Multitap: Get your family gaming over the holidays

December 12, 2012

This column’s usually dedicated to gathering with your game friends and playing together. Over the holiday season, though, you’ll be just as likely (if not more so) to find yourself with assorted relatives and family friends, many of which probably aren’t up to a Borderlands session or Awesomenauts match. You don’t have to give up on these people, or even relegate yourself to trivia and music games. (Though those can be very good.) Here are some suggestions for “gateway” party-friendly titles, that just may get people enjoying (or at least understanding) the hobby you love.

Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U

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Author: Graham Russell (2012)
A look into topics related to three-or-more-player local gaming, new and old.

If you’re fortunate enough to have Nintendo’s new system, there are two games seemingly designed to do just what we’re trying to. Nintendo Land isn’t Wii Sports; it isn’t that universally-understood game. It’s almost as easy to pick up, which will work for us here, but it also introduces gameplay mechanics that you don’t get when you’re pretending to swing a golf club. You pick up power-ups. You aim reticules. You coordinate positional strategy. It’s not much to us lifelong devotees, but it can be intimidating to newcomers. This somehow isn’t.

New Super Mario Bros. U, on the other hand, is a great way to rope in that one person who never managed to get the hang of a platformer. Let the neophyte take the GamePad and help with blocks. It’s super-intuitive, and even without dealing with jumping physics or projectiles, you’ve gained a new member of the team. (If that person starts placing blocks in your way and softly cackling, you’ve done well.)

NBA Jam and Mario Strikers Charged

Sometimes, sports is a better fit for your gathering. The thing is, though, that modern Madden and NBA 2K titles are built more for the evergreen, dedicated fan, and end up being a bit intimidating for someone who just picks up a controller. This is a perfect time to introduce the sweet mix of accessibility and fun that is NBA Jam. Whether it’s the 16-bit ports of the original or the excellent download-only NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, it’ll be enjoyable for anyone capable of hitting buttons.

Unfortunately, there’s no modern equivalent for football. The recent Blitz update lost a lot of the original’s charm and focused on competitive play, and the promising NFL Street franchise gave way to poor titles like NFL Tour and Madden NFL Arcade. If you need something, check out one of the mid-life (09-12) Wii ports of Madden. Baseball doesn’t really have a mid-tier title of any merit, skipping from motion-controlled home run derbies to hardcore simulations. Soccer is more fortunate, with Nintendo’s Mario Strikers Charged leading the pack. If you don’t have a Nintendo system, we’d also suggest Sega Soccer Slam, a very similar 2002 title that is currently available as an Xbox Originals download.

Tetris and other puzzle games

Puzzle games are a great transition tool; they often deliver complex gameplay within very simple mechanics, and are presented in a very arcade-like way that’s easy to grasp. Tetris is the king, and deservedly so. Right now, the best party ways to play the venerable game are EA’s PlayStation Network port, with its HD visuals and modes, and the WiiWare release Tetris Party. (The disc version, Tetris Party Deluxe, is fine, but doesn’t add anything significant.)

If you’re tired of Tetris, though (and you’re not, but I’ll grant the premise anyway), there are some other options that require a bit of legwork. Dr. Mario was playable with four in the N64 release, and Magical Drop V offers a passable version of its formula if you can snag enough controllers for your PC. The best Puyo Puyo is the Super Famicom release, Super Puyo Puyo 2 Remix. I recommend it highly, but know most won’t go through the hoops to acquire and play it.

If none of these fit your needs, you can always check out more game ideas in the Multitap archive. Or ask me on Twitter! I’ll do a little digging for ya.