Local multiplayer is coming back, and it’s bringing friends. Jem Alexander contemplates how his social gaming habits are changing and whether it could be an industry-wide trend for the better
I've always been more of a solo gamer. I had one controller for each of my consoles growing up, and that suited me absolutely fine. For me, games are about experiencing a narrative, and if someone wanted to share in the experience with me, I was happy to let them watch. Quietly. Friends stopped coming over after a while.
Not to say that I’ve never played multiplayer games. There’s a time and a place for everything, and eventually as I grew up and there was more and more alcohol involved with my social interactions, Timesplitters 2 became a big part of my life. Lots and lots of Timesplitters 2 as well as its sequel Future Perfect. Both near-perfect games. Smash Bros. too, of course (Melee only, we were very much a no-Brawl household). A lot of Red Faction too, for some reason, which was less perfect but allowed you to blow the levels to bits, meaning I could finally supplement my meaningless slaughter with a touch of interior decorating practice. Huge time saver.
Mario Kart 64 (retro, even back then) would make an appearance every now and then, too. And I enjoyed it in that same way you ‘enjoy’ sambuca shots when you do them with friends. I enjoyed spending time with people more than I enjoyed actually playing. All of these games were split-screen, of course. We’re talking pre-internet here. You had to inhabit the same meat space, which feels weird in a world of “what are you doing here get out of my house and hit me up on PSN so we can frag some newbs”. Which is definitely how the kids speak now.
But then it stopped. After the internet hit consoles, I stopped playing games with friends, either locally or online. I focused much more on the single-player experiences and that lasted basically until a year or so ago. Because (and yes, I’m finally hitting my point in paragraph four) I believe that we’re entering a new golden age of local multiplayer. And even a solo gamer like me is getting swept up.
If you promise to feed me cooked meat, I will go anywhere
It’s bizarre to me how much more fun I am finding local multiplayer recently. And considering my distaste of racing games, and my inability to truly understand the appeal of every other Mario Kart title, it’s fascinating to me that it’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch which has reinvigorated the love of local multiplayer that I lost a decade ago.
But Mario Kart isn’t the only game that’s contributed. Overcooked is a truly fantastic little game that has something very special about it. Just as I was leaving the house to attend a BBQ hosted by Seth Barton, editor of our sister magazine MCV, I was sent an all-caps text to “BRING A PS4 CONTROLLER FOR OVERCOOKED” and I rolled my eyes as I acquiesced and I hoped nothing would come of it.
Because sometimes, when you work with games every bloody day, the last thing you want to do in your downtime is have to actually play something. But those four hours of non-stop Overcooked (“just one level”) during the twilight hours of Seth’s BBQ was one of the best social gaming experiences I can remember. Even in mixed company of both gamers and non-gamers.
But it’s Mario Kart 8 on the Switch, specifically, that tells me this could be the start of something bigger. Nintendo has always been about social gaming – enjoying games with anyone within a ten foot radius – and wow does the Switch capture that better than the Wii ever did.
BRING YOUR OWN SWITCH
It was at another BBQ this weekend (main takeaway from this article: if you promise to feed me cooked meat, I will go anywhere) that I really saw the true power of the Switch in terms of its local multiplayer offerings. The way three Switches can transform from a three-player to a six-player experience so seamlessly is frankly astounding.
Playing three-player with a Switch each is exactly what I hoped the PlayStation Vita experience would be back in 2011. Perfect for a private match while everyone else talks about babies or handbags or whatever adults discuss. And then, when everyone else has departed and it’s just the hardcore left, you can throw one Switch onto the big screen while four others play on the remaining two in stand mode. Sure, there’s some huddling involved, but it works and it’s fun and it’s easy.
And we played for hours. I’ve played more local multiplayer in the last six months than I have since I was 17. Which is fantastic! I truly hope developers jump on this and create more unique local experiences like Overcooked or Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. If you are, then please make sure to get in touch. I want to write about your game.
But if Mario Kart 8 on Switch is enough to make me a franchise convert, I can’t even imagine how mind-blowing Smash Bros. could be.