The Rise and Fall of Local Multiplayer

Today I decided to brush off my old copy of Kirby Super Star Ultra and it reminded me how much I missed the joy of offline gaming.

Everyone remembers their first time playing a video game with friends. Whether it was Double Dragon or Mario Kart DS, we all have those fun times engraved in our memories. Those memories meant a lot to me because I was an only child – I didn’t have an older or younger sibling to play with – so the times where I got to play at a friends house stuck with me to this day. Now I’m wondering where that ever so common local fun has gone.

Super Smash Bros. Melee is one of the titles I remember most vividly playing with my pals. The game was released in 2001 and it was the beginning of my couch multiplayer era that would soon fall. It was revolutionary to me; the idea of people joining in on amazing fictional universes that in the past I’ve experienced solo. Such a change from games like Pokémon Yellow which pitted me against AI competitors or Sonic Adventure Battle 2 where it was me against the evil robotic world. I had real people on my team and I was facing real people. The tangibility and comfort that comes with a human player 2 can’t be imitated by a CPU. Games like Melee, Wario Ware Inc, and Mario Party all helped create such memorable moments with their innovative multiplayer mechanics.

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Shortly after those moments came the decline of local multiplayer and the rise of online multiplayer. A year after the release of Melee, an online service called Xbox Live came out. Xbox Live was one of the main influences of online gaming. While it did already exist on the Playstation 2 and Nintendo Gamecube, Microsoft’s approach was the most convenient and advanced form. It also featured a title now known as one of the best online multiplayer experiences out there – Halo 2. Utilizing the ability to play with people around the world, Halo 2 was a huge success and made more people start opting-in for games with online multiplayer functionality. Slowly after this there were more advances in the non-local scene, with Sony and Nintendo implementing their own wireless capabilities in the Playstation 3 and Wii to catch up to Microsoft’s online networking breakthrough.

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Now, multiplayer games using the internet or other services like Xbox Live have become the norm. Halo: 5 Guardians, a game part of one of the series that started the local/LAN craze, has cut split-screen out. Meaning no more of those late night Halo times at your friend’s place. Those are replaced with online lobbies and voice parties. They give access to people who aren’t able to play games with someone in real life, maybe because of distance or anxiety, but these features are helpful nonetheless. The feeling of hearing a friend’s voice next to you is creates an intrinsically different atmosphere. An atmosphere that indie games like Towerfall try to induce again.

Towerfall is an arena battle type game with up to 4 players, but the interesting part is the lack of online multiplayer. It was the main complaint of critics and reasonably so. Why wouldn’t a multiplayer game that came out in 2013 not have a some sort of online component? I was wondering this too, because the platform looks so easily portable onto online servers. The game looks pretty basic and doesn’t have too much going on that would overburden any networks, so what was the reason? I started to believe that maybe the developer, Matt Thorson was doing this to make a statement. Maybe he wanted to bring back that local multiplayer that we all know and loved, because that was certainly what was happening. The game was a hit and many people played it not only solo, but locally with their friends. For a short time there was a recurrence of that classic feeling.

I was also right with my assumption. In an interview with Polygon, there is a line that reads “…That’s what Thorson cherishes: that feeling you share with others in the room. It’s a communal thing, like a bunch of friends sitting in their pajamas around a dining room table the morning after a really fun night”. A good feeling can only last for so long though. After the hype fell off of Towerfall, games haven’t really been advertising or implementing local multiplayer. The focus is still on the online, even after the honourable attempts of titles like Towerfall – it still isn’t enough. And it may never be enough to bring back such a monumental time in gaming.

This may have made me come off like a person who hates the future and technological advancements, but that’s not me. Online multiplayer is genius and the convenience it offers is amazing when playing with people who live on different sides of the Earth. I’m writing this to say that I’m always going to miss those local experiences, there was nothing like them. As nice as those times are to reminisce upon and as precious as nostalgic memories are, I’m going to have to move on, and so will the gaming community. So if you’re ever playing one of the games in the local minority with your friends, treasure that fun. Those are the experiences that matter the most.

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Author: Funké

Hey, I'm Funké Joseph. I'm always writing about video games and pop-culture.