Players in young families are all different, but they are also all in the same place. That's why local multiplayer games with different roles of varying difficulty work so well. However, get the balance wrong and young players will soon lose interest.
When my kids were younger, I often tried to get them playing Super Mario Galaxy with the second player assistance mode. They could collect starts using just the Wii Remote and fire them at enemies. This was a nice touch but they soon realised they were basically along for the ride — this was just busy work.
When they were older we had more success with Driver: San Francisco. One player took control of the vehicle while the other could use the Wii Remote to shoot out the window. A third player could also download the game to the DS and set-up roadblocks using a map. It was a great feature that was rarely mentioned in reviews at the time.
Since then there have been other multiplayer high points, and on the Wii U this has blossomed into a must-have essential feature rather than a novelty extra. Even with this in mind we've been blown away with how well this works in the recently-released Affordable Space Adventures.
In terms of multiplayer there are three roles: the Pilot, the Engineer and the Science Officer. As the pilot you control the direction of the ship, while the engineer controls the engines and other systems. The Science Officer is in charge of the scanner, which can be pointed outside the ship to help you analyse your environment.
The balance between them and development of each role is what makes this set-up work so well. You are granted just a few controls to begin with but as you progress more are added. With each new ability the need to communicate and co-operate with the other crew members increases.
Because the roles are distinct, I also found that different aged children in the family could take part in the action. Because the engineer duties are not as time sensitive as pilot or science officer, younger players can take their time to adjust the settings and get a bit of help when they need it.
The science officer and pilot both need to work closely together to ensure that visibility and motion are in the same direction. Putting my two boys on these tasks to begin with caused no end of arguments, but over time they realised that talking (and listening) to each other was the only way to progress — a minor miracle!
In fact, the most exciting part of the action was often happening in the room between players rather than on the screen. Don't get me wrong, the visuals and sound of the game are excellent and create a tense, eerie feel a lot like Limbo — but with less dismemberment, happily.
Watching the family play really did feel like they were commanding their own space ship—and of course brought back memories of watching episodes of Star Trek as kid myself. While there may have been a bit more shouting than on the bridge of the Enterprise, there was also a lot more fun.
Affordable Space Adventures uses the Wii U controls perfectly. It's a hidden gem in the world of local multiplayer games and has made my family eager for more. Perhaps you have some hidden gems of your own you could suggest? Let us know by posting a comment.