NES–Best two-player co-op games (vol. 1)

The NES was probably engineered for a single-player. I’m not the only child in my family and I was forced to share the console with my brother, which I did with great reluctance.

Looking back, though, I think that some of the best games featured two-players at its core. I mean, it’s hard to imagine the impressive Double Dragon series to only feature Billy Lee, right? What follows is a list of games that my brother and I enjoyed during the NES days (in no order of preference)(*full review of individual games to follow as time permits):

1. Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers 1

chip and dale1

This Capcom classic shows that licensed material for the NES system could be fantastic if the developers stay true to the core of the subject matter – amidst some pretty embarrassing material like ‘Back to the Future’ or ‘Total Recall’. I think that the cartoon subject provides much more material for video games because the plots could be as silly as they want you to believe.

Anyway, from a two-player point of view, this game is best played with a friend – you could try to pick up your friend and hurl each other at danger or even toss boxes and apples at each other and stun them for incoming enemies to sting them for one health point. On a more serious perspective, the game offers much co-operation too – like the ascending levels in the ‘Zone F’ for instance where instant enemies can be made if one aggressive player tries to make it to the top in record time.

This game is pitifully short, however, for two-players and a good team could burn through all 10 levels (if you bothered going at it in alphabetical order regardless of shortcuts) in less than an hour. This early favourite was a constant staple on my NES console and we finished the game in 1991 many times over. Of course, I didn’t survive long enough to beat off Fat Cat as there are not enough flower icons and stars to pick up. The minigame at the end of each Zone also pit two chipmunks vying for the extra life star at the top of the screen, so I’d to make do with my limited gaming prowess. Dang – I really love this game.  

2. Ikari Warriors III – The Rescue

ikari 3

I had reviewed this game earlier in 2008. This game could also run the risk of making your teammate hate you – Paul and Vince could land punches on each other instead of conveniently and selectively hitting only the enemies in a fistfight. So what you get is some instances of petty revenges. What’s more – there are special pickups for the players to grab, such as the machinegun and some hand grenades. And you could inadvertently kill your friend if you go overboard.

Strip away the façade of small-time complaints, here is a game which both players could take pride in completing together. The levels may be short but there are loads of fun to be had – taking down the tank, the armored train etc. requires two players to help out each other, provided that you can set aside all differences with your friend as to who gets bonuses and power-ups. The graphics are also reasonably good for its time and is truly a NES classic. The arcade version may be better in some aspects but for the home consoles, this version is adequate. 

3. Double Dragon II – the Revenge

double dragon ii

This is one of my all-time favourite games spanning across all genres and systems. I’ve played Sega Megadrive’s abysmal offering on the 16-bit system and was glad to have played this version first to know what greatness felt like.

This game wouldn’t be known as the the Double Dragons if there aren’t two of the Lee brothers appearing onscreen together. Billy and Jimmy Lee are both similar in appearances and fighting styles bar the colour of their trousers, so there are no tangible benefits for Player 1 to control one over the other. The Lee brothers also display a variety of attacking moves which never fail to astound the new gamer I was back in 1991. Throw in some interesting level puzzles like that found in the Temple and the Trap Rooms and you can tell why I still think this game is why video games in the late 80s and early 90s are some of the finest. The graphics aren’t anything to brag about but the cityscapes, and other embellishments do their respective jobs well. 

4. Contra

contra 1

This is another great game which cousin E and us have difficulty being friends while playing this. Cousin E loves the spray weapon so much that he would insist on using it all the time, therefore denying us its use. So we have to settle for somewhat inferior weapons like the Flame weapon or the weak machinegun mode.

Don’t even talk about making your way up the waterfalls level. The venom and hatred is so thick in the air if you ever jump so fast that he didn’t have the time to catch up with you and fall to the bottom of the screen, which means instant death. Sometimes we do it out of necessity, right? Especially since there are gun turrets which appear out of those metal encasements and dozens of enemies spawn like birth control has taken on a new adverse meaning. The fact that death comes very easily in this game meant that all mistakes are almost never forgiven immediately.

Still, it was all great fun. The game is a good example of co-operation at its finest and how we were taught that the youngest person should be accorded the right to privileges.  

5. Lifeforce


We love this game for the Konami code and the customizations available. Does this mean that there is no chance to get make enemies with your co-player? Hell no!

You see, this game allows for two additional ‘option’ pods to be granted as upgrade to your fighter. Upon death, these option pods are released and may be freely taken up by either yourself or your friend, depending on who is quicker.

Then, there are the obvious reasons like who gets the power-ups and so on. Aside from that, there isn’t a tangible reason as to why both players can pick this game up and enjoy it thoroughly. My cousin and I finished this game countless times over and the music and gameplay is stupendously charming. The graphics are also polished and the enemies are never short in supply. The enemy bosses are also creatively conceived, so there’s no reason not to get reacquainted with this gem.

6. Shadow of the Ninja

shadow of the ninja

I’ve also reviewed this game previously. Yes, it’s a marvellous two-player co-op game and in this case, two players are better than just one. The enemies and bosses are fiendishly difficult towards the end of the game and you’ll need an extra hand to bail you out of trouble.

Shuriken and bomb pickups are probably the source of discontent amongst players but there are more like fun toys than actually useful in the long run. Also, there are many climbing stages where your friend may get left behind and suffer some damage akin to ‘Contra’.

The game itself is also suited for two-players, given the insane amounts of weapon caches dropped by enemies that you could level up your favourite weapon in a short time. I prefer the chain weapon whereas my brother opts for the regular sword. Together, we fought hard to meet Emperor Garuda together but I was killed by his ruthlessness. It’s not easy! 

7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2

tmnt 2

This game is a very fundamental addition to any self-respecting gamer with a NES console. I can’t imagine anyone not picking this up during the heydays of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze, especially since you could get a friend to fight alongside you as you battle tons of Foot Soldiers and other bosses from the cartoon series.

The first TMNT game features only one player, but I kinda like it anyway. But this game is a worthy addition for me and my brother. There aren’t much variation in attacks but the game is slapped with inane amounts of details like falling metal balls, fire hydrants which can be damaged, hard chunks of ice, exploding barrels, bamboo spears and ray guns which shrinks mutant turtles into a more acceptable form.

Writing this far makes me quite heavy-hearted with sentiment. On to the next one!  

8. Silkworm


This is another arcade classic which is pretty much a refinement on the two-player co-op genre. Player 1 controls the heli while Player 2 fights on the ground as highly mobile jeep.

The premise of this game is simple – just shoot anything that flies and moves. The heli is a lot more difficult to play well as there are more dangers from those offscreen missiles and other projectiles and quick reflexes are usually called for whereas the jeep is accorded a more thoughtful pace. Regardless, a good team will easily breeze through until the secret base. If you’re playing as the jeep, remember to keep the heli safe from all ground-based attacks quickly. There is only so much room that the heli could maneuver out of trouble. 

9. Jackal


This game is also a firm favourite of Cousin E and us brothers. The level of co-operation in this game is so fundamental that you can’t have one player hogging all the officer powerups for those impressive missiles and leave the other one tossing oversized grenades. The imbalance would really tell later on when fighting multiple enemies coming from all directions.

Plus, both players have to coordinate their movements together to have a decent chance of picking up all POWs along the way and score maximum points. In this case, experienced players would fare better.

This game isn’t terribly difficult save for the final boss which is a real pain in the ass. Other than that, it’s a sublime game which should stand out as one of the finest ever for the NES system.

10. S.C.A.T / Final Mission (Japanese)


This game is an early acquisition for us when we first got the NES system in 1990. Back then, me and my brother played the Japanese version ‘Final Mission’ which was somewhat more difficult and with a slightly more disturbing Introduction.

What sold this game to us totally was the amount of detail and mayhem which two players could wreak upon these alien forces. The power-ups are also worth acquiring and the directional weapon pods are also a unique feature which allows you to hit enemies from most angles.

The bosses are also cleverly designed and the levels are never short of inspiration – the gigantic battleship and the rapidly ascending level stand out as some of the hallmarks of this game.

There are also many ways of getting damaged by enemies, whether cheaply or otherwise but this game rewards skill with commensurate satisfaction. Your co-player is also there to haul your ass to safety when the going gets tough, so you’ll need to watch each other’s backs. Overall, I’d miss these games terribly – they were a huge part of my childhood and brought out the best (and invariably, the worst) in gaming with my brother on the NES.

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