With the advances in internet connected modern gaming, the need to meet up with friends for a good old fashioned brawl on our favourite titles is something of the past. Ignoring this worrying fact, RetroCollect looks back at the best multiplayer retro games around which defined our childhoods.
To think that the current generation of gamers will have never grown up with the tangle of countless control pads and splitscreen sharing is somewhat upsetting. While Xbox Live and its vast functionality is far superior to anything our classic consoles could ever hope to offer, there was something special about local multiplayer action. Seeing your friends’ reactions, your brother’s rage, and slyly teaming up on others behind their backs was all part and parcel of gaming from decades ago.
In an attempt to frame this snapshot of the past, we’re going to recall ten of the greatest multiplayer / party retro games and why they had such an impact on our gaming past.
10. Warlords (Atari 2600 version)
Sometimes it’s the most simple things in life that bring us the most joy.
Warlords, while appearing to be nothing more than a few L-shaped enclosures and arcs, is the definition of multiplayer mayhem. Simply put, in this Pong-meets-Breakout combination you must deflect the demonic fireball away from your fort in an attempt to break down your opponents defences.
Using the Atari 2600 paddle control pad, players must wiggle the sensitive paddle dial to control their on-screen cursor towards the direction of the incoming projectile. Something easier said than done. The more you miss, the more open wounds your fort sustains - potentially leaving your weakest point vulnerable.
Given that Warlords first arrived in the arcades in 1980, knowing that the home console version of Warlords released in 1981 featured four player multiplayer action is quite something. This may happen to explain why even today Warlords can draw in a popular crowd at retro gaming events.
9. Goldeneye 007 (Nintendo 64)
Although Rare’s iconic shooter of the late 90s hasn’t aged very well, the memories it left us with will never be forgotten.
Arriving in 1997 for Nintendo’s 64-bit system, this first person shooter was one of the first of its kind to offer four player splitscreen action. With four control pads attached, gamers could take part in free for all deathmatches using the rules of their choice. Being gifted the most powerful weapons in the game from the get go led on to chaotic frenzies, while banning weapons altogether made for the most humourous slap fest.
Where the mayhem really began though was upon the discovery of the unlockable character Oddjob. Staying true to its source material, Goldeneye’s Oddjob was slightly shorter than the other characters, which also made shooting him much more difficult. As manual aiming was often required to take him down, it was no surprise that Goldeneye was soon given the ‘No Oddjob’ rule.
8. Worms (Commodore Amiga, PC, Various Platforms)
Team 17’s flagship title from 1995 was far from child’s play. The artillery shooter featuring nimble earthworms had the making of a timeless multiplayer classic due to it’s easy to pick up, but impossible to master mechanics.
With an array of weaponry on offer, several teams of worms were tasked with destroying those that stood in their way by any means necessary. From simple bazookas to exploding sheep, players found themselves having to manipulate the scenery around them while navigating the ongoing annoyance of wind physics in an attempt to destroy them all.
Those, however, who were capable of sending off their projectiles into the wind to wriggle around tricky corners in the gusty current soon found themselves being the envy of everyone. In response, weaker players found themselves burrowing underground to avoid being pecked down - at least until the liberating Concrete Donkey made its deadly appearance in Worms 2.
7. Saturn Bomberman (Sega Saturn)
Nothing quite beats the satisfaction gained when cornering your best friend into a wall with explosives either side of their shaking legs. We’re talking about Bomberman of course!
Bomberman had already become the party game of choice over the years due to widespread releases on multiple consoles, but Hudson Soft didn’t perfect their frantic formula until the arrival of Saturn Bomberman. The simple introduction of 10 player multiplayer capabilities had countless gamers huddled around television sets squinting to see their avatar, all but ready for the action that was about to unfold.
By the time every player had blasted their way through several tight grid based corridors, the amount of firepower on-screen to avoid was uncanny. No matter which way you looked or turned, there was something to be wary of - potentially placing Saturn Bomberman into the survival horror party genre, if such a thing exists.
6. Sensible Soccer (Commodore Amiga)
If the British youth wasn’t outside kicking a ball around, they were most likely booting pixels about indoors. Sensible Soccer brought to the home computer the most enjoyable football simulation ever built for multiplayer action.
Being able to create custom leagues, cup tournaments and knockouts allowed football fans worldwide to simulate the beautiful game, exactly how they wanted. All that was left was for each player to do was to prove how great their team were by smashing their opponent’s net.
The fast pace of Sensible Soccer made for dramatic gameplay, which was only emphasised further by the rivalry emerging between yourself and those beside you. As things got heated, dirty tactics soon became a common aspect to the game. Once players began taking out key opposition with slide tackles from behind, those who were unlucky soon found themselves with several red-carded players heading down the tunnel. Having left themselves open to both a barrage of goals and humiliation, it doesn’t get more realistic than that.
5. Streets of Rage (Sega Mega Drive)
We’re all familiar with the epic that is Streets of Rage, however, its 2 player mode tends to be remembered for reasons other than its fantastic co-operative play.
The aggressive thugs blocking your way in Sega’s Beat-em-up were quite the challenge alone, so backup manpower was key to this bare knuckle brawler. But for many Sega Mega Drive owners of the 90s, our backup didn’t tend to materialise in the form we’d always dreamed of.
Instead of this shining city-defender who simultaneously battered the streets clean with you, we found ourselves paired with a drunken lout who happened to get involved with the police all too easily. Amateur players who mashed the control pad at will wasted the precious boss-destroying ‘A’ button Back-up Enforcer (a rocket launcher equipped police officer that would drive up and help you out in times of need), but that wasn’t the worst of it. This tragic attempt at teamwork only worsened once the discovery of friendly-fist-fire was uncovered. Although it was never intended to be, Streets of Rage was an undeniably similar resemblance to the centre of Cardiff on a friday evening.
Needless to say, it’s rare that any multiplayer game of Streets of Rage progressed further than the opening road, but we loved it regardless for the chaos that it brought.
4. Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament (Sega Mega Drive)
Building upon the foundations of their first speedy racer, Micro Machines 2 managed to immortalise itself as one of the greatest multiplayer games ever released.
Codemaster’s sequel to Micro Machines came cased in an all new cartridge known as the J-Cart. This game cartridge was well aware of the Mega Drive’s multiplayer shortcomings, therefore it expanded upon the system’s hardware by offering two additional built in control pad slots.
With up to eight gamers (sharing control pads) able to compete between the cheerio-laden dinner table track, the to-scale-model racer brought along a chaotic and fast paced battle to keep ahead. Those lagging behind soon found themselves adopting cheap tricks to keep their heads above water. Barging their way to the front and knocking their rivals over the edge of the scenery seemed like the only way back into the race - at least until they threw themselves over the edge time and time again.
3. Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)
Although many would turn to Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo for their kart racing action, the RetroCollect Squad tends to prefer indulging in the Nintendo 64 sequel.
As many have already proved, the tightest corners in the SNES classic can be mastered down to a fine art, leaving little enjoyment for those around you. Mario Kart 64, however, seemed much more balanced where multiplayer gaming was concerned, all thanks to the arrival of new weaponry and four player capabilities.
The leader of the pack who would have normally relaxed into his lead during Super Mario Kart had a new annoyance to keep in mind - the blue spiny shell. This devilish toy - usually gifted to those sitting at the bottom of the leaderboard - granted the ability to shoot an unstoppable homing missile directly towards the race leader. Being out in front was suddenly a challenge and not always the best place to be.
The troubles and tribulations of the Mushroom Cup were only made worse / better by the addition of fake item boxes. Dressed up identically to the very containers of these explosives, players could discreetly hide these bombs in-between the items dotted around the track. All of a sudden, the once safe surroundings had become a race track filled with peril, leaving only the most daring to risk their lead.
With four human controlled players at once, the on-screen carnage reached new levels and showed different sides to both yourself and the once calm friends you thought you knew.
2. Super Smash Bros (Nintendo 64)
Upon its arrival in 1999, so few could believe that Mario, Link, Kirby, Pikachu, Captain Falcon and Star Fox were all set to star in the same game together. Much to their amazement, these flagship characters were all lining up to give each other a good beating in a crossover never seen before in Nintendo games.
This 2.5D fighter had all the great makings of a party game due to its simplicity combined with a huge array of characters and unique weaponry. With baseball bats, loaded Pokeballs, Donkey Kong hammers and even Super Scopes, it was up to you to manipulate the scenery and items at your disposal to beat up your opponents in the most bizarre fashion.
The health gauge, however, was the most rewarding aspect to the multiplayer epic. Instead of declaring a knockout once a character had suffered 100% damage, Super Smash Bros kept the action rolling by making the damage counter represent the likelihood of being thrown off the stage. This allowed for players to sustain over several times what their character’s body could really handle, allowing their courageous battle to continue. The only problem this presented was that the tiniest punch, even from Jigglypuff, could send Nintendo’s finest flying.
Needless to say, Super Smash Bros is one of the most well regarded video game series to date, littered with nothing but good memories from gamers all over the world.
1. Mario Party 2 (Nintendo 64)
If there was ever a game which could solely be responsible for breaking up families, destroying relationships and creating a hatred for Luigi, it’s the highly enjoyable, albeit evil, Mario Party 2.
First causing disruption in Japanese households during Christmas of ‘99, this interactive boardgame was far more devious than what its sickeningly cute box art suggested. Having been advertised as the ultimate friend magnet, Mario Party 2 would have better suited the title “Mario Carnage with a splatter of blood”.
Within the game you’re tasked with the aim of obtaining as many stars as possible by traversing the game’s board and accumulating enough in-game currency to purchase them. As innocent as this seems, the combination of cruel (yet fair) rules and button blasting mini-games soon turned the once peaceful Mushroom Kingdom into Bowser’s Lair.
Once each player had rolled their turn, the mini-game dial would begin spinning to choose the game’s next event. These breaks from the boardgame varied from team games, to free for alls, often consisting of memory games, endurances and tactical battles - all of which came with a twist. At times you could either score huge bonuses of coins at the expense of others, or find yourself losing your precious earned pennies at the hand of an unavoidable event out of your control.
If these mini-games didn’t bring out the rage from within, it was guaranteed that the follow up would. Dotted around the game board were several event spaces harbouring both good and evil. The worst of these spaces found players losing stars to other players and vast supplies of hard earned coins being stolen - both of which found control pads flying across the room and power buttons forcefully shifted.
As chaotic and punishing as it sounds, this was multiplayer gaming at its best.
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