In this guest article Funké Joseph, who attended a Nintendo Switch preview event, shares his thoughts on why Switch can be integral to local multiplayer.
Local multiplayer is dead. Well, it's almost dead, some would argue. There are still a few games that are carrying the split-screen torch like Towerfall or Overcooked, but they can't really hold a candle to the all of the games that force you to play online. It's been a dark couple of years for local multiplayer and I was starting to give up hope. Was I always going to have to play online stuck in lobbies rife with toxic people who constantly flamed me and spoke about how many times they've been intimate with my mother? Just when I thought all was lost, the Nintendo Switch got announced and I realized that there is a beacon of hope in the sea of AAA online-only games.
We're living in an age where you can turn on your console and hop into an online lobby with people that are thousands of miles away. It's a crazy cool time because it allows us to connect with people we might not have ever known if it wasn't for video games, and that's great. But there are some downsides that come with this always-online lifestyle: you and your friends are expected to own the same console, own the same game, and pay for a subscription to the same online service - that's a lot of money just to play some games with your friends. While connecting online is convenient for players that are far away from each other, it still blocks out a crucial element to multiplayer: that communal real-life joy that offline multiplayer offers. That's a shame, because most developers are moving away from split-screen co-op and multiplayer, putting all of their focus on creating online-based experiences. The Nintendo Switch stands out from other consoles because it's embracing that kind of gameplay, and it could be the long-awaited restart that local offline gaming needs.
Playing locally adds an extra element to multiplayer, and Nintendo knows that. It creates an incredible feeling that can transcend gaming. Think of when your friends or family are all in the same space with you, and you can see the smiles light up on their faces from whatever nonsense is happening on the TV. It's the feeling when the room feels like it's full of authentic fun. It's also a great bonding experience with people who don't normally play games, like your parents or that cousin that's really into sports. Everyone can gather around and play some really weird cowboy games, or milk a cow together. The Nintendo Switch is capitalizing on those emotions, and that's a really cool thing to see.
Local multiplayer and couch co-operative play are two things that Nintendo has always been promoting. It's released blockbuster series like Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros., all of those are games that boil down to the concept of people playing with others in the same room. It's a simple kind of fun, and it's also one of the biggest aspects that make the Nintendo Switch such an approachable console. There may not be a plethora of launch games for the Switch, but there are some promising titles that offer local multiplayer like the wild and weird 1-2-Switch, the competitive classic Super Bomberman R, and the quirky new puzzle game Snipperclips.
I got a chance to test out these games at Nintendo's Switch preview event in Toronto, and I can honestly say they're a blast to play with strangers and friends alike. 1-2-Switch takes the cake when it comes to local multiplayer though; it epitomises the very idea of playing with friends. You're not supposed to look at the screen while you play the game - it's all about you and the other person standing directly across from you. I was put in a couple of bizarre situations where I had to milk a cow and shoot some cowboys, so trust me when I say it's a quality time. It's comforting to know that Nintendo hasn't given up on offline multiplayer, in fact it's made it easier than ever to play console games with others due to the Switch's innovative portability and adaptability.
The way Nintendo is showcasing the "tabletop" configuration, it looks like it's definitely going to be a feature that'll be used on long airplane flights, subway rides, and at conventions and community events. There's no doubt in my mind that there are going to be a lot of impromptu battles with groups of expo attendees holding Joy-Con controllers in the middle of a food court. It reminds me of when Super Smash Bros. 4 came out for the Nintendo 3DS - I was dropping everything and laying down the King Dedede hands on anybody who was sitting next to me on the subway. And I think the Switch can make those spontaneous rivalries happen with ease. It looks like there is a fun and ridiculous wave of offline multiplayer coming up on Nintendo's horizon, and I'm a fan.
I can't wait to see how developers utilise the Joy-Con controllers, because they offer so many little eccentricities that look like a great home for some interesting games. I can only wonder how wacky a WarioWare game could get with a controller that has a motion-IR camera and "HD Rumble." Being able to play multiplayer games with one Joy-Con instead of two is a plus, it basically means you get two controllers with the console. They look unorthodox just like every other Nintendo apparatus, but there's also an innate childlike joy that comes from hearing that click when you swap them in and out of the console/other Joy-Con.
Nintendo is doing some really cool stuff with the Switch. It's bringing a focus to local offline multiplayer and having fun playing video games with your pals in real life, and it's coming at the perfect time. It's a genre of playing that was slowly dying down, but Nintendo made a smart move by appealing to the audience of people who want to play games with their friends in real life. I'm sure every person who's played a video game before has played offline with other people, it's usually where some fond memories reside. It's a fantastic way to play. All of its modes offer a new, more innovative way to play with others, and the Joy-Con controllers are the perfect accessory for it.
I genuinely think that as weird and quirky as the Nintendo Switch is, it's going to have a solid audience full of people who want that local multiplayer fun.