The Black Tie Event Presents… Ready Player Two

Nobody likes a back seat driver. You build your success on your own or not at all. You think Steve Jobs really needed Steve Wozniak to form the empire that is Apple? Or that Emperor Palpatine needed Darth Vader to build the Death Star? No! They did it on their own. So why give the second player or “first loser” a place in the gaming world?

On today’s Black Tie Event presents… we look at how the gaming industry has cast Player 2 to the wayside without food or water begging them to battle uphill so that we can squash them again.

Single Player Games

The biggest slap to the face to Player 2 is simply not providing a 2 Player Mode at all. Most of these single player adventures are now cornerstones in the gaming industry. Games that new developers pray to for inspiration, guidance or maybe to create a cheap knock off. Games like Mega Man, the Legend of Zelda and Grand Theft Auto; these are the games that have become building blocks of the community. Anyone knocking these games will be destroyed by a vengeance of a thousand fiery suns.

They were too good. Too grand in their expectations that lead an onlooker in amazement wondering when it’ll be their turn to play. Never, is the answer. It will never be your turn, silly Player 2. We are just having too much fun. Just sit back and watch then grab me a drink from the fridge and pay the Pizza guy when he gets here.

Poor Sequels

Some of these once great single player games decided that it might be a good idea to add a 2 player mode to its sequel. Sadly, these sequels never match up to their predecessor. Not every series can be Empire over A New Hope (hell yeah! Two Star Wars references in one article!)

Let’s take for example, Tetris 2. Arguably one of the greatest, if not the best, game ever created. Developed by the Russians and stolen by the Japanese, Tetris even has its own accredited disorder known as the Tetris Effect. Players who were studied playing Tetris for long periods of time start to see different shapes in their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. Haunting, no? In a good way, I mean.

Fast forward to 1993, Nintendo releases Tetris 2 on the NES. One of its key features is a 2 Player Mode. Finally, you can play one of the greatest games with your imaginary friends in a heated head to head battle of shape moving and line building.

The main issue is… Tetris 2 sucks. Sure it takes some of the basic ideas from its older brother, but there’s a slight difference in gameplay. Rather than using adjacent type tetrominoes to compete, it instead uses colored tetrominoes to clear the board. This did two things to the gaming public: 1. By shifting the paradigm, players were extremely put off by the concept almost immediately and 2. it made any player who may be affected by a form of color blindness impossible to play. Now, I don’t know the statistics of the amount of gamers who are color blind, but even one is one too many to shun away from your game.

The real question behind this is why would Nintendo change Tetris so drastically for its sequel? Because they hate Player 2.

Alternating Turns

A more common concept in the yesteryear of gaming is making players alternate turns while playing. Usually this was spawned by the death of one player to shift to the other or finishing a particular section of the game.

The most common example would be Super Mario Bros. For the Nintendo Entertainment System. Selecting the 2 Player mode would allow for the second to play as Mario’s twin brother Luigi. For a gamer, this was great! A totally new character to play as that would otherwise be hidden if not for a second player. Sadly, Luigi was only a palette swap of Mario himself, giving him no differences or added abilities. Just a green Mario. A poor, insignificant green Mario.

I will admit that the alternating turns did give it one advantage. Since Player 1 always went first (and rightfully so) Player 2 was able to get a sense of direction as the first player made his/her way through the levels. Knowing where the first time through drops or traps, Player 2 could avoid these by learning from Player 1′s mistakes. Well played, Player 2. Well played.

The Right or Bottom Side of the Screen

As games progressed, they grew larger, more intelligent, and more mean. Jumping to the fifth generation of consoles, came the fighting juggernauts of the Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn. All reaching and grabbing for everyone’s eyeballs, this generation really put the multiplayer concept to the forefront. The Nintendo 64 even went as far as having 4, count them, 4 controller ports to play simultaneously. But it wasn’t without its faults.

Playing more than two players at a time on one TV would create an issue for screen space. Usually this would mean that Player 1 would be on the left hand of the screen giving Player 2 the right. This would completely hide the far left and right sides of the gaming area. A big disadvantage for shooters by not seeing an enemy coming from your peripherals. Usually resulting in death every time. Thanks for nothing Player 2.

Let’s take a look at a true innovator in FPS’s: Goldeneye 64. Everyone’s favorite go to for the Nintendo 64. Let’s say you were only able to wrangle up 2 of your imaginary friends. Thanks to the addition of more players, you have cut your screen into fourths.

I think the thing that gets me the most about this set up is the fact that you have a perfectly empty square of blackness. Why the developers didn’t give player one the top half of the screen and the rest to fight over the bottom half I’ll never know. It’s like the game has to dumb down the view screen for everyone since there’s more than the supreme Player 1 gunning for video game action. At least they could have put “Sorry Player 1 for the screen. These A-Holes are messing things up.” in the blank square. I would have appreciated that.

The Fight for Guile

Some of you may know my love for Street Fighter II and the series already thanks to my rants on 1 More PodCastle and my review on “Review a Great Game Day”, but for Player 2 it’s a kick in the pants. And rightfully so.

First, by selecting the 2 Player Mode, you are subjected to the bland blue background of the character select screen. Gone are the days of the world map and the homelands of the fighting best. Thanks to Player 2, you are no longer worthy of such a commodity. No, we are now subjected to the “A Challenger Appears!” with only stats to look at. Like I care how many times I pwnd Player 2.

As a final flip of the finger (yes, that finger) to Player 1, Capcom was more than happy to NOT allow both players select the same character in a two player match. That’s right. Now, me growing up, the character to play was Guile. His cool hair cut, tight physique and love for the United States of America was the obvious choice. We always thought that Guile was the one who said “Winners don’t do drugs” in between the intro screens and we didn’t. Not if Guile was watching.

Starting the 2 Player Mode puts Player 1 as Ryu and Player 2 as Ken in the selection screen. It was now a race to see who could get to Guile the fastest. Luckily, Capcom was nice enough to make Player 2 have one more joystick stroke than Player 1, but if you weren’t paying attention, you could miss out on the glory that is Guile.

Then you would probably just be slated for E. Honda or Chun-Li. No one wants to be Chun-Li. And what does the “E” in E. Honda stand for anyway? Edward? Like in Twilight?! No thank you. Here’s your hundred-hand-slap.

Bang Bang, Now You’re Dead

My last example of game developers sticking it to Player 2, as it should be, is the notorious “Mode A/Mode B”.

One type of this situation is Double Dragon II: The Revenge for the NES. There were two modes of play labeled Mode A and Mode B. As many times I have played this game with my brother and others, I can never remember which one is which. One is torture and the other is commendable.

Torture came from selecting Mode A which allows both players to play nice together. None of the attacks from either player will result in lost health. What a pity that you can’t beat up on your imaginary friends. Mode B on the other hand was a totally different story. Selecting Mode B allowed you to dish out damage to your friend and even take their own lives after a righteous kill. Sadly, the downside being that Player 2 could do the same to you. Not like he/she would, mind you. They are, in fact, Player 2.

Let’s Be Real

Well, of course there are some great 2 Player Games out here. Games like Contra, Smash TV and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: the Arcade to name a few. Growing up with an older brother yielded me to always being Player 2. So I became close with those characters. I identified with Luigi, Jimmy and Lance “Scorpion” Bean. They were the characters I remember best. And it was great to see some of these characters, especially Luigi, really get a chance to shine in their own games. But let’s be real… being Player 2 still sucks.