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Once upon a time, playing a multiplayer game meant no other choice than gathering your friends around the living room TV and hurling fireballs and trash talk at each other in equal parts. Friendships were made over Goldeneye and destroyed in Mario Party. Experiences like these mostly lived on consoles, though, as PC multiplayer was mostly limited to LANing games like Warcraft II and Counter Strike before the internet gave way to the matchmaking and ladders of online play.
Luckily, a bevy of indie titles have answered the call of gamers looking for a dose of that old-school same-screen nostalgia. Some focus on fierce competition, parroting the arena brawling of games like Super Smash Bros. Others can be every bit as frantic, but pit you and your friends against the game instead of each other. However it is you like to play, these are the best local multiplayer games on PC.
If Iron Chef has taught me anything, it's that there is no truer arena than the kitchen. This is a sentiment Overcooked takes to heart, simulating the chaos and commotion of a multi-station restaurant kitchen. Two to four players zip frantically around increasingly complex kitchen arenas to prep and deliver orders as they come in. Some are simple: for tomato soup, for example, drop three chopped tomatoes in a pot, let it cook for a moment, plate the dish and send it on its way. But most are much more complex, requiring a delicate dance of chopping ingredients, cooking others, and assembling dishes according to the various incoming orders.
Success requires a combination of coordination, communication, delegation of duties, and fine-motor skills in order to meet the demands of the dinner rush. It's chaotic fun—just try not to burn the kitchen down.
This brilliant game of car soccer has captured us completely. At first glance this may appear to be a purely slapstick game about rocket-powered cars bumping giant floaty balls into goals, apparently at random, but go deeper and you’ll find a fiercely competitive game of carball that almost drove editor Samuel Roberts mad.
Rocket League is an excellent couch game because it suits quick pick-up-and play sessions and is easily played when fully reclined—we tested. Once you start to get a feel for the controls a world of trickshots and bold upside-down car-kicks reveals itself, and a moreish stream of cosmetic unlocks gives the game even more colourful personality. It’s worth experimenting with 1v1 and 2v2 if the default six-player matches seem too chaotic.
Death Squared is the type of puzzle game that can single-handedly tear friendships apart. For either two or four players, you control colorful cube robots trying to make it to specific spots on each map, but as each player moves the level shifts around them—usually with highly lethal results for your teammates. It’s a phenomenally clever and challenging puzzle game, but one of the most successful parts of it is just how much coordination it takes. It’s difficult for one player to “quarterback” the solutions to every level, which makes it more fun for everyone.
There’s a special joy in getting together with three friends and beating the crap out of everything. Castle Crashers revels in that joy—it practically bathes in it. Each player controls their own knight in a seriously warped fantasy kingdom, running to the right and slaughtering countless enemies through forests, towns, castles, dungeons, and more. Each kill gets you experience for stronger sword swings or better magical attacks. There are tons of weapons, animal companions, and secret heroes to find and fight over, too. Sure, you can play it solo (or online), but we love playing with friends right on the couch—coordinating the “cat-fish” fight is way more insane when your companions are right beside you.
Local co-op is really the bread and butter of developer The Behemoth, and they have more games worth checking out. is a great two-player platformer with full Steam Workshop support for custom levels, and the more recent is a more casual, controller-driven take on a turn-based strategy game.
A roguelike mashed up with an immersive sim, Streets of Rogue is both procedurally generated and heavily systems-driven. You and up to three friends can take on random missions that can be solved any way you like, similar to other games like Dishonored or Deux Ex but top-down and pixelated. The game provides a shocking amount of variety and freedom for how simple it looks, making it an easy one to pass up. While it’s not strictly a co-op game, I think it’s fair to say nearly any systems-driven game can become a lot more fun (read: absolutely chaotic) when a group of people are tackling it at the same time.
The brilliantly named Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes simulates that action movie scene where the plucky hero has to disarm a bomb by describing what it looks like to a bomb defusal expert over the phone. In the game, only one player can see or interact with the ticking time bomb and its myriad switches, wires, and buttons, while the rest of the players have access to a bomb defusal manual. The game was built for (and plays best in) VR, but even without an expensive headset it aptly simulates the tense conversation of trying to solve a puzzle where you can't see the pieces. Just remember: keep talking and nobody explodes.
Another game that’s not strictly co-op, but Enter the Gungeon is a lot more fun with a friend sitting next to you. It’s a bullet-hell roguelike where you shoot bullets at bullets who are shooting other bullets at you. Do keep in mind, Enter the Gungeon is hard, and you will likely die a lot, ally at your side or not. But its co-op is integrated extremely well, and the punishing difficulty doesn’t feel as harsh with a friend to help. It’s a great combination of genres in a lovely pixel art wrapper, and one of the few games on this list that likely won’t make you extremely angry at your ally.
This 2D shooter is a pastiche of both ‘80s movies and side-scrolling arcade games—it’s a very fun combination. You and up to three friends play as ‘parody’ versions of characters like Rambo (here called ‘Rambro’), the Terminator (‘Brominator’) and even more contemporary choices like Will Smith from Men In Black, or Neo from The Matrix. The fun comes in how these characters’ weapons all differ, as well as Broforce’s physics-driven level design, where every single block of the environment can pretty much be destroyed. While there’s not a lot to it, the variation in enemy types and environments mean this is a perfect couch game for a 30-minute burst of fun.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a bit like if FTL was multiplayer and everything happened in real time. You and up to three friends each control an avatar on a lovely colorful spaceship careening through space. There are various stations to man, such as weapons systems, engine, shield, and map, and players have to run their little avatar from one to another as threats present themselves. It’s a hard game because you almost always need to be in more places than you can manage, constantly running from station to station while bumping into your shipmates. But a well-oiled crew can make piloting the clumsy ship incredibly satisfying, especially during Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime’s huge boss fights.
Hive Jump is a procedurally generated ode to Super Metroid for up to four players. The levels are randomized each time you play, but with hand-designed rooms and challenges scattered throughout. You get new guns and upgrade your troops as your team descends further into the alien hive, and Hive Jump features a pretty cool respawn system that’s sort of like permadeath-lite. You can respawn on death, but only if you manage to keep a transponder on your back safe from enemies, which incentivizes players sticking together and helping each other out.
On the next page: competitive games and arena brawlers like Nidhogg, Towerfall Ascension, and Videoball.
A competitive dungeon crawler with a top notch retro styling. Crawl is a four player asymmetrical hack-n-slash where one player is a hero fighting through a dungeon, while the others inhabit the monsters and traps scattered throughout. Whoever gets the last hit on the hero takes their place, and the game ends when either the hero manages to defeat the dungeon’s boss (also player controlled) or the party loses to the boss for a third time. You get new items and improve your hero while also leveling up and improving the monsters you can control, so you’re growing stronger no matter which side of the struggle you are on.
The Worms series has always been a gem of competitive local multiplayer, but I was less than thrilled with many of the recent 2.5D entries. Worms W.M.D. gets back to good ol’ fashioned 2D animation, and it’s absolutely lovely. It’s one of the best Worms games in a very long time, with all the physics-based skillshots and tricky ninja ropes you may remember alongside some cool new tricks. The series has also struck a great balance between randomization and skill, making it great to either just have some fun with or settle hard-bitten scores.
Wish you could play Super Smash Bros. on PC? Well so do I, but I’ve learned to live with the crushing disappointment that that's literally never going to happen. Luckily, Brawlhalla is here to ease the pain a bit. It’s a fighting game that shares Smash Bros.’s percentage-damage system and screen-launching deaths, but it’s also based around picking up different weapons that each have a unique moveset. It doesn’t have the recognizable characters of Smash Bros., but it’s still got some nice character design that does a good job of letting Brawlhalla stand on its own two feet. Brawlhalla is also free-to-play, making it easy to hop into with some friends if you want to give it a shot.
A lot of single-screen deathmatch games are content to offer a single way to play, offering a lean, lightweight experience by doing one thing very well. TowerFall Ascension is a much more comprehensive offering than most. In its basic form, up to four players jump around 2D levels pinging lethal arrows at one another. A finite quantity of ammo makes it important to snatch arrows from the bodies of fallen foes—or grab them out of the air, if you're quick enough—and powerups, environmental hazards and shifting maps keep this process interesting. But there's much more to the game than that. In two-player co-op you take on a series of survival challenges against increasingly varied and interesting enemies. A page full of special rules and mutators allows you to create new game modes on the fly, from giving everybody bouncing arrows to creating a single invisible super-player who the others have to hunt.
Often mentioned in the same conversation as TowerFall is , which keeps the one-hit-kills but trades bows-and-arrows for, you guessed it, samurai swords and guns. Matches are a bit quicker and more frantic, but every bit as fun.
In the future—1984, in this case—pixelated ducks compete in a violent, ever-changing bloodsport. Join your friends in team deathmatch and blast each other with shotguns, lasers, grenades, and tons of other weapons. The matches are quick, with a single shot taking you out, and the map changes after each round which never lets you get comfortable or bored. Plus, there are mini-games that serve as intermission from the carnage, and a button dedicated solely to quacking. It's a fun, silly, and frenetic game that's hard to stop playing.
It's still——in Early Access, but Gang Beasts is already a hoot of a party game, featuring a series of deadly arenas in which to awkwardly punch, kick, drag, pick up, and throw your friends around. Struggle to control unwieldy balloon characters as you and your friends fight to the death in levels containing meat grinders, moving trucks, Ferris wheels, and speeding subway trains. The difficulty of steering your character is part of the appeal, and making things harder is the fact that you'll be laughing uncontrollably as you fight to climb back up the side of the ledge you've been thrown off, or struggle to free yourself from the clingy grip of another player.
Nidhogg is one of the best one-on-one competitive games on PC. As a fighter, it’s a Bushido Blade-like struggle for one killing blow as two pixel fencers advance, parry, lunge, dive kick, and disarm each other with staccato bursts of button presses. It’s beautiful (you really have to see the sprites in motion), weird, and takes great skill to master. It’s also a lot of fun to watch, especially thanks to the tug-of-war competition format. Rather than a best-of-three series of short bouts, the players are competing to advance across a stage. Kill your opponent, and you get the right-of-way to dash toward your side of the level. When they respawn, they have to return the favor to gain the right-of-way and take back territory. On top of the drama of each duel—which usually ends suddenly—each match is an easy-to-read struggle for progress, with lots of opportunities for comebacks and upsets. When the winning player makes it past the final room, a crowd cheers, and the titular dragon gobbles him up. Congratulations!
Isn’t the name clear enough? It’s a platformer combination of Horse and Chicken. You take turns placing platforms, obstacles, and traps around a Super Meat Boy style level, trying to make it too hard for your opponents to complete but not so hard that you can’t complete it either. As the map fills up with ways to die, you can eventually remove blocks or rearrange them, so it sort of balances itself through the course of a game. It’s not the easiest game to just jump into with friends as platforming skill will seriously come into play here, but it’s easy enough to pick up for people unfamiliar with the genre. And frankly, it’s an awesomely unique concept that you won’t really find anywhere else.
A newer take on the one-hit-kill same-screen deathmatch that was pioneered by the likes of TowerFall Ascension and Samurai Gunn, Invisigun Heroes mixes things up by making everyone invisible, appearing only when they shoot. Matches are tense, as it's as much about tracking your enemies' locations as it is keeping a bead on your own. Certain terrain types help with that, showing footprints or splashes of water when you walk, and bumping into a crate lights it up in the color of whoever made contact. There's also a variety of class types, each with it's own unique abilities—an exploding recon sensor and a complex doppelganger power are two highlights alongside more standard fare like a terrain jump, bullet-reflecting sword, and boring-but-effective dash attack. Various game modes also help keep things interesting, ranging from territory-control to a somewhat weird coin-collecting scheme—but nothing beats the standard deathmatch.
A compilation of quirky competition. Sportsfriends envisions four ridiculous new sports—although one, Johann Sebastian Joust, is only compatible with Mac and Linux. That's a shame, but not disastrous, as the remaining package is still great. The best of the bunch is Super Pole Riders, created by 's own Bennett Foddy. It's entertainingly chaotic, as two teams of pole vaulters attempt to move an overhead ball towards their goal. Primary tactics include performing a proper pole vault, or using the pole to guide the ball along its rope. You can also play defence, using the pole as a barricade to smack an opponent away, or jumping on their head to force a respawn.
Also included is Hokra, a four player game about filling in blocks of colour; and BaraBariBall, a Smash Bros.-like arena game but with goals to score and almost infinite jumping. As a whole collection, Sportsfriends is intense, entertaining, and varied.
Sport distilled down into its essence: this is the pure videogame version of soccer, with a ludicrous range of options. Colors, scoring rules, arenas—there's a lot here to tweak to your own liking. The joy of Videoball comes in tuning into the timing of shooting and blocking. You are an Asteroids-like triangle, and the tap of a button (the game uses only one) fires a stream of small triangles out of your ship. These are good for dribbling the ball forward. Hold the button, and you power up the shot for a slam dunk—but if an opponent hits the ball with their own slam, it reverses direction while retaining all its momentum. And if you hold the button too long, your powered up shot converts into a defensive block. The pieces are incredibly basic, but there's insane headroom room for endless competition, as in any great sport.