I Want You to Hit Me as Hard as You Can
The Secret Two-Player Mode of Super Punch-Out!!
As you may have heard, there was a recent discovery within the classic SNES title Super Punch-Out!!: apparently, sitting there in the game was a two-player mode just waiting to be discovered. Boxing games are no stranger to two-layer games as there's something obvious, and enjoyable, about beating the snot out of your friends via video games. That's fueled many boxing games over the years from other companies, but the Punch-Out!! series has largely focused on the on-player experience over the years, putting its stock in its large library of characters over giving someone the ability to play head-to-head.
Thing is, though, that the Punch-Out!! devs have said for decades now that there are secrets lurking in their games that players haven't found yet. On the NES side, players know that the boxers are programmed in such a way to choreograph their moves, letting really good players predict what the fighters will do next. A more recent discovery in that NES game, though, was that the audience can also act as tells with certain fights having a camera flash here, an audience member waving there, and that will let you know what's about the happen... although it's a blink an you miss it moment so who knows how reliable that strategy is. Still, there's all kind of little things in these games that the developers added.
A lot of publications have made this SNES game's two-player mode sound like something that should have been discovered long ago. "It was hiding in plain sight," they said. "All it takes is a few button presses." Bear in mind that two access the two-player mode you had to have both controllers hooked up (on what looked like just a one-player game) and then you had to hold buttons on the second controller while pushing buttons on the first controller. This would then open a fighter select menu to play in. Only then could you have the second player continue holding buttons so that they can control the opponent boxer while you fight as Little Mac. That's not exactly a setup that's just going to automatically occur to players. "In plain sight" seems like a bit of a misrepresentation, to be sure.
The two-player mode is fully playable, though. This wasn't something that was added and then removed, somehow gotten to via weird trickery. If you know the combo of buttons you can access this on any cart or rom out there, even on the SNES Classic, so it's a real mode the devs expected people to find. And, yes, you really can play as any of the boxers in the game, each with their own regular attacks and special moves, just as you'd hope.
Let's be clear, this mode is horribly imbalanced. On the one hand, the specialty boxers each have their power moves available, and they are very, very strong (as you'd expect). Little Mac is outclassed on a "by the numbers" comparison. That being said, all the boxers still have to go through the wind up animations and tells for their moves, so a player that knows how to read the boxers can do very well as Little Mac. What's most interesting about this mode, really, is that the special boxers are all programmed to activate their moves with the four direction buttons and face buttons, used in combination. It feels a little like the controls of Super Smash Bros., which would come out just a few years later. Kind of makes you wonder if this mode served as background inspiration for that game.
With the discovery of this mode, though, it got me thinking about what other games could benefit from a two-player mode. Are there games that you wouldn't expect to have two-player function but would be really cool if they did. So here's a few other ideas for game series that should have had two-player modes. Of note, I've excluded games where a later two-player game was released in the series that clearly illustrates the idea (like Four Swords Adventures for Legend of ZeldaCreated by Nintendo in 1986, the original Legend of Zelda game presented players with a open world to explore, packed with dungeons and monsters all ready to kill them at a moment's notice. The mix of adventure and action game play created a winning game and launched not only a successful series but an entirely new video game genre.).
The first thought I had was Mega ManIn 1987, Capcom released Mega Man on the NES, a game featuring a blue robot that fought other robots and took their powers (so that he could then fight other robots with those powers, and on, and on). The series went on to release over 50 games in 30 years and become one of the most famous gaming franchises in the world.. I could imagine a game where you start off playing as the Blue Bomber side-by-side with Bass or Protoman or Roll. Each would need to have their own special abilities -- Bass with his multi-direction shots, Proto with his shield, Roll with a natural double-jump -- and then the players all go through stages exploring and fighting and trying to get to the boss as a team so they can battle its many parts and take it down. It almost feels like Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, the Online multiplayer game from that series that featured big, expansive levels that led to powered-up bosses to kill. That kind of setup with Mega Man would be cool and an easy, natural extension of the series.
Imagine going through big levels each modeled after a collection of Robot Master stages, or Wily Castles. Find hidden areas to free Robot masters and add them to your stable of playable characters. Scale the top of each Wily Castle, using the abilities of your characters to reach switches and activate doors. It sounds like a really fun time, getting a bunch of friends together to blast away at enemies, either couch co-op or Online Would certainly add a needed jolt to the Blue Bomber's series.
Now, a game series that really doesn't feel like it could support two-player action would be Blaster MasterThe heartwarming tale of a boy, his frog, a tank, and the mutants that have to be killed to reunite pet and owner.. These are all very much one-player games. To make it two-player, what would you do? Give the car A.I.? Not exactly. My thought is to keep the basic idea of the game the same -- Jason and his tank driving around Metroidvania-style levels -- but to add in one key twist: a drone. Player one controls Jason, player two controls the drone, and while exploring the drone flies around and blasts the hell out of crap.
In this game I'd think the drone could attach itself to the tank any time needed. That would let it heal and resupply, but also for certain platforming sections where the two players need to stick together, the drone latching onto the tank could make things easier. But then, the drone could fly off to protect the tank, or Jason, and could even enter into the overhead dungeons with Jason to provide extra firepower. Maybe there are key items hidden around that would upgrade the drone, just like SOPHIA and Jason could get upgrades, making it more powerful and more useful. There's a lot that could be added to this to make it more than just slapping a drone on Blaster Master, but it also sounds like a hell of a fun idea.
Finally another game I'd love to see a proper two-player (or multiplayer) mode added into the mix is Metroid Prime. Now I can already hear you going, "but the Metroid Prime games already have multiplayer entries!" Sure they do, but Hunters was little more than a battle arena shooter while Federation Force is just fuck awful. Neither of those really get at what I'm thinking.
Instead of just basic shooters, I think Metroid Prime could do well taking a page from Phantasy Star Online for a multiplayer game. Four heroes land on a planet and have to explore its many zones, going through areas, collecting key powers, battling enemies and bosses. In the process they could find gear to upgrade their power suits, all while exploring secrets. It could make for a fun looter game, one that would play better to the strengths of the Metroid series: mystery and exploration. And to do all that with the fine control and wonderful ambiance of the Prime series feels like the perfect mix.
Multiplayer doesn't have to be a bad word, even in franchises that are traditionally single player. You just have to have the right idea to make it work.