Multitap: Best of the PlayStation’s multiplayer library

September 5, 2012

If you were waiting for this column to get super-literal, wait no longer. This time, we’re talking an actual multitap; specifically, the one belonging to the original PlayStation. (Even though you can just play them on the PS3 now, without extra hardware.) What are the multiplayer experiences worth busting out four controllers?

A good multiplayer game has to have at least one of these four aspects, and the more it has, the better:

Party-friendly: This one’s easy to pick up for newcomers and enjoy the first time even against stiff competition. It’s also good for spectators.

Deep: Multiplayer games tend to be rather evanescent. These games have more meat on their bones, and stand up to multiple sessions or lots of consecutive hours of play on content variety alone.

Competitive: These are the games you play against your friends, build up skills and keep on challenging each other as you go. They’re addictive because of the rivalries they create.

Cooperative: There’s something about working together with friends that can really make an experience special. These do it, and they do it well.

Games can have smaller bits of these elements, and for those, I’m giving them these minibadges. I didn’t forget about these parts of these games, but they may not define the core experience.

Anyway, onto the list:

Crash Team Racing
While Nintendo systems have enjoyed many different flavors of Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing was the premier kart game on the PS1, and remains the favorite of many. The gameplay ends up falling somewhere between its contemporaries Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing, and some swear by the steering controls. Regardless, it has the elements of fun needed for the genre, and changes up the formula just enough for MK fans to take a break with it.

Poy Poy
Those who think Power Stone was the first game of its kind missed out on Konami’s 1997 arena-fighting game, Poy Poy, which shares a lot with its more popular Dreamcast colleague. What the game lacks in nuance and mechanical depth it makes up for in picking up rocks and throwing them at people. It comes off a little more like the frantic nature of a Bomberman match at times, with item pickups and the arbitrary choice of who opponents attack being real factors.

WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role
Remember last year’s WWE All-Stars, and its pledge to take the genre back to the good old days? These were the days it was talking about. The roster was just small enough to be memorable but large enough to offer variety. The action was arcade-oriented with lots of options to suit your tastes. It allowed for fragile alliances and a bunch of trash talk, and made for a lot of fun with friends.

Rival Schools: United By Fate
There were a lot of polygonal fighters in the PlayStation era, but Rival Schools had a special focus on tag-team combos that makes it memorable. Players could work on their teamwork, tagging in and out at the right times to take out foes. A two-on-two match with experienced players is one of the more compelling experiences in gaming. (If you like it, you may also want to check out its sequel, Project Justice, on the Dreamcast.)

Board Game Top Shop
While we didn’t get a game in the Itadaki Street series in the U.S. until, um, last year, somehow we got KID’s budget take on the series formula. It’s a bit different than the Fortune Street we know, though: you buy shops, but then you have to stock them with valuable inventory that gets bought when players land on them. It’s a different sort of experience that’s a bit longer and not quite as easy to pick up, but one thing’s certain: we’re not getting another game like this again.

Team Buddies
The rare games always have to be the good ones, don’t they? This hard-to-find release was a real-time, top-down multiplayer strategy game of sorts, with a quirky sense of humor (that’s very reminiscent of Worms) and a bunch of arena modes. You make weapons and vehicles out of crates, accomplish various objectives and generally put your team in a better position than the other team. It’s in many ways the spiritual progenitor of the MOBA genre. (Strangely, you can’t, um, team up with your buddies.)

Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style
This is a four-player fighting game starring the Wu-Tang Clan. If I need to explain how that’s entertaining, I’m worried about you, but as it turns out it’s not that bad a game otherwise either. It meshes the ring-style gameplay of the WWF games of the time with a Mortal Kombat-inspired aesthetic and exactly the soundtrack you’d expect.