I think that this is where we all started. A friend comes over, the second remote comes out and you both start to play. This is where gaming for our generation started. Just this week three of my housemates and myself played Mario Kart and it was honestly one of the most fun experiences I have had in my entire life. I’d just gotten home from work and they had stayed up chatting. Someone suggested a game of Mario Kart, and we got playing. I felt like a child again, something that online gaming has never been able to make me feel. Four people sitting down laughing, shouting with our hearts pounding, so that got me thinking…
With the rise of online gaming, ‘couch co-op’ seemed to be a thing of the past. When the PS4 and Xbox One were released there was a huge emphasis on online multiplayer games. Even games which still retain offline multiplayer, such as FIFA show so little respect for these modes in favour of online modes, often it appears to be because that is where they can make more money through in-game currencies or lootboxes. I’m not entirely opposed to online multiplayer, but there seems to be a certain level of magic that has been lost in it.
Certain developers are very keen to promote couch co-op as an option; for example, Overcooked is a game almost-entirely founded on local multiplayer. Phil Duncan, the co-founder of the studio who made Overcooked was quoted saying, “There’s certainly an element of nostalgia there, and it’s something I really enjoyed from my youth, playing with my brothers,”, and I think there are many of us who can relate to that exact situation, whether it was parents, siblings, cousins, friends or uncles. While the modes themselves seem to be disappearing, there’s no doubt as to the fact that there is still a huge passion for them. Modern gamers are missing out on the reasons that many of us started playing. Online interaction is still fantastic, but there is a different kind of social interaction that came with couch co-op.
As previously said, games like FIFA and other sports titles still retain local multiplayer as modes, despite their limitation, while something akin to Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros., give us the most natural nod to our nostalgia by refusing to bow to the relentless onslaught of online multiplayer. I think that many of us have our memories of a game we played. For me, Batman Rise of Sin Tzu. Sitting down with my dad when I was no more than 5 or 6 and playing together. I sucked, and I’m pretty sure I made the game about 20 times as hard, but that wasn’t the point. It was the struggle together and a feat we had worked together to achieve. Many other games have left us with lasting memories: Star Wars Battlefront (2005), Left4Dead, Gears of War… gaming has helped me build and prolong lasting relationships.
It’s because if this that I cannot help but ponder; Why are certain companies not producing games with localized co-op or multiplayer anymore? Possibly the most obvious reason would be that removing local multiplayer means that they can sell more copies of a game. If I want to play with a group of three other online, we would have to own one console each as well as a copy of the game. The simple fact that they can make more money from not allowing us to play this mode would seem to be the most obvious reason. The Halo series was built on split screen co-op, founded by fun sessions among friends, but with Halo 5, one person plays and everyone else watches. Racing games? Race your friends! But nowadays, with many titles, such as Forza Horizon 3, there are no local split-screen races. Even in modern day, AAA titles such as Star Wars Battlefront can be seen to be even more cynical, including split-screen to force a few more sales, while only providing a watered-down excuse for offline gameplay.
Nintendo have always held co-operative play to be a huge part of their modern consoles. Nintendo continue to promote couch co-op with the release of the Switch a console where you don’t even need to buy a second controller to play multiplayer and that is absolutely fantastic. Soon, for the first time we will see couch co-op in a Pokémon game, and Nintendo continue to put couch co-op at the forefront of both Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros, while also modernizing with online multiplayer systems.
So, the four of us played Mario Kart, for hours. It was fantastic. I really truly felt like a kid again. We played six races, where our hearts were racing. In the final race, three of us were in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. In the final lap we were all screaming, shouting and coming into the final straight we were all on our feet. An incredible overtake knocked the person in 1st all the way down to 11th and there was genuine anger and joy as the race ended. It was the two boys against the two girls in a team race and as the final scores came up there was genuine tension in the air. The score read 380 v 380. It ended as a draw, and I’ll be honest it is a very good thing that it did, or else we probably still wouldn’t be speaking! Anyone up for a game of Mario Kart?