The Ultimate Couch Multiplayer Game Guide of 2015

There’s nothing better than getting friends together around a TV to enjoy some outrageously fantastic multiplayer games. Sure it’s fun to play games online, but there’s something rich about the presence of others. Personally, I dig into couch multiplayer games like some folks dig into bags of chips, so I’m sharing only the very best that I’ve found. Despite my attempts to pare down, this list got a bit exhaustive. So I broke it into multiple categories to hopefully help with some of the sprawl. If you’ve got a sofa to fill, we’ve got more than a few games to get you started.

Best Couch Multiplayer Games You Should Have Heard Of

 

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Rocket League surprised everybody this year by not only being an amazing online game, but by being one of the very best split-screen games of all time — purely because of how the ball-centered-camera allows spectators to follow what’s going on. Anybody can keep up with the on-screen action with the four vantage points. It’s brilliant. But I don’t need to tell you about Rocket League. You already know it’s amazing.

 

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If you like party games and have not discovered Quiplash, shame on you! This puppy brings all the craziness of something like Cards Against Humanity and breathes endless life into it by asking players to answer questions on their phones (like, “What’s a terrible political campaign slogan?”) and then lets everybody vote on the best answer. It can get a little raunchy, but there’s a family-friendly filter that at least keeps the game’s questions less genitally-focused. Quiplash soft-caps at eight players, but has limitless potential for participating audience members — who all vote on the answers. On a personal note, this might easily be my party game of the year. It’s certainly the most-played at my house in 2015.

 

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Duck Game offers an incredible mix of randomization and mechanical depth within a Smash-like deathmatch game. It takes the joy of Halo’s pick-up-and-shoot improvisation and employs some of that Adult Swim slapstick comedy that gets you belly-laughing. Again, if you’ve not heard of Duck Game, I’m very sorry. You’ve missed out on the joy that is “Quack, quack, kill!”

 

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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes got its fame from being a funny Oculus Rift bomb defusal party game that made waves at conventions and on YouTube. A group of friends use a printed paper manual to help talk the bomb expert (the Oculus wearer) through the defusal process. But it’s worth noting that this works great with a laptop or a PC screen other players’ can’t see.

This one takes some time for players to understand how everything works. And player  competency takes a bit of time. It’s not something that players easily pick up and understand within fifteen minutes. But for those with a few hours to burn, this has become an absolute favorite for my family and friends to play over long afternoons.

 

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Paperbound was best described as Super Smash Bros. on crack. It’s an ultra-fast game of one-hit kills and oddball characters (including some indie-celebs like Juan from Guacamelee). Players only get a slashy instrument and a tossable pair of scissors for smashy murder, but the most unique tool they get is a gravity-inversion button. Platforming gets super wonky thanks to orbital platforms, invertible gravity, and your mounting skill at flipping upside down and back in rapid succession. It’s very possible for players to learn crazy floating techniques just to line up that perfect scissor-toss-kill. Paperbound’s manic fun won over a few my friends’ young kids and became a family-night staple.

 

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Lovers in A Dangerous Spacetime might exit the couch multiplayer genre and wander into the committed co-op realm, but it’s worth noting purely for how uniquely effective it is at challenging friendships. The whole game builds a longform relationship built between two players inside of a spaceship that probably requires five to six people to work perfectly, so most of the game is this delicate act of task-juggling, miscommunicating, and blame-shifting. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great fun for a couple who is skilled at communicating, jumping around, and pulling-off great shots. For me, it just exposed how much I suck at being a good friend who listens and communicates.

 

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Super Mega Baseball came out last year on PS3 and PS4, but Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings just launched on Steam this year, bringing us the most uproarious arcade baseball I’ve seen in decades. I’m not a big baseball or sports guy, but every round of Super Mega Baseball had me giggling like a little girl. Exhibitions often erupted into crazy cheering when somebody hit a homerun or got an epic double-play. It’s good as a four-player game, but the switching between batting, pitching, and fielding can get a bit confusing with two-player teams. I think it might be best as a two-player game.

 

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ROCKETSROCKETSROCKETS blasted-off and twirled into my living room with the grace of a ballerina. This game of aerial pursuits, counter mines, and shooting teeny rockets at bigger rockets won many hearts in my living room. The constant mix of reversals, steady pursuits, and hilarity goes off-the-chain. It’s the just-a-hair-past-your-rocket’s-nose near misses that keeps this game constantly engaging. Four player play can sometimes get a little too busy on-screen, but when the last two players remain in a survival match, the dueling dance between them turns into pure Ice Capades.

 

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Apotheon landed on many PS4s way back in January thanks to PS Plus, and some endured the awkward combat to enjoy the Hellenistic urn-art world, but then most abandoned the game to go unplayed.

Apotheon’s Local Versus mode seemed like a short-lived diversion for many, but a few of us tinkered with the settings to unearth an extremely fun high-risk game of cat and mouse. Drop the player health to 20% and suddenly this simple one-on-one match of improvisation with clumsy ancient Grecian martial tools becomes a one-hit kill game with the stronger weapons — and a two-hit game with the weaker weapons. This balance comes to light perhaps even more in the free Apotheon Arena that launched on Steam as a thank you from Alientrap (plus it has an online mode, for those who prefer that sort of thing).

That’s it for the games you should-have heard of. Now it’s time for the one’s you probably never knew existed.

Best Couch Multiplayer Games You Never Heard Of

 

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ClusterPuck 99 looks like hockey at first, as played by pucks who pass around a smaller puck. And that’s true, but there’s a crazier level of mania that only comes alive when you have four players or more. ClusterPuck lives up to its name when you get trapped in the corner with a four other player pucks and everybody’s wildly shoulder-checking one another into the corner. The only two verbs in the game are shoot and check, and they’re set to the same button. All of the game’s tension comes from the kinetic friction of your puck’s momentum and how quickly you can snag the game-puck and shoot or slam-dunk it into the enemy goal. Levels range from plain and “Boring” to enormously complicated maps with pits, bumpers, spikes, and loop-de-loops. The game also can take-on a new layer of complexity thanks to a wealth of AI player options to flesh-out your team. This one busted-up many parties with laughter and lots of happy shouting.

 

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Mayan Death Robots, aside from having the coolest name ever, casts you as a giant robot that compels ancient Mayans to worship you as a god of death. Then you use your “ancient god powers” to try to destroy another Death Robot’s power node. 

Mayan Death Robots plays like Worms, but players take their turns simultaneously. And amidst having personalized Mayan Death Robot powers, all robots also use magical Tetris building-block powers to build new structures that grant better defense or footing. While this is just a two-player  turn-based game, we found that our crew loved the tension of anticipating each other’s moves and spectating as two-players try to beat each other. I personally loved how the simultaneous turn-taking and planning keeps the players invested in the ongoing action.

 

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Capsule Force also took this notion of working towards an enemy power core pretty seriously. It appears to be a Smash-like with 80s anime characters and laser beams, but once you dive into it, you discover it’s more of a sport.

Think of Capsule Force like space-football where instead of fighting for a football, you’re fighting for control of two tram platforms. Teams of two try to stay standing on a tram to ride it to the enemy goal and steal their power capsule. Besides jump, players have fancy charge shots and bubble shields — and man if those bubble shields aren’t useful. But it’s got some of the tightest controls of any game like this. But you might need more than a couple rounds of the game for players to really understand what’s going on. Still, the core design here is so tight that it would be a shame for players to miss this.

Speaking of 80s anime, that seemed to be a theme for solid couch multiplayer games this year.

 

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Stardust Vanguards channels Gundam and Robotech with its huge hulking space-mechs. Four players get equipped with laser swords, energy shields, and a limited pool of bullets, and are thrusted into a single-screen arena without gravity. Everybody battles for dominance and control, while racking up Reinforcement Points that allow for summoning an armada of support-ships. Matches can quickly flood the screen with a plethora of player-supporting ships of varying colors. But they’re not the only kinds of ships that can flood the screen. Space pirates can throw a (space) wrench into things and sometimes actually win the four-player deathmatches.

Stardust Vanguards’ classic pixelated action is enough to warrant an arcade cabinet, and even got me thinking about what it might take to build one. Be sure to check this one out for some fast, fun chunky space-mech action.

 

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Regular Human Basketball gets my pick for craziest game of the year. Two-to-ten players enter a game of “one-on-one” pickup basketball, but they do this inside of giant mechanized “human basketball player” suits. Teams jump into the human suits and start pressing all kinds of buttons.

It’s a bit like Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime or Spaceteam when it comes to teamwork and trying to control a big clumsy machine. But once everybody figures out how to get the giant magnetic arm working with the wheels, elevator, and rocket boosters, it turns into a real game of basketball. This one really got folks shouting and making weird happy noises. Plus, it’s free on itch.io!

 

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Toto Temple Deluxe has a simple premise: four players compete to grab the goat and hold onto the goat for as long as possible. The first player to hold the goat for a cumulative minute wins. But the charm here is how much head-bashing, diving, and related mania ensues in knocking the goat out of other players’ hands. This new Deluxe edition adds more modes than we’ve gotten a chance to try, and comes afresh to Steam, Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One users (no longer limited to the Ouya). This is an absolute blast for folks of all ages and does one simple thing extraordinarily well.

 

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Particle Mace may look at first like a four player arcade space shooter or SHMUP, but there’s a major difference in this one since you drag a giant mace behind your ship instead of shooting. The whole game becomes this delicate dance of swinging and smashing your dangling mace into foes and asteroids alike. The tension between evasion and dashing-into-foes brilliantly captures the essence of a good multiplayer game. There’s something tremendously satisfying about the POPS and POWS of a good smash in this game. Similar to ROCKETSROCKETSROCKETS, this one too is a “Galactic Ballet Brawler.”

 

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BANGBANGBANG is the year’s best couch multiplayer Western. It captures all of the tension, intrigue, and sudden death of a Mexican Standoff. Some of you may have heard of Devolver’s Fistful of Gun and saw its trailer that captured the spirit of a Mexican Standoff, but BANGBANGBANG is that dream realized (Fistful of Gun was rather disappointing).

BANGBANGBANG is a little too quick at times, as the players with the quickest uptake tend to dominate. Somebody learning the game in six seconds has an advantage over somebody who takes sixteen seconds to learn the game, but that speed of uptake seems genuine to the Mexican Standoff experience. There’s two people who play this game: the quick and the dead. Just be aware, you can only find BANGBANGBANG on itch.io.

 

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BADBLOOD takes the joys of hide and go seek and mixes it with fratricide. Take your siblings out to the fields, sneak up on them behind the cover of tall grass, and hit them over the head with a rock! This brutal stealth game is a little clumsy and hard to get your hands around it at first, but the split-screen division reveals mandatory screen-peeking to discover where your enemy-sibling lies in wait.  Only two players can jump into this one at a time, but that’s the focused tension of the game: figure out where this one (and only one) other person is. There’s also two modes: one where you’re trying to seek and kill each other, the other where you take turns being the hunter or hunted.

 

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Hands Off might be the weirdest game on this list purely because of how there’s nothing else out there like it. It’s a game of throwing balls at goals as disembodied hands. Two players square-off, each as a pair of hands. Hands are bound to each control stick on a standard Xbox 360 controller as players try to grab balls with the corresponding trigger buttons and then pass balls between hands to toss into goals. The game gets fun when players discover how to slap the other player’s hands. Oh! And you can only have one hand on the right side and one on the left of the screen, so hands don’t overlap. It is confusing as you try to control two hands simultaneously, but that’s the charm of the game: overcoming confusion to build a sense of on-screen dexterity. It’s unique and truly work looking into on itch.io.

That should be it for this year, but I’d feel like I was doing a disservice if I didn’t mention some key Early Access games that are too good at couch multiplayer to ignore.

Early Access Honorable Mentions

 

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Skyhook came out first as a demo on itch.io for curious couch potatoes like myself and literally hooked us with its simple grapple-rich combat. Players get to grapple, dash, and jump their way across a dangerously elevated level as they vie for survival or control of air-pirate ships (equipped with cannons). It’s not the freshest thing in the world for players of both Bionic Commando and Towerfall, but it’s nice to have as a fun diversion. I’m very excited to see how this one refines over time before exiting Early Access.

 

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Rivals of Aether captures the classic spirit of Super Smash Bros. and distills it down to an animalistic form. Players use a variety of unique combos and player-centric abilities to dominate in a true Smash-like spirit. We haven’t gotten our hands on this one yet to really decipher its intricate strengths and weaknesses, but we’re following it through Early Access and look forward to reporting on the released versions’ competency as a fairly serious couch brawler.

 

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Friendship Club got its name for being a playful and ironic take on competitive bullet hell. Players shoot with twin-stick controls, dodge bullets, and catch shots with headbutt dashes. And despite being Early Access, it has an unprecedented level of visual polish. Nifty modifiers allow things like speeding-up the pace of the game to lightning-quickness or allow you to slow-down to delicate dances of precision. Lots of play-types and procedural level design keep the matches fresh and keeps players on their toes.

That’s it for the list for this year. There’s many games we missed, as there’s just too many couch multiplayer indie games out there for anybody to fully keep up. But we hope we caught the ones that trigger your curiosity and inspire you to have some friends over!