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Monday, August 8, 2022

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With You, a cute 15-minute co-op 'date game,' is free on Steam

Valentine’s Day is coming up, you know!

Not to discredit any of the other fine games sitting in Steam’s ever-shifting “New & Trending” section, but when I hovered over With You and saw a pair of funky one-eyed blobs with lanky legs, I was intrigued. I mean, it’s the age-old cyclops appeal. I can’t say no! When I noticed the magic words “co-op campaign,” I was double in. The fact that it’s a free game — which also goes for the Itch.io release, if you prefer — sure doesn’t hurt.

The user reviews for With You were a collective thumbs-up, so why not? I played it. 15 minutes later, I think some of you will want to play it with your favorite co-op companion, too. It’s a simple, endearing, not-too-fussy “date game,” as creator Carol Mertz puts it.

If you’ve played Snipperclips, that’s probably the closest point of comparison — but the vibe here is much more serene with some soft guitar backing, and it’s less complex.

The title screen for With You

Mechanically, you and a partner will play as a different-shaped cyclops, and while the obstacles change from level to level, you’re ultimately looking to line up your shape with a matching outline. You can squish yourself down, rotate your head, and boost each other up. All of these controls are basic enough that you can squeeze together on one keyboard.

But more than just slightly silly physics and light puzzle-solving, there’s the whole thoughtful mood of With You, which I really dug. The game was made with “romantic couples in mind,” although Mertz says it also “aims to encourage healthier collaborative habits within any relationship.” Unlike, say, Overcooked, the odds are very low that your well-meaning team dynamics will lead to any bickering in the heat of the moment.

“My goal in creating With You was to expand a sub-genre of cooperative games that I affectionately refer to as ‘date games’ — nonviolent cooperative games for multiple players, which facilitate communication and collaboration,” said Mertz. “These kinds of games have been a way for me to establish and strengthen relationships, trust, and communication among friends, family, and romantic partners.”

I’m not sure I’ve come across that exact categorization before, but thinking back, yeah, I cherish these sorts of co-op games and the long-lasting memories they can foster.

The Steam store summary is upfront about the fact that With You was a “solo student project [at the NYU Game Center], so it’s very short, a little wonky, and made with a lot of love.” Mertz had more to say on Twitter; the backstory is super endearing and relatable.

“I made With You in a few months as an ’19 MFA student juggling work, classes, organizing a game festival, etc. I had hoped, after recovering from MFA burnout, to spend time expanding it and making a full release, but we all know that 2020 was not a year for burnout recovery. It’s loomed over me for the last couple of years as this project that feels *sort of* done but also *not at all* done.

I only just decided a month ago to release it exactly as it was when I presented it as my thesis, so I could let go and move on. I didn’t have high expectations.

When I hit the release button, I was kicking myself for not adding more polish, a better tutorial, a splash screen, etc. All the stuff I told myself I’d do, but couldn’t muster the energy for. I braced for negative reviews pointing out all the ways I’d failed my players.

Now with tears in my eyes as I write this, all this to try to explain how much it means to me that people are enjoying it. All these positive reviews from players around the world are serving as a reminder that it’s not a failure, that I did my best, and my best is good enough.”

I’m glad I just happened to come across this game. It was a much-needed pick-me-up.

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