By Jaime Skelton (MissyS), Senior Editor
“Couch co-op” has been a recent buzzword in the gaming industry, but it’s easy to understand the charm. Many gamers – particularly adult gamers and developers – grew up playing games on consoles huddled together on the family couch. Though it dates me, I recollect the days I used to sit in front of the TV with a couple of neighborhood friends as we took turns at the infuriating Duck Hunt or, later, raced together as Sonic and Tails. Heck, I’m jealous that most of my friends now live far away, because the games today for couch co-op are better than ever.
My digression brings me back to point – one of these titles at PAX South 2016 was Neighborhorde, a twin-stick co-op shooter developed by Fermenter Games. Unlike many of the titles at the convention boasting co-op, Neighborhorde is strictly local play with no online features. That is the worst news I can tell you about the game, but the lack of online multiplayer isn’t a death knell. Neighborhorde is fun and really recaptures that “gaming with the neighbors” feeling.
The premise behind Neighborhorde is that you and your friends have been kicked out of the house in typical “Go play outside for a change!” mom fashion. Unfortunately, your neighborhood is being invaded by all sorts of crazy creatures, so there’s only one thing left to do: huddle up and save the town with whatever’s at your disposal. Everything has a very childlike feel to it, from the silly animal costumes the characters wear to their arsenal of weapons.
Neighborhorde has a few maps, and each game plays out in a cycle of day and night. During the day, a new enemy or mechanic is introduced. During the night, that new thing is incorporated with everything else you’ve already faced. The hordes of enemies you’ll face include robots, snowmen, lunch ladies, wizards, and even zombie presidents. There are also bosses that appear every few nights. While the team wouldn’t commit to a definitive “end night,” they did tell me that the farthest they’ve ever gotten is night nine and that they’d like to have an “all bosses in” ending for the truly daring.
Every day, the team alternates between picking a new superpower and picking a new weapon. Superpowers apply to everyone on the team permanently and include things like additional damage with melee weapons or leaving a burning trail behind you. Weapons on the other hand come in “supply drop” gift boxes. While these weapons aren’t permanent, supply drops come frequently enough you should have one most of the time. Weapons are just as outrageous as everything else in this game, including water guns, toasters, confetti poppers, bowling balls. . . you get the idea. It’s like Fermented Games tapped into the creative genius of childhood just to build this game.
What really pushes this game as cooperative though isn’t just the fact you’re playing with friends in a single team; it’s the healing and revival mechanics. The only way to recover your health after taking a hit is to stick with the rest of your team. Likewise, downed players can be brought back up if at least one friend sticks next to them for a short time. In gameplay, this encourages team huddling, making sure everyone has each others’ back and moves as a group, rather than each character heading off on their own to face the enemy or grab new weapons.
Of course, the enemies know this too. Enemies – especially bosses – will work to single out a player and send them scattering for cover. I watched as a team faced their first boss night, only to have the worm boss drive one of the players into kiting around to stay alive while the other three tried to reach him without getting split apart themselves. Even after the player rejoined the group, it was only a few seconds before another player got separated and hunted down.
The end result? Neighborhorde ends up being a game of dodging and skill, teamwork and planning. Grabbing superpowers that synergize together, being aware of all your teammates and making sure they’re never alone, and avoiding enemy hordes all become incredibly important. It’s fun, frantic, and an excellent delivery of couch co-op excitement. You can expect to see the game launch later this year, and if you’re interested, go vote for the game on Greenlight!