If there’s one thing missing from modern games, it’s couch co-op. Sure, it exists here and there. But the offerings are slim. C’mon: Even the most recent Halo game did away with the series’ long-running split-screen mode—a fact that, five years later, I’m still bitter about. So it’s good news, then, that this week introduced a fine entry into the couch co-op compendium in Spiritfarer, the watercolor management sim about the afterlife.
In Spiritfarer you play as Stella, a woman who, for initially unclear reasons, takes over Charon’s deathly duties. Like the Greek mythical figure, you’re given a boat, some magical powers, and an edict to ferry the dearly departed into the afterlife. The game is a cyclical management sim through and through: You collect resources and use those resources to build things that make more resources so you can build more things to make more resources. If you’ve played a management sim—anything from Cities: Skylines to Fallout Shelter—you’ve played something along these lines before. Spiritfarer’s standout quality is the fact that it’s irrepressibly, irresistibly charming.
Case in point: Throughout her journey, Stella is accompanied by a wide-eyed, white-haired cat—a Persian, based on my armchair analysis—named Daffodil. That’s who your co-op partner plays as.
Setting up co-op in Spiritfarer is blissfully simple. Just boot up the game, hook up a second controller, and go. (I tested the co-op on Switch, where each player plays with one individual Joy-Con, Mario Party-style. Spiritfarer is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.) You can drop in and out seamlessly.
To be sure, playing as Daffodil prevents you from performing some of Stella’s actions. You can’t talk to the spirits on the boat. (What’d you expect? It’s a cat.) You can’t activate or turn in quests. But you’re still able to do pretty much anything else—a marked difference from a local co-op game like, say, Enter the Gungeon, which relegates the second player to second fiddle. Having access to many of the game’s actions speeds up the “management” part of Spiritfarer’s whole “cozy management game about dying” thing.
For instance, in Spiritfarer, one of the resource “rooms” you need to maintain is a field. There are three crops in each field, and it takes a hot second to water all three. With a second player controlling Daffodil, you can knock it out in no time. You can also easily split up duties. Send Stella to the kitchen to cook and Daffodil to the aft to fish. As a bonus, Daffodil’s animations are too cute for words:
Even if they don’t always mesh with the laws of physics:
A second player is also enormously helpful in Spiritfarer’s various platformer mini-games. There’s one, for instance, in which jellyfish make their way, in horizontal streams, across the screen. Standing where the jellyfish cross will earn you glims, the game’s currency. Sometimes they go high, on the upper echelons of your boat. Sometimes they go low, near the deck, or in the middle. Playing alone calls for some serious parkour, if you want to maximize your rewards. Tap in a second player, though, and you’ll be able to cover more ground, more easily.
All told, Spiritfarer is a relatively low-involvement local co-op game. It’s not the type of game you’d order a pizza and bust out an 18-rack for a long Friday night on the couch. But it’ll certainly hold your interest for an hour or two at a time. In 2020—a hellish year in which we’re all spending more time working, more time caring for kids, and more time sleeping—what more can you ask for?
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)