Couch, or local multiplayer gaming is one of the oldest features in video games. In fact one of the first title “Tennis for Two”, a simplistic tennis game developped in 1958 by the american physicist William Higinbotham, was meant to be played by two person sharing the same (oscilloscope) screen.
The industry evolved at an incredible pace and it is estimated that the worldwide video game market was worth more than 90 billions in 2016 . From the early Pong consoles flooding the market in the 70’s, through the explosion of arcades in the 80’s and the democratization of home (PC/console) gaming in the 90’s until today, each generation of gamers had their multiplayer classics.
This article is a personal selection among this incredibly fun and social genre that will provide thousands of hours of fun for you and your roommates, your siblings or (grand) parents. All you need is a relatively recent (~2 to 5 years old) computer and a bunch of controllers.
Most of the games listed here require a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller, there are alternative to make generic computer controllers compatible but it will require additional (and sometimes sketchy) software.
Emulation, the cheap alternative to have fun with all time classics
There is a long history of video games to explore!
Before we start I wanted to mention the fascinating world of emulators: since the early days of PC gaming, amateurs built software capable of running old console games which in most cases are illegal copies.
This is a cheap (and illegal unless you make a digital copy of a game you own) option if you want to discover all time classics that were never ported on PC such as the Mario Kart or Mario Party series. You will find tons of documentation online, along with selections of the best multiplayer games on the platform you want to explore.
Let’s start this selection with a sub-genre that made a comeback to the PC gaming scene recently. These, like most of the games in this article, are meant to provide an easy yet entertaining couch gaming experience.
Ultimate Chicken Horse (2016)
An important aspect of couch gaming is accessibility: you and your grandmother must quickly understand the gameplay to assure a fair competition. Ultimate Chicken Horse is a platformer that includes puzzle and strategic elements: each rounds start with a building phase where players will place an item on a map before trying to beat the level. The idea is that these items can either make the level easier or harder to finish.
Simple, fun and addictive, this game is a good option to play with literally anyone!
Players: Up to 4 Price: 15€ Developer: Clever Endeavour Games
Move or Die (2016)
The main rule is in the title: stop moving around and you will die. But the fun here really relies on variety: every round the game adds or changes a gameplay rule. Be the first to paint the map, to collect more coins than the other players, to shoot your opponents with a shotgun, …
It is fast and constantly challenges the players’s understanding of the game, creating a great and fun tension around the screen!
Players: Up to 4 Price: 15€ Developer: Those Awesome Guys
Use your words (2017)
This is the only title in the list I do not own but I am pretty sure this will warm up any evening with your friends! The concept is the following: each player connects to the game with his/her smartphone and will have to come up with either a news headline or a movie line (other game modes exist but I did not try them) before voting for the best one.
Text input is quite rare in video games and with a bit of creativity you can imagine how hilarious, nasty or creepy it can get!
Players: Up to 6 Price: 15€ Developer: Smiling Buddha Games, LLC
The second sub-category represents a very specific genre that hit every single generation of gaming. Whether the gameplay is arcade or simulation oriented, a multiplayer mode was almost always included to let the players compare their virtual driving skills.
In between racing and shooting, Blazerush is one of these PC titles that got the Micromachines-like games back alive! Everyone plays on the same screen, so going too slow will eliminate you. Each player tries to catch bonuses or weapons, to either get faster or blow up opponents. This highly competitive gameplay will require you to stay focused on both the track, your driving and other players’ position.
Fun and addictive, it also allows to co-operate in a campaign mode.
Players: Up to 4 Price: 10€ Developer: Targem Games
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (2013)
As mentioned earlier, the only way to play Mario Kart, an absolute classic couch gaming racing game, is through emulation. However Sega found an opportunity there to release a high definition Mario Kart-like on PC, and the result is more than decent. While the game is a bit more oriented on the racing aspect, the tracks are still filled with traps and weapons to spice up your games!
In short this game does the job: bring the epic Mario Kart multiplayer gameplay on your computer.
Players: Up to 4 Price: 20€ Developer: Sumo Digital
Trackmania Turbo (2016)
While the Trackmania series was made popular thanks to its online mode, the hotseat mode always allowed multiple players to play around one screen to try to beat each other’s time. This latest version also includes a split screen option with multiple game modes to try with your friends. In my opinion it is a bit too much since only the time attack modes where you try to master the perfect trajectory on the track is still the most intense and fun to play.
The best option to see who’s the best driver!
Players: Up to 4 (can be more in hotseat mode) Price: 40€ (20€ on Ubisoft’s platform) Developer: Nadeo
First person shooter genre became a classic single player genre on PC thanks to the amazing precision and comfort of the keyboard + mouse combo. But you should definitely consider trading it for a controller if you want to share deathmatch intensity around a screen and a couple of beers.
There is one major problem with playing an FPS with your friends on the same screen: it is very easy to cheat and scout other player’s’ position. What use to be a bad local gaming nightmare (I remember splitting the screen with a fancy bed sheet installation as a teenager to shoot my friends in fair conditions on the original Xbox) was transformed into a gameplay mechanic in Screencheat: everyone is invisible so the only way to spot your opponents is to literally screen cheat.
A brilliant idea very well executed by Samurai Punk !
Players: Up to 8 Price: 15€ Developer: Samurai Punk
Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)
Valve bringed many good things to PC gamers with their Steam platform but also with their history of high quality titles. Left 4 Dead was one of them and its sequel added many things including a split-screen mode to beat the campaign while sitting with your friends.
A must have to shoot zombies in good company!
Players: Up to 2 (in split-screen) Price: 20€ (wait for the Steam sales!) Developer: Valve
Portal 2 (2011)
The first Portal was a little revolution for the first person puzzle genre with its unique game mechanics based on portal travelling. While it is still technically a shooting game (you literally shoot a portal gun) the campaign is based on puzzle solving which makes the game quite slow paced. Like its predecessor, Portal 2 links the different levels with a great charming story, but it also adds a two2 player co-op mode. The puzzles are different and require good coordination on top of the reflexion needed to get through the stages.
Another classic Valve game you can get for a ridiculous price during the Steam sales without hesitating!
Players: Up to 2 Price: 20€ (wait for the Steam sales!) Developer: Valve
Yet another very popular type of multiplayer game: fighting titles have always satisfied player’s will to kick their friend’s ass!
There are multiple classic titles available on PC such as Street Fighter, Tekken or Guilty Gear but I chose to include different games in this list for their originality and ease of access.
Gang Beasts (2014)
Gameplay built around the physics engine are quite recent in the history of video games and Gang Beasts isn one of them. The goal here is to master these mechanics in order to kick your opponents out of the map;: for example in the first level you need to push them out of a ring. This will lead to hilarious reactions from the game engine and hours of fun and competition.
A must try!
Players: Up to 4 Price: 20€ (early access) Developer: Boneloaf
Lethal League (2014)
This game is not your typically punching simulator as the goal is to kick a ball before it touches your opponent. This simple principle very quickly transforms into a fast paced chase all around the screen, with each character having his characteristics and bonus shot.
Like Gang Beasts, the gameplay relies on the physics engine (even though we are in 2D here) and you must try it to understand how intense it can get!
Players: Up to 4 Price: 12€ Developer: Team Reptile
As mentioned before there are many multiplayer classic that were only released on consoles. Super Smash Bros is another classic released by Nintendo that never got to PC. But Blue Mammoth Games decided to build a cheaper version with similar mechanics in order to bring the smash fun to your desktop. The result is very good and already made its way to the esports scene.
This is the only free to play title of the list so there is no excuse not to try it!
Players: Up to 8 Price: Free! Developer: Blue Mammoth Games
Shoot ‘em up
Like Fighting games, Shoot ‘em up have been around the video game industry since the very beginning. There is simply nothing more intuitive than controlling a ship and shoot around. This is probably why Space Invader, released in 1978, contributed a lot to the popularity of video games.
The Shoot ‘em up genre was made popular with 2D graphics and while there are many classic 3D titles they mostly still use a top down view with 2 dimensional gameplay. These games are typically hard to beat but Jamestown lets you experience this classic gameplay with gorgeous pixel art graphics and more casual difficulty levels.
With a co-op mode that allows up to 4 players, it will require a lot of hours and concentration to beat the hardest difficulty soberly called “Judgment”.
Players: Up to 4 Price: 10€ Developer: Final Form Games
Assault Android Cactus (2015)
Because you can easily, especially through emulation, lookup all the classic games you can try to beat in this genre, I wanted to show you something different with Assault Android Cactus. This game is very accessible, super colorful and within minutes you can already master the game mechanics and destroy tons of enemies with your friends.
A very great “twin stick shooter” that plays beautifully with Xbox controllers.
Players: Up to 4 Price: 14€ Developer: Witch Beam
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (2015)
Like FPS, Shoot ‘em ups rarely require any strategy: it is all about you shooting and dodging skills. Love in a Dangerous Spacetime takes a completely different approach as it requires two players to move you ship and open fire.
This unique gameplay makes communication between players crucial, and the constant need to adapt provides hours of multiplayer exploration.
Players: Up to 4 Price: 15€ Developer: Asteroid Base
The following games could not fit into categories but I really wanted to mention them since they are worth trying.
Risk of Rain (2013)
In between Shoot ‘em up and Platformer, Risk of Rain if a pixel art gem and an intense action game. The difficulty of the game is set by a timer and each level is filed with random item location for a unique experience each game.
This is probably not the most accessible game on the list but one of the advantages of couch gaming is that players can help each other getting the principle.
Players: Up to 4 Price: 10€ Developer: Hopoo Games, LLC
Rocket League (2015)
This list does not contain any sports title even though they are a goldmine when it comes to multiplayer. Psyonix, the studio behind Rocket League, successfully managed to catch the fun of football game and mix it with racing gameplay. This was probably the most exciting multiplayer game released in 2015 and two years later it is still amazing thanks to multiple free updates containing new levels and even more game modes!
If you hate both sports and racing games, there is still a chance that you will enjoy Rocket League’s gameplay;: it’s that good!
Players: Up to 4 Price: 20€ Developer: Psyonix, Inc.
Another original title which blend two genres into one with a unique gameplay;: imagine the intensity of Dota-like games mixed with a 2D shooter. With Awesomenauts you can enjoy that type of competitive game with your friends next to you!
The game is very solid and got tons of additional content along its multiple free updates.
Players: Up to 3 Price: Free! Developer: Ronimo Games
Tricky Towers (2016)
The puzzle genre is also missing on this list, and again it is a very old multiplayer in video games history. Tricky Towers is a recent “Tetris-like” which adds some physics elements to the gameplay. The game introduces 3 unique game modes and each of them will provide you with hours of competitive gameplay.
Players: Up to 4 Price: 15€ Developer: WeirdBeard
Worms: W.M.D (2016)
How could I talk about local co-op PC games without mentioning this absolute classic. This artillery strategy game serie is a turn based delight that is still gets new releases since 1995. The latest version was released last year and it is still up to the serie standard;: a great game that really becomes interesting when you sit around the screen with other players.
If you never played any Worms games you are missing out!
Players: Up to 6 Price: 30€ Developer: Team17 Digital Ltd
Finally I wanted to mention some additional games I really enjoyed with friends but that could not fit in this article. Again, this is thousands of hours of fun ahead!
Octodad: Dadliest Catch (2014) : a bizarre adventure game with a co-op mode to share the controls of the main character.
Eon Altar (2016): a RPG with each player using their smartphone as a custom controller
Orc Must Die! 2 (2012): a great tower defense game with a 2 player co-op mode
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (2015): meant to play in VR, you can also enjoy this unique bomb defusal puzzle game on a regular screen
Borderlands 2 (2012): a great FPS/RPG mix with a very long co-op adventure
Helldivers (2015): a pretty difficult twin stick shooter that adds tacticals elements
This article will hopefully help you pick something to play with your friends. There are a tons of (legal) ways to get the games on this list for cheap: humblebundle.com is one of them with weekly deals and most importantly game bundles to grab these multiplayer titles for cheap!
I sincerely believe that we are living a videogame “golden era” where old genre are getting back to life thanks to independent studios and where the only problem is to choose which game you want to play..
It doesn’t matter if you have a small budget and a cheap computer: download an older version of Trackmania or Worms and start sharing the fun of gaming with your friends!
This is truly the ultimate social video game experience.
 SuperData – Market Brief — Year in Review 2016 – https://www.superdataresearch.com/market-data/market-brief-year-in-review/