Maybe your dad hasn’t touched a controller since the Commodore 64 and wants to get back into action. Perhaps your partner has seen you on the PlayStation and wants to join the fun. Or what if your nan, who has never played a video game in her life, is thinking about a career in competitive Counter-Strike?
However ridiculous the scenario, these four games are a sure-fire way to get your co-op buddy running, gunning and fun-ing in no time.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
Let’s start with a classic. Recently made available on Switch for users of Nintendo’s Online Service, Super Mario Bros. 3 is a great starting point for any non-gamer. The goal is simple: move your character from one side of the screen to the other, jumping on or over any obstacles in their path. This level of simplicity, along with the game’s accommodating (but not completely absent) difficulty, should allow your partner to get their head around controlling a character on-screen.
Unlike the first Super Mario Bros. (which pits players against each-other), SMB3 is a much friendlier experience. Players take the game in turns, handing over control when somebody dies. If one of you beats a level, that level is done for the both of you, allowing players to work together to clear the game. There is a slight competitive aspect: players can steal power-ups from each-other and contest the highest score. However, by and large, you work towards the same goal – there’s just a bit of friendly rivalry along the way.
This is a great first game because it’s instantly understandable, easy to control, and gives your co-op partner the chance to play by themselves for short, mediated bursts. Best of all, you’ll get the joy of showboating when your turn comes around. Go ahead – show them how it’s done.
2. The LEGO Franchise
With Mario down, it’s time to make the jump into three dimensions.
The LEGO games are fantastic because it really doesn’t matter which one you play. Sure, an enthusiast might tell you that the quality varies between each title, but the important thing is that you pick something both you and your partner find interesting. Batman, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings; there’s a smorgasbord of pop-culture staples to choose from, and all available on a host of platforms.
Making the jump from 2D to 3D should allow your buddy to get familiar with multiple axis of movement if that’s something they’ve not encountered before. Additionally, these games feature some light puzzle solving and combat: both of which they’ll need to get used to in the long run. But most importantly of all, these games are really good fun. They’re quirky, accessible, and full of love for their source material. Give LEGO a chance.
Once your friend has mastered the art of the brick, it’s time to turn up the heat.
This is where things start to get serious. As anyone who’s played it will know, Overcooked can cause more arguments than a family game of Risk. However, if you trust your buddy not to throw any controllers, this cooking sim is an excellent way to bring them up to speed.
In this frantic party game, you and up to three friends control chefs in a busy kitchen. As orders roll in you must prepare, cook and plate ingredients to create a variety of dishes, but there’s too many orders and never enough time. Cook ingredients for too long and they’ll burn. Leave orders for too long and they’ll cancel. These problems are confounded by wacky and surprising kitchens that shift mid-meal, causing your ingredients to scatter and forcing you to work on the fly.
Paradoxically, the main skills you can expect your partner to learn from Overcooked are strategy and quick-thinking flexibility. You’ll have to agree upon a plan for each level (“You chop and serve, I’ll cook and wash!”), but when the unexpected happens you have to be ready to make some fast decisions (“I’m cut off from the sink, I need you to wash two dishes!”). It’s a challenge to be sure, but one you’re going to rise to. And when your buddy can crack Overcooked, you’ll know they’re ready for what comes next.
4. Portal 2
Let’s bust out the big guns. Or should that be Portal guns?
Valve’s Portal franchise was a mind-blowing new take on the puzzle genre when it debuted back in 2007. The game sees players working through a series of “test chambers” using a handheld device that creates orange and blue portals – doorways that can be travelled between regardless of how far apart you place them. The 2011 sequel Portal 2 expanded upon this concept, introducing more test chambers, new mechanics and – you guessed it – co-op play.
The biggest litmus test here is the jump to first-person perspective. Controlling a character in first-person may feel natural to a regular gamer, but using a controller to move and look independently can be a real stumbling block for anybody without the knack for it. Fortunately, Portal 2 is great for this. Players can tackle its puzzles at their own pace; there are no global time limits, no armed guards who’ll shoot you if you stand still, and no penalties for taking a moment to figure things out, so your partner can spend all day trying to move and shoot at the same time if they need to.
That’s not to say Portal 2 is an easy ride: some of the puzzles are fiendishly clever. Your partner will have to up their game significantly after the light puzzle-solving of the LEGO franchise. But, with a little practice (and hopefully, after Overcooked, nerves of steel) they should be able to crack it. And if not, it’s a co-op game: You’ll always be there to help them puzzle through it. Happy gaming!