Multitap: Dreaming of deep Wii U multiplayer concepts

June 27, 2012

For many, the takeaway from this year’s E3 regarding the Wii U was that this asymmetric multiplayer would be confined to Pac-Man Vs.-like, shallow concepts. (As a side note, I actually loved Pac-Man Vs., but that’s a column for another day.) While the actual games shown didn’t veer far from the “tap things to help!” path, the system still got my mind racing about deeper, more engrossing multiplayer experiences we could have on the system. Today, I’m sharing three I think could be most promising.

The co-op dungeon-crawler with a DM

Ever since the days of Gauntlet, we’ve had a lot of fun with multiplayer hack-and-slash games. Recently, we’ve seen Crimson Alliance, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance, Marvel Ultimate Alliance and even a few games that didn’t think they had to put “alliance” in the title (like Dungeon Siege III). While these have fun combat systems and interesting-looking worlds, the overall narrative and variety is usually a bit lacking.

Enter the Wii U, with its GamePad, to bring a true D&D-style experience to the fold. What if one of your friends could serve as the DM, spawning monsters, making labyrinths and generally controlling the conditions to make things interesting? It may seem like a lot to manage, but there are a lot of people who have no problem writing and building areas for weekly pen-and-paper campaigns with a much less intuitive tool set. Besides, if there’s one thing that’s weak about the D&D experience, it’s the tedious, clunky battle mechanics. What if you can just slash some stuff, cast some spells and fight in real time, without sacrificing the fun of gathering together with friends to play?

The action game that’s also an RTS

People generally have a strong opinion one way or the other about games like the Warriors series, but one thing Koei has regularly experimented with is the idea of adding a tactical layer to the game’s run-in-and-slash gameplay. Samurai Warriors Chronicles let you switch between units on the field to cover different areas, and the Empires games tried to bring in elements of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series. Generally, though, the idea’s the same: all this dude-slashing would be better with a bit more thinking behind it.

At the same time, the real-time strategy genre hasn’t really fared well on consoles, and what finds success these days largely refines the existing formula rather than experimenting with new ideas. What if your RTS, controlled on the GamePad, had you start out with only the few friend-controlled units, running around on the big screen to gather you resources and explore? You could use the resources to build things to research better weapons for them, send out more support troops to their  side and, more importantly, talk out the tactical maneuvers with your large view of the field.

The co-op item racer with aiming attacks

The GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is generally accepted to not be one of the better games in the series, but one feature always stuck with me: the co-op play. You handle items, and I’ll steer. It made the game so much more fun, and when you played against others doing the same thing, it brought a different level of precision to attacks and maneuvers.

What the Wii U could bring to the table is a lot similar to something we’ve seen in shooters like Halo: one player drives, and the other player uses the GamePad to aim, FPS-style, managing the collected weapons and firing them nearby. The weapon player would also handle shields and healing items, monitoring incoming shots to know when to use them. Halo has done this in split-screen, but racing games always benefit from a larger field of view, and what’s more, with split-screen and two-GamePad play, you could compete in the same room without giving away your weapon sights.

What do you think of these gameplay concepts? What are your ideas for Wii U (or PS3/Vita, or Xbox SmartGlass) multiplayer?