It’s back to business this week for Sofa Sharers; after a couple of weeks of unusual editions, including a fantastic interview with Housemarque, the original format is back in action. Which means we’ve got a look back at some of the best split-screen games ever, the Call of Duty franchise. Plus, Andy McDonald recounts his time with Mario Kart, which is probably the best split-screen game ever, then a look around at what local co-op gaming has to offer here and now. Let’s get to it!
Looking Back - The best of Split-Screen
It’s ironic really, that one of the most revolutionary online multiplayer games in history also featured an incredible split-screen mechanic. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a game changing (ignore the pun) title, that much cannot be disputed; it’s one of those rare games that sets the tone for future development. We may all be sick and tired of the CoD franchise by now, but CoD4 was a fantastic game through and through. Both the single player and multiplayer elements were beyond anything any FPS had offered up before. Despite all of this, the game’s split-screen mechanics were clearly inspired by another revolutionary FPS, that being Halo and its sequel in which split-screen was one of fan’s favourite aspects of the game.
The game featured a fantastic four player local co-op mode that players adapted to follow their own rules. Cops and robbers is a popular game that originated in split-screen, those classic duels on Shipment are also a staple of the game. CoD4 was one of the first games on PS3 and 360 which let four people play on one console, making it a hugely popular game for social gatherings. Call of Duty: World at War followed CoD4 and brought a game changer of its own: Nazi Zombies. Zombies was, and is, the ideal game mode for local co-op; it requires a great deal of teamwork that’s only really possible when playing within the same room. I still remember the first time I played zombies, along with three friends on the same console, and it’s one of my favourite gaming memories. The ability to play the campaign with split-screen was also a bonus.
Call of Duty: Black Ops took the local play even further and added two-player split-screen to the online multiplayer. It was a welcome addition that gave Black Ops the advantage that it desperately needed - by this point the franchise was already growing a little stale. Through this gradual advancement, Call of Duty has become a household name in the split-screen world. I’m sure that just about every gamer out there has some kind of experience playing CoD with their friends. It’s sad to see that the most recent game, Ghosts, limited the split-screen to two players; here’s hoping this isn’t continued in future games.
Looking Within - Split-Screen Memories With Andy McDonald
I am a sucker for Nintendo games and Nintendo consoles and have been since I received a Super Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas in 1992 from my parents. It was the beginning of a long and joyful relationship with co-op gaming spanning several consoles and many, many different games. I played everything from Pop‘n Twinbee and Super Mario World with my little sister to FIFA and NBA Jam with my older brother and everything in between (Goldeneye Goldeneye Goldeneye) with my friends who were also avid gamers.
When I think of co-op gaming however there is always one game sitting right at the top of my nostalgia pile. No other franchise even comes close to rivaling the huge amount of time or the immense fun I had playing each of the home console installments of the Mario Kart series.
Mario Kart has always placed most importance on fun and it does it with a seemingly effortless charm. Super Mario Kart on the SNES was super addictive to me as a child and I played it a lot. My brother and I even became sick of the points system so we made up our own. After each race we’d carefully add points to each racer on a special table we had drawn up using our system and keep records of how each of the characters performed over long periods of time. It seems incredibly silly now but at the time it was a labour of love, we did it because it enhanced our experience of playing the game together and it made it more enjoyable for us.
Mario Kart 64 had some of the best tracks in the history of the franchise (DK’s jungle parkway anyone? Koopa Troopa Beach, looking at you) and because it was 3D, introduced loads of new ways of screwing over your opponents. There can’t be many experiences in all gaming which are as satisfying as making that perfect green shell shot just as your opponent is going over a jump and forcing them to redo half the track. As fun as it was it did earn me the odd dead arm from my bro and on more than one occasion I remember throwing a tantrum and turning the console off because I didn’t win (earliest ragequit I can recall). Immature I know, but hey, I was a teenager at the time. The chaos and fun reached silliness of epic proportions when there were four of us available to play and there was constant laughter and many many swear words shouted (much to my mother’s dismay) as we all battled for 1st place.
It took me a couple of years to get around to buying Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube, It came out in 2003 but I didn’t actually buy it until I’d moved into my student house and realised that I could spend my loan on whatever I wanted (games, beer, new PC, more games). It became somewhat of a ritual for myself and my friend who was also on the same course as I was to come back from a lecture, make a pint of chocolate Nesquik each and sit down to an All Cup Tour. We’d then spend the afternoon blissfully firing blue shells and lobbing banana skins at each other until one of us emerged victorious, then we’d have another All Cup Tour because one is never enough.
2008 saw the release of Mario Kart Wii and with it, an online multiplayer option was introduced to the series. Although my Mario Kart literate friends and I played together online occasionally, we still made the effort to gather round one of our flats every so often so we could all play in the same room and shout at each other face to face. It’s just more fun that way.
Some games are meant to be played sharing a sofa with your mates and some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing games were those huge, epic and hilarious sessions of Mario Kart.
Looking Forward - The Future of Split-Screen
The sad decline of split-screen has been well documented here in Sofa Sharers, yet every so often there’s a glimmer of hope through the dark clouds that makes us believe that maybe, just maybe, local co-op isn’t on a downward spiral. As of late, that hope comes in the form of Towerfall: Ascension. Towerfall is that very rare breed of game that relies almost entirely on local co-op, pitting up to four players against each other (or together) in arena archery battles. It’s all wrapped up inside a brilliant 8-bit art style and is easily one of the best multiplayer experiences on next-gen right now. The game was originally released on the Ouya, but was recently made available for PC and PS4.
Towerfall: Ascension has been widely praised as a grand example of multiplayer gaming at its best and it’s simply fantastic to see a game such as this succeed. Sofa Sharers has been running for a few months now and this is exactly the message that I’ve been trying to spread: split-screen still has a lot of potential. Gaming with friends beside you may not the easiest thing to organise or facilitate but when it can be done, it’s arguably the best experience to be had with a gaming device. The recent rise of boardgaming all but proves that people have a desire to play together; there’s a gap in the market for games like Towerfall - and I’m not talking about party games! One can but hope this trend continues.
That’s everything for this week. You can check out all of the previous editions of Sofa Sharers by following the links to the right. Let’s not let split-screen die, but help it rise from the ashes like a Phoenix!