Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who remembers racing for Oddjob in the Goldeneye roster. Maybe you remember reducing cities to ash alongside the cleverly named gorilla George or Godzilla’s sister-in-law Lizzie. And maybe, just maybe, you are part of that elite cadre of warriors to actually beat The Simpsons arcade game. There were plenty of arenas to bomb, adversaries to beat up, or finish lines to cross with your best pals. The point is whether it was on the couch or at the arcade, nothing ignites more fury or deft finger-work like your friends shouting in your ear about how you are playing the game only slightly more poorly than they are. With the advent of high-speed online gaming, automatic matchmaking, and hosted servers those late night marathon sessions with close friends are seemingly going the way of the compact disc. However for those die-hard couch co-op fanatics, there is hope.
Although you may not see it as much, local play still has its adherents much to what I must assume is the dismay of the big publishers. Producing four customers by having to purchase four individual copies of a game to play with your pals rather than embracing split screen local gaming admittedly makes more sense from a business perspective. Sure I can talk to my friends over a headset, but I am stuck in a lobby with eight other strangers and they don’t get our jokes. And we are funny, trust me. The move away from a LAN play or local split screen play is a trend we’ve seen from both PC and console publishers alike this past hardware generation. Part of the reason this occurs is DRM (digital rights management). Publishers claim being connected online prevents exploits and enhances game play in ways being disconnected just can’t. These assertions fall pretty flat with examples of the recent Sim City debacle and the Diablo 3 auction house fiasco. Sure, they can verify my copy of the game is legitimate, but only if the servers aren’t undergoing maintenance when I want to play.
Even in the face of ever more obtrusive DRM rumors and slowly losing the capability to blast your house mate into digital smithereens there are those developers that remember that not everyone has a stable internet connection or the inclination to pay a monthly fee (a la XBOX live) just for the privilege to engage competition that isn’t a bunch of bots. Aside from the gems of the past we get all nostalgic about, there are plenty of current and forthcoming games to be excited about.
A few of the more outstanding titles I am referring to are the fantastic Jamestown, Castle Crashers, Dungeon Defenders, and Monaco. The titles from these smaller independent publishers generally have more unique art styles and game play than their more established counterparts. As for the more familiar publishers we have examples like Black Ops 2 which includes a four player offline mode on consoles. Additionally, if you haven’t dabbled, New Super Mario Brothers should be used as a team building exercise (Hint: throw your friends in lava for bonus coins). Using our Palantir, we see two action beat ‘em ups looming on the horizon. One arrives in the form of an updated arcade classic Chronicles of Mystara and appropriately following that is its spiritual successor: Dragon’s Crown (where apparently Rob Liefeld was the head anatomy consultant). Possibly most surprising is a much-improved offline multiplayer version of Diablo 3, once the PS4 lands in your living room. In addition to the above list, the uninitiated will find Co-optimus is a fantastic resource that filters games by system and various co-op modes like drop in/out, local/online, and split screen capability along with the normal website junk like video and podcasts (if you’re into that stuff).
Hopefully what you’ve seen here stirs you to rummage through that pile of old video games or visit one of the local arcades around Cleveland and invite a few friends to throw down. Have a beer, rub elbows, and remember: you are playing the game marginally better than your friends and you should let them know. Loudly.
Mike Kane is a guest contributor to GeekCLE. He is a lifelong Clevelander with a studied history and enthusiasm for gaming, comics, and technology.