In the grand scheme of things, the ability to play video games online with friends (or anyone really) is a pretty new concept, first coming into popularity with the release of the original Xbox, and hitting its prime with Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
But in my eyes, nothing beats the joy of sharing a cramped couch with three of your closest friends for some local 4-player hysterics. On that note, let's take a look at my top 10 best local 4-player games.
10. Pokemon Stadium (N64)
This mode provided nine completely different, often reaction or timing based minigames, each lasting no longer than a minute or two at a time. But what made them so addicting and gave them such replayability was more based on the fact that because they were so varied, each person playing would likely be better at one of them than everybody else, ramping up the competitive nature of all players. Personally I am unstoppable at the Simon Says clone, "Clefairy Says". Others included a carnival hoop toss-style game called "Ekans Hoop Hurl", or probably the most audibly entertaining of the bunch, "Sushi-Go-Round" starring Lickitung. If you played this when you were younger, or if you're cool enough to still be playing it now, chances are you also remember the catchy beats that go along with each mini game.
All in all, Kids' Club provided endless hours upon release, and still bears revisiting for those who either haven't played it, or who just want to relive the glory days of the Nintendo 64.
9. Bomberman series (NES/SNES/N64)
For my money, it doesn't get any better than Bomberman 64 on, you guessed it, the Nintendo 64. The gameplay doesn't vary, but the 3D graphics make it a much more visually engaging choice than the Nintendo or Super Nintendo versions. Not to mention the N64 already has four controller ports, eliminating the need for a multitap.
Again, they're almost all wonderful, but I would take note of two things: Bomberman Hero (N64) changes the multiplayer formula to more of a 3D arena combat style, ditching the classic formula, and Bomberman: Act Zero (Xbox 360) should be AVOIDED LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!
8. WCW/NWO Revenge (N64)
The premise is simple: Pick a game mode, pick a wrestler, fight. But the fun comes in the form of playing with friends, particularly in the Battle Royale game mode, in which any number of wrestlers from 4 to 40 rush into the ring one at a time as his predecessor falls. In this mode, even if a player is eliminated, he takes control of the very next wrestler to enter, guaranteeing not only variety between wrestlers, but bloody revenge between players who eliminate each other. To top it all off, the controls are easy to pick up after one or two matches, and learning how to pull off special/finishing moves is incredibly rewarding, and extremely nostalgic for fans of the WCW.
Besides Battle Royale, the game also includes tag team matches which can be played in a variety of ways, such as 2 player vs 2 player, 1 player vs 1 player, or even 2 players vs 2 computer wrestlers. Forming rivalries and betraying each other becomes immensely fun as the game goes on, and the massive amount of wrestlers and costumes guarantees you'll never play the same way twice!
7. Gauntlet Legends/Dark Legacy (N64/PS2/Arcade)
The game plays from a top down perspective, and beings with each player choosing their class, and colors. These include typical fantasy fare, including Warrior, Wizard, Archer, and even some less standard entries such as Valkyrie, Knight, or Minotaur. Each class controls the exact same, except for a noticeable difference in statistics, and appearance. For example, Warrior will always have much higher health than Wizard, but Wizard may use magic potions more powerfully than Warrior.
The game becomes incredibly hectic as more players participate, fighting over treasures, food, and magic spells to use against the enemy. The difficulty, however, brings everyone together whether you like it or not, guaranteeing plenty of death and laughs along the way.
6. TMNT / X-Men / The Simpsons (Genesis/SNES/Arcade)
Much like Gauntlet, these games require a balance of cooperation, and competition that guarantees constant banter between all players. Need health? Make sure your teammates know, or you'll suffer for it. The best of these games even include combo special moves, such as The Simpsons arcade game. There really isn't much to say about these games that you can't experience for yourself. When played in an arcade, they are built to suck as many quarters out of your pocket as possible, so prepare for a lot of death.
Or better yet, buy the console versions.
5. Super Smash Bros (N64/GC/Wii)
Wait...Let me say it for you: "What?! Smash Bros isn't #1?! (insert chain of expletives telling me how much I suck)" Yeah yeah, I know. But that's the fun thing about this being MY list. Don't like it? Make your own!
For those of you unfamiliar, the Smash Bros series pits Nintendo's most famous characters against each other in a competitive arena fighting game. Your objective is to beat up your opponents, raise their damage percentage, and knock them off the stage. With each character being extremely varied (in the original game anyways), battles were always hard fought, hectic and exciting. The tide could turn in an instant with the appearance of an item on the battlefield.
So why so "low" on the list? Well, as amazing as the Smash Bros series as a whole is, I've always thought the series piqued with the original entry. The game only had twelve characters, and nine stages when everything is unlocked. At the time, this was astounding, but after a few hours, you've played them all, and the game can get a bit repetitive. What I valued so much as a kid playing 4-player games with my friends was the ability to continue playing a game for hours, days, weeks, and beyond while still getting a fresh experience each time.
4. Towerfall Ascension (Ouya/Steam/PS4)
The rounds are short and fast, but one play can still last anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours. Players choose a score to compete up to, and must accrue that number of kills in order to win. Accidental suicides result in loss of points, and happen frequently, leading to some drastic swings in leadership.
The Playstation 4 version does include a 2-player co-op mode, but this game is meant to be played 4 player, and loses a lot if you don't have three willing friends.
3. Super Mario (Kart/Tennis/Soccer/Party/Bros Wii/etc.) (SNES/N64/Wii/Wii U)
Super Mario Party combined the best parts of board games like Monopoly with the short, frantic mini-games of Pokemon Stadium or Wario Ware, resulting in long lasting games, and plenty of Luigi death stares between friends.
Mario Kart/Tennis/Soccer are what you expect. Racing, and sports. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these, in fact they're all superb, but there's not much to say that those who have played it don't already know, and those who don't wouldn't expect.
New Super Mario Bros Wii, however, I wanted to make special mention of. The premise is the exact same as every Mario game going back to his very beginning: Princess Peach is captured, go free her. But this time, up to four players can travel through the classic side-scrolling levels together, jumping off each other's heads, saving each other from certain doom, or even accidentally (or not...) guaranteeing each other's demise. If I wasn't lumping these game together, I'd put this game at the #1 spot. It is the reason I purchased a Wii, and almost the only reason I still play Wii at all.
2. Perfect Dark (N64/360)
Perfect Dark was released a few years after Goldeneye by Rare, the same company that made Goldeneye, and basically every other SNES and N64 game you've ever loved. It is considered the spiritual sequel to Goldeneye, even though it adds a plethora of new features that it's predecessor didn't have. Most notable among this were the varied multiplayer options, such as co-op, and counter-op.
Perfect Dark provided the same fast paced shooter gameplay as Goldeneye, but with a twist: Even with four human controlled players, up to 10 computer controlled players could be added into the fray. Included in this mode was an incredible variety of different tactics for those computer players to use (examples include VengeSim, who would only attack whoever killed him last, and FistSim, who tried to steal everyone's weapons), and the ability to have team fights with anything from 6 vs 6 to something as crazy as 2 vs 2 vs 3 vs 5 vs 1.
Maps and weapons were brought over from Goldeneye, players could name each team, player and computer characters could be customized, players could save their preferences to their own profiles for future use (even on separate memory cards, oh what a glorious age that was), the game was beyond fantastic, and it still holds up to this day.
And now for the cherry on top: A few years ago, the game was remade, exactly as it was on N64, onto the Xbox 360, but with better graphics and performance, which fixed the only flaw that the original had. The game no longer slows down when too many characters are on screen. If you have a 360 or N64, you absolutely must own this game!
1. Castle Crashers (PS3/360/PC)
Up to four players can join in, and battle the forces of evil in order to rescue four kidnapped princesses. The unique draw of this game is that while it is a side scrolling beat 'em up just like the previously mentioned games, it includes a surprisingly heavy RPG system. Each time a player levels up, they can put points into strength, magic, or agility, which unlocks more combos, or higher health. Items and animal partners add to the hectic fun, and every single enemy you fight can be unlocked as a playable character. (TIP: If you want to win, claim the ram as your animal friend. I named him Rammy, and together we were unstoppable!)
The most chaotic 4 player fun, however, comes from rescuing the princesses. After defeating certain bosses throughout the game, any players who survived the boss fight earn the opportunity to fight to the death for the love of the princess. After this brief fight, the game returns to business as normal, but the sudden shift from co-op to versus gives you an entertaining "Uh oh" moment when you glance at each player's health, and pray for your own survival.
If you're worried about length versus price, the game has a story campaign that, on first playthrough, can take up to 12+ hours to complete, and a hardcore difficulty/new game+ mode after completion. This game is still available through download on Xbox Live and Playstation Network, and is well worth every penny.
It really is difficult narrowing down so many great games, so I wanted to include some honorable mentions that are still fantastic and worthy of your attention.
If you've ever played Rock Band, even if you don't like it, anyone can see the appeal. Just as Madden gives you the opportunity to be a football star, Rock Band gave you and your friends the chance to start that band you had always talked about starring. Now you just have to pick a name...and MouseRat is already taken.
Yes I chose Perfect Dark over Goldeneye, but in no way does this lessen the impact that Goldeneye had on gaming as we know it. Doom may have revolutionized the FPS, but Goldeneye forever changed split screen multiplayer. Sadly, I'm seeing more and more people on the internet whine about how the game doesn't hold up, and calling it overrated, but this isn't true. It may not be a great game by today's standards, but it had an incredible impact, and the classic maps, and most importantly "Slappers Only" mode, still provide entertainment even today.
Left 4 Dead
I really wish I could put this in my top 10, but sadly it violates the standard that I was going for: 4-player on ONE system. I've spent countless hours with my friends playing this game, which provides some of the most harrowing co-op I've ever played, but the sad truth is that in order to play 4-player, you need two consoles, and two TVs. *sigh*
Marvel Ultimate Alliance
Think of it as Gauntlet with super heroes. This game was, and still is a great time, but there is still a reason it didn't make the list. The combat can tend to get fairly repetitive, and the levels can get a bit too overly long and empty, leading to some dull moments that made me yawn just one too many times.
Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing
This game is exactly what I needed in college: Mario Kart re-skinned, and available on non-Nintendo systems. Yes, it is an exact clone of Mario Kart, down to the items being colored (and often even shaped) the same as Mario Kart's items, and its slight lack of originality is why it didn't make the list. But even so, this game is still the best Kart racer I've ever played that doesn't have a fat mustachioed plumber in it. If you haven't, go buy this game. Just don't touch Big the Cat...he sucks.