March 27, 2014

The Elite Four: Party Games

One of the things I love most about video games is their ability to bring people together. I'm sure when many people think about "playing video games" they think of one guy, cooped up in his mom's basement, in the dark, staring at a screen while slumped in a chair and eating cheetos. While I'm totally guilty of this, I'm also known amongst my crowd for bringing video games to parties or small get togethers, and getting even the greatest of nay-sayers to participate. Hell, I've even gotten my father* to play video games! So for this edition of the Elite Four, we're going to have a look at some of my favorite titles for parties and get togethers, for all kinds of gamers. A couple of classics, some unconventional picks, and some mildly funny anecdotes.
Also: double whammy! Here are my Top 10 Games for Parties.

*Think least likely guy on the planet to play video games, and then knock it down a few more notches…
10. Sonic Mega Collection (PS2, GC, Xbox)
I choose this particular version because it's got all of the classic Sonic titles in one place: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Sonic and Knuckles as well as my favorite Sonic party game ever, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, among others! This makes for quick access to all these great titles, but they play virtually the same as the original Sega cartridges, which is handy if any of your party-goers are retro gamers. Conversely, you can get this collection for the PS2, which makes playing more comfortable for any new-gen gamer who doesn't know their way around a Genesis controller. Sonic games are quick, challenging, varied and just plain fun. If you need something to keep a few people entertained for a while, this is a great pick!

Most of the Sonic titles involve navigating the titular speedy hedgehog through an assortment of levels, while pursuing the evil Dr. Robotnik/Eggman and defeating his animal-turned-robot minions along the way in this classic Sega platformer. There is also a 2-player versus mode available. Mean Bean Machine is a puzzle game, playing more like a hybrid of Tetris and Dr. Mario. One of the things I love about MBM is that not many people have really played it, so no one really has an experience advantage, unlike with Tetris. And speaking of Tetris…

9. Tetris, Columns (Various)
This is probably the most obvious pick on this list. Pretty much everyone knows Tetris is one of the
best puzzle challenges there is, and the only thing that could possibly make it more fun is rubbing it in someone's face when you beat them, right? Furthermore, there are millions of ways to go about this! You could duke it out, Game Boy to Game Boy, or pick up one of the more modern versions and compete side-by-side, like on GameCube. You can also invent your own way of competing. Way, way back in the day, my buddies Tom, Drew and I used to challenge ourselves during our lunch break in high school. Basically, we had so many minutes to leave school, get to Tom's house, rescue the Game Boys from God-knows-where, and get crackin' on Tetris. Highest level before we had to leave for school won!

I have my own spin on this, too. Anybody that grew up like me - overly attached to their Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) - may be familiar with a game called Columns. Columns is a game that plays a lot like Tetris, except the objective is to line up the segments of columns to match shapes/colors in lines of three or more. I remember having epic Columns battles in my heyday, that often came down to who could avoid using the toilet longest...
The Genesis version of Columns allows two players to take on the falling puzzle challenge.

8. Super Smash Bros. (Various)
Also SSB Melee, SSB Brawl
If Tetris wasn't the most obvious pick, Super Smash Bros. has to be. But I have a confession to make: I don't really like Smash Bros. that much. It's by no means a bad game, but I've always found it got boring really quick, it's difficult for some people to master, and frankly, there are a million better fighting games. That said, I've still clocked a fair few hours with Smash Bros.. A lot of my friends really love this game, and I usually get dragged into playing it sooner than later. And it's no wonder, it's a cool multiplayer fighting game - which are kinda of rare, especially back in the day - and it features all manner of nostalgic levels and characters.

In SSB, up to 4 players fight each other in any of the familiar arenas at the same time. Instead of depleting your opponent's health, your objective is to knock them off the platforms and out of the arena. There are a ton of Nintendo characters (and a few third-party characters as well!) to choose from, all of whom have their own unique attacks. The roster in recent Smash Bros. games is so large, that everyone masters a different character, making the brawls all the more fun to play and watch.

7.  Little Big Planet (PS3)
I actually cannot claim credit for the discovery of this one. Back when PS3 was still working on
winning people over, my friends and I found ourselves cancelling our plans due to weather. With no other brilliant ideas, my friend suggested we all head home and pick up our Dualshock 3s and meet at her house, because she had a new multiplayer game to check out. 6 hours and a frying pan-wielding, zebra print burlap sack later…
We had more fun than I can really articulate. Between screwing around with each others designs, and the cooperative effort mixed with a puzzle platformer, I'm left with nothing but good memories of LBP.

In LBP, up to 4 players create their own characters, and then move together through the levels, half racing and half helping each other to advance.

6. NHL '94 (Genesis)
Once again we're diving into the nostalgia files to bring you one of the greatest sports games ever.
Growing up on the east coast of North America meant hockey was an inevitable hobby, and I learned it quickly via my father and my never ending chain of boy friends. No, no.. I just mean all my friends were (and still are...) guys! I had neither the talent nor the penis to join their hockey clubs, so I'd have to settle with playing them electronically. To this day, one of my favorite things to do is get the guys together, have some beers, and take each other on with teams that don't even exist anymore...

In NHL '94, two players control (once) real members of NHL hockey teams in a classic match of the-best-game-you-can-name. The game was, for its time, incredibly realistic compared to its competitors, and involves some aspects of hockey that are often overlooked, like lines and line changes. In NHL '94, you not only need to be aware and have quick motor skills to win, but you have to be a great coach as well.

5. Grand Theft Auto (Various)
Also GTA2, GTA3, GTA4, GTA5, Vice City, San Andreas, Liberty City Stories, et al.  
So here's a title you probably didn't expect to see on this list. Among my many legacies, inventing
Grand Theft Auto-related party games ranks quite high on both the creativity and "drunken escapade" scales. One of the beautiful things about GTA is that you don't actually have to play the game to have a good time, and there are so many gameplay facets that you can keep yourself entertained for hours by just screwing around! Add some friends, perhaps a steering wheel, and maybe even a little alcohol, and you've got yourself a surefire good time.

Some of my go-tos include who can maintain the highest amount of stars the longest/survive the SWAT team, who can get the most ridiculous vehicle on the train tracks/monorail, longest time driving the wrong way on the freeway, etc.

4. Golden Eye 007 (N64)
This game arguably holds the championship belt for for many titles: best FPS, best N64 game, maybe best multiplayer game? Throw atop all of that some James Bond love and Golden Eye promises a good time for all. The game offers a couple of Bond-themed multiplayer modes so you can switch things up based on who is playing, especially if there are more than 4 people itching to kill one another.

Then, if people are raging a little too hard… or pass out… you can switch to the classic single-player campaign and watch or take turns, while arguing about which Bond movie is the best.
The player takes the role of 007 himself, and navigates the open levels completing various objectives.

3. Dance Dance Revolution (Various)
Also DDR Max, DDR Extreme et al.
DDR started as a popular arcade game that everyone had heard about but no one had tried. Eventually,
its popularity and appeal led to a home console edition. Enter my pal Rich, who had the balls to purchase this goofy game and a couple of dance pads, but didn't tell anybody until he had mastered the game. Thus, the challenge became not only to conquer the game, but to defeat Rich and put an end to his reign of rhythmic terror, and eventually, to do it drunk. Yes, if you haven't noticed, a lot of my party gaming also involves alcohol, but all of these games are fun with or without.

In DDR, up to two players attempt to follow a map of arrows pointing up, down left and right as they scroll up the screen to the tune of some catchy Japanese techno or some remix of a pop song on BPM steroids. Your objective is to land your foot on the corresponding arrow of the dance pad in perfect time. Failure to do so nets you harsh criticism from the game's announcer, and Rich.

2. Donkey Konga (GC)
Also DK2, DK3
This game is exactly as ridiculous and fun as you think it is. My friends and I found this curious pairing of GameCube disc and bongos in someone's sibling's closet, and the curiosity was simply too much. What followed was several weeks of late-night get togethers, so we could master this rhythm game.

Donkey Konga makes use of bongos in place of the standard GC controller, and plays kind of like DDR for your hands. On screen you see a strip of rhythmic commands, indicating you are to hit either the left drum, the right, both, or clap in time with the music.

And that brings us to the king of all party games:

1. WarioWare: Smooth Moves (Wii)
I've always been a fan of the mindless entertainment that is WarioWare, but Smooth Moves holds a special place in my heart. Allow me to detail the conversation that led to my discovery of Smooth Moves:
*ring ring*
Lo: Hello?
K: Hi. You need to come to Nick's. Like now.
Lo: What happened?
K: Just come.
Lo: Dude, I'm busy…
And that was basically it. The next several hours consisted of unlocking all the areas in SM, and then trumping each other's high scores, which took longer than expected 'cause it took us about 20 minutes to recover from the laughing fits that occurred after each tutorial the game provides. SM is hilarious, challenging, fun and perfect for everyone. This would be the game that got my old man using a Wii on regular basis. In addition to the normal game - which is essentially a series of themed challenges which the player has a certain amount of time to complete correctly - the game also has a couple of additional games, like darts! This game never stops providing. It's amazing. If you haven't checked out Smooth Moves - with or without friends in tow - what are you waiting for?!

Honorable Mention:
Generic Wii Games - Bowling, Tennis, whatever comes on that other disc that I can never find. These games are great when you have a constantly moving group of people. Everyone will stop and play a couple rounds, but they don't really offer any reason to sit down and get invested.
Pokemon - Another game that wasn't really designed for gatherings, but that doesn't stop us getting together to trade and battle. I've even raced the aforementioned Rich in who could beat the game fastest, and we'd often get together to compare notes. I won.😉
Guitar Hero, Rock Band - Another wildly popular rhythm game, but this one never actually won me over. I have a few great stories, usually involving booze and/or popsicles... yes, popsicles... but I never found this game terribly fun for long play. Maybe a lifetime of hanging around with musicians slash being one myself deterred me a bit. Still not a bad idea for a party, though!
Mario Kart - Another Nintendo classic that has sparred lifelong rivalries and unimaginable rage. This is a wonderful game to play with friends, but I honestly don't find myself reaching for it much.

What are your favorite games to play with others?

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