cartoon art style matched with an Earthworm Jim sense of sophomoric humor give the title a huge boost in entertainment value. Functionally, Castle Crashers is nothing new: Weak Attack, Strong Attack, Jump, Jump Attack, beat all the enemies on the screen until the game tells you to move on. Simplicity assures a good consistent experience. The only grasp at innovation is the only thing that keeps this from being a purist title: Character Level. Characters in Castle Crashers level up as you play, which breaks the cardinal rule of co-op. Adding players should be a simple process. If three players are playing at level 15 and player four shows up from his writing job at a successful video game website, he has to start out at level 1. Given its pace, it’s also a little short. Still, Castle Crashers is a hack and slash title in its purist form and belongs at number two.
1. Diablo (series)
Like the devil, it had everything you’ve ever wanted, but for a price. Unlike the devil, its price was only $49.99. Diablo is the benchmark of hack and slash and has only been surpassed by its own sequel. It has A’s on all of its report cards: Beautiful stylized art, perfect pace, a variety of enemies, satisfying amounts of flash and violence, and gold falling out of everything. Cooperatively speaking, Diablo allowed four players, but Diablo II offered up to eight. What really kept Diablo ahead of the pack is innovation: Randomized dungeons, randomized enemies, and a system that increased the amount and difficulty of enemies with each player that entered the game. Similar titles like Titan Quest have come for the crown and left with their hat; with only the jeers of “not as good as Diablo” to keep them warm at night. Diablo is the devil, and the devil only looks out for number one.
You didn’t think “of all time” meant only the past and present did you? When we peel back the curtains of perception and peer into the infinite vortex of time these upcoming titles were of great importance to the future!
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge
Bethesda Softworks Q1 2011
Promising to revitalize the dungeon crawler with their new two-player title, Bethesda brings us the adventures of Caddock and Elara. Can a fighter and an archer defeat the evil forces and the Death Stone, or should they add a wizard and a valkyrie and just call it Gauntlet? Probably the former.
Runic Games Q2 2011
The game they (so mysterious!) said was oh so very close to Diablo’s level of awesomeness was the breakout title from Runic Games, but it lacked one vital component… co-op! Throngs of angry gamers riddled them with requests for mods, but Runic has decided to raise the steaks with a co-op loving sequel. If it can stand up to Diablo III in a fight, it’ll win our hearts. Speaking of Diablo III…
Blizzard Entertainment 2011
The game they said should be as good as Diablo II, because it’s Diablo and they’re Blizzard Entertainment. So far we’re up to the monk, witch doctor, barbarian and the sorcerer. We’ve even gone equal opportunity employer with male and female versions of each class. If its Diablo II or better, we’ll all be happy.
So look for these titles to come and try out the titles that came and went, because its all between friends in co-op mode. If you have any thoughts on titles that deserve to make the list, don’t hesitate to let your fingers do the talking in our comments section.