Before you, dearest Esquire reader, log off for the holidays, the weekend, or the night—hell, whenever you’re reading this—you should know that you’re valued by the members of the Esquire Gamer Zone. We can’t speak to how your friends and family feel about you. That’s your business. But we think so highly of you that, after compiling the final boss that was our 2021 Gaming Awards, we sat down and realized that we hadn’t given enough. You deserve more.
So, as a chaser to the awards—which you really should read, if only to see who won Best Himbo—as well as our ranking of the 35 best video games released in 2021, we put together our favorite multiplayer games of all time. This is the season when we spend more time with our loved ones, right? We figured this was an appropriate list, in that case. It is by no means comprehensive, but yeah, there’s a Mario Party on here. It’s just a small gift from us, to you. We’ll see you online.
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Oh boy, you melee nerds have your fingers ready to type. That’s right, I love Smash Ultimate. In fact, I’m a dirty casual who always gravitates toward the newest Smash game. But Smash Ultimate is just that: the ultimate smash. With a roster that is incomparable to any video game crossover we’ve ever seen, chances are even the most casual gamers will find a character they love and can play. Smash is and always has been a party game for everyone, although the internet may want you to believe otherwise. —C.S.
Clap ‘em cowboy. It’s Fortnite time. I played this game when it first came out, then hated it on account of all the dabbing, and am now firmly in bed with it. I love Fortnite. You hear me? I love it. I play it constantly. I never thought I’d get here, but here I am: playing Fortnite, clapping noobs, and getting those sweet, sweet victory royales. My squad kicks your squad’s ass, and because of that this is one of my favorite multiplayer games out there. Until we’re losing. Then this game absolutely blows. —C.S.
I know I could have picked one of the classic Mario Parties, but why would I do that when Superstars is the best and the brightest and so much more accessible? Mario Party Superstars is the Mario Party we’ve been waiting for for years. Classic boards, the best minigames, all in an updated package with tons of quality-of-life improvements. Don’t worry, the Mario Party bullshit is still here in droves, and it’s just as infuriating as you remember. You’ll love it. —C.S.
Ever want to gang up with a bunch of your friends and absolutely destroy the fun time of an unsuspecting fellow gamer who just kinda wants to ride their horse around? Red Dead Redemption 2’s online mode is here for you. Sure, you can play any number of co-op adventures helpfully provided by the game. But really, you’re just there to survive. Which is when things get… fun? Scary? Both? We’re still not quite sure. —B.L.
If Gauntlet isn’t one of the OGs of four-player co-op, I don’t know what is. Dark Legacy took this top-down, hack-and-slash title to a whole new level with tons of characters, costumes, a progression system, and some of the best damn music and announcer lines in any game ever. There’s nothing like hearing a booming voice claim, “You are greedy” when you know you’ve been playing like a rat hoarding food. Plus, there’s a big, white-bearded sorcerer, so I’m immediately in. We need a remake or successor to this game stat, as no Gauntlet has held a candle to it since. —C.S.
Yo ho ho, Captain Sherrill here to tell you that if you thought Mario Party was a friendship ruiner, wait until you’ve tried to sail with your compatriots. Someone’s always screwing up and pissing me off on my ship, but I’m also always having a blast. Sea of Thieves is one of those games where I can genuinely say nothing comparable exists. It’s the perfect pirate game with adventures, krakens, ship battles, and a beautiful aesthetic that could only be accomplished by Rare. Sea of Thieves isn’t just one of the best multiplayer games out there, but one of the best games of all time. It’s also free with an Xbox or PC Game Pass, and available on Steam, so you’ve got no excuse to not get sailing. —C.S.
This is certainly the most frantic multiplayer experience on our list. It’s fast-paced but extremely easy to control, making it great for gamers of any level. And there are tons of multiplayer options ranging from co-op to versus, all equally fast-paced and hilarious. WarioWare is just genuine, unadulterated fun. —C.S.
Monster Hunter has got to be the greatest online co-op game in existence. Sure, some argue that title goes to Rainbow Six or any other nonsense tactical shooter. But why shoot people when you can have the thrill of hunting a beast? Monster Hunter Rise is the easiest Monster Hunter to pick up to date—not that that’s saying much, as the game is still wildly complicated. The series sees players crafting gear and a variety of weapons to become stronger hunters, while balancing strategies and teamwork to cooperatively take down some golaithes. It’s an absolute romp, and few other games offer the same teamwork-inspired satisfaction. —C.S.
Fine, we’ll put Grand Theft Auto V’s 77-year-old online experience on here. Plenty of gamers love it. We do, too. It gives us a chance to play new adventures in our favorite McDonald’s play place for adults, after all, running and shooting and driving until we tucker out and go to sleep. We just need Grand Theft Auto VI. Please, Rockstar. Stop messing around. You’re hurting us. —B.L.
Most of these games are new, but TimeSplitters 2 still takes the cake for me. Whenever I feel like playing an FPS, this is the one I want. With wacky characters, insane levels, and mechanics that are the closest thing we’ve got to a fully refined GoldenEye, it’s a near perfect multiplayer shooter. Beyond that, it has a killer co-op campaign. With TimeSplitters (very vaguely) announcing its return, it’s high time to brush up on the lore. —C.S.
Some objective truths about Broforce, just for you. It’s a 2D, side-scrolling platformer-shooter. Broforce is a love letter to ’80s action movies, but also a devastating roast of them. Characters in the game: Rambro, Brommando, Bro Hard, MacBrover, Bro In Black, Brominator, Brobocop Indiana Brones—you get it. Oh. And you very much want to play this game. With your bro. Bro. —B.L.
Best part about Shovel Knight is that you can buy it and pretend you did so for the truly fantastic co-op, and then, after taking a hard look in the mirror and realizing you’re alone in perpetuity, you will acknowledge you also have a great single-player campaign on your hands. I mean, hell, co-op is a pain anyway; they can jump on your head and steal your life. You’re better off stag. Go get ‘em, tiger. —C.S.
What ruins friendship? Money? Drugs? No. Overcooked ruins friendships. Quickly. If you’re blissfully unaware of this cursed, chaotic game, it sees you pilot a cute little animated chef alongside your buddy’s cute little animated chef. The goal: Take food orders from customers. Maybe it’s a burger. Sushi, even. Then, you have to work with your friend to cook the damn thing before the next order, and the next order after that. If your buddy biffs an ingredient, or is too slow, I promise you will hate them like you’ve never hated anyone in your life. —B.L.
Cowabunga all you turts and turtettes. It’s shell time. I love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I love their games even more. Turtles in Time remains the single best arcade beat ’em up, at least until DotEmu gives us Shredder’s Revenge. I mean, it’s a team of four crime-fighting, karate-kicking turtles, and you can play as them. What more do you need to hear from me? —C.S.
Minecraft is one of those weird games where, depending on your settings and your crew, can either be the most therapeutic, deeply relaxing game out there, or can be a freakishly chaotic, fit-inducing time. Needless to say, Minecraft is a blast with friends, or even lovers. Or just friends. Build your town, survive the night, and stare longingly into each other’s eyes before taking on the Ender Dragon. —C.S.
A friend of mine is convinced Jackbox organized the whole pandemic to pave the way for its rise to fame, even though we had played Jackbox long before the big sick. Bioterrorist theories aside, it’s a great online party game, because it only requires that its players understand basic rules and own a smartphone. It’s extremely easy to pick up and play, and it is pure lunacy. —C.S.
You know Mario Kart. Everyone knows Mario Kart. Haha, funny blue shell, eat shit Nathan. This one is the new Mario Kart, which is the slightly older Mario Kart revamped. You can fly and go underwater, and there are bikes. It did almost lose out to Mario Kart Wii on this list because it left out Coconut Mall, but that’s a separate issue entirely. —C.S.
There are games out there that when you talk about them, you say, “Yeah, I remember when I played BLANK game.” Other ones? You get a look in your eyes,and say, “There was a time in my life when I played nothing but that game.” Left 4 Dead 2, without a doubt, fell in the latter camp for a generation of gamers who loved to kill zombies. It provided the relentlessly fast-paced, undead shoot-em-up that probably induced the same amount of adrenaline as an actual zombie invasion would. We think. —B.L.
I run several Wii Sports fan accounts. Major Wii Sports stan here, even Wii Sports Resort. Tennis, boxing, that glorious sport bowling, and so much more—Wii Sports is one of the best multiplayer games simply because everyone, and I do mean just about everyone, loved playing it together. Wii Sports is the only thing that soothes my busy brain, and the fact that they have not ported it to Switch is a crime that, even with my limited legal background, I’m fairly certain violates several conditions laid out in the Geneva Conventions. —C.S.
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