The 10 Best Co-op Games We've Ever Played

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The 10 Best Co-op Games We've Ever Played

We don’t have to kill each other to have a good time. Sometimes it’s better to work together. Games are almost always competitive but some of the most exciting and memorable games we’ve ever played have let us compete alongside our friends instead of against them. Paste’s games editors cooperated with eight of our regulator contributors to whip up this list of the best co-op games we’ve ever played, ranked in alphabetical order. And if you disagree, or if we failed to mention your favorite, don’t get angry: Work with us by leaving a comment below or pointing out our error on Twitter @PasteGames.

1. Animal Crossing
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Gamecube

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What a strange thing Animal Crossing was. A daily routine of chores and adventure, colored in an unforgettable art style. It was a persistent world before those sort of things were unremarkable. I’m still not sure why taking the train to a friend’s town to leave it completely bare of fossils was so delicious, but I suppose there’s nothing better than turning a real-life relationship into digital economic co-dependency.—Luke Winkie

2. Contra
Developer: Konami
Platform: NES

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Contra wasn’t the first co-op game for the NES, but it was the first that absolutely needed to be played with a friend, and ONLY with a friend. Having a buddy at your side didn’t just provide the warmth and strength of friendship—it unlocked the best possible version of Contra, turning it from a brutal shoot-out into a brutal shoot-out with tons of high fives. Together with a friend, 30 lives and a few continues you could beat both this stupidly hard game and the terrible ache of loneliness.—Garrett Martin

3. Gauntlet Legends
Developer: Atari Games
Platform: Arcade, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, Playstation

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A Valkyrie, Warrior, Wizard and Archer, each clad in red, blue, yellow or green, face gauntlet after gauntlet of beasts and undead hordes in pursuit of the demon Skorne. Gauntlet Legends took the fantasy-themed hack-and-slash action of 1985’s original Gauntlet and made it deeper and more beautiful. Whether you played it in a bowling alley arcade or on your console at home, you’ll never forget Gauntlet Legend’s narrator booming, “Blue warrior needs food badly!”—Matt Akers

4. Gears of War 2
Developer: Epic Games
Platform: Xbox 360

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After years of queasiness-inducing, split-screen co-op from shooters, the first Gears of War was something of a revelation on its release. But Gears of War 2 makes this list by refining and tightening the action that made the first game work so well, dropping in a ton of new, dangerous enemies, and adding one of the more influential multiplayer extras of the last generation: Horde Mode. No exaggeration: the introduction of wave-based, co-op multiplayer touched nearly every shooter that followed, and the first time out, it—and Gears 2 as a whole—felt like a revelation.—Charles Webb

5. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iOS, Android

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Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was made at an infinitesimal fraction of the cost of last year’s Tomb Raider. There are no mouth animations, no 3D display options, and certainly no TressFX. But Guardian of Light manages to capture everything I love about the Tomb Raider series—puzzles, exploration, open space—in a bite-size portion that I can play with my brother. The co-op mode doesn’t just add an extra layer of arcadey fun, either; it feels necessary and intentional in terms of the game’s design.—Samantha Allen

6. Left 4 Dead
Developer: Turtle Rock Studios / Valve
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Mac

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Will I ever have as much fun as I did when the first Left 4 Dead came out? Groups of friends split into teams of four every night for weeks, carefully coordinating how to hack, shoot, smoke and boom each other into pieces. No game since has matched the deep satisfaction of cackling like a mad-man over voice chat while vomiting bile onto a close friend.—Casey Malone

7. The Simpsons Arcade Game
Developer: Konami
Platform: Arcade; various console and computer ports

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What better embodies the spirit of cooperation than a husband and wife collaborating on a rolling cartwheel attack to rescue their infant daughter from an oligarch? The Simpsons Arcade Game’s cooperative attacks and enduring charm raise it above its more tossed-off peers in the strangely crowded “early-90’s-licensed-beat-em-up” genre. While the first few seasons of the Simpsons are (rightly) criticized for not being as fully-formed as what came afterwards, the Springfield universe only needed two years to support the only good Simpsons game without forcing the developers to fall back on off-brand tedium.—Joe Bernardi

8. Spaceteam
Developer: Sleeping Beast Games
Platform: iOS, Android

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To the outside observer, Spaceteam appears to be a game about yelling space-related nonsense like “set Sigmaclapper to 0” at your friends. In truth, however, Spaceteam is a game about communication. While yelling at your friends to “Set Lustrous Prismneck to 4,” you must also listen to your friend who is telling you to “Flood the Synchronous Z-loop.” It’s an incredibly accessible and entertaining game, for 2-4 players on mobile devices, about the important balance between hearing and being heard.—Drew Dixon

9. StarCraft
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Platform: PC, Mac

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StarCraft is stressful, and I like it that way—provided I’m in the mood for the heart-pounding, teeth-gritting action that a one-on-one multiplayer match entails. But if a friend signs online, I don’t play against them—I’d much rather play with them. In two-versus-two StarCraft matches (or 3v3, or 4v4), even if your team partner lags behind or surges ahead of you, the team can always share resources, coordinate build orders, try new tactics and joke around privately no matter how much the other team’s trash-talking you. All of that provides a much-needed contrast to the loneliness of solo StarCraft. It’s also easier to swallow “ladder anxiety” if you’re not facing the fray by yourself.—Maddy Myers

10. System Shock 2
Developer: Irrational Games / Looking Glass Studios
Platform: PC, Mac

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System Shock 2’s co-op mode was a patched-in mess, but it blended wonderfully with the game’s skill and upgrade system. It let me, a player who was absolutely terrible at shooters, focus on non-combat abilities. As the hacker/researcher/weapons repair guy, I found myself unconsciously playing the role of the defenseless scientist. I’d wander off and get attacked, much to the chagrin of my three combat-focused friends who had to bail me out of more than one situation involving cryokinetic zombie monkeys.—Brian Taylor