Nintendo’s legacy as the center of couch co-op stretches back to the SNES days. A couple of friends could grab controllers and together storm the alien-ravaged world of Contra III: The Alien Wars, harness the best powers to save Dream Land in Kirby Super Star, or kick the Foot Clan’s butt during the greatest historical settings in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time.
Now, the Switch has rapidly become one of the best local multiplayer machines around. Nintendo’s development teams have gone as far to including co-operative play where it normally wouldn’t even exist — like a second player controlling Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey, for instance.
With Nintendo’s latest Direct, they announced a better co-op feature for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker on the Switch. Previously, the game allowed a second player to lob turnips to attack enemies and snag coins. In essence, it made the game easy and extra boring for the second player. Now, however, two Toads can engage in the puzzle-solving adventure together — a function that would have been welcomed at launch!
But this is only one more episode in a long series of co-op decisions made by Nintendo, and not all of these decisions have been for the better.
Co-op done right
With the injection of co-op features in almost every first-party Switch game, the system is prime for buddies looking to explore Nintendo’s colorful worlds without Smash-ing each other’s faces in, should they choose. I’m a gamer dad who is still schooling his five-year-old son in the therapeutic and entertaining art of video games, and co-op is our jam.
Kirby Star Allies was perfect for breaking my then four-year-old into platforming games. The difficulty level was rather low, and I wasn’t pulled all over the screen when he went off the beaten path. It was a perfect game for anybody looking to share a co-op experience with a young child.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas was another thrilling co-op adventure from last year. It was split-screen but allowed us to have more freedom. And when my son would stray too far, the game would teleport him back to me. The ease of battling enemy forces together and reviving each other makes this game a stellar co-op experience.
Co-op done lopsided
Now, enter first-party games such as the upcoming Yoshi’s Crafted World, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, or Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. All of these games are excellent additions to the Nintendo Switch library. They were most enticing for me due to their prominent co-op feature that I could share with my son.
But after playing the Yoshi’s Crafted World demo just after the latest Nintendo Direct, I began to wonder: Is there something more Nintendo developers can do to tamp down the most frustrating elements of co-op?
Yoshis getting too close
Like all Nintendo games, the Yoshi’s Crafted World demo is clear in its instructions. For two-player, the game highlights early on that Yoshis can ride on each other’s backs simply by jumping on them. Sure, the game notes the benefits of piggy-backing on each other. But I can’t help but feel like the function does more harm than good. Literally, just crossing each other’s path and one landing on the other initiates it. Many times I was carefully aiming an egg at a target only for my son to accidentally land on me as he’s jumping around collecting coins or whatever strikes his fancy. Instantly, it’d cancel my wind-up for my targeted egg toss.
Furthermore, when players sling that iconic Yoshi tongue to devour enemies or items, they can accidentally devour their ally if they’re within range. Granted, the ally isn’t fully consumed or anything and can be regurgitated at will. Instantly, however, all the eggs or items the unfortunate player in this scenario collected are dropped, which can be problematic when on a moving train. All the eggs go bye-bye right off the side. Yoshi’s Crafted World is a vibrant and engaging platforming experience, and in the grand scope of everything, this seems trivial. But the frequency with which these troubling scenarios occurred wasn’t few.
Battle of the bros.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe presents a similar issue. It’s the same one that has plagued the series since its inception: Players can actually block each other, bounce off each other’s heads, and generally stifle progress by not acting entirely unified. My son and I beat the game for sure, but there were many times where a player got too far ahead, blocked another player’s jump, or mistakenly kicked a turtle shell into an ally. The frustration of these game-stunting features makes me wonder why they’re even included. The challenge should come from the game’s world and its enemies, not your ally.
Don’t fall behind in Donkey Kong’s country
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze also has its flaws. There are many times where a sequence of events kick-starts that forces the players to act fast and move fast. If one player falls behind, it’s in everyone’s best interest to leave him/her in the dust and keep going. Furthermore, the confusion of who the camera is following (by simply being further ahead in the level) can cause other players to fall off the screen and blindly fall to their deaths.
In case you are going to reference the “easy” mode as Funky Kong, my son did actually use him. But the killer in Tropical Freeze isn’t the enemies or spikes on the ground. It’s missing jumps and falling to your death — which Funky Kong has little protection against.
Co-op could use some polish
In the end, it makes me ask the question: Why are some of these mechanics even included? Or can they be more user-friendly? I think about the Lego games and how the screen splits if players get too far apart instead of stunting the flow of the game for one player. Is that something that couldn’t be implemented in a side-scrolling platformer? Also, why is it necessary for Yoshi to be able to accidentally consume his other Yoshi pal? Maybe the full game will shed some light on the function. But in the demo, I see absolutely no reason for it. The same could be said for bumping into each other and bouncing on each other’s heads. I get that there is some benefit to that, like using your allies’ head in NSMBU to reach an otherwise out-of-reach secret pipe or something. But that still didn’t offset the more prominent challenge of bumping into each other.
I’m not saying to do away with these features necessarily. But perhaps developers can offer a solution in the options menu for players to simply walk past each other and not be able to stifle one another. Playing with younger children would then be infinitely less frustrating. I am still incredibly grateful to Nintendo for providing many opportunities to venture into virtual worlds with my son. However, it’d be far more beneficial to refine (or remove if necessary) some of the more frustrating elements of co-op.