By Neil Merrett
Biped, released on Nintendo Switch in 2020, developed by NExT Studios
In asking a player to be both a counterweight as well as literal and figurative support for their real world partner, the co-op robot exploration game Biped can be a thrilling, if frustrating experience for couples to play through.
The concept of what exactly makes a good or bad videogame for a couple to play through is a hard one to pin down.
Whether this couple is romantically linked, a more platonic pairing or just the result of two individuals with an hour or two to waste together, the secret of finding a videogame that works for both players is as deeply subjective as it is for movies, music and just about any other form of popular culture that people share.
So when you hit that sweet spot – something that simultaneously engages a duo without leaving the other bored, unsatisfied or just unable to progress together – that is a fantastic thing for a videogame to do.
Earlier this month, Squareblind.co.uk looked at how the game ‘It Takes Two’ was designed as a mandatory co-op platform adventure focused on a story about a couple having to work together to at least try and rebuild their marriage.
Were rekindling a marriage not enough of a challenge from an existential and romantic perspective, the game shrinks the two lead characters down into dolls that must battle across their now gigantic and enchanted homestead full of death-traps and bitter, neglected household objects come to life.
There is no single player option within the game. This means It Takes Two needs another human player to get through. This is tied to a narrative very much geared to the concept of two people being paired together and trying to fathom what exactly it is that works in their relationship.
It is a game very much geared towards lovers and partners playing together – both from a narrative as well as gameplay perspective. In fact, some of the games challenges might be almost as testing for a real life couple as they are for the in-game characters.
Four legs are better than two
The game Biped is much less about romance, or at least the logical end of a love affair, but still very much built around exploring the dynamics between two particular players. This is a kind of physics-based platformer described by its developers as a “bonding adventure” for two players – regardless of their relationship status.
Gone is the husband-and-wife team of characters and in their place are a couple of cartoonish, two legged robots – one pink and one blue.
Heteronormative coding aside, the two robots are charged with working together to walk or skate across a series of increasingly challenging levels that are designed as playgrounds with death traps such as sea saws, glide rails and collapsing platforms.
As opposed to jumping from one platform to the other, the challenge of the game is based on controlling your robot’s right and left legs. Progress comes from putting one leg in front of the other and repeating the process via increasingly perilous challenges.
Console players, for instance, use the left and right-side sticks on their controllers to move the corresponding legs on their character. You simply have to put one foot in front of the other, but this is the classic example of something that is easy to pick up and difficult to master.
Pushing two sticks in the same direction together can allow the player to skate at higher speeds on certain surfaces. But more often than not, the challenge of the game is to build up rhythm while walking to overcome death traps – whether to uncover some secret collectables or simply to pass through the level.
The game is all about coordinating the player character’s two legs to overcome traps based on timing and gravity. Success is literally taken on a step-by step basis.
Unlike It Takes Two, the game can be played in both single and two player modes. But the two player mode becomes a somewhat unique experience.
Just as coordinating two limbs is enough of a challenge, the game arguably comes alive when played with a second player and the need to suddenly try and make 4 limbs work together.
In single player, the player may find themselves having to match the movements of a computer-controlled robot – usually going in the other direction – to make sure both players can survive and balance out a tilting platform.
Yet with another human in the mix, the game asks two people to develop their bond sufficiently, either via trust, gentle audio queues or shouting at each other to get the whole thing right.
A notable challenge in the earlier stages of the game is for two players to take it in turns to step forward while ensuring sufficient pace to cross a cavern via a spinning platform. The game in its more intense challenges, becomes something of a rhythm game and trust exercise for two players.
Biped is arguably not designed outright as a game about the bonds of love and friendship, yet in trying to reach the next checkpoint after a 20th or 30th attempt, it can be a real test of strength of two people’s relationship.
A player is likely to see the best and worst of themselves in endlessly failing at a fiendishly difficult puzzle with their nearest and dearest. Yet it can feel worth the self inflicted frustration for those fleeting and satisfying moments of triumph when two players somehow coordinate their movements, despite their differences, to overcome a tilting seesaw platform of doom or any number of death traps Biped throws at them.
Ostensibly, the game is really just about getting from point A to point B whilst working together. But between the start and end of a particular level, it asks the player to be a whole host of things to their partner. Sometimes they will need to be a literal counterweight to keep the other balanced on a platform, or otherwise serve as some much-needed source of friction to halt a platform spinning out of control. Alternatively, they might also be asked to push their partner literally in the right direction. On a meta level, they may also need to get better at being supportive and patient in the more challenging and frustrating tasks thrown at a couple.
If that’s not a solid basis for a game about existing and thriving together, then what is?