Nowadays, multiplayer experiences vary quite a bit. You could be playing against friends in any given Call of Duty game (namely Black Ops II and Modern Warfare 3); racing against buddies in Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed; or working alongside your fellow family members in New Super Mario Bros. U. But well before the creation of the Xbox Live network and even before split-screen, multiplayer gaming was simplified, through the means of getting together and playing side-by-side, either in the arcade or on home consoles.
Being the classic gaming nuts that we are, we've decided to list some of our retro multiplayer experiences. Some of them can be found through downloadable means; others are available through retro compilations, like Midway Arcade Origins for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But to get the utmost feeling from them, the best thing we can possibly recommend is tracking down an old-school console – such as the SNES and Sega Genesis – along with a few controllers. Nothing really beats that feeling.
Here are some of our "classic" multiplayer picks.
Back in the 80's, Atari managed to define multiplayer dungeon crawling with this four-player adventure, where each player – namely a wizard, a Valkyrie, a warrior and an elf – worked together fighting through pre-set dungeons, defeating hundreds of enemies and locating an exit while keeping their health from completely running out. (If it did, all you need to do is insert a quarter – or hit the start button – to rejoin the fight.) The arcade game is old-school bliss if you can find it, but if not, pop in Midway Arcade Origins and you can partake in four-player local goodness. Just remember – don't shoot the food!
Bomberman (Hudson Soft)
Though Hudson Soft has since folded up shop (and been consolidated into Konami), their legacy continues to live on through their various game releases. One in particular that still stands out in our minds is Bomberman, a multiplayer series where players fight it out in an enclosed stage, strategically dropping bombs in the hope of eliminating them, either through chain reaction or trapping them in an inescapable area (surrounded by blocks, usually). With a variety of power-ups and, in later chapters, animal friends, Bomberman truly diversified from other competitive multiplayer games of its type. The SNES and Genesis games were a lot of fun, but if you're seeking a modern version of it, you can download Bomberman Battlefest for Xbox Live and Bomberman Ultra for PlayStation Network. The original games are also available on the Wii Virtual Console service as well. Boom!
Goldeneye 007 (Nintendo)
Back in 1997, multiplayer first-person shooters were usually kept on the PC front, though Nintendo and Rare managed to change all that with this James Bond-licensed opus, one of the Nintendo 64's best games. The single player campaign was filled with plenty of action, but the split-screen multiplayer was where it was at, featuring a variety of weapons (like the sticky proximity mines) and maps taken straight from the film. The ability to play as a number of characters from the history of Bond films was a nice touch, including Jaws and Oddjob. Activision has since released a pair of 007-licensed titles – Goldeneye Reloaded and 007 Legends – that feature a similar multiplayer set-up. But, honestly, nothing beats playing the classic N64 version. There's just a certain magic to it.
Virtua Tennis (Sega)
The Virtua Tennis has certainly evolved over the years, with Virtua Tennis 4 offering 3D support, online multiplayer and a multitude of modes. But, really, there was no finer experience than playing the original Dreamcast version with three of your friends in the same room. It's pure arcade simplicity at its best, with solid controls, beautiful graphics (60 frames per second and neat visual effects – one of the first sports games to offer that on Dreamcast), and various tennis superstars to choose from. If you can, track down the system and grab a copy of this. If not, Virtua Tennis 4 is your next best bet, at only about $20.
Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo)
Multiplayer kart racers are a dime a dozen, but if we had to choose one game that really gave it a kick-start, it would have to be Mario Kart 64. This entry in the series introduced four-player split-screen, which would since become a staple with many Nintendo 64 racers, including Ridge Racer 64, F-Zero 64 and Hydro Thunder. Mario Kart features many great tracks to choose from, as well as a swell cast of characters and power-ups to pick up along the way, including the dreaded homing turtle shells. We spent hours on end taking first place victories, and highly suggest you do the same. If the N64 console is out of your budget, you can download a perfectly good version on the Wii Virtual Console for ten bucks.
Mario Tennis (Nintendo)
Another Nintendo 64 game that we can't do without is Mario Tennis. Though Mario Golf is a good pick in its own right, this tennis sim offers four player simultaneous play, so that each player can take part in taking trick shots while playing on specifically built courts, some with their own traps to avoid. This is still a party favorite after all these years, especially if you get four veteran players jumping at once. Like most good N64 titles, this is available on the Virtual Console service for Wii (and Wii U) for ten bucks.
Back in the classic days of gaming, there were very few games where four players could complete while facing one another. But Warlords was one of these rare gems, a skillful game where you try to keep a moving ball from breaking through your castle walls, but setting up the shot skillfully enough that it did damage to your opponents'. It's fast-paced and a blast to play, and if you missed out on the arcade original, you can snag a modern version on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network for a meager $10.
Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo)
Finally, if you're going to take part in a fighting game, you might as well make it one where everyone stands a good chance of winning. The original Super Smash Bros. is still a delight, where a number of faces from Nintendo's classic games come together to see who's the best fighter of them all. From Mario to Link to StarFox, you'll have a blast learning each character and choosing a favorite to kick butt with. Sure, the sequels are better, but the series' origin point is still a party favorite for us. Check it out on the Virtual Console service for $10!