Some of us play games to sit in our own comfortable, quiet space and shut the world out for a little while. Other times, we indulge in a little friendly competition, and by friendly competition I mean shouting and hollering, smack talking, and flaunting your prowess over your friends until they all stomp you in the next round and you all share a good laugh together. Whatever the reason you have to cram a ton of people into your home, sometimes you need games that you can throw up on the TV and let people pass around as they filter on and off the couch between rounds of snacks and drinks.
We’ve talked a bunch on the site here about tabletop games that are great for large groups of people, also commonly referred to as party games, but we haven’t given as much spotlight to their video game counterparts. That doesn’t mean those games don’t exist, though! I’ve been to enough gatherings at Wyatt’s place to know there’s more out there than just Smash Bros to entertain a living room of geeks. And like our definition of party board games, these video games are equally easy to pick up and play. You can often learn the rules just by watching a round. Pick up a controller when one is waved in front of you, and have a good time! What more could you want?
Need suggestions for your next geeky gathering? Here are two from our time at PAX East that Sprites and Dice totally gets behind!
On your marks, get set, GO! Like surviving a bear attack, the object of this game is to literally run faster than your slowest friends, which hopefully is all of them (please note: Sprites and Dice in no way claims to be an expert on bear attacks). Your chosen superhero-styled speedrunner will dash in all their pixel glory through an obstacle course that will test your wit and reflexes. As you run, the screen scrolls along with you, centered naturally on the leader. Fall too far behind and off the screen? You’re eliminated until the next round. Win several rounds and be crowned the champion! Of course, things are spiced up by alternate routes, traps, and obstacles. You can jump, but you can also slide, grapple, wall jump, and use power-ups. Race for a few laps with no winner, and sudden death kicks in, narrowing in the screen borders until someone chokes and falls on their face.
This game is quintessentially tinyBuild, the wacky studio that produces games like Graveyard Keeper (they actually had two coffins tied open on the PAX show floor to chill in while demoing that game). There’s a lot of zaniness on display, a lot of attitude. Play it quietly, tactfully if you want, but no one will think you’re in the wrong for vowing revenge on a friend who tripped you up and edged you out of a win. If you’re looking for something to leave up on the TV that people can cycle through a few rounds at a time, this game is absolutely perfect. Play as little or as much as you like! Play until you need to refill your drink. Play until you give up trying to defeat your invincible, fleet-footed friend and hand off the controller in the hopes someone else will humble them.
Maybe your intention was to bring a game to the party, but tinyBuild will help by bringing the party to your game.
I take back what I implied earlier, that party games are only for big gatherings at your home. This next title, a Japanese indie game, is one that the Sprites and Dice staff enjoyed on a Switch hooked up to our hotel’s TV, played no less boisterously from the comfort of our beds and armchairs at midnight during PAX. Whether with a smaller group looking for some fast-paced fun or set out to entertain a larger crowd, Battlloon is another great party game! Through charming, cartoony graphics, the objective remains the same: best your friends in any way possible.
In this game you take on the identity of a balloon with one goal. Ram your friends into spiked walls and pop them! This is less of a race, more physics-based bumper cars with special powers. Hold down a button to puff up with air, release it to “exhale” and shoot forward in the direction your joystick is pointing. Simple! Except if you’re thinking this is a last-balloon-floating sort of ordeal, think again. You actually win by points. You’re most likely to triumph by winning rounds of course, but you can also score off popping opponents, grabbing floating coins as they shoot through the arena, and by taking down the current score leader (they get a crown so they’re easy to spot).
The game boasts a variety of stages, each with its own quirks and added hazards. Each balloon has an ability from being smaller and more nimble to getting more momentum if puffing close to a wall. And in a genius move, the fun continues even if you’re eliminated from a round as you stick around in ghost balloon form, still able to gang up against that one player you really don’t want to win. Or maybe just go full grudge and get back at the person who popped you regardless of what it means to the scoreboard!
Rounds go fast here, so if at first you don’t succeed, try a different balloon and gang up on previous winner!
I’ve stated this thought a lot in my board game reviews, that playing games is one of the best ways to enjoy spending time with family or friends. And while I will never stop playing video games just for me, cozy beneath a blanket in the dead of winter enjoying an epic single player narrative, party video games very much provide that same enjoyment as tabletop when others are around to game. There’s something about playing with just a directional input and a couple of buttons, something that leaves your mind free enough to smack talk the person sitting next to you even as you intently stare down the screen in a bid to not bite it in front of them. Games like these are perfect for connecting with others or just breaking the ice at a gathering.
And it’s for this reason that we love both of these games. I could go on about how, despite seemingly simple pixel graphics, each game has smooth animations and lovely rendering. I could rant about smart design decisions and crisp controls. But I’d rather just end by saying that at their core both of these games do exactly what they should do. They bring people together, to talk, to laugh, to enjoy the company of one another. And yes, also to cry out that your friend needs a little bit more of that dish best served cold.