It’s a great time to be a co-op gamer. But just because you have a lot to choose from, it doesn’t mean that every cooperative experience is the same. Just like with movies and music, some games fit particular moods better. With that in mind, we’ve broken down a variety of current-gen games into several handy categories. Read on, and you’ll be set whether you’re entertaining kids or looking for an epic adventure.

Save The Planet…
Guess what? The world is in trouble, and only you and your partner can save the day! It’s a good thing your team is equipped with heroic powers and loads of loot.

Gamers have been cooperatively exploring dungeons in real time since the days of Gauntlet. Fortunately for all of us, things have gotten a bit more sophisticated since the glory days of arcades. At the very least, our health isn’t constantly draining in an obvious quarter-gobbling ploy. Dungeon Siege III is a solid action RPG with plenty of gear and weapons to collect, as well as a robust character customization system. The solo game is passable, but it doesn’t spring to life until you add a second player. The Xbox Live Arcade exclusive Crimson Alliance is a more action-oriented approach to dungeon crawling – think more along the lines of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy than a Diablo – and it’s a blast in multiplayer. Its bold, colorful presentation is easy on the eyes, too, which is definitely a plus for those marathon adventuring sessions.

Don’t think that dudes with swords and armor are the only ones who can break crates and scoop up loot, however. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is an older game, but it still holds up well in the multiplayer arena. This who’s who of classic (and not so classic) Marvel characters lets players assemble their own teams of heroes and ­villains. The sequel is a relative disappointment, so stick with the original.

…Or Blow It Up Real Good
Sometimes the price of victory can be calculated in lead. The enemy forces are a diverse lot, but none of them stand a chance when they’re in your team’s crosshairs.

Even though the following games are based on firearms, headshots, and swarms of bad guys, they couldn’t be more different. The Call of Duty series has dominated online multiplayer since its release, giving players plenty of reasons to band together and take on opposing teams. Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops mode is a great option for fans of couch co-op, letting players take on high-stakes missions across the globe together. Epic’s Gears of War series puts an emphasis on co-op multiplayer, and it’s more interesting than just plopping two players into the world. Players are routinely split along branching paths, often with different types of gameplay. Left 4 Dead forces players to work together, too. If you stray too far away from your group, it’s more than likely that you’ll be serving up dinner for a few lucky zombies. If you enjoy horror movies and teamwork, you can’t go wrong with this one. And it wouldn’t be a co-op list without at least mentioning Borderlands. If you like to balance your time between single player and co-op, it’s a must-play. Players have the flexibility to level up in one mode and easily transfer their progress to the other. Once you play it cooperatively, going back to the wastelands alone is tough. For a mix of these last two games, check out Dead Island.[PageBreak]

The Kids Are Here!
Whether you’re babysitting, playing host to young relatives, or hanging out with your own kids, these games show that “family friendly” doesn’t have to be synonymous with suffering.

A million kid-friendly activities exist that don’t involve parking down in front of a television, but sometimes it’s rainy outside. Or you’re lazy. That’s when it’s great to have a few co-op games on hand. The LEGO games are uniformly good choices, with the exception being the pair based on Indiana Jones. Later installments allow players to explore levels independently, which can be a godsend when your young partner insists on hanging back for no good reason. Older kids will get a kick out of LittleBigPlanet. Its content is appropriate for all ages, but some of the platforming sections are tricky and the grab mechanics can be tough for people with little hands. New Super Mario Bros. Wii also gets difficult later on, but it’s an all-around good pick for family co-op. It’s a great place for fledgling gamers to start, since much of its gameplay could be seen as a crash course in Video Games 101. Just try to resist the temptation of throwing your teammates into the abyss.

Kick Back, Riff, And Relax
These may not be the cream of the gaming crop, but they’re perfect if you and your buddies enjoy creating running commentaries over B movies.

Life’s too short to take everything seriously. Some cynical types will tell you that it’s also too short to play anything other than the best games out there – they’re wrong. Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or RiffTrax can try their hands at creating their own irreverent on-screen commentaries to the in-game action. Army of Two and Kane and Lynch are forgettable shooters when played solo, though it’s clear that they were designed to be played with a buddy. Kane and Lynch in particular has a few cool multiplayer tricks, including a playable character who hallucinates during key events – misleading the player in the process. EDF: Insect Armageddon is a great game for those times when you and your friends want to disengage your brains, drink a few beverages, and just have fun. All you need to know is that a bunch of giant bugs have invaded Earth, and it’s up to you and your squad to blow ‘em back into space. Another great option is 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. It’s ­completely ludicrous and over the top, and you’ll want to share the whole bizarre experience with someone else. From blowing up helicopters with pistols to the game’s entire premise (50’s priceless ­diamond skull was ripped off by a concert promoter; now it’s personal), it’s a game that has to be played to be believed.

Rock It Old School
The more things change, the more they stay the same. These co-op games combine the best of retro gaming with modern game design.

The downloadable game Castlevania: Harmony of Despair takes the series’ ­familiar 2D exploration and adds a thrilling element of ­multiplayer. Up to six players can explore the game’s massive levels, each with its own unique boss battles. If you can’t round up a party, however, give this one a pass; the solo experience isn’t worth the effort. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Castle Crashers are both heavily inspired by the heyday of arcade brawlers, but they introduce plenty of contemporary elements as well. In particular, they allow ­players to level up their characters, adding a welcome element of replayability to the mix. The crudely hilarious and deceptively cute Castle Crashers also boasts a massive roster of characters, each with their own special attacks and powers. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a treat for retro enthusiasts, featuring great 16-bit inspired art and a catchy chiptune soundtrack. Even if you aren’t a fan of the comics or the film ­adaptation, it’s worth your time.


This article originally appeared in Game Informer issue #222.