Raised with a Nintendo controller in my hands, most of my experiences with gaming included a friend or one of my family members sitting side-by-side with me on the living room floor in front of the television set. I remember my brother and I waking up before the sun rose and playing Super Mario Bros. and feeling like everything was right with the world. To be honest, I don’t think I could have been much happier. With the spiking popularity of online gaming and massive single-player games like Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls, and Mass Effect, It’s truly hard to have moments like that these days, and that leaves me wondering, “Has gaming with friends lost its meaning?”
One of the most well-remembered and defining co-op games of the 90’s was The Simpsons Arcade Game. This was a game that I personally spent probably close to $200 in quarters in throughout my youth in laundromat arcades. Getting to play as each of the main characters, and getting to visit different parts of Springfield was everything I could have wanted. That, and getting to fight Robot Mr. Burns are undoubtedly some of my most cherished childhood memories. With the release of it on Xbox 360 and PS3 recently, I took the time to play it online and it almost does not even feel like the same game to me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why. Could a game that is meant to be played locally really suffer that much with online play?
If you grew up in the 80’s or 90’s, you probably spent your better half of your weekends in arcades and if you did, you more than likely remember playing the Mortal Kombat games. You and a friend could go head-to-head and determine which of you was the better fighter. Remember picking Scorpion and your friend thought it’d be cool to be Sub-Zero? Then – of course – you won, (because you were Scorpion) which led to that extremely satisfying moment where the screen went dark, and you lit that snowball throwing sissy on fire. You and your buddy laughed, talked trash, and probably even high-fived one or twice.
One of my personal favorites from the era of PS2/Xbox was an action/shooter named Freedom Fighters. Along with a fun single player, this game had 4-player multiplayer that combined a strategic tower defense-esque genre with outlandishly fun shooter mayhem. Memories of my brother, I, and a friend teaming up against my cousin still makes me chuckle inwardly.
With a new generation of consoles came a new generation of multiplayer ecstasy. Introduced during this generation of consoles was the ability to play online. Certain games like Star Wars: Battlefront and Dead or Alive. While this was a huge step forward towards what we know today, I can’t say I know many people who took advantage of the online capabilities the PS2 delivered. Xbox, on the other hand, took off, and Halo: Combat Evolved was at the forefront of it all. While I played online quite a bit, I still had a second controller plugged in and ready for a friend. Right around the time Halo 2 came out, it quickly became apparent that online gaming was here to stay. I no longer had people coming over, because they insisted I add them on Xbox Live and we could play like that. It wasn’t a time to chill and eat some pizza while yelling at the TV. No, it became more of time to eat pizza and yell at the TV by yourself.
The absolute mecca of multiplayer gaming before the onset of online gaming has to be Super Smash Bros.. With its 4-player head-to-head combat, large, impressive roster of familiar Nintendo faces, and plenty of extras to keep you occupied for a long time to come, this is a game that I miss the most. Multiplayer games back then didn’t just allow you to play with someone, they strengthened or even created a bond between you and another person as well as kept you thoroughly entertained. When Super Smash Bros. Brawl finally came out, fans got the chance to take the epic fantasy fighter online. While it still remained entirely fun, it didn’t feel as enjoyable as previous installments, that is until I played offline with a few people. It was exactly how I expected and I couldn’t have been more happy getting to falcon punch Jiggly Puff into oblivion.
Today, almost every game is released packed with some kind of multiplayer experience whether it be your standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, king of the hill, or the ever so popular “horde mode.” Sure, they provide countless hours of enjoyment, but can any game really bring the same kind of excitement found in older games? Does scoring headshots and calling aerial strikes still evoke the same sense of enjoyment as trying to get to King K. Rool? Have games lost their touch when it comes to bringing people together? Sure, there is now the Kinect, which allows families to play through trivial mini-games as a unit, but it isn’t the same. It might be as close as we get to for some time, which is a little disheartening.
To be fair, I could be speaking a lot on nostalgia. I did a lot of extensive playing on older consoles with numerous people before I wrote this, and while a few games don’t hold up to today’s standards, they still have that adrenaline-rushing fun that I feel is left out on a lot of this generation of games. Online games today appear to try keeping the integrity of at home multiplayer fun, but a lot is lost. I could have lived without being called a “Fag” for killing someone twice in a row, and I could do without the growing amount of pre-pubescent voices telling me they banged my mom last night. It’s the accessibility that has attracted a wider range of entertainment consumers, especially in the video game business. While I’m pretty sure I was still called a fag in arcades, I didn’t care then. Maybe I was having too much fun.
There are some games that pull off online co-op very well. Games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Saints Row the Third, and Kayne & Lynch 2: Dogs Days are great examples of when today’s multiplayer corner does something right. The sprawling open worlds of Liberty City and Steelport, respectively, is exactly what a game with online co-op needed. Having such a large world to explore in split-screen would have become a little maddening, and being claustrophobic, I prefer having my television screen to myself. Kane & Lynch 2 is another great example. Sure, it didn’t get the attention it deserved, and what attention it did get was nothing short of abominable. With clunky controls, a nauseating camera, and enemy AI that would make Rogaine users pull out all of their freshly-grown hair did set this game back quite a bit, but this is a game meant to be played with two people, and in that, it succeeds. Who better to rage quit with than a good friend?
I’m not saying that I would rather live without multiplayer in games nowadays, I just think that I will never be able to get back what I once had in games. A lot of titles aren’t meant to be played with two people in the same room, which I feel is a missed opportunity. We have games like Mortal Kombat and similar games, but not everyone likes fighters. Almost nobody I know plays any Call of Duty games on the same TV due to screen peaking, so what does that leave us? Exactly, Rayman Origins – one of the underrated games in a while. This is the kind of game that you and three other people can have a few beers and sit through for a couple hours, and if you get tired of progressing through the story, well, you can always fight each other instead. If this same logic was applied to other games in mind, I think the problem of having a shoddy multiplayer paired with an epic single-player adventure would be nicely patched up. If developers want to spend most of their budget on a single-player game, they should focus on that and not deliver a half-assed multiplayer component that nobody cares for. I firmly believe that arcades should make a come back and show a new generation that sitting on a couch, yelling at people through a headset is just one way of experiencing a game.