Couch co-op is the best. There was a time when you couldn’t play a game with a friend unless you were in the same room, sharing the same console. Now it seems like couch co-op games are a niche—relegated to only certain types of games, or worse: thrown in as an afterthought. When a game is built solely for the purpose of couch co-op, it can be pretty special. Tools Up! manages to be fun while also a challenging—but hectic—couch co-op experience.
If you’re familiar with the Overcooked series, Tools Up! may see familiar to you: you work with up to three other players (four total) to complete a goal. You have to work closely together to complete these goals. And it’s quite easy to accidentally thwart your teammates in various ways. Or, if you prefer to play that way, there are a ton of ways to intentionally thwart your teammates. But Tools Up! isn’t about messing up your friends–it’s about working closely to finish your project before the timer runs out.
In Tools Up! you will work together to renovate houses and apartments within a certain time limit, while meeting the objectives of that particular project. You can play with up to four other players, but be warned: the more players, the more difficult it can be to coordinate the project successfully.
In Tools Up! you will be required to remove old wallpaper, floors, etc. and replace it with brand new installations. You and your team will spackle, tile, paint, carpet (and more!) their way through multiple floors, with each housing multiple different homes/apartments that require renovating.
What you do is very mechanically tactile, but the controls are simple. Let’s take your interaction with a roll of carpeting as an example: you can tap the button to pick it up, or you can do a long press to gather materials from that source. If you’re holding a material, you must throw it out or be stuck with it. You can toss trash and other items, but in order for you to get a perfect (or sometimes just a passing) score you’ll need to make sure the jobsite is immaculately clean.
The more people on a jobsite, the harder it will be to keep clean! Even walking into a paint bucket, or into your trash bucket, can cause a mess. This makes coordination and communication between players key. If you need the trash bucket to mix grout, for instance, you have to make sure that it’s emptied out and no one is currently using it to remove old flooring or the like.
The only way to know what steps you have to complete is by finding and using the blueprint. The caveat to that is only one person can use the blueprint at a time. Sometimes, wallpaper hasn’t been removed from a non-visible corner, or a square of paint was missed. The blueprint allows you to rotate the screen to see that: but as I said, only one person controls it, and when they’re holding the blueprint, they can’t do anything else until they’re done using it.
There are a couple of ways to play: a campaign mode, and a party mode. The campaign mode is without a story. In it, you just move from floor to floor, renovating as you go along. In campaign mode, you have to finish the renovations to a certain standard (where you will be rewarded one, two, or three stars based on your performance). If you don’t meet that standard, you will fail. Party mode has any level that you completed in the campaign mode, but instead of having a fail state, you can keep playing to see how well you do, and then you can go back to beat your high score.
It isn’t just the specifications of the job that will cause you problems, either. As your progress through the campaign you’ll start to uncover environmental hazards which have no place in any person’s home—but they’re something you have to consider when renovating!
While Tools Up! is a party game, it’s possible to play it solo—though it won’t be the same hectic experience as the co-op experience. As a solo player, you also get more time than you would as a group of players. And while this time is generous, it feels like barely enough for a single person to get everything done.
As you progress through the campaign, there are several different characters you can unlock: from koalas to dogs, and lots in between. And while I appreciate being given characters through gameplay, I almost wish there were more characters that were only unlockable by doing challenge modes—to increase replayability, and to force teams to do the hardest challenges.
Tools Up! is presented in a whimsical style, and is a welcoming for anyone to play. It uses few buttons, so it’s easy for anyone with a baseline knowledge of video games to pick up. This holiday season, if you’re wondering how to entertain your friends, you can test each other’s patience with a chaotic game of Tools Up!
Tools Up! is a welcome addition to my collection of couch co-op games.
Tools Up! is available tomorrow for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Windows.
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