A reader talks up the joy of purposefully unbalanced multiplayer games, from Splinter Cell’s Spies vs Mercs to Nintendo Land.
They say that the most beautiful people in the world are so because their faces are symmetrical. I don’t necessarily believe that, but I do believe the opposite to be true regarding multiplayer games. Asymmetry can offer gameplay which is highly fulfilling and rewarding, offering different and opposing perspectives, roles and capabilities within the same game. Like yin and yang – the girlfriend says.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all asymmetric multiplayer is great (Star Wars Battlefront II, I am staring at you with my raised Dark Side eyebrows). I would like to share with you some of my favourite asymmetric games:
Combat on Atari VCS
An early example of asymmetric gameplay. (Is there an earlier one?) Flying three small planes vs. one big plane and winning. The person I was playing would then say how obvious it was that the three planes would win until we swapped over and I won as the big plane too. It was interesting the different tactics needed and strengths of the two opposing roles.
Splinter Cellon Xbox, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3
My favourite game ever. I enjoyed the single-player missions of the first game and its sequel Pandora Tomorrow. But it wasn’t until I bought the third game, Chaos Theory, that I had gained a capable Internet connection and a subscription to Xbox Live. The beautiful innovation of playing a quick but fairly defenceless spy in third person view, opposite a slower, grenade-throwing and gun-toting mercenary 2 vs, 2 in first person mode, is staggering.
The spy tried to hack terminals, plant bombs and steal hard disks, while the mercenary protected such targets. The different maps lead to such tactical and skilled play and the rewards for coming out on top were immense. DefTech-Belew was a particularly difficult map for the spy team. The adrenalin rush I would experience smuggling the hard drive out of building B. Balancing slow movement so your position was not revealed and hiding in roof cavities, then speedily racing away, and then again slowing things down by hiding safely in metal huts near the wired fence, and then hearing the grenades explode harmlessly above me before climbing over the fence to secure the objective.
This was always a good start, as there were two further objectives in buildings A and C which were now at opposite ends of the map. I did return to the multiplayer of Pandora Tomorrow after this, but it was a retrograde step. Splinter Cell arguably got even better with Double Agent as three spies hacked at a distance and returned completed files back to base whilst three mercenaries defended.
The buildings were taller and more detailed and the spies were far quicker and acrobatic and the mercenaries had remote control drones. The speed of the game had been increased significantly, as had the excitement. Convictions had spy vs. spy. It wasn’t asymmetrical and had limited fun – mostly as a split-screen distraction. The series returned to form with Blacklist. l, with my preference being for classic mode, having simple gadgets reflecting the Splinter Cell multiplayer of yore.
Nintendo Land on Wii U
Three game modes within this are classically asymmetric and enjoy by all the family. Mario Chase – one player is Mario on the GamePad, while the other four as different coloured Toads chase Mario on the TV. Mario can see where all the other players are and a close-up of where he is with a third person viewpoint. The Toads also have a third person viewpoint, an awkward turning circle, and a distance meter telling you how far you are away from that pesky escapee.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion
The asymmetry here is playing as a ghost on the GamePad who is invisible most of the time except for when they want to dash or cast a battery draining spell on his opponents. He faces Mii Mario, Mii Wario, Mii Luigi, and Mii Waluigi, all wielding torches with limited battery power and ghost-frying beams. The ghost has to render all four characters unconscious within the time limit. The Miis can also revive their compatriots with the torches. Vibrating pads give nervy clues as to the proximity of the nearby ghost, as does the occasional burst of lightning streaming through selected corridors.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day
Four animal Miis have to find, release, and eat sweets from trees while being chased by a knife and fork. The knife and fork are controlled on the GamePad and use the two control sticks and associated triggers below to pounce on the animal victims. The screen pans in and out to show both knife and fork no matter how far they are apart, and it’s a lovely change to control them independently. Good clean tactical fun for both sides.