Ever since I was a child, I was entranced with the idea of parallel worlds. One of the first games I ever played was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. With the tap of a button, Link could teleport from the emerald green fields of Hyrule to the Dark World, a barren land ridden with monsters. Bokura, a new two-player co-op game from Tokoronyori (listed on Steam as ところにょり), continues this tradition but introduces a cooperative twist. Instead of teleporting, players must engage with Bokura as a pair. Each player occupies a different world, from which they must work together to solve puzzles that involve both environments. The premise is deceptively simple, but the game pulls it off marvelously.
Bokura starts with two boys playing a Pokémon-like game called “Pakémon” on devices that look like Game Boy Colors. As the two play, they talk to one another, sharing their own personal struggles. The boy wearing a green sweater comes from a wealthy family, but his parents don’t care about him. The other, clothed in blue, talks about his busy working mom and her boyfriend. The real game starts when they decide to channel their malaise and destroy a local statue.
Together, the two boys — guided by me and my player two — walk through pixelated woods and solve puzzles that involve pushing boxes and other items, like piles of hay. While walking through the forest, they encounter a dead deer that causes them to each pass out and wake up in a supernatural world. Unbeknownst to the boys, each one of them now exists in a unique fantasy space. In my playthrough, I walked through a rugged mechanized world where the two characters looked like robots. My friend got to explore a more cartoonish-looking land in which the characters looked like a bear and a bird.
My friend and I were each playing the same game, except we were seeing different worlds and different tools for solving each puzzle. Where I might have solid ground, my co-op partner might have toxic water. In that instance, I could walk across the solid ground, then push a box toward my co-op partner that would allow them to jump across the water in their world. The game presents a combination of platforming puzzles like this one, during which you and your friend will push and pull items like boxes, fans to help with jumping higher, and other objects to get from one end of the screen to the other. However, playing from different worlds requires constant communication. As we play, my friend and I talk about what we see and don’t see so we can get an idea of what tools each person is working with to solve the puzzles.
It’s something that could easily become a frustrating experience, but the developers sprinkle in features to help bridge the gaps in perspective. When my friend climbs a chain I don’t have in my world, I can see a swarm of little robots taking the shape of the object he’s using, providing a visual of him climbing and giving me an idea of what’s going on in the other world. Similarly, I can also hear the sound effects of the other world, which give me a hint at what’s going on. I don’t ever get to see that other place, but at least I can be aware of it.
The mirror worlds are key to both the gameplay and narrative of Bokura. At its heart, Bokura is a moody game about the unique perspectives each person brings to the world. At one point, the game instructs my friend and me to turn off voice chat so we can each help navigate a conflict between two other non-playable characters. When we return, my friend and I grapple with our experiences of only hearing one side of the story, and how we feel about having to make a choice based on what we each knew.
At first, I was bummed I ended up with the more muted machine world and not the colorful one. Over time, however, I began to appreciate my time with my character. What might just be a robot to me could look like a dead animal carcass to my friend. Sure, I didn’t get to play as the cutesy animals, but I also didn’t have to see the same horrors. The result is an odd but memorable way to highlight the unique perspectives we bring to everyday life — and how important it is to find a way to talk to one another about it.