Let’s preface this by pointing out that these games are perfect for any group of friends or loved ones to play together, at any time of year, and are perfectly enjoyable regardless of romantic holidays or opinions thereof!
There’s a thin line that needs to be walked when playing games with friends or significant others. It’s the line between good-natured fun and bitter competition. It’s the line between a fun evening spent gaming with friends versus having to stop and watch TV or do something else that’s less contentious. It’s the line between Mario Kart and Mario Party. Below are compiled some games to be played with those you hold dear, games which make allowances for differences in skill level and don’t leave anyone feeling like dead weight.
Genre: Puzzle platformer
In Trine, everyone has their purpose. Frozenbyte’s side scrolling puzzle platformer puts players in control of one of three characters; Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Knight, or Zoya the thief. Each character has their own playstyle, with Pontius acting as the close combat expert, Zarya the agile archer, and Amadeus the crowd control specialist. Everyone has abilities geared towards combat and exploration, and no one character can make it through the game without the others. More often than not teamwork will be necessary to traverse levels and solve puzzles, with Amadeus conjuring platforms to allow the players to scale a cliff side, or Pontius using his shield to provide cover for Zoya as she snipes enemies from afar. It also allows players to switch characters at will, allowing for a fresh perspective when a difficult puzzle or tricky bit of platforming causes progress to slow.
Magicka is a deeply satisfying game. In it, you and your companions play as a group of Wizards tasked with saving the world from, well, another wizard. Gameplay revolves around combining a number of base elements (Fire, ice, lightning, etc.) to form different spells. It has a bit of a steep learning curve, but it’s instantly worth it when you realise that you can reduce any of your partners to a vaguely wizard shaped stain on the floor with the right combination of rocks and fire. It’s tailor made as a multiplayer experience, with most elements interacting with each other as they would in the real world. One of your party could drench a group of goblins with a water spell so as you can better electrocute them with your own lightning spell, or cover an area in grease for you to set ablaze when enemies come into range. That’s provided you can make it past the opening level, as every single time I’ve played the first twenty minutes were dedicated to finding new and creative ways to explode each other.
Genre: Beat-em-up, platformer
Guacamelee is, at it’s core, a love story. A love story decorated in the trappings of a supernatural luchador. You play as Juan Aguacate, a simple agave farmer who seeks to be reunited with his love, el presidente’s daughter. Your co op partner plays as Tostada, guardian of the mask which Juan wears. Together you’ll chase chickens, assemble enchiladas and beat the tar out of some unsavoury denizens of the underworld. The controls are simple and easy to pick up, but experienced brawler fans will find a surprising level of depth to the combat. Paired with a colorful geometric art style and a host of charming npcs, it’s an excellent single player experience that only gets better with friends.
Players: 1-2 (or 1-4 online)
Note that this entry applies to any of the main Borderlands games, we won’t split hairs between them. Borderlands has been purveying quirky shoot & loot games since 2009 and there’s no better way to introduce a loved one to the wonders of inventory management sims. The games have always been slightly lacklustre played alone, so it just feels right playing with someone by your side. This provides the added bonus of being able to monitor them to ensure they’re not stealing all the best loot! And, less cynically, means that you can swap weaponry and class mods to better suit everyone’s play style. Plus it makes the driving portions of the game feel less like blindly doing donuts around an enemy hoping you hit them and more like something between Thelma and Louise and Mad Max.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
Genre: Action platformer
Very few games exemplify the value of teamwork and communication like Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. It’s adorable but also challenging and, occasionally, unforgiving. You play as a member of the League Of Very Empathetic Rescue Spacenauts – the Lovers – on a quest to purge the galaxy of anti-love. To this end you pilot a spaceship with four cockpits which control the engines, shields, and two turrets. Like the Power Rangers piloting the Megazord, only smaller and infinitely cuter. With two or three people there’s a constant dash to man different systems, ensuring the shields are positioned to absorb incoming fire while someone on the engines makes for a swift escape, or someone on the turrets dispatches an incoming enemy. With a full complement of four friends it’s much more relaxed and becomes a case of everyone manning their station to the best of their ability. Regardless of how many are playing, it’ll leave you with a firm appreciation for the people who have your back.
Genre: Sandbox, survival
The most relaxing entry on the list, Minecraft is also possibly the most approachable. The goals in Minecraft are entirely up to you. If you and a partner want to go mining to the deepest depths in search of diamonds, you can do that. If you’d rather build portals to the Nether and hack your way through the underworld then that’s cool too. Maybe you’d just like to build a nice house and farm some chickens, in which case Minecraft still has you covered. There’s no need to worry about end-game if you don’t want to, no one is going to be left struggling to catch up to a steep difficulty curve, it’s as easygoing as you make it. A few years ago a friend and I launched an expedition (on the Xbox 360 version) to build a railway in the Nether that would connect each of the four corners of the map, with portals in each, to make navigating the overworld quicker. When my girlfriend and I played we decided that building a mansion and a place for our dog was more our speed. Just be sure to warn them about creepers.
The games above provide a broad overview of some games that you can play while also snuggling under a blanket. I wanted to cover a couple of different genres so as to have something for everyone, but a few honourable mentions go to Portal 2, Rayman Legends, Overcooked, the Lego games, and Pokémon Go (teaming up to take on gyms was definitely satisfying while it lasted). Each supply truly fantastic co-op experiences and if I had the time I’d outline them all, so be sure to check them out if you’re looking for something to spice up your next games night.