Multitap: Best of the Xbox 360’s multiplayer library

October 3, 2012

This column has done a lot of looking back at classic games and looking forward at our future, but sometimes we can love the games we have now. Here’s a look at a small slice of the local multiplayer experience on the Xbox 360, and the best and most interesting things to play on the system with two or more friends.

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:

‘Splosion Man
As far as platformers go, there’s nothing that requires more skilled cooperation than Twisted Pixel’s ‘Splosion Man. The XBLA darling has you take control of a guy and hit buttons to ‘splode, using the force to hurt enemies, break things and propel you upward. Co-op levels make you coordinate timing to ‘splode off each other in midair or otherwise do super-tricky things. It’s doable, but it’s also hilarious to watch the failure until you do.

Rock Band 3
This had to make a list, and it feels most at home on the 360. The pinnacle of the music genre, RB3 allows for up to seven to rock out on guitars, drums, keyboards and microphones to a just-ludicrously-large-at-this-point music library. It’s fun to watch and fun to play, and it balances between the reward-oriented nature of a campaign and the just-get-in-there-and-sing party structure.

Castle Crashers
PC gamers have just now been able to delve into a game that has defined Xbox Live Arcade for years. The Behemoth injected a lot of personality into Castle Crashers, but most importantly it included enough different characters and weapons to make multiple playthroughs fresh but familiar. It’s a beat-em-up that allows you to be the ranged attacker if you’d like, but rewards the guy who wants to run in and mash the enemy with a hammer, too.

Unplugged gaming is basically the best thing, but sometimes it helps to not have to do the bookkeeping. No game shows this better than the globally-popular Carcassonne, a game that’s super-simple to play but notorious for its drawn-out end-of-game scoring process. The XBLA version is a super-slick implementation, and since it’s a game without hidden information, there’s no awkward shoehorning done to make local play work.

Halo: Reach
Surprise! Halo has long been the king of local multiplayer shooters, with its abstraction working better in the context than gritty realism and its vehicles and weapons allowing for some creative strategies. Once Halo 4 releases later this year, it’s safe to assume it can take over this spot, but all Halo games are still good in a local context (even if the online community has moved on).

Protect Me Knight
It’s hard enough to delve into the Indie Games service and find what you’re looking for, but it’s even harder when the game’s listed in Japanese. Still, you should give まもって騎士 a try. Developed by famed composer Yuzo Koshiro and his company Ancient, it’s a cooperative defense game with classes, upgrades and basically the best Engrish in a game ever. It’s super-cheap at three bucks, and though the campaign only lasts about an hour, playing again with other characters on higher difficulties is a blast, and so is the endless survival mode.

Bizarre Creations made arguably the best combat racing game ever, and was rewarded for its efforts with the studio’s closure. While the single-player challenges can be unnecessarily frustrating, Blur shines in multiplayer, with different car classes changing the pace and tactics of play and a pool of weapons balanced to not need a “blue shell” invincible shot. It’s a game that lets you have fun fighting for first place or 11th, and brings a slick style no one has matched.

Aegis Wing
Want a cooperative shooter for free? Developed by interns in three months, Aegis Wing still manages to be a heck of a lot of fun with its limited resources, and its nature means that many haven’t given it a shot. There have been deeper and more full-featured games since, but the game has a refreshing simplicity.