Multiplayer in arcade video games is almost as old as the machines themselves. Pong introduced competitive play, while Atari’s Firetruck showed gamers the joys of working together–or screaming at your friend instead. Gauntlet and Quartet amped up the crazy by throwing two extra players into the fray.
And while today’s online play allows gaming with millions of other players, it can’t quite top the visceral feeling of crowding around a machine with three to four of your best mates. Below are some of the best titles that can let you press play again on the good old days of retro multiplayer gaming.
Konami’s X-Men Arcade, released in 1992, is often hailed as one of the best co-op arcade games you and your friends could get your hands on. The cabinet put up to 6 players in the capes of different heroes, each with their own special powers and style of play. It had a massive control panel that drew the eye the moment you stepped into an arcade. The monitor itself was a hardware marvel, using mirrors to ensure you had a good view of the screen no matter where you stood.
Bolstered by the chaotic fun of playing with multiple people and the popular Marvel characters, X-Men Arcade raked in coins like Magneto sitting inside a Coin Pusher Machine. “I spent a lot of time in the arcades in my younger days, but 1992’s X-Men was an absolute game-changer,” says Marc Sumerak, a former writer and editor at Marvel Comics.
Golden Axe is a classic, side-scrolling RPG from 1989 that pitted you and a friend in an archetypal fantasy quest of defeating great evil and saving the kingdom. Players could control one of three characters: Gilius Thunderhead the bearded dwarf, Amazonian Tyris Flare, and Ax Battler, who does not battle with an ax.
Nothing says high fantasy like a dwarf on a bubblegum pink mount (Source: Nintendo Life)
Each of the three belonged to a different character class. Gilius is a strong warrior, Tyris could cast powerful magic, and Ax could do reasonably well in both. The game makes use of a host of mechanics that made it a standout during its time, plus the same dungeon-clearing formula that makes games like Diablo incredibly addictive. Players could execute a variety of attacks, from spells to bashing your enemy over the head with the pommel of your weapon.
Released in 1985, Tiger Heli is a classic vertical scrolling shoot ‘em up. The graphics look basic, but what it lacked in aesthetic impact Tiger Heli made up for in relatively challenging gameplay. The copters don’t zoom around as much as politely veer around enemy fire, which necessitated some forecasting. It was also the first helicopter shoot ‘em up that introduced bombs and Area of Effect (AoE) damage to the genre. You could also blow up houses for points.
Just casually committing war crimes for that sweet high score
Two years later, Taito released Twin Cobra, Tiger Heli’s bolder, more fast-paced sequel. Twin Cobra took the gameplay elements that made the original a success, and placed it against a backdrop of much better graphics, faster movement, and new enemy choppers.
One can’t talk about dungeon-crawlers without mentioning Gauntlet. Released in 1985, the DnD-inspired fantasy title is considered one of the first multiplayer dungeon-crawling arcade games. Up to 4 people could play, and each run could go non-stop for hours, as all a player who died had to do to jump back into the fight was insert a coin.
The game distilled the genre into its bare elements: non-stop waves of enemies, loot, and character classes. There was no story or damsel to rescue, just one goal in every level: get to the exit and try not to die. The game is also notable for its use of a narrator to remind players of the rules or to help you figure out what the others were doing amidst all the hacking and spell casting.
Kicks, throws, weapons, a proliferation of rusty oil barrels–Double Dragon was a slick city beat ‘em up that both had the best of the genre and defined it. “Great stuff, and really good value, even for 30p a throw,” says reviewer Peter Shaw the November 1987 issue of Your Sinclair. The game was praised for its smooth animations and realistic sound and graphics, which made similar games like Renegade look like outdated clones.
(Source: Doccy Darko)
The game puts you in the ripped jean jackets of Jimmy and Billy, martial artist brothers on the quest to save the woman they both love, Marian. Multiplayer mode had some neat nuances, like being able to hold an enemy down while the other brother whaled on them. But teamwork can only go so far when affairs of the heart are concerned.
After hours of play and innumerable quarters, countless thugs, and seven boss battles, players are pitted against each other for Marian. It’s a deliciously painful plot twist that fits right in with the cheesiness of the martial arts movies of the decade.
Before House of the Dead or Left 4 Dead, there was Beast Busters. The game drops up to 3 players in a city overrun by zombies. Unlike their shambling, mindless counterparts in the movies, the undead in Beast Busters can wield weapons. They can also morph into dogs, for no clear reason.
Pictured above: Typical Monday rush hour (Source: Archive.org)
Beast Busters’ arcade cabinet was just as over-the-top and wonderfully garish as its graphics. The original machine’s body came in a bright yellow. Instead of normal pistols, three machine gun shaped light rail shooters crowded the control panel.