Split-screen gaming needs to be more relevant. That's the topline of our take on local multiplayer in 2020.
If you want to go and play with friends or random players in 2020, all you’ll need to do is to go on your Switch, fire up Mario Kart 8 for example, and as long as you have a Switch Online membership, you can join a race.
Even with Steam and EA Origin, all you’d need to do to join a friend would be to message them, load up the game, and enter a party.
But before Xbox Live and the Dreamcast, things were much simpler, and in my opinion, much more fun. Being in lockdown, there’s a lot of things where it brings up that saying: ‘You don’t know what it’s got until it’s gone’.
Local multiplayer is one of those things, and this is why it eclipses online in so many ways...
Local Multiplayer games in 2020
Last weekend, I decided to have a barbecue in my garden, and invited a few family members around. The niece loves to play Sonic Mania with me, so I loaded it up on the Nintendo Switch and we played a few rounds of competition mode. Social distancing in place here, but as we had the TV facing the garden, with our wireless controllers, it struck me just how much I missed playing a game with someone right beside me.
In the days of Mega Drive, you would co-op on Golden Axe, while on PlayStation, you would fight against one another in Ridge Racer or Wip3out. The competitiveness and the banter would be there, with no lag, no dip in audio quality, and no delay. That rang true at last weekend’s barbecue, and it makes me want more of this.
Granted with lockdown, it’s barely possible, although restrictions may be eased in the coming weeks. But online gaming as been a saviour for a few of us in playing our favourite games online, or even streaming retro ones.
The Switch has been the ideal console in local multiplayer, or just by losing yourself in other games such as Animal Crossing. But even with its Online Service offering a few games from their past library of consoles, it’s still not got enough for local multiplayer.
What does the future hold?
Back in the PlayStation 1 era, you weren’t limited to just two controllers. You could use a peripheral called a ‘multi tap’ to have four-player matches, for games such as Crash Team Racing and WWF Smackdown.
There was even a feature called ‘System Link’, whereby you could join up two or more PlayStation consoles, and have two player matches in Bushido Blade and Destruction Derby for example, but without having to be cramped to one television. Of course, other consoles such as the N64 and the SEGA Dreamcast alleviated this with more controller ports and games like Mario Kart 64 and Sega Rally 2, but the experience was still unparalleled.
With the PS5 and the Xbox Series X now on the horizon, I would love to see more local multiplayer games come to the next wave of consoles. Especially once we’re allowed to have people in our homes, release games that bring back that local multiplayer experience. The fun, the tension, the banter of friends almost reaching that finish line, and then being scuppered by a banana skin.
But the feeling of just playing a game like Mario Kart 64 with a group is something that we will come to value even more once lockdown is lifted, and hopefully, Nintendo will see fit to release this and other multiplayer games from their past onto the system as well.