My very first New Game+ column was all about the “death” of local multiplayer. No, it never actually died, but with the start of the last console generation it seemed to be steadily disappearing. Online multiplayer continued to get bigger and more popular as the generation went on, with only a select handful of the best actually supporting local play. Luckily for us, those who love playing games locally with some buddies, we have seen a resurgence of titles that support (or exclusively focus on) local multiplayer in the past couple of years.
I came to this realization when playing The Yawhg, a multiplayer-focused adventure game, with some friends. While it’s far from the most traditional multiplayer experience around, it’s a fantastic fantasy adventure that is simple enough for just about anyone to jump into and play. It made me realize just how much I missed those gatherings of friends and family around a television, playing whatever local game we were obsessing over at the time. Nothing makes me happier than to see it come back in full force.
Sure, there have been a good number of games you can play locally with friends over the course of the last few years, but few capture the same feeling of playing a local multiplayer game, especially competitive games, like some of the most recent releases. They excel in simplicity and allow people who may not traditionally approach these games, or haven’t in years, now enjoying the benefits of local multiplayer once again.
Titles like TowerFall: Ascension, Samurai Gunn and Nidhogg are all similar takes on the competitive local multiplayer formula, yet they are different in style and execution. This new breed of indie-developed local multiplayer-focused games is exciting and demonstrates a clear understanding of why people love this style of multiplayer. It’s safe to say we are now witnessing a local multiplayer renaissance.
The biggest surprise to me was that many of these titles are finding their way to PC either alongside console releases or as exclusives. I’ve always considered the PC the main hub for online gaming, if anything. Honestly, a few years ago, the idea of actually playing a multiplayer game locally on PC would have me scratching my head. Thankfully, the majority of these games feature native controller support and many tend to rig up their computers to TVs for that true couch multiplayer experience. Indies swarming (back) to the PC in recent years has changed the multiplayer gaming landscape, for better or worse.
Most importantly of all, it’s refreshing to see so many talented teams of developers decide to put their efforts towards making games that, a few years back, I (and many others) would have considered huge risks. Now? They are contributing to the rebirth of one of gaming’s best trends. There are no signs of slowing down either due to games like the upcoming Sportsfriends, which features four separate multiplayer titles, each standing out on their own, for the price of one. It’s proof we’re still seeing plenty of variety and support for this style of game even if some tend to focus on the negative aspects of some of these releases: the lack of online play.
It’s an unfortunate topic which tends to come up whenever one of these games releases, especially with many of them not supporting online play at all. As someone who moved away from a group of his best friends in the past year, it’s easy to understand the desire to play these games with them online even if the experience is lacking in comparison to local play. Sometimes you just wish they supported any and all types of multiplayer, no matter what.
That being said, a majority of these games exist to be played locally and work so well because they require you to be in the same room as those you are playing with. Without that in-person interaction, many of these titles lose a lot of what makes them so enjoyable to begin with. It’s an unfortunate side effect of this returning trend, but not every game is designed for every player in mind. So yes, you may never be able to experience the full potential of a game like TowerFall because you live far away from your closest friends, but the continued growth of online gaming means there will still be plenty of multiplayer titles for you to choose from.
Local multiplayer never really died, but there was a time when it felt like it may never return, at least not to its fullest potential. Even if you are someone who never plays these kinds of games, it’s easy to understand their significance. If anything, this local multiplayer rebirth is presenting us with a larger variety of gaming experiences than ever before. If that’s not a good sign for our industry, I don’t know what is.