Last generation, when Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam really exploded in popularity, local multiplayer was largely left out in the cold. The majority of games implemented online modes instead of split-screen, and the definition of multiplayer began to shift from a gathering of mates on a sofa, to a lobby full of strangers yelling into their headsets. Seems a pity, doesnt it?
However, Ive noticed something of a resurgence in same-sofa co-op over the past few months. Sure, online multiplayer is only getting stronger, but indie developers have spearheaded a renewed focus on local mulitplayer, with cool and clever ideas. So, if youre tired of hearing what your mums been up to with 12-year-old Call of Duty players, here are ten local multiplayer games you can pick up (and fight over) right now. Viva la multitap!
Mario Kart 8 (4 player local)
Think of Mario Kart, and immediately you remember friends crowded around a TV, smug winners, incredulous losers, and many, many expletives uttered. You do not, I would hope, fondly reminisce about nights of solitude on Rainbow Road. It excels when played with others.
In our review, Justin praised the slick and smooth online play of Mario Kart 8. But with friends in the same room, those gameplay additions are even more satisfying. It's all about thwarting a fellow players blue shell with a well-timed parp of the new horn item, bashing into one another on the walls and ceilings with the all-new anti-gravity, or nabbing an opponents speed-boost mushroom as they sit right there next to you.
Mercenary Kings (4 player local)
Tribute Games had already proven its proficiency for pixel art and old-school game design with Scott Pilgrim Saves The World. With Mercenary Kings, their latest release, theyve set their sights on the gung-ho blasting of Metal Slug--complete with a co-op mode worthy of its retro influences.
Everything about Mercenary Kings is better with other players in the same room. For instance, the Ghost Recon-esque gun-crafting system allows each player to develop their own distinct style and role within the unit, giving the traditional formula a slightly tactical twist. But even without that, its just incredibly satisfying to have four players mowing down waves of cannon fodder, uniting collective gunfire against giant bosses as they stomp around in giant, mechanical contraptions--its as if youre playing a part in a squadron of implausibly badass action heroes, and it feels great.
Nidhogg (2 player local)
Based on the gentlemens sport of fencing, Nidhogg gives the sport a much-needed shot of adrenaline, in the form of legalised sword-flings and neck-snaps. Like real-life fencing, Nidhogg is about pushing your opponent back, claiming their ground with your superior swordsmanship. However, both you and your opponent have the ability to respawn within seconds, which means that death isnt really the penalty here--rather, its the crucial yards you give up in those seconds of powerlessness.
A single Nidhogg game can be a 20-second whitewash or an arduous back-and-forth slog before one player reaches the win zone, and this is what makes it so good. The best bouts will have twists and turns, near misses and last-minute turnarounds, and some downright spectacular kills. With the right players and the right audiences, Nidhogg never gets old.
Gang Beasts (4 player local)
Much like Nidhogg, Gang Beasts is a game which is almost as fun to watch as it is to play. However, while watching a game of Nidhogg is like watching a classic movie fight scene (albeit a slightly ludicrous one), seeing Gang Beasts played is more comparable to watching four overweight, and spectacularly clumsy, children attempting to stage a Royal Rumble.
Its key attraction is one of slapstick comedy. The flailing, ragdoll limbs and slightly confusing control scheme are intentionally put in place so that no player knows exactly how to deal with whats going on at any given time. Its unpredictability is the reason that it consistently provides laugh out loud moments. After all, when four large, primary-coloured men are attempting to punch, grab, and throw one another on a ferris wheel, you know something interesting is always going to happen.
Starwhal: Just The Tip (4 player local)
Imagine four people with balloons strapped to their torsos and pins stuck to their heads, furiously swinging their weaponised noggins around in an attempt to pop each others balloons. Now replace the humans with narwhals, the pins with spiky tusks, and the balloons with the creatures hearts. Youve just imagined Starwhal.
The reality of Starwhal isnt as wacky or complex as this description makes it seem. Starwhals soar and flop around minimalistic arenas. Get close to piercing another players heart and theres a brilliantly heart-in-mouth period of Matrix-style slow-motion in which you scramble to land the killer blow, while your opponent attempts to worm their way out of a potentially brutal checkmate. Its these palpably tense slow-mo jostles which make Starwhal such a good local multiplayer game.
Towerfall Ascension (4 player local)
You may have heard about Towerfall at the start of its life, back when it was touted as an Ouya system-shifter. It was exclusive to Ouya at that point, and it seemed a temporary validation of their vision; an indie game of genuine quality bringing back the power of living-room gaming with hectic multiplayer battles. Now that Towerfall has made it onto PS4 and Steam--in enhanced form, no less--the Ouyas loss is our gain.
Towerfall Ascension is a bit like 16-bit Smash Bros, only all the Nintendo characters have been swapped for wizards, and been given bows and arrows to brawl with... Okay, so maybe its not that much like Smash Bros. Either way, its brilliant fun, and pranging your mates in the face with an intricately-timed arrow never gets old. In the game, of course--the police dont look too kindly upon archery-based crimes. Spoilsports.
Diablo 3 (4 player local)
When Blizzard ditched LAN play from Diablo 3 on PC, there was something of a backlash. Clearly, us gamers werent quite as ready for the online revolution as they had thought, and we werent shy about letting them know. Cutting themselves a hefty slice of humble pie, Blizzard have since brought Diablo 3 to consoles, complete with local co-op.
At the risk of rubbing salt in PC player wounds, Id say that Diablo 3 shines with optimised gamepad support and a sofa full of friends. It can be a selfish game at times, with everyone constantly nursing their own characters stats, but theres a reason that local multiplayer is so popular among the Diablo faithful; when a group of complementing styles work together as a unit, its a feeling that few games can rival.
Hidden In Plain Sight (4 player local)
The ultimate party game. Heres one you can bust out in a more diverse group, one that you can introduce to your non-gamer friends without being too alienating. Hidden in Plain Sight is the refined essence of what Assassins Creeds online multiplayer always aspired towards, with human-controlled assassination targets attempting to blend unnoticed into crowds of AI, while the assassin players attempt to pick out the pesky human in the nest.
There are a number of game modes to mix things up, but the core of the idea remains the same throughout--the struggle is to suppress the giveaway quirks and unnatural movements of a human player, and adapt your approach to mirror that of the AI characters. Its an incredibly simple idea, presented non-spectacularly, but there are few tenser local multiplayer experiences than this.
Rayman Legends (3 player local)
So, youve got some friends around to show off your swanky new PS4 or Xbox One. Youve got your spare controllers all ready to go, but youre struggling to find a game to justify your purchase. Sure, FIFAs shinier, but its still FIFA. Theyre unconvinced. Well, we say give up your attempted justification now. Rayman Legends may have appeared on last-gen consoles first, but its still the best platformer on Xbox One and PS4, and a co-op experience right up there with the best on any platform.
Rayman Legends brings a special kind of competitive co-op to the table, which sounds contradictory, but is actually incredibly fun. You can punch each other off ledges, race to collect Lums, and just generally have great fun screwing each other over--however, deep down you all know that you stand a far better chance of getting through together. But hey, friendly competition is fun, right?
One Spear Arena (4 player local)
Of all the games here, One Spear Arena is undoubtedly the most minimalistic in both its art direction and its core gameplay. Each player, represented by a coloured cube, is given just a single spear with which to dispatch fellow players. Spears can be retrieved after theyve been chucked, but the uncomfortable period of unarmed vulnerability will really make you consider long and hard before you decide to let fly.
Its a relatively simple system of risk versus reward, around which the entire game is built, but it works really well in spite of its basic nature. It seems perfect for conventions and gaming meets, as its incredibly quick to grasp, instantly entertaining, and supports up to an astonishing eight players. I wouldnt fancy my chances surviving in that sort of crossfire.
Party at mine!
So what are you waiting for? Call up your friends and get them over to your place now for a spot of local multiplayer, and maybe even some drinks. If you're under 18, better stick to the soft drinks, yeah? Anyway, what's your favourite local co-op game? Let us know in the comments below.