I recently had the chance to sit down with my girlfriend and my brother to play a local multiplayer game that’s been sitting on my PS3 for ages: Sportsfriends. The game consists of four “minigames” that center around the physicality of the console experience.
What do I mean by “physicality”? Well, I’ve always been a big fan of finding new ways to use controllers, and Sportsfriends scratches that itch in a big way. Most of the games find creative ways to involve you in managing the space that you’re playing in (the literal space, not the virtual space) which is something I can definitely get behind.
The most obvious (but somehow least fun) version of this physicality is found in the Johann Sebastian Joust game where each player’s controller turns into a super-sensitive bomb. Other players have to jostle each others’ controllers to get the bombs to “go off”, thereby eliminating the other player from the game.
While the premise of Joust is fun, the actual enjoyment we got out of it was pretty low. The act of getting up and holding your controller lightly but firmly while trying to knock other controllers around got dangerous and unwieldy pretty fast. Even after fiddling with the sensitivity settings, our “bombs” would go off seemingly at random, making the whole thing feel less like a game of skill and more like a dice roll.
Where Sportsfriends really shines is when it asks you to share a controller with another player. Another minigame, Hokra–where players control two squares that fight for control over a pixelated ball in order to max out their score–is extremely difficult without sharing a controller.
The two pucks under your control are manipulated using the two analogue sticks, something that fans of the game Brother: A Tale of Two Sons will assure you is not a simple thing to keep straight. Having two people share one controller is definitely the way to go if you want to win, as proven by my girlfriend and I kicking my brother’s ass over and over again.
The reason Hokra is so great is that it forces you to do something that you probably aren’t prepared for when playing a video game: physical contact with another human being. Sure, you can probably awkwardly reach over to hold your half of the controller without touching the bums/shoulders/arms of the person you’re sharing with, but that will get uncomfortable fast. Instead, the game makes you sit like you’re fifteen again, thinking about how to make that first move on your new boyfriend/girlfriend as you watch tv on their parents’ couch.
Why is this so great, you might ask. Why should I have to touch another filthy human just to enjoy this game? Because, in the worst “does anyone else remember the 90s” type of way, video games should be about interacting with people sometimes, not just the games themselves.
Sometimes games should be about getting your friends to come over and knock around the Baribariball or slam some high kicks in Pole Riders. Sometimes it’s good to remember that games don’t need to be overly-complicated, online-multiplayer-only experiences. Sometimes games should be a party activity, not just an activity.