Other people. They exist, and some of them are fun to play games with.
While the world has made many forms of social gaming impractical for the foreseeable future, video games still allow for us to have fun with our friends without the looming threat of infection & death. On a less depressing note, playing a game with friends can make just about anything fun. There have been countless games that I’ve found tedious on my own, but a great joy when played with another person. Over the years, designers have learnt how to hone their multiplayer mechanics to make the most enjoyable experience for people playing games together, so I’d like to take the time to discuss some of the best.
Before I start, I should clarify the kind of multiplayer games I play. For the most part, I prefer the easy-going games that you can just bust out at a social gathering and play a few quick rounds of. There are exceptions to this on the list, but I’m not big on competitive multiplayer, so don’t expect to see games like MOBAs or Halo on this list. They’re not bad games, of course, they’re just not what I enjoy playing.
Overcooked – It’s lots of fun, I just never played enough of it to fall in love with it.
Trivial Pursuit – A personal favourite, but at the end of the day, it is just a trivia game, and it was a board game first.
Rocket League – An absolute blast that I am utterly terrible at.
9 – Portal 2
Co-op modes are hard to get right. So often they’re just the regular singleplayer mode with an extra person. This is a fine way of doing it, but it doesn’t get the most out of what a co-operative gaming experience can be. It’s very rare in a co-op video game that I really get the feeling of proper teamwork and collective achievement as we move towards our goals. Here’s where Portal 2 comes in.
Firstly, it’s a puzzle game, which is great in terms of the ‘sense of accomplishment’ factor. Humans are better at solving a problem together, and the ability to bounce ideas off each other as you work your way through the puzzles. Additionally, it doesn’t assume you know anything about how to play Portal. If you want to introduce someone to the game, they don’t have to go through the singleplayer to understand what’s going on, and because the game explains everything, it removes that barrier where you have to awkwardly try and explain it to the other person.
Most importantly, it lets you be absolute arseholes to each other…in a fun way. There’s no consequence for death in Portal 2, other than having to run through the level again, which usually takes just a few seconds. That lack of consequence means that dying isn’t frustrating, which means that when your friend pulls a dick move on you, it’s funny, not annoying. The light-bridges are the perfect example of this. Your friend is walking along the bridge over a pit of death, while you and you alone hold the power to remove the bridge. You know you’re going to do it, they know you’re going to do it, but it’s still hilarious when you send them plummeting.
It gives you the tools and lets you mess about with each other to your heart’s content, but once you want to get serious, there’s plenty of puzzly goodness, that makes the most of the co-op portal mechanics.
8 – Nidhogg
As you’ll see throughout this list, the kind of multiplayer games I tend to connect the most with are the ones that I can play with someone in the same room as me. Playing games online is great when it’s the only option (see: 2020) but to me, nothing beats the joy that comes from a room bursting into enthusiastic shouting and laugher all around you as you play something.
Nidhogg is great at getting those kinds of reactions out of people. As only a 2 player game, it might not seem the best thing to bust out at a party, but honestly, it’s just as gripping to watch as it is to play. The tug-of-war style of gameplay makes for insane levels of intensity, especially when games get dragged out for a long time. The excitement levels never drop as one person breaks through, only to be stopped inches from victory and be slowly pushed back to the centre of the map.
You find yourself going through phases, as the game progressed. You’ll have some fast-paced kills as you run back and forth, maybe make some progress, until you both suddenly slow down and have a stand-off. The mechanics are simple enough that you can determine the pace of every game and almost tell a story during your fight. Then, when the match finally ends, you feel that emotional sigh of relief, which is an incredibly satisfying feeling, and you want to just right into another game.
7 – Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Confusion and chaos are the order of the day in the best way possible.
A co-operative game where the distribution of information is heavily asymmetrical is a style of game that we haven’t seen much in the video game sphere as much as I would’ve expected. Maybe that’s just because this game got it spot-on first try and nothing could ever compare.
Whenever I play this game with someone for the first time, it’s always a joy to watch them struggle their way through the manual. It plays so well with how people communicate, that the experience is always very different depending on who I play it with. With some people, it’s a relatively calm puzzle-solving experience, while with others it becomes a hilariously panicked shouting match, and both are just as fun to play. Every person develops their own little code for how to describe the weird shapes or a method for communicating each puzzle, it’s great fun.
What’s great is that it’s the kind of concept that you can introduce to anyone. It’s easy to understand even if you’re completely computer illiterate. I’ve given the manual to plenty of people who don’t play video games and we’ve still had a fun experience thanks to the simplistic nature of it. It succeeds as both a unique feature of co-operation and communication in games and as a social game.
6 – Super Smash Bros
Ultimate is my personal favourite, but any of them could fill this slot.
If you have a look through my 100 favourite games series from the summer, one thing you’ll notice a distinct lack of is fighting games, I just don’t play them. Smash Bros is the exception, as it’s the perfect fighting game for someone completely inexperienced in the genre. Many use “kid-friendly” as a negative, but the fact is, Smash Bros is a family fighting game, which is a rarity for a genre that usually has quite a high skill floor.
Straight out of the gate, there’s the appeal of all these characters, from just about every corner of gaming’s past and present. Nintendo characters dominate the scene, but there’s a huge handful of characters from elsewhere, especially with Ultimate’s DLC fighters. There will be a for just about anyone to connect to in there somewhere, even those who don’t play video games. In fact, it’s arguably a good gateway to get people interested in franchises they haven’t tried. People who don’t know the characters will just pick one they like the look of, and then slowly form a connection with them, maybe eventually going on to play some of their games. It’s almost the gateway game for other games in that way.
Outside of that, every match is simply madness. Yes, if you learn what the buttons do, you’ll do better than those who don’t, but you can still have a lot of fun from hitting attacks at semi-random. When a screen is full of a bunch of characters doing all their flashy attacks and moves it’s a sight to behold, and things get even crazier when items are added into the mix. What’s great though, is that there are enough advanced techniques in there for people to play at an insanely high skill-level too. I’m not one of those people, I’m a filthy casual, but for a game to be able to balance both of those types of players is an incredible feat.
5 – Jackbox Party Pack
When a game presents itself as “fun for all the family” what that normally means is that it’s designed for kids, and adults can play it if their kids bug them about it enough. Jackbox though really is fun for ALL the family, and it can be played in any environment. I’ve spent evenings playing Jackbox with my family, with everyone participating in the games and it’s been a lot of fun, but equally, I can sit around with a bunch of friends the same age as me and still get a great kick out of it.
Thanks to all of the games relying on the answers entered by the players, you can perfectly tailor your jokes to the room, meaning everyone always gets to enjoy the jokes. What’s more, is that the player-based responses allow you to form in-jokes during your group. I’m sure all of us who’ve played Jackbox can think of at least one time where one answer that particularly tickled people got repeated later in the night to an even bigger laugh.
I think that’s what makes Jackbox so fun for a group setting, the fact that every game doesn’t overbear too much on the interactions in the group. Instead, it carefully crafts different scenarios that allow the players to make the jokes themselves. This means it works as just about whatever you want it to be, whether it’s an ice breaker, a drinking game, or just some laughs with some friends. With only one person needing to actually own the game, it’s the height of accessibility.
4 – Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Up until now, I’ve been talking about playing all of these games in the context of playing with someone you know – because that’s how I play them – but here’s a game where the fact that you primarily play with strangers is what makes it so brilliant.
The controlled chaos of Fall Guys is something completely unreplicated in video games at the moment. I thought I’d lost interest in battle royale as a genre, that everything that could be done had been done, but then Fall Guys comes along and shows us just how far the genre still has left to go. The light and bouncy aesthetic is a breath of fresh air and fills the whole thing with hilarity. When your bean is being bounced around the place by giant rubber hammers, it’s impossible not to laugh about it.
Every level has such a brilliant sense of variation to it that even when I’ve done it a hundred times, I still enjoy playing through it. Partly because it very rarely goes the same way twice, but also because the simplistic gameplay of ‘jump, dive, grab’ is incredibly satisfying. The simplistic gameplay also means that even when you get good at it, you can never get THAT good at it. No matter how skilful you are at controlling your bean, there’s still every possibility that an unlucky bounce or another player getting in your way could send you tumbling to your death. As such, it really is a game where anyone has a chance of winning every game, another thing that I don’t think any other battle royale game achieves.
Even when you don’t win though, there’s still plenty to enjoy about the match. The gameplay is so intrinsically rewarding, that making it all the way to the finals, only to lose isn’t a slow, agonising journey to defeat like in other battle royales. It’s one of the few competitive games where I genuinely don’t play for winning (even if it is a very good feeling when I do), I just play because the levels are so much fun.
3 – Minecraft
While it’s true that Minecraft’s multiplayer doesn’t actually do anything different to the singleplayer in terms of design, it’s a game where the experience is undoubtedly improved by playing with friends.
When you’re just playing a regular world in survival, adding a friend to the mix makes the whole thing way more engaging. Yes, I still like to play in singleplayer when I want to chill out and build worlds, but adventuring and building while chatting to people brings the true joy out of the game. You can bounce creative ideas off of each other to come up with designs far beyond what you could’ve come up with on your own, and it allows anyone you play with to flourish in exactly the way they want to.
I’ve played Minecraft with just about every close friend that I’ve had at some point in my life and it’s always an enjoyable experience, and we always come up with something new depending on who it is I’m playing with. It’s the perfect game to play when you want to hang out with someone, but don’t want a very intense experience. Over the course of these months in lockdown/isolation, being able to hop on and virtually hang out with friends while building an impressive world has been an absolute God-send.
What’s more, is there’s still plenty of fun to be had playing with strangers. Plenty of game-modes that were innovated on large Minecraft servers eventually got big enough to become their own games, many would even argue Minecraft Hunger Games is the true progenitor of the battle royale genre. To this day the biggest servers allow you to hop online and play hundreds upon thousands of different styles of gameplay. Be it parkour, anarchy, battle royales or even regular survival Minecraft, no game is as expansive for multiplayer opportunities.
2 – Among Us
Before everyone says it, yes, I know Among Us did not innovate this style of gameplay, nor was it the first to bring it to the video game sphere, however, it is the best.
I’ve always loved social deduction games. My personal favourite was Secret Hitler, which I have played A LOT of over the years. There’s a great thrill that I get from hiding my true identity, lying through my teeth and manipulating the scenario so I can execute my master plan. I also have loads of fun being one of the good guys and working with the information at hand to track down the traitors and eliminate them from the game. Once again, it’s a style of gameplay that is entirely driver by the players and their interactions. The fun comes from those debates (sometimes shouting matches) and mystery-solving sessions, so much so, that even when the game ends and you find out you’ve been outplayed & manipulated the whole time, you still look back on the experience positively.
What Among Us does is it takes the most important elements of those games and sees exactly what advantages doing it in a virtual space can afford it. Now, the gameplay becomes more than just having discussions with your fellow players, now you get to wander around a virtual spaceship and do a bunch of fun mini-games. You get to actually run around a big space rather than sitting on your sofa looking at cards; not that I’m saying looking at cards isn’t fun, but doing it this way is making the most of what a virtual space can give you.
Even outside of a pandemic, getting 10 friends in the same room can be quite difficult in the real world, and for just £4 (or free on mobile) this is the perfect way to get around that problem. It keeps the core of makes social deduction games so fun and just adds to it in great new ways. What’s great is that the developers are still looking to improve the game, and hopefully, its success will encourage other developers to make more with their own twists on the gameplay.
1 – Towerfall Ascension
I mean, come on, did you really expect anything else?
Towerfall Ascension placed third in my 100 Favourite Games series, and one of the main reasons for that is because the local multiplayer battling is hands down the most fun experiences I’ve had playing games. It’s easy enough to learn that anyone I’ve played it with you is at least somewhat video game literate picks it up within their first few times playing and from there the possibilities are endless.
The game moves at such a fast pace and yet the level of tension can reach a fever-pitch when a match is close. The precision you can achieve in terms of movement and shooting is incredible and will lead to some of the most exciting near-misses you’ve ever seen. Each different arena design gives you new tactics as you find the best way to place yourself at an advantage. You can stay still and try to outsmart your opponent and they come for you, or you can keep constantly on the move to come at your opponent from as many angles at once as possible. All the while you’ve got to be thinking about your opponent’s positioning, and also where you’re shooting your arrows, as you’ll need to pick them up again if you miss.
On top of that, the game offers a huge amount of variants to mix the game up and keep it fresh, even hundreds of hours in. You can create some crazy and hilarious matches using them that will keep you laughing even watching the replays long after the fact. It’s able to make me laugh hysterically, feel like a God of gaming and create fond memories all in one package. It’s something truly special and easily the best multiplayer mode I’ve ever played.
And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what your favourite multiplayer games are, either in the comment below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Finally, make sure to come back this time next week, where the end-of-year lists begin with my favourite AEW matches of the 2020!