Passing the controls back and forth with friends or siblings is natural when you’re a kid who has to share, but then we grow out of it and start treating singleplayer and multiplayer as different things, enjoying our singleplayer experiences on our own. But for some games having an audience is an improvement, whether it’s people who will join us in laughing at jokes or suggest puzzle solutions or take over when you get stuck on a boss fight.
Untitled Goose Game is a perfect example, both because sometimes you will get stuck (that damn neighbour guy just will not take his second slipper off), and because everyone can join in laughing at your malicious honking and all the times you ignore the objectives to just torment some villagers.
Our weekend question is this: What singleplayer game is better with friends?
For the past few years, a friend and I have been cooperatively playing through a bunch of JRPGs we’d always been interested in, but never taken the time to play ourselves. It’s been a really fun way to hang out: We take turns, one person playing while the other looks up guides when we’re stuck or reads up on the best gear for our party. They’re slow-paced enough that we can chill and talk, and it can actually be nice to watch cutscenes without being the one in control. Playing these games together also helps shore up weaknesses: Their stories are usually packed with cliches, so we can roll our eyes as a team, or talk about why a particular story beat or character moment actually worked well. It’s definitely made each of these games more memorable and much more fun.
I’m cheating on the idea of this question a bit, but the Tales series are especially fun for this, because the second player can actually join in during combat and control one character. It’s a limited form of multiplayer, but works really well in an action-RPG. Tales of Vesperia and Undertale are a blast to experience together.
A lot of puzzle or mystery games, I think, can be much more fun with friends. Something like The Witness, where there’s a lot of exploring and examining the environment, makes me remember the first time I played Myst back in the 1990s, with my friend Steve and I sitting next to each other and working on the puzzles together. Her Story, Return of the Obra Dinn, and any game with a central mystery that needs to be unraveled is perfect for teaming up with friends to work it all out.
It’s not just about the need for emotional support to get through Resi’s tough spots, which is a real and legitimate medical condition. For me, playing a scary action game with friends has always transformed that experience into lots of rambunctious laugh-yelling that I deeply enjoy. The “Oh shit!!!” your neighbor or girlfriend shouts when Mr. X punches through a door and choke-slams you is a precious moment. When I beat Resident Evil 4 in college, my dormmates and I immediately plowed through the whole game again in one night with the secret tommy gun, taking revenge on the ghouls who had wronged us.
During my senior year of high school I played a hefty amount of Fallout 3 and my mother, knowing I’d be going off to university in the fall, took to sitting in our basement and watching me play just to spend a little extra time together. She dubbed every RPG I played “Freddie The Fish” because no matter how you describe a quest, to her it all sounded like the point & click adventure games she saw me grow up on. Playing Fallout 3 in front of my mother was like watching a TV show with a friend who talks over the important exposition and then asks questions later during the dramatic climax. It meant constantly fielding questions like “Why does he want to kill you?” and “Ew, what kind of monster is that?” and “Why are you stealing everything?” She still reads most of what I write and understands about 30% of it because she has no stomach for fantasy, but I always got a good laugh out of playing games with my very perplexed peanut gallery.
I played the original Dark Souls by having a friend who had beat the game come over and be my guide. I still had to pull the weight of combat, but it was great having him there to point out a cool secret, recommend a good upgrade path for my weapons, and drop pro tips on a boss when I repeatedly died. The dramatic fights of Dark Souls are also way better with someone else around to react to my fear and anxiety. We also got to talk about the game and his perspectives helped me appreciate what the series does so well. Of course, I still ultimately gave up at Ornstein and Smough because nope nope nope.
I’m too stupid to complete most classic point-and-clickers on my own, so having a second person with a brain to help out never hurts. Adventure games are typically story-first and I love bouncing off dramatic or comedic beats with someone in the room to laugh or gasp with. For the least friction, I’d go with some of the better Telltale series, like The Walking Dead or Tales From the Borderlands. There’s next to no puzzling involved and each episode clocks in at around 2 hours, a sensible amount of time to sit on a couch. Quicktime events and timed decisions are also way better with someone screaming at you to do the opposite of what you’re doing.