Feature: The Wonderful World of Multiplayer Add-Ons
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
The lengths we go to
If you want to play a bit of multiplayer in most games nowadays, and you don't have a friend nearby, it's as easy as selecting a menu and waiting for strangers to appear as competition. Online multiplayer can perhaps be a bit more personal than that, of course, with the ability to meet up with friends and have a blast, as we did in some community Mario Kart 7 shenanigans recently.
In past generations, however, you had to be enthusiastic enough to arrange to play with someone else you already knew, and you had to be in the same room. It might not be alien to us as Nintendo gamers, with titles such as Nintendo Land reminding us that local multiplayer can still be King, yet there are some who'll find the concept rather antiquated.
Still, with the recent unveiling in Japan of a rather clunky process to add online multiplayer to a major 3DS release — skip to the end to read about that one — we thought we'd highlight some of the workarounds we've seen to support multiplayer in the past. We're focusing on some well-known examples, though we may dig out some quirkier, even clumsier solutions in a future article.
Game Boy's Game Link Cable
As the banner is a bit of a giveaway, this link cable was used to allow competitive multiplayer or co-op in popular and compatible titles such as Pokémon Red and Blue; though there were a surprisingly large number of other games that used it. Puzzle releases such as Dr. Mario and Tetris were joined by brawlers such as entries in the Double Dragon series. Rather than being a rarely used extra, it was an important part of the system — it was also nothing special to look at, being a cable and all...
Super Nintendo Multitap
A standard SNES had just two controller ports, somewhat limiting when so many games — especially sport sims — offered support for even more players. If you had friends on hand, a glut of controllers and a Multitap, you were all sorted. An adapter with extra controller ports that simply slotted in the second system port, you could get support for up to five players with one of these add-ons. Naturally, third-parties went crazy and there was no lack of choice on the market.
The Virtual Boy Link That Never Was
Oh, Virtual Boy, how it all went wrong. It's the portable — well, supposedly — system that Nintendo often likes to forget. A bold idea with good intentions, it suffered from a lacking game library, abysmal sales and genuine warnings about the red and black 3D visuals causing headaches and nausia. Such was its short stint on the marketplace, the inevitable link cable for multiplayer never even saw the light of day.
Game Boy Color's Bold IR Experimentation
The Game Boy Color offered a relatively modest upgrade over its venerable predecessor, but did add some lovely colour visuals and, at the time, an innovative IR port to allow wireless multiplayer. A neat idea that would avoid tethering yourself to another player, it was poorly supported and didn't get used enough to be viable, so much so that Nintendo would abandon it in the system's portable successor.
Game Boy Advance to GameCube Link
This connection between the GBA and GameCube could be used for a variety of purposes, such as titles being run on the Game Boy Player on the TV being controlled by the handheld. The most notable use, and one that arguably served as a major precursor for the Wii U GamePad concept, was the ability to download mini-games from GameCube games to a GBA, or even to use the connected handheld as a secondary screen for asynchronous multiplayer. Famous examples include co-op in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker or Shigeru Miyamoto's multiplayer concept in Pac-Man Vs.
The GameCube Broadband Adapter, Shame About the Games
The GameCube is often described as an offline system, but there was a broadband adapter — as well as a modem for 56K dial-up connections — that allowed certain games to be played online. The problem is that some of the games required LAN workarounds, and those that could be intuitively played online could be counted on one hand. Many SEGA fans no doubt look back fondly at Phantasy Star Online, but for most this was a side to the famous Cube that barely registered in significance.
Wii Speak, Is Anyone There?
The Wii is many things, but it's certainly not a powerful and well-connected online console. Good online experiences are definitely there to be found, but the infrastructure often seemed to lag behind its competitors, with Wii Speak a notable example of an attempt to level the playing field that failed to hit its mark. Released to bring extra interaction to games such as Animal Crossing: City Folk and Monster Hunter Tri, with the downside that hardly anyone seemed to own it. Even if you go to the trouble of finding one and plugging it in, you'll probably be talking to yourself.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate 3DS Online, You Just Need a Wii U
And so we come to the recent announcement that inspired this article, a feature that seems comparatively strange in 2013. Announced during a recent Japanese Nintendo Direct, owners of Monster Hunter 3 G will be able to play the previously local-only game online with the help of an adapter, downloadable app and a Wii U. Designed for those with the 3DS game that don't want to invest in the Wii U version to play online, it's a workaround that just about makes sense in Japan, with the handheld version having been on the market for over a year. Will it make it West? Perhaps more importantly, would anyone buy the adapter?
So there you go, some cables and plug-in pieces of plastic that have helped us enjoy games with others in the past and, it seems, in the present. We're barely scratching the surface, of course, so tell us about your wackiest multiplayer add-ons in the comments below.