The year is 2000. Little Juan, his older brother, mom, and dad are sitting in front of a television. Sounds like an ordinary day with a family watching television, right? Well, not in this case. Instead, they were focusing their attention on destroying the others’ will to live, by which I mean they were playing Mario Party 2.
Couch multiplayer games are a dying breed. There has always been 2 player games from the NES days, but the concept exploded with the Nintendo 64 and it’s inclusion of 4 controller ports. Games like 007 GoldenEye, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and yes, even the ultimate test of friendship and familial bonds, Mario Party created an electric atmosphere that brought different generations together in a way that hadn’t been seen before (you know, except for board games, TV, movies, dinner, etc.).
Today, when you tell somebody that you’re going to play a video game with your friend, the assumption is usually that you’ll be online, especially since that’s the only way to play some of today’s most popular multiplayer games (Destiny 2, PUBG, Fortnite, and so on). And while there are exceptions, the reality is that we are becoming more disconnected from making real world connections due to the convenience of online play. Not to say there’s anything wrong with online multiplayer. I’ve met some great people who I’d consider real friends (including our own JC Weakley) through online gaming. But the connection between 2-4 people trying either to defeat each other, or work cooperatively towards a common goal is becoming increasingly hard to come across.
With the holiday season currently in full effect, I’d like to write a love letter of sorts to those companies that are keeping the age old tradition of couch multiplayer alive.
At the front of the list, I’d like to applaud Nintendo (shocking, I know) for their efforts. A majority of the franchises I mentioned above from the N64 are still going strong today. Even the failed Wii U offered an amazing local multiplayer experience. Games like Nintendo Land, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Mario Kart 8, and Super Mario 3D World were phenomenal at bringing the lads (and lasses) together for some great gaming sessions. Even on the Switch, games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Snipperclips, and Arms offer couch multiplayer that is fun for all ages. The console itself was clearly designed for local multiplayer with the ability to detach the Joy-Con and use them as separate controllers. With their family friendly approach, I think it’s safe to say that there will always be local multiplayer on any Nintendo console.
That’s not to say they’re the only ones contributing to the cause, though. For as much as people like to complain about annual sports game releases, companies like 2K, Sony San Diego, and yes, even EA Sports (gasp!) should be commended in that there will always be time for a game of Madden, FIFA, 2K, or MLB the Show at any event with my friends and older family members, since being able to represent something that people can relate to, such as real world sports teams, gives each of these games a feeling of accessibility that other video games lack. The fact of the matter is that regardless of whether we believe the games are just a roster update or not, they always provide solid local multiplayer, and that is always appreciated in the current climate of gaming.
Indies have been killing it in the local multiplayer scene as well. The Jackbox Party Packs, Towerfall Ascension, Overcooked, Starwahl, Nidhogg, and even the (finally) upcoming Gang Beasts are all fantastic examples of superb couch multiplayer games on the PlayStation 4. And to give credit where credit is due, Sony’s new PlayLink games all offer couch multiplayer as well. I’ve had tournaments of Towerfall Ascension that have lasted an entire night, though that can mostly be attributed to matches lasting longer as our mental state deteriorated with alcohol and lack of sleep (but mostly alcohol). And friendships have been taken to their absolute limits while playing Overcooked. I mean, how hard can it be to chop some damn tomatoes while I put the meat on the grill?! *Ahem* But I digress, games such as the aforementioned are doing their damnedest to keep local multiplayer alive.
Speaking of dying genres, games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band are still a part of our routine at family get-togethers. There’s really nothing quite like failing miserably for the 10th time in a row while stubbornly trying to play on expert difficulty on drums through increasingly difficult metal songs with your family and friends to bring you all together. As with sports games, the familiarity with the music, as well as the inevitable background singers, makes for a great shared experience that creates lifelong memories, sometimes painstakingly so. Which brings me to my next point…
These games are an absolute delight (mostly) to play, but another component that adds to their charm is being a spectator. The hype (and heartbreak) that comes from your buddy throwing an 80 yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the 4th quarter, making Blake Bortles (BLAKE FREAKING BORTLES) look like the second coming of Tom Brady , along with the ensuing humiliation can absolutely make a room go nuts. The reactions onlookers have to a silly answer being provided on “Quiplash” in the Jackbox games is also hilarious, as well as the results of a tightly contested vote. Spectators are an important part of the gaming experience which is why sites like Twitch are so popular, as people are filling virtual chat rooms, such as twitch.tv/pardonthegamer (you’re welcome John), to be a part of the communal experience. Although there’s really something special about being in the room where it happened. *wink wink*
During this holiday season, if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself within the company of family or good friends (perhaps both), remember that if there’s ever any downtime, or if you are feeling bored, you can always pull out the ol’ console and partake in the wonderful tradition of wanting to rip your brother’s head off for taking that star that you were only TWO SPACES AWAY from, or cursing your father for spending his ONLY 50 COINS to steal the one star that you had… Sorry, I seem to be having a bit of PTSD… Anyway, remember to take the time to sit back and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones over a nice, peaceful video game and have a happy holiday!