Multitap: What you want to know about local play

June 24, 2014


The world of local multiplayer is one that can often be full of curiosity and uncertainty. In this installment of Multitap, I answer some questions I’ve heard often from friends and readers, like how to pick the right game for your group, how to find the needed equipment and what to avoid when settling down for a long play session!

What are some of the most local multiplayer-friendly systems?

Well I’ve written about which ones have the best libraries, and that’s a fairly good rule of thumb, but there are definitely systems that made it higher on that list by pure volume. For modern systems, it’s a split thing, as Nintendo’s first-party efforts are best for parties, Sony’s doing a good job at attracting the indie fare like TowerFall and the Xbox One actually trounces those two with player count (eight, to PS4’s four and Wii U’s five).

For now, I still recommend the PS3 and Dreamcast. The former has Sportsfriends and Buzz and such bolstering its roster, and the latter combines the nostalgic feel of older titles with the visual fidelity that the PS1 and N64 lack.


Who do you tend to play games with? Do you factor in demographics when you recommend a multiplayer game?

Well I play a lot of games, but generally play sessions fall into one of three categories: my normal game nights with friends, when we can really get into deeper experiences; parties, when supporting more people and playing quickly is key; and family gatherings, when you just want to make sure it’s accessible (and fun to watch for bystanders).

It’s definitely important to think about who you’re playing games with when deciding what to play; it’s why I categorize games like I do when sharing the highlights of consoles’ local multiplayer libraries. But it’s not always as simple as that. Do your fellow players like sports, or do they run away at the sight of them? are they looking for something new and different, or is it about relaxing and jumping into old standbys like Smash Bros. or dungeon-crawlers? You should be prepared to read the mood of the room.

Where do you go to find old-school multitaps? Are they still very difficult to find?

You know, they are difficult to find, not in the sense that they’re rare, but really that they were never made in an impressive quantity to begin with. Well, except for the PlayStation 2; that one’s easier to snag. But if you’re wanting to play games on the NES, SNES, Genesis or TurboGrafx-16, you’ll likely be best heading off to eBay. Don’t worry about that with PS1 games; those play with four on a PS3 just fine. (And you’ll find some similar functionality with games on the Wii or Wii U’s Virtual Console.)

If you’d rather avoid eBay (or Amazon sellers or whatever), you’re going to have a hard time tracking one down, but it’s best to look in stores with lower sales volume. And if you have a local retro shop, it doesn’t hurt to ask; sometimes they’re so skeptical they’ll sell that they don’t waste shelf space and keep them in the back.


I’m hosting some non-gamers and casual-types and I’m not sure what to play. Can you give me some sure-fire suggestions?

I’ll do my best! If you have the equipment for it, Johann Sebastian Joust is a good time for almost anyone. After all, you get the premise immediately, and you don’t need to be staring at a screen and pressing buttons. Nintendo Land is designed for people of all skill levels to play together, and it can support five players, to boot. If your gathering’s not tired of it yet, you can pull your Rock Band equipment out of the closet, and if all else fails, throw in Mario Kart.

Also… maybe you want to try something unplugged, like Dixit Odyssey or Cards Against Humanity?

With the industry moving more toward online multiplayer and away from local play, especially in shooters, what games do you recommend for someone who wants to relive the glory days of four-player split-screen?

While I’d say the trend away from local play has reversed somewhat in recent years, it’s true that a lot of that has been in shared-screen sorts of experiences. Split-screen is its own sort of nostalgia, and it’s gone away largely as developers push the limits of consoles to optimize single-player and choose not to scale the experience down far enough to render four windows of it.

That said, your best bet is to jump into one of many Halo games, or even GoldenEye 007: Reloaded, which has many issues but works best in this sort of rose-tinted nostalgia context. Outside of shooters, I’d recommend Blur for item-racing action, or a console Minecraft port for losing-hours-of-your-life-and-not-noticing action.


Besides gameplay, what are major factors in a successful couch co-op game?

Little things can totally break the local co-op experience, even if the rest of the game’s great. A recent example: Dragon’s Crown, a side-scrolling brawler that (aesthetics aside) should have been a hit with our group. Why wasn’t it? Menus. Turning in quests and sifting through items is a tedious process in single-player, sure, but when it’s multiplied by four, it is unbearable at best. It gets even worse when someone forgets to enter the quest menu, and doesn’t get credit for the next mission’s objectives.

Also important: games should allow players to join in a co-op campaign once it’s started with no penalty (I’m looking at you, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance), avoid eliminating players halfway through and still take two hours (sorry, Skulls of the Shogun) and make sure all players can jump in without playing hours alone to acquire the needed party members (as much as I love you, Secret of Mana).