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An Ode to Couch Co-op

As an 80s child, I often catch myself reminiscing about the past with questions like: “What would it be like just to sit down and do that again?” and “What would society be like if we didn’t rely on mobile phones to communicate?”. More specifically though, I often find myself reminiscing about my past gaming experiences, especially after I had two OMG moments this weekend which brought back a flood of (mostly) great memories.

First, I played Singstar with the neighbours (alcohol may have been involved) and I just couldn’t believe the togetherness this game brought to the group. The second moment was when my pal asked me, “Do you want to play Point Blank?” to which my response was, “Sure, I’ll just pull a CRT TV out of my ass!” but to my surprise it was all there: the CRT TV, the PS1, and the two G-Con controllers.

In honor of these great in-person multiplayer memories, here are my reviews of three couch co-op games that are very close to my heart.

Streets of Rage (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

This was the first couch co-op game I had ever owned. Two years beforehand we were given Golden Axe, which is a very similar game, but for me the modern (at the time) setting of Streets of Rage is what won me over. The setting is a city that has recently been usurped by a Mob Boss. Full of constant crime and violence, it appeared this city was doomed. Three Police Officers were not granted a special force to confront the Mob Boss so in return they handed their badges in and decided it was their fate to bring this city back to tranquillity.

Now ex-Officers, one of these three characters may be selected by each player. Adam, the ex-boxer, is the strongest of the three and can jump well, but he is also the slowest. Then there is Blaze, she has a judo background and is by far the quickest, but the drawback is that she is the weakest. Axel, the martial artist, is a happy medium of strength and speed, but suffers in the jumping department.

Gameplay

You move your character around the screen using the D-Pad, attack with B, and jump with C. You can also pick up a variety of weapons and can even grab opponents by walking into them for various attacks. Then there is the very best button available; the A button. This was the money shot. Each character had a “secret” police car that launched a missile into the air which had different special effects when it landed, such as a ring of fire or a barrage of explosions. When you first see it, it is without a doubt an OMFG moment.

The game features only eight levels and you travel from left to right on each one, except for the last level where you move from right to left. There are a variety of in-game items to help you along the way and depending on the level you could break phone booths, barrels, cones, etc. to obtain cash (points), food, weapons, extra lives, and — on very rare occasions — another use of the police car. At the end of each level the screen stops scrolling and a boss (or bosses in multiplayer) will appear. Bosses are much more difficult to defeat than normal enemies because they have more health as well as unique and powerful attacks. There are also a few surprises later on in the game which I don’t want to spoil for you.

Sound

And after all that I can’t leave out the sound. Each level has its own unique and catchy soundtrack which coincides well with the level design. When the boss arrived and the music changed you’d look to your pal and then it’s back to the task in hand.

If you have never played this game I recommend it! It’s something you should play at least once just to appreciate it; it’s a true masterpiece of its time.

ISS Pro Evolution (PlayStation 1)

Ah, the make-or-break of friendships. This is the true test of any friendship. It’s 0-0 with 1 minute to go and BOOM, you have just scored a whopping free kick with the overpowered Roberto Larcos (Roberto Carlos for any FIFA fanboys) and before you can even celebrate, your “friend” has left the room.  Well, back to Master League then.

ISS Pro Evolution was the game that finally started to turn the heads of FIFA players. It was more realistic than before; so realistic you’d think you were playing the real thing. FIFA at the time was very watered down to the mass market so you could just pick up and play.  Nothing felt better than shooting and believing you had made that happen! You believed that you had full control, even if that wasn’t entirely correct.

Gameplay

This is where the realism comes in. The controls slightly differ from most of the football games of the time: Square is for shoot, Circle is for long ball, and L1 is for running. Getting used to it was difficult as it wasn’t the norm. But once you were there you felt alive and in firm control. Anything you wanted to do was possible, and that’s what made it satisfying. Nothing was guaranteed, but when you could make it work consistently, that’s when you felt powerful. There were basic tricks which assisted moving around in tight situations. Tactics made a real impact on the game too. You could manage each player (nothing like these days, though) so that you can play the game the way you want to. You can play the ball from the back and then the AMC (yes, AMC!) can make that killer pass for the striker to score. Or you can be a long ball team who can play it up to a big striker, hold the ball up, and then move. The control was in your hands. Anyone got Pep’s Number?

Graphics

You can see that at the time Konami did not have the budget that EA had. This game suffered because of that, but they did the best with what they had. Each player had their own characteristics, such as Zidane who had his white boots and bald spot. Oddly though, the player faces were very similar, expect for a few big names, even then their face looked like it had been stuck on. You can tell that the stadiums (of which were real) were extremely well modeled, Wembley is a very fitting example. Before each game you had a small intro, which showed the game off well. And finally, the players looked like they moved like people rather than apes.

Sound

Commentary has never been that good and is by no means an easy job in any sports game. However, the money wasn’t well spent in this department. There were about 6 phrases in the game and there was no rhyme or reason to them appearing. Even if you didn’t put the name calling on then the commentary was pretty much silent and when it wasn’t it was out of context. For instance, you’re playing as England and you’re getting smashed 4-0 by Brazil when you hear “1-0 to England!”. Someone didn’t think this through. At least there was real-life crowd chanting in the background.

Licensing aside and despite the lack of player names and English team names, in my opinion this is the best football game of its time and potentially ever. When I was younger, I saw this game more often than FIFA when visiting friends. Well done, Konami!

Rock Band (PlayStation 3)

At a time when Guitar Hero was the king of the genre, Rock Band appeared. It had more guts and feel to it and, similar to the review above, I felt like I was really a member of the band. When playing, you believed it. After working on the first three Guitar Hero games, Harmonix decided it was time to try something new. And that something was Rock Band and it made me ask,  “Why wasn’t this in Guitar Hero?”.

Everything Guitar Hero had. Rock Band improved upon.

Gameplay

It’s Singstar meets Guitar Hero, then throw in a set of drums and you’ve got a band. Each instrument has a solo campaign, there’s a quick play option, and you can even create your own characters. Every created character can be used together to form a band in multiplayer as well. There is also a wide variety of songs available for purchase as DLC.

Single player mode is simply a standard Guitar hero campaign, the only difference is its is across all of the instruments.

Multiplayer is where this game comes to life. If you fancy a quick jam it doesn’t take long to get going. You can even swap an instrument in and out with ease. Band Tour, a mode for 2-4 players, is HUGE to say the least. You travel across various locations playing all sorts of different songs while working your way up from a small time band to rock gods. You do this by gathering fans and earning money. Usually it’s just one song and you move on, but sometimes it’s a playlist from a genre and the songs are well laid out. You can even go as far as designing your own band logo and each character is customisable, but are also bound to a particular instrument. This means you’ll need to use a different character if you want a crack at the drums, for instance. Another minor issue is that you can’t play this mode without the band leader present which may be a nuisance to some players.

Sound

For this kind of game to work the music needs to be on point. The variety of music and the impact the songs make when you rock out is fantastic. Even if you didn’t know a track you’d soon come to enjoy it. Harmonix chose to go with big bands/artists rather than just popular songs.

Graphics

All the above is what makes the game work. But to see this in motion whilst you are playing is outstanding. It is just like you are watching a recording of a show. The cameras pan and zoom, mixing crowd shots with shots of the band who are very animated. When a player has a solo, they are the focus and you see everything they’re doing. A really nice touch is if you’re playing in a venue that isn’t well lit then you see a grainy texture on the lens.

And That’s It!

In conclusion there were hundreds of hours pumped into these games. I have jammed, I have fallen out with friends for a few days, and I have mastered the side scroller. Would I do it all over again? You’re damn right!

– KevM

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