The best local multiplayer games of PAX South 2015

January 29, 2015


Things have really changed in the games industry in recent years. Originally, you had to delve into the corners and crevices of the hobby to unearth experiences you could enjoy locally with friends. Lately, of course, that’s gotten a lot easier. Exploring the show floor at PAX South, though, it dawned on me that finding those experiences isn’t the problem anymore. They’re everywhere, and in this case that was literal. Now it’s about filtering through to find the best ones. So here are the eight coolest couch-play games I checked out at the show, what they’re like and how (and when) you can play them.


Capsule Force

Available?: Not yet. Releasing on Steam and PS4 in “early 2015.”
What it is: Two teams of two try to ride platforms from static screen to static screen to get to the end of a corridor and win. Either of two platforms will trigger the screen shift, and the challenge lies in jostling for position while avoiding bullets and shooting your own.
What you’ll like: What makes this game special is how well it captures the mid-’90s Japanese game aesthetic. Everything feels and looks as it should, making the new style of team-based gameplay shine.
What you may not: Like many games on this list, Capsule Force is highly competitive and really doesn’t do anything to mitigate any talent imbalances. Less-talented players may get frustrated quickly.



Available?: Currently in closed beta, but you can buy in through Early Access.
What it is: We’re long overdue for “Smash Bros.-like” to become a genre, and Brawlhalla is definitely inspired by that brawler. It’s more about picking up weapons and landing big hits, though; it’s balanced to allow a lot of recovery if a player survives a hit.
What you’ll like: It’s a take on Smash that uses items but in a way that the “no items” Smash crowd may embrace. Pick-ups and moves are streamlined, making studying character match-ups appealing.
What you may not: As a relatively low-budget take on the formula, it pares down a lot of the scale and production values, focusing on doing a simple thing well. But in this genre, some may not be prepared for a simpler take.



Available?: Not yet. Headed to PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and 360 sometime this year.
What it is: Basically soccer played with Asteroids ships, Videoball has you use shots — of various charge levels — to hit one of three balls into the opponents goal or goals.
What you’ll like: It controls very differently than most of these “sports” games, but it manages to be both incredibly simple and sufficiently strategic. You can “dribble” with tiny hits, but you’re vulnerable to counter-attack. You can charge a huge shot, but it’s a big investment and you may miss. You can also charge fully and place a defensive cube, but it blocks you too if you place it badly.
What you may not: If you play it with the game’s creator, Tim Rogers, he will beat you badly and you will feel entirely incapable as a player.


Super Slam Dunk Touchdown

Available?: Sort of? There’s a pre-alpha you can download at the developer’s site.
What it is: It’s sports! You know, all of them, at the same time. Players choose a character from a various sport (like basketball or football) and try to score points. There’s a hoop and there’s a net, and different players can score on different goals and have different capabilities.
What you’ll like: It’s six-player chaos! You can mitigate that by focusing on your role. For example, the hoopster is all about scoring, as he can shoot at any goal, but he’s pretty useless on defense or when passing. That guy can get in position while his teammates defend and feed him the rock.
What you may not: There’s maybe a bit too much chaos at this point in development. Shooting doesn’t feel particularly responsive, and it makes a lot of the results feel arbitrary. But we could easily see that ironed out before release.


Knight Squad

Available?: Yes, on Steam Early Access.
What it is: It’s Bomberman, but with medieval weaponry. Basically. There are different game modes, but you spawn in the corner with your knight, destroy blocks, get to power-ups and generally take out your competition.
What you’ll like: It’s a very friendly game, with simple controls and a polished feel. You’ll probably also find a game type you like the most; the team was showing off a capture-the-grail mode at the expo, but there are more, deeper options that could appeal more to repeat players.
What you may not: The precision of movement and attacking is a little loose, making it more of a party game and less of an eSport. Which you may find refreshing or frustrating.



Available?: Yes, on Wii U eShop.
What it is: It’s a bit like Joust meets basketball. You ride a bird around and flap, and you have the Joust-style attacking through elevation. The goal here, though, is to run into balls, knocking them toward the goal and changing them to your color. If a ball is your color when it hits the goal, you score points!
What you’ll like: It’s a return to a classic control scheme that really hasn’t done much in the interim. It plays with it, too: birds of different size and speed really affect your tactics, and each team has a different group of fliers.
What you may not: Actually aiming shots is not the easiest thing to do; you can certainly play smart defense, but the offense side feels more random.


Hive Jump

Available?: Not yet. Headed to Steam and Wii U.
What it is: It’s a little bit Spelunky, a little bit Metroid and a lot of four-player bullet-spraying. Players delve down randomly-generated caverns for treasure and upgrades, and beat big bosses at the end of each expedition.
What you’ll like: It’s more forgiving than you’d think it’d be, as you always respawn until a designated backpack is destroyed, so you can go in with a little more gusto than your usual roguelike delve game. Also, it uses its procedural generation on names, too; every respawn is a different person, and the monikers are delightfully silly.
What you may not: At this point, it’s actually rather difficult to see what’s going on, especially with upgraded weaponry like flamethrowers covering the screen and the oversaturated colors making everything catch your eye. The developers at Graphite Lab assured me they’re working on that, though.



Available?: Not yet. Headed to PS4, Xbox One and PC.
What it is: Volleyball with guns. No, seriously. You have two bullets to shoot at the ball and send it back the other way, and you reload when it crosses the middle line. You’re trying to score into the goals in the back or, failing that, have it land on the opponents’ side.
What you’ll like: It’s a simple game with high stakes. The longer a volley goes, the more points it’s worth, so coming through in the tense, competitive moments is rewarded. It also makes whiffing near the beginning less of an issue. Also, the game’s cool cyberpunk attitude is well-executed.
What you may not: The aiming can be a bit difficult to get used to, and at this point, the level of variety may be limited. It’s suited for a few quick matches, and not an entire evening.


Honorable mention: Dallas Society of Play games

I had to give the efforts from the Dallas Society of Play a mention, even if most of them are early prototypes or not headed for release at all. The collective of designers packed an arcade cabinet with nine fun little challenges for up to four players, and many of them showed a lot of promise. Some of these are headed to a place you can play them, including the releasing-this-week Stardust Vanguards, and I hope to bring you more about them in the near future.