During game sessions over the last few years, I've noticed a disturbing trend which has been bothering me quite a bit. Every time I start a new game or read through a preview in a magazine, I wonder why certain types of game simply aren't made any more, and at exactly what point the terms "multiplayer" and "versus" started meaning the same thing.
In the 8- and 16-bit eras, it seemed like every other title on the shelves had a two-player cooperative mode where you and a buddy could team up to take on some random evildoers. Shooters, platformers, beat-em-ups heck, there were even a few RPGs offering two-person entertainment and very few of them revolved around fragging each other into wet piles of protein.
Don't get me wrong here. I think taking some potshots at people in a fast-paced action game or FPS can be fun in moderation, but have game developers somehow forgotten that playing against friends doesn't have to be the only option? Forgive me for sounding so Cold-War Eastern Bloc, but there's nothing wrong with working together to achieve a common goal. With all the advancements and intense design emphasis placed on "multiplayer" play (online or otherwise), as well as the same philosophy mirrored by nearly all modern hardware sporting multiple controller ports, it surprises me a great deal to find that games featuring cooperative play have become so rare. More than rare, were talking hens teeth here. Lets face it—the last few years could practically be called "The Age of Deathmatch", with infinite variations upon the theme being available while an entire philosophy of gaming has atrophied beyond familiarity and fallen by the wayside. For those of us who prefer to play with teammates instead of opponents, we haven't exactly been overwhelmed with choices.
Thankfully, Agetec (one of my favorite publishers) and From Software (the extremely talented people behind Armored Core and King's Field) have produced a game which not only challenges existing ideas and trends, but gives me the hope that there are still a few developers in the world who haven't forgotten how fun it can be to invite a friend over and NOT shoot them in the face with a rocket launcher. Their most recent offering, The Adventures of Cookie & Cream, seems like a simple action/platformer at first glance, but it reveals itself to be decidedly different from other recent releases by making cooperative effort and teamwork the driving force behind the game.
The games heroes, brown rabbit Cookie and pink rabbit Cream, journey through a series of vertically-scrolling themed worlds. The screen is divided down the middle, and each player is limited to moving and performing actions on their own side. To increase the excitement and prevent the games pace from slowing to a crawl, there's a quickly ticking clock counting down the seconds allotted to get to the stages finish line. While each rabbit can make a small amount of progress on its own, its impossible to finish even the first stage without getting some assistance from your partner. The necessity for lending a helping hand is the mechanic which takes what would have been an otherwise forgettable platformer and turns it into something special. Games that are willing to step outside the norm and take design chances like this are what made the original PlayStation so appealing to me, and I'm thoroughly relieved to see that the tradition may continue on the PlayStation 2.
The obstacles, puzzles, and speed bumps of the game are fairly ingenious for the most part, and there is a wealth of creativity to be seen. The disc starts off with simple problems such as Cream encountering a large and hungry alligator on a rope, with sharp teeth being the barrier. After spotting a handle to turn, Cookie is able to reel in the reptile from the other side and let Cream move on. If Cream hadn't been able to pass the mean, green, rabbit-chewing machine then Cookie would be stuck on a platform further in the level without Cream there to push the switch from an otherwise unreachable location.
After you begin to grasp the type of thinking the game encourages, they start hitting you with the really fun stuff like one of the rabbits manipulating a cannon to launch the other, or my personal favorites, the vehicles. When both rabbits are required to hop into one of the games many vehicles, things really start to get crazy. While in the huge robot tank, each player controls one set of treads. Without constant communication and shouting out directions to your partner you'll just end up going in circles and going nowhere. After you think you've mastered the tank, you hop into a kayak and have to coordinate the strokes between players by rotating the analog sticks in tandem which is a lot harder and more hilarious than it sounds.
The games special brand of fun is that you cant just take off in your own direction and do things your way like the majority of games out there. Trying to hit a switch when your partner isn't ready leads to disaster, and not talking to each other is a surefire way to end up back at the starting point. Its genius. The game takes these simple concepts and produces an experience that is incredibly fun and challenging for two people. The feeling of depending on your partner and working in conjunction with each other is something that has been sorely missed from consoles, and is something that everyone could benefit from, not only in terms of gameplay but life in general. Besides any deeper message, the laughs and camaraderie Cookie & Cream generates is just a blast.
Although Cookie & Cream is best played with two people, it does offer an incredibly unique single-player mode. If you don't have a friend handy, its possible to control both Cookie and Cream simultaneously by assigning each character one stick and two shoulder buttons on the same Dual Shock controller. While playing two characters at the same time independently was actually very interesting and surprisingly intense, the difficulty of the stages ramps up early in the game. So much so, in fact, that I don't think anyone besides Commander Data would be capable of the level of concentration and dexterity to finish the game alone. Anyone attempting this will most likely end up in the local looney bin for stress-related disorders, so in my opinion you're better off just finding someone to play with unless you consider yourself to be the next step in human evolution.
The only issues I could find which could use some improvement are small ones. For starters, I wished the game offered more than just two camera views. You can use either "zoomed-out" or "zoomed-in", and aren't able to adjust the distance to your preference. While using the far-away view is fine for most of the game, at times you'll want a closer view to negotiate some floating platforms or to help gauge the distance between objects. When you switch over to the close-up view, I found that it was TOO close and uncomfortable to use.
Relating to the first issue, the games detection of your character in an "action" zone can be very finicky at times, which leads to precious seconds lost while you're fumbling around trying to get in exactly the right position to activate an event. Its not a huge thing, but I thought that FromSoft could have been a little more lenient with it considering that most players will choose the "zoomed-out" view for most of the game.
Finally, not really a complaint, but a word of warning: I definitely think that the game is safest with people who are already friends. After paddling your kayak in circles for the better part of ten minutes, you're either going to be laughing your ass off or extremely pissed, so make sure you play with someone you won't try to throw out a window or choke with a coat hanger.
In closing, its refreshing to have a game featuring a variation of multiplay that you don't need to go online to take advantage of, and where the point isn't to shoot, stab, maim, harm, or defeat the other player. I like shooting, stabbing, maiming, harming, and defeating other players, but too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. Cookie & Creamis a well-designed, enjoyable title that is a very welcome addition to the PlayStation 2's still-developing library. Anyone who likes platformers and has access to another living, breathing human being should do themselves a favor and devote a few hours to a type of game that just isn't around as much as it should be.