Online games are great and all, but nothing compares to sitting next to someone as you gently remind them who’s boss.
We adore local multiplayer games. From complex fighters to racing games to, yes, kitchen simulators, local multiplayer games offer a wide range of potential themes and interactions. But they all strive to do one simple thing: Bring people together.
We’ll explore some of our favorite local multiplayer experiences of the last 10 years in this list. Feel free to use it as inspiration the next time you’re trying to make Thanksgiving less awkward, or just need an excuse to hang out with your friends in person.
Overcooked 2 turns thoughtful strategy into nonsensical gibberish, making it an ideal fit for couch multiplayer.
Cooperative games often mean talking to your teammates in a calm and concise way to share information. That’s impossible to do in Overcooked 2. The goal is to cook meals with a team of four chefs, each controlled by a friend. No matter how long you take to mentally prepare recipes or designate who takes which wing of the kitchen, someone is sure to get run over or thrown in a pit. Everyone starts scrambling to pick up the slack once that happens. And it goes downhill from there.
The conversation during each level will move seamlessly between deliberate instruction and frantic shouting, and that leads to the perfect blend of competition and cooperation. Competitive teammates can trash-talk your inability to throw cucumbers correctly, but in the end, they better be there to catch the ingredients, or the whole team fails.
The game’s approachable design and simple controls let new players get up to speed with sashimi before dashing their dreams with burritos. Something is bound to go wrong, no matter how many times you practice a level. You’ll leave the game with either a stronger friendship or a new appreciation for how bad your roommates are at washing dishes.
Who could have predicted Rocket League would launch an actual professional esports league? A spiritual reboot of the forgotten PlayStation 3 game Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, Rocket League merges soccer with rocket-powered cars. One of the deepest competitive games of this generation hides beneath that light and goofy elevator pitch.
Players can find tremendous competition at every level online. But Rocket League is particularly special when played on a the same TV with friends.
Rocket League will be remembered not for its hyper-competitive play, but because it’s as enjoyable for first-timers as it is for the world’s top players. Get some friends together and give it a shot.
Playing a new multiplayer game with friends can be an overwhelming experience. The screen is filled mysterious icons, power-ups, and health meters. The controls are foreign and tricky to master. Everything moves fast. There’s so much to see and learn. TowerFall solves this problem through its elegant design and instantly understandable visuals.
The 2D bow-and-arrow combat game is one of the most approachable local multiplayer games ever made. Every character in TowerFall starts with a handful of arrows and the same set of abilities. The goal? Eliminate other players with a single arrow to the torso and survive to be the last one standing. But the other players can also grab arrows out of the air, and the game offers an impressive number of options to adjust the rules for each round, including arrows with special powers.
Anyone can pick up and succeed in TowerFall, even in their first match. But the more time each player spends with the game, the more they will devise their own strategies and techniques. Soon, intense rivalries develop from this seemingly basic game, as archers dash and bounce over one another, looking for any edge over the competition.
True mastery of TowerFall can take years. Falling in love with it, though? That’ll happen in minutes.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Recent entries of Super Smash Bros. — the fighting game with a roster of iconic Nintendo characters — have included online infrastructure, connecting combatants across the globe. But the series is still at its best when it’s played by a group of friends on the same couch. It’s magical to see the reactions of your buddies as the squad unlocks new characters, finds self-referential Nintendo Easter eggs, and competes in nail-biting matches. Is any sound in video games more intense than the violent clicking of four controllers as the match clock ticks down to zero?
Smash is a frenetic, wild, spectacular series at its core, and Ultimate brings the variety of past titles together with refined controls and gobs of options and variables to allow players to set their favorite house rules. It’s hard for any game to appeal to fans as both an entry-level party game and hyper-competitive fighting game for expert players, but Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does it all.
SpeedRunners blends the chaos of Mario Kart with a humble footrace. Up to four local players run laps around a variety of colorful, obstacle-laden tracks. The game’s 2D perspective leads to plenty of opportunities for fantastic stunts, as racers must jump over (or slide under) traps, wall-jump to new heights, or swoop past the competition on grappling hooks. Each lap is another chance to commit the track’s impediments to memory, but also a chance for anyone to fall dangerously behind.
Because the screen never displays the full track at once, one player is eventually left so far behind the others that they’re cut off by the moving camera. This triggers the match’s final act: The field of view starts rapidly shrinking, and players inevitably fail as the margin for error gets thinner and thinner.
SpeedRunners’ short matches make it a wonderful game for a busy party, and its simple controls mean pretty much anyone can look cool, even when they’re left in the dust.
One of the hardest things about setting up a local multiplayer game? Logistics. You need controllers, a TV, and comfortable places for everyone to sit. Not so with Spaceteam. Up to four players command an interstellar craft with just their phones and frantic yelling.
Spaceteam’s participants get orders to convey to the other players. For example: “Turn the Fluxhose on,” or “set the Aeroaxis to 2.” These orders are only seen by a single player, who must then shout to their teammates in the hopes that one of them knows where the Fluxhose switch is. The orders become more frantic as things continue to go wrong, until the ship ultimately explodes and everyone bursts out laughing.
Spaceteam is really just a game of (dis)organized communication, but the sci-fi backdrop and the low barrier to entry make finding friends to play with a breeze. Staying friends with them after play, though? That’s the tricky part.
Jackbox Party Pack
You probably played You Don’t Know Jack if you were into PC gaming in the ’90s. The wacky trivia game hosted by Cookie Masterson was a cult hit, encouraging kids and adults to gather around the Gateway and argue over “Elephant, Mustard, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dracula?”
You Don’t Know Jack was revived as part of the Jackbox Party Pack in 2014. Alongside the trivia game in that bundle are other titles that celebrate local multiplayer, like Drawful and Fibbage XL. The Jackbox Party Pack doesn’t require controllers, as everyone can enter goofy answers or draw right from their own phones using a web browser.
The Jackbox series is now a success, with five separate installments, each of which contains an assortment of bizarre local multiplayer games. There aren’t many games that can bridge the gap between hardcore gamers and people that just remember Mario Kart 64. The Jackbox games manage just fine.
Available on Android, Apple TV, Fire TV, Comcast Xfinity, Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows.
Get it here: Nintendo eShop | PlayStation Store | Xbox Store | Steam | iTunes | Google Play | Amazon | Xfinity Stream
If there’s one thing all local multiplayer games need it’s a screen. Or not?
Sportsfriends is a collection of indiemade multiplayer games from 2014. One of the games in the collection is Johann Sebastian Joust, a bizarre take on fencing where friends attempt to smack PlayStation Move controllers from each other’s hands. While starting the game requires a screen, all of the action takes place in the real world, with audio and visual cues emanating from the controllers themselves. The music of Bach fills the room, guiding players to move more quickly or slowly depending on the tempo.
It’s fair to say that no local multiplayer game creates quite the same scene as Joust. Contrary to groups huddled around a TV, you’ll see Joust players deftly flitting around an open room, contorting their bodies, and throwing their shoes at one another in a playful ballet. It is truly one of a kind.
Arcade beat-’em-ups peaked in the ’80s and ’90s with classics like The Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Streets of Rage. But with the dawn of the 2000s, the genre became a relic.
2008’s Castle Crashers, though. That game makes an impact. While it uses the core tenets of the beat-’em-up genre, it modernizes them with combo systems, skill trees, and unlockable weapons. Combined with stunning hand-drawn artwork, Castle Crashers captures the essence of genre without being hamstrung by dated design.
The simple controls and appealing art make it an easy game to whip out at a party. Just about anyone can jump in and start thwacking evil bears with a tiny mace.
Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection
Sometimes a good multiplayer game is just you and a friend, punching, kicking, and throwing fireballs at each other. That’s why we have Street Fighter. If you’re looking for the latest and greatest (and most complex) version of Capcom’s venerable fighting game series, there’s Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition. But for something more casual to play with a group of competitive friends, the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection can’t be beat.
Capcom’s bundle packs 12 titles, including the original Street Fighter that started it all, the genre-redefining Street Fighter 2, and Street Fighter 3, a weird, wonderful game that still holds up. Many of the games are variations and updates — there are five versions of Street Fighter 2 in the collection, for example — but there’s a ton of great fighting game content here.
Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is true to the arcade originals that were released between 1987 and 1999, and offers a chance for fighting game fans to relive some bona fide classics. As a bonus, there’s a ton of great concept art and historical details about the Street Fighter franchise included as part of a museum-style collection.
Madden NFL 19
Thirty years after John Madden Football debuted on the Apple II, the franchise continues with its latest entry, 2018’s Madden NFL 19. These days, there’s a lot more to the game than a realistic simulation of gridiron action. But none of the modern accoutrements can take anything away from the pure thrill of a head-to-head game of Madden between evenly matched competitors.
While it’s been decades since NFL teams focused on the rushing game, Madden 19 harks back to those bygone days with a renewed emphasis on running the ball. It’s finally possible to pull off moves in Madden that look like what Giants rookie sensation Saquon Barkley can do. And it’s way more fun to embarrass a human opponent this way than it is to beat the AI.