There aren’t a lot of co-op RPGs out there. I’m not talking about hack-and-slash RPGs or (God forbid) MMOs. I’m talking about games like the old Final Fantasy series—character-driven, turn-based JRPG-style games. But there are two games that will forever spring to mind for me when the subject of co-op RPGs is brought up.
Eternal Sonata and Final Fantasy IX.
You’ve likely heard of the latter, but Eternal Sonata flew under the radar. Probably for good reason. I mean, the whole thing took place in Chopin’s anime Lolita fantasy fever dream. Yes, that Chopin. And no, I’m not kidding.
For what it was worth, the battle system was intriguing. It was still turn-based, but during the player’s turn, they could control a character and run around the battlefield freely, attacking and casting spells in live action—for a couple seconds, and then it would be the enemy’s turn to run around and attack.
At first glance, Eternal Sonata and Final Fantasy IX might look very different (you know, other than the big heads and insane character designs). But there was one tiny feature that connected them.
The ability to choose a controller for each character.
That one feature turned these typically single-player games into incredible co-op RPG experiences—at least for my friends and me.
You could have a separate controller for each of a battle’s three player characters in Eternal Sonata. Yes, you’d still have one player controlling all the running around the world and buying items, but there was enough battle to make everyone sitting down for the whole game worthwhile. And given how batshit loco Eternal Sonata was, you pretty much have to be pulling a Mystery Science Theater on the cutscenes to be able to stomach it. And the best way to do that is through co-op play, so every player is invested in the characters they control.
I didn’t discover that Final Fantasy IX shared the same feature until later. I already loved the game. But one summer, my roommate and I popped the FFIX PS1 disc into my backwards-compatible PS3. We split the characters between the two of us, and had an absolute blast playing through it.
RPGs are usually a solitary experience. You absorb the story, fall in love with the characters, and feel a personal connection to the game world. They’re more like books than movies. But playing through Eternal Sonata and FFIX co-op, even if it was just the battles, was a gaming experience I’ll never forget.
And it all had to do with one simple feature: allowing you to switch controller inputs for different characters.
Sure, if you wanted, you could pass the controller around. But it’s not the same, is it? It’s not co-op—it’s taking turns in the driver’s seat.
Turn-based RPGs make the feature easy to implement. After all, you’re not actively controlling multiple characters at a time. There is little difference to the game system to have the controller inputs switch for different characters. Especially when you can only control one character at a time anyway.
Indie developers and JRPG remaster…ers take note: adding that tiny feature to turn a single-player RPG into a co-op one makes a big difference to anyone who still enjoys a good couch co-op experience.
Naughty Dog has taken the spotlight recently due to gaming marvels like The Last Of Us, The Nathan Drake Collection and the upcoming (and much anticipated) release of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. With all the praise and excitement received on behalf of these unquestionably awesome titles, it is almost as if we’ve forgotten that some time ago now, The Naughty Dog team presented us players with the greatest, most memorable platformer of all time, Crash Bandicoot.
The game’s aim was all but a simple one, ”beat the bad guys”, and yet Crash Bandicoot proceeded to go down as legend, a wonderful Playstation Classic. Here’s 5 very plausible reasons as to why Crash Bandicoot is in fact the best platformer game.
1. The Game Is Wack!
To summarise Crash Bandicoot generally, the game is extremely whacky. The foundations for this general feel to the game are laid at the very first level, Crash’s home N.Sanity beach (an obvious play on the word ”insanity” for the more oblivious reader). As soon as Crash, Naughty Dog’s anthropomorphic rendition of a bandicoot, gets swept up onto the sandy shores of the island, the craziness begins to unfold as he has to traverse through evil crabs and tortoises in order to complete the level. Snapping plants and lily pads, hostile mammal wildlife including bosses Ripper Roo (a mutated kangaroo in a straight jacket) and Koala Kong (an over grown, body-building koala) and strange unpredictable settings all contribute to the whacky atmosphere the player will be subdued to as they play eagerly through this platformer’s painfully addictive levels.
A game series released more recently with mildly comparable wackiness was Rayman Origins and it’s sequel Rayman Legends (Ubisoft). Despite it’s vibrant, crazy settings and the games general incoherence, it still struggled to compete with our Crash Bandicoot classic.
2. Crazy Yet Cute
Nothing makes a game more memorable and enjoyable than a downright awesome character stealing the leading role. Crash Bandicoot, the games protagonist, achieves this criteria exceptionally, mostly evident in the fact he is the face of the more classic side to Naughty Dogs releases and generally in Crash Bandicoot’s overall success as a game.
Crash is eccentric, crazy and cute. Upon playing this game in it’s prime, I found myself spending countless occasions being inactive and leaving Crash to his own devices, watching him fail at juggling apples. These animations were funny and gave Crash the character he couldn’t portray verbally (he doesn’t really speak aside from his emotional outbursts after completing a level or boss battle). Furthermore, Crash’s slapstick death animations and end of level summaries (given boxes are missed during a level) are incredibly comical also as he must stand on a pedestal and take the boxes he missed to the head. Crash is not all comedy however, he is actually rather adorable and as the player more or less tortures him during a playthrough they will no doubt grow to pity the poor soul.
Crash is a well developed starring role to this legendary platformer and it is hands down one of the reasons Crash Bandicoot remains to be the best platformer ever.
3. Superb Soundtrack
Although not immediately a noticeable contributor to the awesomeness of Crash Bandicoot, the soundtrack accompanying the madness within the game plays a huge part in the overall tone and enjoyment of the game.
The music for each level in Crash Bandicoot is fun and bouncy, maintaining the general feel of the game whilst still remaining suited to the specific tone and setting of each individual level. If we take one of the levels titled Slippery Climb as an example, we can see more literally how the soundtrack contributes.
The level itself is relatively dreary and dull, however, the soundtrack for this particular level somehow manages to capture this but twists it to be somewhat catchy and bouncy, maintaining the collective pace and ”feel” of Crash Bandicoot.
In certain levels, the rhythm and beat incorporated within that levels soundtrack actually provide some aid in level completion. For instance, in levels The Lost City and Sunset Vista the rhythm of the soundtrack coincides and matches up with the speed of the interchanging platforms within the level that Crash must jump between, making the level considerably easier to get to grips with.
Crash Bandicoot’s original soundtrack is not only key to generating the fun, bubbly feel of the game, but also poses to be helpful too. It definitely adds up in making Crash Bandicoot the best platformer.
4. Crash Caters For All
I quite vividly recall the first time my mum sat me down, Playstation One controller in hand, ready to play Crash Bandicoot. After some swift tutorials from her on which button did what, how to tackle the crabs, the first notable enemy of the game and some insight into the Aku Aku mask that hovered beside me, it was safe to say I became addicted. Now, the best part about that little anecdote is the fact that 14 years on from my first playthrough, I am still undoubtedly addicted to Crash Bandicoot. The fact that this game can be appreciated over a span of age groups is what in fact makes it such an outstanding game. It has the profound and valued ability to appeal to the adult with a love for addictive games and too much time on their hands whilst also being able to devour the attention of youngsters attracted to the games vibrancy and simplicity. Crash Bandicoot can even manage to engulf a nostalgic fan as if it were their first playthrough.
5. Adamantly Addictive
Lastly, yet most importantly, Crash Bandicoot harnesses the profound addiction factor expected from a platformer. No matter how many times you fail on a level or become infuriated as Crash stands on that pedestal in humiliation as the one or two boxes you missed drop shamefully on his head, you will always continue to play. Crash Bandicoot almost taunts you with its simplicity and being a seemingly straight-forward platformer and, in doing so, continues to draw in players. Furthermore, Crash Bandicoot’s incredibly fun levels are almost impossible to turn boring or repetitive, allowing you to indulge time and time again.
All in all, a combination of its catchy original soundtrack, simple game dynamic, strange characters and unquestionably lovable protagonist is the reason Crash Bandicoot remains to be so darn addictive and in turn the best platformer.
The legendary platformer
Crash Bandicoot will always be the best platformer in my eyes. It harnesses each and every aspect to a successful platformer and will always stand as my means of comparison for any more recent platformer as I just don’t think it can be topped. 14 years after my first playthrough, I can still sit there happy as Larry playing this awesome game for hours upon hours and, to me, that makes it the best platformer.
We’re stretching the definition of ‘retro’ a little with this one, but nuts to that. Who’s counting? This is a bona fide classic, right here, and that’s good enough for me.
Metal Gear Solid hit the PlayStation in 1998, the first 3D installment in the stealthtacular Metal Gear franchise. It continues the story of our studly hero Solid Snake, once again sent into hostile territory alone in that skin-tight sneaking suit of his. Avert your eyes, and let’s reminisce.
The game is set six years after the events of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. It’s a similar mission for the anti-hero, a story of ventilation shafts, hiding in cardboard boxes like a big girl and lots of grey and brown army bases.
This time around, a terrorist group dubbed FOXHOUND (renegade special forces types) has commandeered a small Alaskan island. Shadow Moses is the site of a nuclear weapons disposal facility, which is just the kind of place you don’t want a angry band of crazies waving their guns and threats around.
The island is home to the nuke-armed mech Metal Gear Rex, whose destruction-tacular capabilities will be unleashed on the world if the group’s demands aren’t met. In short, the U.S government is up to its nose in the brown stuff, and a stealthy one-dude operation is in order.
In keeping with Metal Gear tradition, the story is utterly nutty. There are cliffhangers and bizarre events out the wazzoo right here. Traitors are actually triple agents, nobody’s who you think they are and everyone’s lying to everyone else. But don’t worry, you’ll have half-hour codec conversations about nothing at all to clue you in on all this useless stuff you don’t care about.
There’s little to say that you don’t already know about Metal Gear Solid. It’s perhaps the most ambitious game the console every saw, and years ahead of its time in a world of Crash Bandicoots and Spyro the Dragons. A truly cinematic experience, and a game replete with memorable moments.
Floating physics in gas masks, cyborg ninjas, big ol’ dudes brandishing helicopter gatling guns… this one has it all. As a child, I found the gameplay revolutionary; discouraging the usual mindless trigger happy antics for more methodical play I’d never seen before. Almost two decades later, it remains one of my favourite games of all time.
After Super Mario Kart, the kart racer became a thing. An utterly immense, ridiculously size-tastic THING. In a manner akin to the Doom clones, everybody was suddenly at it. Even the Crazy freaking Frog got himself a toontastic racer.
Predictably, few could hold a candle to Mario Kart. There were some high-profile clones that were worthy rivals, though. Crash Team Racing in particular is the big one for me. Then there are the more obscure releases, which offer up some cult kart-racery of their own. Step forward, Speed Freaks.
This one hit the PlayStation in 1999, from FunCom Dublin. It had rather crappy working titles (Wheelnuts, you say?), Jamiroquai’s Travelling Without Moving playing in the intro movie, what’s not to like?
Unusually for the genre, there are no familiar mascot characters to play as here. You choose from a roster of six original personalities, with a further three unlockable later. They’re not the most inspired bunch, with hackneyed punk guys and racing-obsessed little dudes in motorbike helmets among them, but it’ll do. They’re a friendship group, and the character select screen pans around their clubhouse of sorts. It’s a fun little touch.
But naturally, fun little touches are the mark of the kart racer. This is no tediously sim-y Gran Turismo. Power-ups will fly, rockets will wang friends in the face on the final stretch and assorted swear words will ensue. Speed Freaks is no different, it has a full complement of genre staples. Homing missiles, little puddles of… something to lay on the track and cause opponents to spin out, bombs, you know how these games work.
The tracks are varied and deftly designed, and it’s a pleasure to cruise around them. Here, too, FunCom are playing it safe, with all the familiar tropes from busy highways to jungle tracks accounted for. But this isn’t to say that Speed Freaks isn’t its own game.
Perhaps the best little innovation here is the speed boost mechanic. Alongside the pick-ups, boost tokens are strewn about the track. Collecting these gradually fills a meter on the HUD, and it’s up to you how to manage what you’ve accumulated. You use your boosts for as long as you hold the trigger, allowing you to opt for one long burst of speed or several more controlled ones. Saving it up will grant you a more pronounced effect, which is something else to consider while you’re racing.
It’s a system I haven’t seen implemented quite this way anywhere else, and it’s so effective during play.
Speed Freaks is quite conventional at its heart, as we’ve seen. It has the familar crop of time trial and tournament game modes, too. But it does what is does so much better than most pretenders. An underrated title (if you’ve heard of it at all) from the heyday of kart racers.
When you think of the real icons of video game villain-tude, the usual suspects arise. Bowser, Albert Wesker and his sunglasses-indoors-like-a-simpleton routine, Sephiroth… We know them, we love them, and some of us whine uselessly on the Internet about who’s ‘best.’
But in the grand scheme of villainousness, there’s one thing that doesn’t come to mind: time travelling monkeys.
Nevertheless, Specter and his band of fellow furry fiends are the antagonists of PlayStation classic Ape Escape. This 1999 platformer had arguably the oddest premise the genre (or any other freaking genre) has ever seen.
Specter was an innocent circus monkey. You know, dancing about, juggling knives, playing with itself and not caring who’s watching, all that usual monkey stuff. By some freakish chance, he inadvertently tries on the Peak Point Helmet, the intelligence-augmenting invention of a local crazy professor. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good thing.
With his newfound genius and a dash of good ol’ fashioned crazitude thrown in, Specter goes all megalomaniacal on us. He outfits all the apes in these helmets, and they rampage through the professor’s laboratory, where the clever old bugger has just completed a time machine. You see where this is going, of course, and Specter sends his henchmen backwards and forwards though time to create some bizarre new monkey empire.
Of course he does. Nothing screwy there.
All of this is a fine excuse for varied levels in a platformer, taking us from prehistoric dinosaur-y jungles to the technologytastic future. Your objective in each is to capture a specified number of monkeys, with all kinds of gadgets from the professor. A humble net suffices for the early ones, but in later levels these wily beasts will be armed themselves.Stealthy approaches and/or a fair amount of firepower of your own will be needed to succeed.
Specter himself has the fanciest (and deadliest) flying machine any monkey has ever owned. Quite a final boss.