The Nintendo Switch embraces local multiplayer, while competitors live online

Last week, I published a piece on The Verge detailing the upcoming fall local multiplayer releases across all the major gaming platforms. There were 11 games on the list.

And while there are various AAA holdouts in this fall’s major releases — Gears of War 4 offered local split-screen, as do some modes in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare — the overall pickings are slim. Split-screen racing? Microsoft has Forza 6 on Xbox One, though only if you’re willing to give up many of the game’s features, while PlayStation 4 owners are flat out of luck. And with the increasing popularity of VR headsets, things appear to only be getting worse for local gaming.

Nintendo has always been an advocate of local multiplayer

But as the other major consoles are moving away from local multiplayer, today’s announcement of the Nintendo Switch has filled me with hope. Nintendo has always been an advocate of local multiplayer. Some of the company’s biggest franchises, like Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., and Mario Party, are practically synonymous with the idea of playing with friends offline. Even the Wii U, despite its flaws, was a haven for these kinds of games. Nearly every single notable Wii U title offers local multiplayer — New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Mario 3D World, Pokkén Tournament, Hyrule Warriors, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, just to name a few.

But the Nintendo Switch doesn’t merely feature multiplayer games — the hardware is designed for them. Each Switch comes with a Joy-Con controller that’s meant to be split into two halves for local cooperative play. And the consoles itself, a portable tablet, is meant to be played at home and on the road. The Switch feels the antithesis of the popular trend of online-only multiplayer, with a portable console that you can take literally anywhere and play together with anyone at any time.

Nintendo’s announcement trailer goes out of the way to highlight this fact, whether it’s showing friends playing some Mario Kart together in the back seat of a car, controllers being passed around at a rooftop party, or a group of four friends just sitting in a circle for some digital basketball. Forget the current generation standard of needing to buy a second console, or even the old norm of having to buy a second controller — the Switch is designed from the ground up to already come with everything you need to play locally right out of the box.

I believe that games are more fun with friends

I believe that games are more fun with friends, and that actual, in-person interaction adds a social experience that online multiplayer can’t exactly replicate. There’s a reason people still buy and play physical copies of board games, even though we obviously have the technology to play Monopoly or Scrabble on a computer. And instead of shying away from that idea, the Nintendo Switch embraces it.

There’s still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to local multiplayer on the Switch, like how much extra controllers will cost or the number of simultaneous local players each console supports. And it’s far too early to tell whether third-party developers will follow Nintendo’s lead in when it comes to actually making local multiplayer games. A local multiplayer-friendly console is only useful if developers are willing to design for it.

But for the first time this console generation, the Nintendo Switch has me excited to game with friends again, not online, but at home.


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