The greatest revolution in couch multiplayer is happening right now—with wildly innovative gameplay—but none of those games are selling well. It’s a tragedy. I use to think only assholes say Towerfall needed online multiplayer (or that any local-only multiplayer games need to have online), but lately I’m being swayed in the other direction. Trench Run steps into this revolutionary local multiplayer field with the hopes of resolving some of the adoption problem by offering strong online support—and a strong new idea for the same-screen battle arena. Still, this adds a lot of questions about the role of innovation in local multiplayer games—and their perceived source of sustainability: an online community who misses out on the incarnate attraction of a shared-space experience.

Trench Run’s great innovation is deathlessness—players flop like fish once “killed” in the hopes of finding a health kit to get back on their feet. This means downed players stay in the game even when they’re “out.” Practically it means everybody has fun, even when somebody is dominating, because there’s always a chance to get back on your feet again (literally and figuratively).

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Keeping “dead” players in the game means they’re still laughing. Still smiling. Still a part of the party. It’s a monumental move for the couch multiplayer genre that should be heralded as a watershed moment—like when Call of Duty integrated an RPG progression system into first person online shooters—but because couch multiplayer has such a small player-base I fear Trench Run’s deathless revelation will just slip by unnoticed.

Players flop like fish once ‘killed’ in the hopes of finding a health kit

Online multiplayer integration could be the defibrillator that resuscitates Trench Run’s innovation neglect, but player adoption is a fickle thing not dictated just by innovative mechanics and online multiplayer support. Visually speaking, Trench Run trips over a few hurdles. The game looks like somebody re-purposed a lot of Multimedia Fusion assets, which just doesn’t do it for me. And while graphic fidelity is the last thing on my mind when in-game, it’s definitely a determining selling factor when somebody makes that first impression.

Still, innovations, online support, and visuals aren’t the only determining factors. Trench Run’s other key distinctive quality is class selection: select a stab-happy commando armed only with a knife and flash bang, a sneaky sniper with a snazzy camouflage power, a blasty demolition man with c4 and a rocket launcher, or assault gunner with a frag and two handfuls of bullets. Then it’s off to the races. Classes ensure that my buddies and I had plenty of “toys” to play with—and it gave us lots of ways to counter one another as we continued to play.

Advanced-level play is what’s needed to support longstanding communities

Advanced-level play may be the most damning missing feature for Trench Run. I just don’t see it. While there may be advanced techniques and hidden depths that I’ve not yet unearthed, I’ve not come across anything that suggests a community ready to explore the depths that keep games like Smash Bros on endless rotation—and that might be the biggest nail in the coffin for Trench Run or any local multiplayer game: whether or not players assemble to play the game for extended periods. Advanced-level play is what’s needed to support longstanding communities and endure wintery sales climates.

I recognize that the future of couch party games are online—where the future seems more hopeful (and potentially sustainable). But sustainability for couch multiplayer games amounts to more than ‘local versus online’ and innovative mechanics—it’s in the lasting incentives of sustained play. And advanced-level play in particular. Presently local multiplayer tools are at their finest and most dispensable form, which means that it’s easier than ever to make a decent game and get it to market. While online accessibility is a step in the right direction, the overarching designs for long-play have to be the foremost selling points going forward.

About The Author

M. Joshua makes game trailers when not writing about games. He loves any game experience that engenders empathy to others, be it biographical, co-op, or games about valuing the well-being of your enemies. He loves getting humans together in his house for survival deathmatches.

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