Mount your Friends in the living room.
While 2014 was home to some superb online experiences, it also marked the return of local multiplayer thanks to a wave of brilliantly diverse projects from sources both large and small.
There’s something for everybody in the following list, with the only prerequisite being that you actually enjoy the company of friends and family. And I sincerely hope you do, because that human contact is, after all, the root of videogames as we know them. People crowded together at homes or arcades, drinks in hand, laughing, jostling and promising they should do this again, and more often. Thanks to the stellar experiences of 2014, I’m determined to do just that.
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but these are the party games we wanted to come back to, time and time again.
Of all the games that were played in my living room last year, Nidhogg undoubtedly drew the loudest laughter and longest moments of sheer, nail biting tension.
The premise is simple enough. Two silhouetted fighters face each on a side-scrolling 2D level, commencing battle with rapiers in hand. The victor wins the ability to run towards their opponent’s base and secure victory, but after a few seconds, the previously-dead fighter respawns in their path and attempts to block progress once again. The action always flows in the direction of the player that manages the last kill, so defence can quickly turn to offence, with victory secured after gradually whittling down your opponent’s territory and then making a mad dash for the finish line.
The prize for victory is to be eaten by a gigantic dragon. Go figure.
Rounds can last for less than thirty seconds or stretch to well over ten minutes, while last-ditch reversals and brutal counter-strikes spike the tension with relief or elation. With that constant ebb and flow comes a demand for nerve, ingenuity, bluffing and timing, and the sublimely balanced combat gives Nidhogg a surprising amount of depth. After hours of play, we’re still finding room for experimentation within its suite of athletic manoeuvres.
Nidhogg is absolutely enthralling to play or watch, and if you’ve a competitive streak, this should absolutely be in your rotation.
If there was one reason to buy the poor little Ouya, it was Towerfall. But as that platform crashed and burned mere months after release, the developers saw fit to expand their audience to PS4, and thanks to a PS Plus deal, many of you will already have it sitting in your collection.
Second only to Nidhogg as my favourite competitive multiplayer game of the year, Towerfall’s simple control scheme hides an ocean of depth as players bounce around each arena before delivering death from above or below. New players tend to tentatively take cover behind walls and venture out only to retrieve their precious missed shots, but after a couple of hours you’ll inevitably find them jumping up walls, curving their fire around corners and dashing into oncoming arrows to pluck them out of the air before returning the favour.
On default settings the multiplayer matches are usually played to a total of ten kills, each of which will come in a series of brutally quick last-man-standing rounds laced with power-ups that range from bizarre to completely game-changing. Revenge kills are rife, and the level layouts can change and become more constricted as time goes on, providing new opportunities and tactics even within the short 20-30 seconds it usually takes to decide a victor.
Towerfall is fast and frantic, with superb controls and a gigantic range of game modes and modifiers to tinker with. It doesn’t cater well for newcomers trying to blend in with experienced competitors, but if you’re starting at the ground floor together, there’s little else on the market as addictive as this.
Mount your Friends
Having made its debut on the Xbox Indie Games Marketplace back in 2013, Mount your Friends might be a known factor to a few of you. This year saw its release on PC however, finally reaching a huge audience and dangling its naughty bits everywhere in the process.
This really is a game about Mounting your Friends, somewhat surprisingly. Each player takes turns to try and reach the top of the pile of bodies with their own avatar, at which point their form is locked in place and the next player begins from the bottom with another clone. Climbing is tricky. The four face buttons on the controller are mapped to individual arms and legs, with the ends of each limb locking onto any flesh-based surface to which you choose to attach. As such, Mount your Friends is a game of momentum as much as anything else, with deft manipulation of limbs required to reach the top of a 20-body pile of meat and swinging appendages.
It’s utterly, utterly daft, and as much about the spectacle as anything else. The avatars can be custom designed and your own faces mapped to their heads if so desired (I highly recommend that approach for a party), while the end game pile of bodily contortions resembles a 20-person game of naked twister collapsing all at once. But considerably less painful.
Mario Kart 8
When the core racing experience of Mario Kart 8 is so lovingly crafted and full of energy, there was little doubt that its local multiplayer offering would follow suit.
Sure, the framerate drops from 60 to 30 when playing with three other folks on the same screen, but that scarcely matters when bombing around turns and slinging shells into your fiercest rivals. The tracks are beautifully designed and offer a leg up to those able to pull off jump-boosts and other legacy tricks, but as with every other game in the series, it still caters to those with less experience. Red shells, blue shells, power-ups and rubber-banding all gently swing towards those trailing the pack, and while that might infuriate the racing purists, the forced balancing is really what keeps the Mario Kart series at the centre of the party schedule.
Mario Kart 8 controls beautifully whether you’re playing on the Wii U GamePad, the classic controller or even an old Wiimote you might have lying around, and the racing is as frenetic and laugh-out-loud enjoyable as ever. One for everybody.
Many of you will already have this in your library thanks to its PlayStation Plus release a couple of months back, but for those that don’t, Sportsfriends is easily worth the money if you can gather a few willing participants and a couple of beers.
There are four sports-themed mini-games included in this eclectic indie package, each of which offers varying degrees of depth, skill and accessibility. Hokra offers a 2-vs-2 spin on air hockey and capture the flag, while Pole Riders’ wonderfully twee aesthetic hides a game of surprising skill as two teams battle to vault, smash and kick a suspended ball into the opposition goal. BaraBariBall’s bizarre meld of water polo and dodgeball is perhaps the standout competitive title, while Johann Sebastian Joust utilises your living room and PS4 controllers in a physical game of balance and carnage. Just be sure to have very, very good friends for that one.
There are also two hidden games to discover in Sportsfriends’ menu, while the whole thing is wrapped up in colourful, jaunty presentation.
Jackbox Party Pack
Jackbox Party Pack is perhaps the most inclusive game on this list, and the one you’re most likely end up playing with your gran at Christmas.
A compendium of five basic trivia, word-based and drawing games, its real innovation is in requiring only a touch-screen device with an internet connection per player. The host simply sets a game up via Steam, PS4 or Xbox One, then everybody else visits a URL on their phone and connects up to play. The removal of videogame controllers is a simple, genius addition that opens up the experience to pretty much everybody in the room.
The games themselves are a mixed bag, but the three stand-outs are You Don’t Know Jack, which is a gameshow-style trivia title for up to four players; Drawful, which boils down to simultaneous multiplayer pictionary for up to 10 players; and Fibbage, which is a competitive word game in which the aim is to lie as convincingly as possible.
Although available on Steam in the UK, technically you’re only able to purchase Jackbox on consoles from the US PSN or Xbox store, which is a bit of a shame. There are easy methods to get around those limitations and play on a UK console however, and it’s well worth the ten minutes of research to do so. Christmas will forever be improved.
With the caveat that Gang Beasts is still in alpha and not quite ready for full release yet, it’s still a whole bunch of fun if you have a group of friends with fond memories of wrestling games or multiplayer brawlers.
This is an arena-based game in which up to eight plasticine-looking figures flail their arms and drunkenly fall about in an attempt to pick up objects and interact with the scenery or each other. The main aim in most of the stages is to eliminate your opponents by pushing, pulling or throwing them into environmental hazards, with each of the human-controlled protagonists equipped with a stamina meter that slowly whittles down much-needed strength. Without that strength it becomes impossible to swing back or to simply hold on to a railing or ledge and haul yourself back up to safety. Leave yourself completely empty and you’ll flop to the ground, at the mercy of other players.
The organic way in which characters interact with each other is the hook that makes Gang Beasts special. Even the best-laid plans can be sideswiped by another player flailing an arm or a leg, and the arenas are constructed so as to be giant play-sets, full of movement and places to hide or ambush.
It’s the very definition of dumb fun, and if you can overlook the rough edges and occasional crash, Gang Beasts should continue to evolve into something special in 2015.
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