In recent years, some have bemoaned the death of local multiplayer–the end of hopping on the couch with your friends and just having a blast. While online multiplayer has opened up our world to exciting new ways to play, sometimes it’s nice to interact with people who aren’t, you know, a bunch of angry 13-year-olds who call your mother unmentionable things. There are the super-obvious choices, like Mario Kart and Smash Bros., but when you’re ready for a change, your path might not be clear. So this week, I recruited fellow writer Matthew Charles (somewhat frightened and confused to play a game for more than 5 bucks) to try somewhat lesser-known recent entries in the world of local multiplayer:
Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360
Also Online?: Yes
Monaco is slightly older and more well-known than the others on this list, so we’ll start off with it. The entire game is seen from a top-down perspective as you and your friends take the roles of a group of professional thieves. There’s a Locksmith, a Lookout, a Mole, and more, who each have unique abilities to take advantage of. In Matt’s case, he seemed to have an eerie obsession with playing as the neck-snapping Cleaner, who can take out unsuspecting guards. Your goals and obstacles always vary a little bit, but it all usually boils down to nabbing the money and getting away from security.
The missions start out very simply as everyone gets the hang of the gameplay, but the difficulty amps up quickly. It won’t be long before you can’t afford to mess around or go off on your own- a plan must be devised and followed as a cohesive team. The increasing tension of the heists can be frustrating, but not overly so, and a good team will be able to pull together eventually for a thrilling victory. Even when you’re losing, the game is at least pretty to look at. A minimalistic, brightly colored blocky style combines with European flavor and jazzy music for a game that looks and sounds as sophisticated as it plays.
Crowning Moment of Awesome: Accidentally tripping a laser alarm always raises the stakes and is easy to do by accident. The guards rush your way, so everyone starts to freak out in an attempt to stay alive. The Lookout runs distraction, the Mole tunnels an escape route, and the Locksmith tries to grab the loot before it’s too late. It’s panicky and dumb but people pull together, and whether you get out or not, you’ll all be laughing and whooping anyway.
Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS3, PS4
Coming to: WiiU
Also Online?: No
In Starwhal, players take control of a happy narwhal zipping through the bizarre and minimalistic regions of outer space. Like our earthly narwhals, they have long pointed tusks, but they also have an oversized heart on their lower flank. Given that narwhal tusks are second only to bad breakups in terms of heart-piercing ability, it only makes sense that the point of Starwhal is to stab your opponent’s heart before they can stab yours.You can only dream that I would apologize for that pun. Credit: Breakfall
There are a few minor variations on that theme, but for the most part, that covers the objective of Starwhal. That might seem disappointingly simple, but once you get in the game, you and your friends will understand just how pulse-poundingly tense breakneck whale jousting can be. Fortunately, developer Breakfall lets you do just that with an online Unity demo. If you pick up the game, you’ll also get a chance to customize your narwhal’s color and costume. Just in case you thought it couldn’t get more adorable.
Crowning Moment of Awesome: To assist the mood, the game slips into slow-mo whenever a tusk point comes in close contact with a heart. When you make just the right adjustment and your buddy’s tusk misses your heart by a centimeter, you’ll feel your whole body collapse in relief.
Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux
Coming to: Xbox One, PS4, WiiU
Also Online?: No
Everyone loves a good dungeon crawl, but sometimes there’s just that one guy who dominates the group, takes all the heroic moments, and snatches all the good loot. During times like that, you wish you could just turn into a dragon and eat the bastard whole to get your shot at being the hero. Crawl lets you do just that, and it is absolutely as fun as it sounds.Schadenfreude is best felt through the tentacles of a giant monster. Credit: Powerhoof
To elaborate, only one player runs the game’s randomized dungeons at a time. The others take the form of vengeful ghosts, which can possess traps and monsters in the dungeon in an attempt to kill the hero. Whoever gets that kill gets to return to life, and then the other players try to take them down. The player who gets to Level 10 first can activate the dungeon’s portals–but the other players get one more chance to defeat him or her in a final boss stage. Between levels of the dungeon, players get a chance to upgrade their monsters, and the playing hero can buy better equipment at the shop.
Fair warning–Crawl is in early access and still has a little ways to go. However, the development team at Powerhoof has been good about making quality updates over the last year, and honestly, it’s worth your time even in its current state. Such a ferociously original and addicting multiplayer experience is hard to come across.
Crowning Moment of Awesome: Hopping into one of the boss monsters and wrecking the dominant hero with your overpowered abilities is incredibly fun, but also remarkably involving. Each boss has three body parts to possess, so everyone gets a chance to be involved in some way. Cooperation is key to taking down the hero, so it’s a surprisingly strategic and nerve-wracking moment to form a truce.
Available for: Windows, Mac
Coming to: PS4
Also Online?: Yes
Broforce takes the tight controls and 16-bit aesthetic of a great SNES run-and-gun, and amps it up with more bad puns, celebrity cameos, and testosterone than you can shake a protein bar at. You don’t just “beat” a world–you liberate it. You don’t take control of nameless muscleheads–you get a chance to do damage with John McClane–like “Bro Hard” or suspiciously Will Smith-esque “Bro in Black”. Basically, when the title screen depicts a screeching eagle with bulging biceps, you ought to know what you’re in for, aesthetically.Leave no man behind, unless it’s funny. Credit: Free Lives
Fortunately, the gameplay lives up to the promise of its sense of humor. Essentially, you and your friends travel around the world and deliver unadulterated American-style freedom by taking out Satan (yes, Satan) and his armies of terrorists. The controls are ultra-responsive and make sense, and once you get a flow for them you can get pretty damn artful with your gunplay. Interactions with your allies, enemies, and environment show polish and rarely do you feel like your options have been artificially limited. Like Crawl, Broforce is in early access, but its updates are large and enjoyable and the game feels as if it is already in full release. There is a demo if you want to be sure, though!
Crowning Moment of Awesome: The aesthetics and interactivity of the game lead to a lot of epic moments. This is just one: firing a flamethrower burst into a terrorist’s face, causing him to yelp and run around on fire blindly, until he runs into an oil barrel and the whole terrorist base explodes. And then you high-five all your allies because there is actually a high-five button in this game. Unless you’re Matt, who I always left to die when I hopped on the helicopter that ends each level.
Got any other suggestions for great, accessible, local multiplayer games? We would love to know about them in the comments!
Featured image credit: Pocketwatch Games