Multitap: Ranking the 20 best systems for local play

February 11, 2014


So here at Multitap we’ve been telling you the best games to try for all sorts of systems. Maybe, though, you don’t have the time (or budget) for all of them. We’re here to help! We’ve compiled and ranked the 20 best home systems for playing with three or more people, and explained exactly why each deserves its place on the list. Okay, here we go!

20. Atari 2600

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Why it deserves this spot: While it could have beaten out the nearest competitor (the Magnavox Odyssey2) based on Warlords alone, the 2600 solidifies this spot by being the home to what may be the industry’s first minigame collection. Starpath’s Party Mix isn’t impressive by today’s standards, but it uses the Supercharger add-on to power five challenges designed for two-on-two play.
Why it’s not higher: Yeah, generally there aren’t many multiplayer games on the 2600.

19. NEC Turbografx-16

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Why it deserves this spot: Driven by the success of Bomberman, Hudson really leaned into the TurboGrafx-16, putting out titles like the super-hard Dungeon Explorer and party racer Moto Roader. Since the system needed an adapter to have even two players, the adoption rate for the accessory was high, and that meant some really good Bomberman.
Why it’s not higher: Beside’s Hudson’s handful of games, there’s not a whole lot that the TG-16 could do with larger groups.

18. Nintendo Entertainment System

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Why it deserves this spot: The first system to really have a multitap, the NES’ Satellite (and later Four Score) allowed for larger groups to play games. It was very late in the system’s life cycle, so it didn’t have the largest library, but with games like Nintendo World Cup, Gauntlet II and R.C. Pro-Am II, it carried more than enough quality for a fun evening.
Why it’s not higher: Most of the Satellite/Four Score games were sports titles, and the best of them (like most Kunio games) didn’t make it to the West. Also, again, the number of games available is not overwhelming.


17. Sega Genesis

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Why it deserves this spot: The sorts of multiplayer experiences on the Genesis were so uniquely its own. You had Micro Machines for racing fans, Columns III for those who like puzzles and the definitive editions of EA’s lineup (like NHL ’94 and General Chaos). It’s definitely a great selection if you want to jump into sports games, and its older focus meant that the games would still be as fun to fans as they continue to age.
Why it’s not higher: Man, was this system a mess when it comes to compatibility. To support more controllers, Sega had its Team Player add-on and EA had its 4-Way Play, and generally speaking, the two didn’t work well with each other. To make things more confusing, Codemasters went ahead and put controller ports into the cartridge itself, bypassing that mess and creating another one.

16. PlayStation 4

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Why it deserves this spot: As it enters the market, the PS4 is positioning itself as the indie-friendly machine, and that’s opening the door to titles like TowerFall making the jump to the system. As its lifespan progresses, we’ll see more for it, as precedent has shown.
Why it’s not higher: It’s just way too early in the system’s lifespan to have anything resembling a robust lineup. Right now, you can play a few sports titles and other assorted scraps. Later, expect it to move up the list quite a bit.

15. Xbox One

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Why it deserves this spot: Like the PS4, it’s just way too early for the Xbox One to have anything notable, and also like the PS4, it doesn’t have any backward compatibility to keep it afloat while we wait. The reason it wins the tiebreaker is its universal Kinect adoption, meaning that it’ll be a lot easier to use it for parties and other multiplayer experiences that don’t require plunking down for three more controllers just yet.
Why it’s not higher: Expect the Xbox One to dip below the PS4 once things get going, as it doesn’t have quite the indie following, but both will be hamstrung by their focus on social and online play.


14. Microsoft Xbox

Profile: Multitap: Best of the Xbox’s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: The Xbox was one of the earlier systems with four dedicated controller ports, so it has a solid library of titles that are worth checking out. Also, its place as the slightly-more-powerful system on the market meant that it got four-player versions of a few games that could only handle two-player split-screen on peer consoles. It may still be the premier system for playing co-op first-person shooters against bots.
Why it’s not higher: A lot of what it had was multiplatform, and a lot of what it had was trampled upon by more recent releases with similar play styles.

13. Ouya

Profile: Multitap: Ouya has party promise, possible pitfalls
Why it deserves this spot: Local multiplayer may be all that the Ouya has going for it, at least at this point. The lineup has more than its fair share of garbage, but atop the heap sit gems like TowerFall and BombSquad, as well as lesser-celebrated ones like Xbox Indies refugees Hidden in Plain Sight and Fast Fast Laser Laser. Its open architecture lets these games support all sorts of controllers, making the investment minimal.
Why it’s not higher: With BombSquad and TowerFall making it to more and more platforms, and recent releases not producing anything impressive to replace them, expect the Ouya to fall quite a few spots if and when this list gets an update.

12. PlayStation

Profile: Multitap: Best of the PlayStation’s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: The PS1’s best multiplayer experiences are eerily similar to the Ouya’s, actually, with titles like Poy Poy and Team Buddies leading the way. On top of that, you also get some solid wrestling titles and a decent kart racer.
Why it’s not higher: There’s not a lot that the original PlayStation has to offer that others haven’t done much, much better at this point. The early 3D that became the system’s specialty doesn’t hold up well, and also led to games pushing the tech too hard to handle more players.


11. Sega Saturn

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Why it deserves this spot: Saturn Bomberman. At this point in the list, having one all-time multiplayer great on your system is enough to keep you in contention, and the 10-player bombing craziness is just that. Also worth a look is Keriotosse!, a title somewhere between BombSquad and Poy Poy that can be a blast with the right group.
Why it’s not higher: The Saturn is held back by its limited library and almost-requirement that you import to get a decent collection. The Saturn’s a system with some special titles, but most of those treasured experiences are one-or-two-only affairs.

10. PlayStation 2

Profile: Multitap: Best of the PlayStation 2′s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: It was the market leader in the Last Great Offline Generation, and it shows with its lineup.  Champions of Norrath leads the way with a fantasy world that’s still impressive today, and following it is all manner of weirdness from Micro Machines to Culdcept to Def Jam: Fight for NY.
Why it’s not higher: Its reliance on a multitap starts to hold it back against this competition, and it doesn’t help that it often had the worst version of the era’s multiplatform releases.

9. Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Profile: Multitap: Best of the SNES’ multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: The SNES wasn’t afraid to give its multiplayer games some depth, with three-player Secret of Mana defining what a co-op RPG should be. It also embraced party fun in the Bomberman style, and not just with Hudson: Puyo Puyo, Battle Cross and NBA Jam all made the SNES Multitap a worthy purchase.
Why it’s not higher: There’s only so far a peripheral can get you, and the SNES loses out to eight systems that don’t need one to support three or four. Like the Saturn, its lineup gets stronger with imports, even if the barrier to playing them is a simple matter of removing some plastic.


8. N64

Profile: Multitap: Best of the Nintendo 64′s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: Mario Kart 64 and Super Smash Bros. headline the system, but it wasn’t just those two that made it exciting. Mario Party! Pokemon Stadium! Dr. Mario 64! The first default-four-player console made it a core mission to justify those extra ports.
Why it’s not higher: Like the PlayStation, a lot of what it did best (like GoldenEye and Smash Bros.) has now been done much more successfully, and its general lack of third-party support keeps the library thin.

7. PC

Profile: Multitap: Big Picture Mode and PC local multiplayer
Why it deserves this spot: Even since the last time we spoke about the PC, its suitability for living-room play has been increasing. While generally ignoring it for decades, its local multiplayer enlightenment has led to great titles like Magicka, Jamestown and Samurai Gunn getting a chance to exist. Its open format also means it’s getting what are often the definitive versions of once-console-focused games like Dungeon Defenders, Awesomenauts and Monaco, and there’s always the faithful hotseat play for fare like Worms and Heroes of Might & Magic.
Why it’s not higher: It’s still in the process of becoming acclimated to couch play. Many games offer only partial controller support, meaning you have to keep a keyboard and mouse handy, and often getting the right controllers to work can be a pain. It is, after all, not a console.

6. GameCube

Profile: Multitap: Best of the GameCube’s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: The GameCube picks up where the N64 left off, but does so with a lot more polish. It launched with Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Monkey Ball, and it kept it rolling with a uniquely co-op focused Mario Kart entry and experimental Four Swords Adventures and Donkey Konga.
Why it’s not higher: Once again, the lineup’s thin, though Nintendo-published fare does more than enough to keep things interesting.


5. Wii U

Profile: Multitap: Best of the Wii U’s multiplayer library (so far)
Why it deserves this spot: Its lineup may be thin, but what it has is specifically pointed toward having a good time with friends. Nintendo Land‘s asymmetric play is like almost nothing released before it, and Rayman Legends and Super Mario 3D World give it some powerful co-op platformers. With more big Nintendo franchises on the way this year, it’s not stopping, and it’s even opened the way for some nostalgic indies to get into the game on the eShop.
Why it’s not higher: It’s going to be hamstrung by its install base and third-party support, just like Nintendo consoles always have been.

4. Wii

Profile: Multitap: Best of the Wii’s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: It’s still the king if you want to have a good time with people of all sorts of gaming experience. Wii Sports Resort and Fortune Street are accessible for everyone, and WarioWare and Boom Blox really play to the controller’s strengths. It also enabled many to access older titles through the Virtual Console, especially those that needed rare multitaps and lots of controllers.
Why it’s not higher: With all its casual success, it had some trouble with titles you could truly sink your teeth into. Oh, and the third-party thing.

3. Xbox 360

Profile: Multitap: Best of the Xbox 360’s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: Xbox Live Arcade really berthed an indie movement, with Castle Crashers and Splosion Man leading the way. Shooters like Halo started to think past deathmatch into deeper co-op modes, and the Kinect captured at least some of what made the Wii compelling through games like Dance Central and Kinect Sports. What vaults it over Nintendo’s trio, though, is its wide-reaching library.
Why it’s not higher: Much of the system’s library made it elsewhere, and often in enhanced form. Poor treatment of its Indies service quashed a lot of effort there, even as it was cultivating gems like Protect Me Knight.


2. Dreamcast

Profile: Multitap: Best of the Dreamcast’s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: The almost-mythical legacy the Dreamcast has built up over the years is well-deserved. It’s possible that a system could come around and wipe away any need to play Power Stone 2 or Chu Chu Rocket!, but that just hasn’t happened yet. Its lineup is small but oh-so-weird, and you really have to experience it.
Why it’s not higher: The lineup is rather limited.

1. PlayStation 3

Profile: Multitap: Best of the PlayStation 3′s multiplayer library
Why it deserves this spot: The PS3 has many of the same strengths as the 360, and with good reason: the two share most releases. Sony’s system gained momentum later in its life, and what really make it special to group play are its outliers, like 8-player Buzz! Quiz World and 7-player Cubixx HD and Bomberman Ultra. It also brings depth with its first-party lineup: LittleBigPlanet 2 and Sports Champions give you a lot to sink your teeth into, and in different ways.
Why disagreement is justified: It never had the indie cultivation of the PC or 360, and there’s something about the Nintendo/Dreamcast focus on happy fun over all else that the PS3 sometimes lacks.

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!