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In the age of online gaming, games that focus on solid local multiplayer are becoming less common. As fun as it is to play with friends from around the world, nothing beats having the gang all in one place for the purpose of fun. Luckily, Nintendo is there to bring us great “couch co-op,” and nobody knows the appeal of schadenfreude like the big N.
Nintendo says they want to foster togetherness and friendship, but here in the real world we all know that their local multiplayer is about using your friends as stepping stones on the way to the goal. At least that’s what happened in practice when my friends and loved ones gathered to play Nintendo games from the N64 onwards. The New Super Mario Bros. series took competitive co-op multiplayer to the extreme by allowing character interactions like lifting and spring boarding. Many times partnerships come to an end with one player casting another into the nearest bottomless pit as soon as the flagpole is in sight.
If there are still doubts about Nintendo’s appeal to the cruelty of man, look no further than the Super Mario 3D World Crown. It’s a glorified bull’s-eye singling out the player that has it in his or her possession for concentrated friendly fire. When one player has the crown every one else will target them, even at the cost of their own life pool. When players are given the opportunity to get the better of their friends, especially if it’s to their own benefit, they will.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze returned to friendly co-op platforming. One could make a case for Tropical Freeze being the best 2D platformer ever made. It was widely loved, critically and by fans of the original Donkey Kong Country series. Despite being an amazing game, it sold terribly. Do you know what it was missing? The ability to lift your friend’s Cranky Kong over your head and cast him into the abyss.
Mario Kart 8 was a return to the conflict. The entire purpose of the game is to pummel your friends with items as you all race to the finish line. There can only be one winner and, for the most part, there are no teams. From the outset there’s no need to work together, there’s no chance of you harming your own progress when trying to get ahead, so competition is ruthless. Red and blue turtle shells become pride obliterating missiles. Even the characters themselves have become possessed by the competitive spirit, giving each other the death stare and laughing maniacally or trash talking as they bombard their virtual rivals. Coincidentally the game was a huge success, despite straining so many friendships.
Look ahead to the holidays, and what has Nintendo prepared for their fans? A new Super Smash Bros.. They finally drop the facade of cooperation and encourage players to beat each other senseless with an array of weapons. Fitting, as many feel the need to vent frustrations after the paroxysms of rage caused by repeated blue shellings. Hilarious, as the blue shell makes its grand appearance in Smash. To facilitate the beatings, Nintendo has gone through great pains to turn even common items into tools of destruction. The mild-mannered Pokeball may as well be a nuke for all the fear it generates on a crowded stage.
Many will ask if all of this couldn’t be done online, and to that I answer: Yes, it could. However, it would be like experiencing a great piece of art through a blurry photo. The best part of these games is the lack of a filter. The look on your best friends face as you fire the blue shell. The string of profanities after flinging your brother into a path of falling Thwomp. The fun of being a screen peeking scum bag, and the inevitable controller swats that always come from heated contests. These are all sweet nectar moments of schadenfreude that are best experienced within earshot, so you know your trash talk is heard loud and clear.