Quite apart from the huge number of great games coming to the system every week, one result of Switch’s success that we’ve really enjoyed is how it has brought back a focus on local multiplayer gaming not seen since the N64 days. Online is still king, of course, but we’d argue there’s nothing quite like the rush of adrenaline you get from being in the same room as your rivals. Friendly rivalries balloon into personal vendettas, whether your mate stole victory from you with an unsportsmanlike Blue Shell last round, or perhaps somebody hasn’t done the washing up like they said they would and it’s time to unleash your fury.
The ability to snap off (read: carefully detach) the Joy-Con and enjoy some Mario Kart or Smash Bros. wherever you happen to be reminds us of a time long ago when we would coordinate multiplayer meetups that required a little more forethought than our impromptu rooftop parties these days. Indeed, it would often involve planning out months in advance the games and hardware you and your friends would buy to ensure multiplayer was even possible.
We’re talking, of course, about Nintendo’s first portable multiplayer-enabled system, the Game Boy. If Switch’s facility with local multiplayer hadn’t made us nostalgic enough, the recent 30th anniversary of the Game Boy (not to mention the 21st anniversary of the Game Boy Color) really got us pining for the times when head-to-head multiplayer was a much more literal affair. It may have primarily been a console for the solitary gamer, but those lovely link cables transformed it into a networking device that offered many lucky schoolboys and girls their first taste of multi-screen multiplayer gaming. Assuming you had the requisite gear, that is.
The most common form of Game Boy multiplayer was obviously a one-on-one bout using a standard Game Link Cable, but if you were fortunate enough to own (or have a mate who owned) the Four Player Adapter there were a choice handful of games that you could play with three friends on your own separate screens long before we’d ever heard the wondrous words ‘LAN party’.
Huddled in a group in the middle of the school field while footballs and other projectiles shot past our heads, the few four-way multiplayer sessions we remember having with Game Boy are special, probably made more so by the fact that finding four people with a Game Boy, the multiple copies of whatever game and the cables to link them all together was something of a rarity. Sure, it was distinctly lo-fi and anything except direct sunlight on a clear day made seeing the screen something of a challenge, but the magic of rigging this local multiplayer miracle together and actually playing against three mates made it well worth the rigmarole.
The Four Player Adapter worked most famously with F-1 Race, although Rareware’s Super RC Pro-AM also put it to use. Of course, there were perils to being in such close proximity when the contest got heated. The chances of four kids containing themselves enough in victory or defeat and not accidentally (or purposefully) yanking out their link cable was admittedly slim. Rage-quitting is nothing new, but kids these days with their fancy-pants Joy-Con and WiFi will never know the delicate negotiation, consideration and composure it took to set up and maintain a little local multiplayer back in the day.
Two-player games using the regular old Game Link Cable with just one other person were a much more common occurrence. Many readers no doubt have memories of two-player Tetris, but for this writer, the ubiquitous Russian puzzler was more of a solitary palette-cleanser. In fact, the Game Boy version of Tennis was more often the two-player game of choice. The console’s green screen gave the grass courts a more authentic hue, and something about the controls always kept us coming back for another game-set-match against siblings. Underrated little game, that.
If you somehow never got around to picking up a link cable, or didn’t have friends with Game Boys, the arrival of Pokémon Red and Blue made the Game Link Cable utterly essential. Finding (or making) friends with Game Boys became an urgent priority, and we’re sure many an unlikely friendship was forged out of necessity. "Hmm, I’ve never even spoken to that kid in Science class before – he’s always seemed a bit weird. BUT! He’s got Pokémon Red and this could be my only chance to get a Magmar…" And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
If we’re honest, we were always more into trading than battling. The grind to level up a watertight, competitive team of fighters never seemed worth the trouble, so we’d do our trading and then plug in whatever other multiplayer games we happened to both own. Invariably it was Tetris or Tennis. Why did nobody else have Wave Race!?
Compared to the multiplayer classics that would come on home consoles, the Game Boy’s 2-4 player offerings were rudimentary, but they had benefits which you didn’t get on the telly. There was no way to ‘cheat’ by looking at other players’ screens, for example, at least not without the risk of dislodging the link cable and causing an argument. Things got much simpler on Nintendo DS when wires were no-longer required (or with the GBA Wireless Adapter, if you had one of those).
By combining the strengths of portable and home console gaming into the mighty ‘homeheld’ Switch, Nintendo has brought local multiplayer back onto the stage where online gaming has arguably dominated for a decade and a half. Don’t get us wrong, online is fantastic, but there’s something about the communal connection of the local experience that makes every victory that bit sweeter.
Sliding off Joy-Con in tabletop mode forces players physically closer to each other and the energy is higher. No, you might not have a 65” screen all to yourself, but Game Boy proved long ago that a thrilling multiplayer experience needn’t involve bleeding-edge tech or acres of arm room. The same spirit which would go on to fuel epic four-player sessions of Bomberman and GoldenEye 007 is a part of Switch's DNA, and the local multiplayer meetups we host today (on rooftops or otherwise) can trace their origins back to the middle of that school field with four kids blinking at tiny green screens.
I remember those days when you had to have your GBAs all connected to play Mario Kart: Super Circuit. I never got one, so I never could...
I wonder if the rights cluster...cuss* around Goldeneye will ever be resolved and we will see it appear on new consoles.
Would be cool though.
( * i saw the fantastic mr fox)
@DAHstroy I remember those days. Either you or a friend had to be the one to go out and buy one so you could play together or trade Pokémon
My GBC broke, but I got a working purple one for 10 bucks. Thanks kid working at goodwill. I will play through the warioland series tonight in honor of the gameboy
I used to occasionally play link cable multiplayer games in the mid/early 90's. But even back then, I thought it kinda sucked and couldn't wait for the day I could do it wirelessly or via the Internet.
Sadly a link cable worked better than the switches wireless play.
The Atari Lynx could at least daisy chain its link cables for 4 player - as me and my school mates managed just once back when everyone else had Gameboys (or pretending they were too cool for games). Otherwise, getting a bit of multiplayer California Games in was a logistical nightmare, with the Lynx's power needs and bulk.
Apart from the comparable size, we're so much better off with our wireless Switches.
I think the only games I ever managed to play on a Link Cable were "Tetris" and "Dr. Mario". Monopoly we just passed the game around (or played on Super Gameboy/Real Board Game) and no one else owned the remaining games I owned with Link Cable capability.
I've only managed to use the Switch's local wireless once, and that was for Super Kirby Clash. It worked ok for that.
Think I only the link cable a few times with Tetris and Dr. Mario. I don't even remember who with.
Something I miss from the GBA and specially DS days is download local multiplayer. That is, being able to play a (simplified) multiplayer bout with multiple systems having a single copy of the game...moreso because there are still Switch games with online/wireless modes but no single system split screen multiplayer.
I have been able to play wireless on the Switch with a couple of very popular games like Smash and Mario Kart, but I would like to be able to share some of the fun with games like Saints Row the Third or to be able to play with my cousin who has Splatoon 2. Or even in Mario Kart, to be able to play 8 player races you need at least 4 switches (hard but doable with my circle of pals) and 4 copies of the game (no luck so far). To be able to link systems with a single copy of the game like in many GBA and DS games even if we all raced with shy guys would be a blast.
@sixrings You must be forgetting having to make sure the cable was perfectly straight, or it just straight up messing up on its own. Take off the nostalgia goggles
A focus on multiplayer is a huge overstatement. Nintendo has done a very good job at focusing on multiplayer content with a ratio of 1 in 4 games featuring a multiplayer component. Third party titles are a bit more hit or miss, which by my last count was 1 in 8 games. However, I suspect that the count of multiplayer games has dramatically changed for third party titles to something closer to 1 in 12 or 1 in 15. This drop off of third party developers is concerning because local co-op was one of the greatest selling points of the Switch, see the infamous rooftop scene in the initial series of advertisements. Yes, there are a lot of opportunities, but I'd say that developers need to focus a bit more on content specifically for the Switch instead of porting single player PC games.
The only reason we had the 4 Player Adapter for the Game Boy is that it came with F1 Race for $10. It is disappointing that F1 Race was never released on the Virtual Console or that it has never had a remake. (A budget eShop remake would of sold well in 2012/2013).
I don't recognize the light blue Gameboy in the header photo, is that a legitimate Nintendo product or some knockoff or clone?
I remember playing Tetris, Tennis and Pokémon on the original Gameboy against friends. Most of my multiplayer experiences were on the Nintendo 64 though.
As for the four player adapter, I never knew anyone who made use of it.
Playing Tetris, F-1, King of the Zoo, Golf and Tennis together with my cousin was so much fun!
And nowadays I love the Local Wireless mode of the Switch. I wish more games would support it.
These well-lit game boy screens are revisionist history
I believe I never really care about the link cable feature until Pokemon Red & Blue came out. Sure there are Game Boy games that took advantage of them before Pokemon but those never gave me a significant reason to get one. The 4-Player craze on Game Boy to me really began with the GBA, games like F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Bomberman Tournament, Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords, and Duke Nukem Advance were spectacularly fun with the four player multiplayer setup.
When I think of local multiplayer, I do not at all think of the Game Boy. Portable systems tethered together with a cable was never my thing.
I always favoured on-TV multiplayer on SNES and n64.
Nintendo's Sun/Moon debut trailer in 2016 really hit home how much I missed the Game Boy/Color/Advance days with physical link cables. Call me old-fashioned or overly sentimental, but there was something special about physically connecting your systems to play multiplayer, like trading your Pokemon or battling. It was communal in a more palpable way.
Although I do have wonderful memories of my group of four friends all getting launch DS systems with Pictochat built in. We would partake in secret irreverent conversations in the car as a parent drove us home.
Look at all these pictures of nicely modded, backlit Game Boys I would have loved that back in the 90s! That's very much NOT how it was back then.
I remember when I was a kid, I was trading Pokemon with a friend and his dog ran by and pulled out the cable. For years I thought the Pokemon was still in the cable! XD I wasn't the most technologically literate child...
When my friend visited months ago, we actually played Sonic Battle using two GBAs and a link cable. Was a fun time. When I was in school, I played quite a bit of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past/Four Swords and Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland mini-games with a friend who I still keep in touch with.
@KitsuneNight If it did get released, I think it would get slammed for its "clunky controls." Controls for a console FPS have been improved so much over the years and when I replay the old 007s on my N64, it takes me a few minutes to adjust to the old control scheme and I'm rubbish on the harder difficulties because muscle memory expects the smoothness of a modern FPS. Me personally, I would love a port (and add The World is Not Enough for good measure.) regardless of the controls. I still play the original Perfect Dark port on the Xbox 360 and would love to see Goldeneye get the same treatment.
Well I think the controls would get an overhaul, like they did with Turok.
And a 360 port of Goldeneye was pretty much done, but Microsoft pulled the plug.
@KitsuneNight Ah. Never played the Turok remake, only the Perfect Dark port for Xbox 360. Pretty good texture upgrade but the same controls as the N64. I certainly would not complain if a Goldeneye port got an overhaul.
The original Turok control scheme was ..weird.
It worked but it was weird.
The remake has the standard Argonaut* twin stick control scheme.
( * i found out it was Argonaut who created that control scheme, with Alien Resurrection of all things)
I appreciated the fact that many GBA games had multiplayer using 1 cart. Mario Advance and Sonic Advance I recall.
Any word on when this contest ended?
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