There is a difference between a co-operative game, and a game which features a two-player mode. A co-op game introduces mechanics and features that are not present in the single player game, creating an entirely new experience. With that distinction in mind, let's look at the 10 NES titles where playing with a friend completely changed the game:
10. Life Force
This shoot 'em up game almost didn't make my list, since little changes between its single and multiplayer modes. However, anyone who's ever played one of these games will tell you that where you place yourself on the screen is of incredible importance. The ability to effectively place guns in two places at once allows for all kinds of new strategies to dispatch legions of spaceships. However it also ads some new issues. With two ships to maintain, you'll be taking up twice as much screen real estate, and becoming that much more of a target. Knowing when to offer your friend support fire, and when to go it alone will determine how long you can survive in this title's amazing co-op mode.
9. Ms Pac-Man
The Pac-Man formula changes drastically, the moment you put a pair of power-pill munching monsters into the maze. With more mouths to feed, the Ms Pac-Man co-op mode made it easier than ever to clear out mazes in record time. But you had to be careful not to take every power-up for yourself, or you'd just leave you and your partner defenceless when you needed it most. It transformed the classic arcade action of the original, by adding some nicely robust resource management elements to the gameplay. Try it out and you'll see it feels like a whole new game.
8. Marble Madness
Just surviving Marble Madness is tough enough to begin with. Now try keeping up with your friend while you do it. This co-op mode ramps the difficulty of the original game up to 11. It takes the original game, and turns it into an incredibly competitive race. Two marbles can't be in the same place, so you'll be forced to explore new, more challenging routes to keep pace with your friend. This means it's in your best interest to eliminate your opponent as quickly as possible. However, if you want to see if you can both make it to the final stage together it will be a supreme test of teamwork and game mastery. Play it as a battle mode, or as a nearly impossible cooperative exercise: either way the mazes will feel a lot different when you go back with a pal.
7. Tengen Tetris
Tengen Tetris offered a vs mode, which by default makes it a better two-player game than the normal NES port of the Russian puzzle game. However, Tengen also featured a co-op mode. You and a friend could simultaneously stack blocks in a single, double-wide column. This was a feature so revolutionary, that it wasn't seen in any other port of Tetris for nearly two decades. Co-op Tetris will probably cause a lot of headaches as you and your partner try and carry out your own (often conflicting) strategies. However, if you can get on the same wavelength and work in tandem, there is no more rewarding way to experience the greatest puzzle game ever made.
6. Spy vs Spy
This might just be the game to invent the concept of a split-screen vs mode. And, yes. I know that the single player mode is technically identical to the multiplayer mode. But, you know what isn't the same? You're opponent. This game was designed for vs matches. The computer AI gets predictable after a while. However, play against some real people and you'll soon find yourself locked in a real battle of wits as you actively try to fake out, trick, and one-up your opponent at every turn. This game's possibilities are only as limited as the cunning of its players, but that is something you can only experience in multiplayer.
Gauntlet is all about resource management. Knowing when to have your buddy's back is just as important as making the tough call of who should take the next health-up. In single player, it's a no-brainer. Just hog everything for yourself. But when you have to think about the good of the team, Gauntlet gets a lot more complicated, challenging, and fun. But add to that the fact that password saves allow you to load your fully-decked out Barbarian into a struggling friend's game and you had a chance to literally show up, and save the day, making for a game mode that let you truly feel like a hero.
4. Bubble Bobble
Bubble Bobble is designed to be a two player game. I don't care that it can be beaten on your own. The later levels of this charming platformer are all but impossible for a lone gamer. And more importantly, the game's true ending can only be reached in two-player mode.That alone should tell you everything about how this game was meant to be enjoyed. Try it out with a friend, and I think you'll agree that its action and pacing feel substantially fresher.
3. Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers
Like Bubble Bobble, this is another game that was clearly designed to be enjoyed by two gamers working together. It's not just the fact that two-players make the puzzles and enemies far more manageable. It's the little things, like being able to just heft your partner over your head and carry them out of harm's way, or throw them down bottomless pits if you're so inclined, that make this Disney gem a multiplayer treat.
2. River City Ransom
Combine the character save feature from Gauntlet with Chip 'n Dale's ability to pick up and throw your partner and you already have a recipe for success. But, River City Ransom does so much more! Between it's RPG upgrade system, tons of usable weapons, and unique battlegrounds, there were always new ways to double team your opponents. This unprecedented amount of variety of attacks, set-ups, and play styles is what sets River City Ransom apart from all other beat 'em ups. This game is a blast to play on your own. But, team up with a friend and it really earns its legendary reputation as one of the greatest games ever made for the NES.
Hear me out on this one! I know that Gyromite doesn't usually make top ten lists. But, I think that's because most people think it's a game you needed a R.O.B robot partner to play. This is not the case. In fact, it's far easier to play this game with another human being controlling the rise and fall of the columns that the professor must traverse. And that's the beauty of it. Gyromite is the only game I know that requires cooperation to even be playable. But, once you delve into this underrated classic with a friend, you'll find that its an immensely rewarding experience for both parties. True, the professor is a much more agile character and seems to be the only one doing anything cool. However, the real power rests with whoever controls the columns that can crush foes, clear paths, or annihilate whoever's playing the professor if they get too full of themselves. As long as you have a player 2, I believe you'll agree Gyromite deserves another spin.
So, what did you think of my list? Do you agree? Hate some of my picks? Think you know a few better titles? By all means, tell me in the comments.