So then...Who Fancies a Four Way?
Playing games with others now is child's play and usually requires no effort at all however it wasn't always this way.
In the 16-Bit days if you wanted to play games with more than 2 players you would usually need additional peripherals meaning more cost but it didn't end there.
Olly023 is going to take you through the good old days of Multi-Taps and their sometimes annoying compatability problems. Let's do this...
In the days before the online multiplayer standard made popular through the greatness that is Xbox Live (XBL) and the hand-in-hand communal global village effect of Party Chat, us retrobates had to make do somehow. Mostly this was done in close proximity to friends and family, huddled round the tube with a couple of control pads. But that two eventually expanded in number to four and beyond.
However, this isn't an article focusing on the PlayStation's multi-tap, nor is it one focusing on the N64's buit in four inputs...Heck, it aint even chattin' on the daisy-chainin' excellence of the 3DO (we'll leave that to Megatrons_Fury). This article is talkin' MegaDrive, suckah!
The MegaDrive/Genesis intro on this very site mentions possible future articles on J-Carts and the like, yeah? Well, son. Here is Olly023 sneaking his way in there first like a slippery snake. That's right! Viva Sega!!
So yeah, the MegaDrivin' multiplayin' experience was much larger than some Sonic 2 splitscreen or some ridiculously hyper Street Fighter II action. Oh noes, player. Oh, yes! Although multitap peripherals became a standard in the 32-bit era, they harken way back to the 8-bit era thanks to NEC doing it first which expanded the ability for multiplayer gaming. Of course, Ninty had to get in on the action back then too with a couple of licensed variations of their own on the NES. But we're here for the 16-bit. As Tr33ck0 knows, 16-bits is where it's at...
Electronic Arts were killin' it back in the day on the MegaDrive/Genesis. Sega and EA's rise went hand-in-hand. They were the cosy kissin' cousins of the early 90s (way before they fell out and EA ditched Sega for a new beau). Word. EA unleashed the 4-Way Play (ooer) and mostly utilised it on its sports branded titles of the time. Which was perfect. Now you could play FIFA or Madden with another couple of buddies and go team style on dat ass!
The main con of the EA 4-Way Play was the fact that it was only compatible with the Electronic Arts titles. Another issue in the non-MD specific long term is its incompatibility with the CDX/MultiMega and the XEye (the way it plugged in assumed it was the standard control port seperation width of a regular console).
Despite the, let's face it rather minor, let downs of it the 4-Way Play was a great introduction into the world of multitap-style video game playin' for the average joe home console fan.
The EA titles were top-sellers (hence them being common as muck in the collectors community) and continue to be a multiplayer standard in these more contemporary timeframes by utilising mostly the same darn brandings. Some sort of genius there, methinks. I still fall for a Madden (GO BOLTS!), so I'm just as guilty.
It's highly unlikely that if you had the chance to get your grubby mits on the 4-Way Play and game with some mates that you'll be eliminating your initial reactions and memories there of. This wasn't the arcade, it was your own home. Or your friends home, depending. Either way, it was cool as hell. So logically someone would follow suit on the same system...
And who better than SEGA!? You knows it. Sega were soon to answer with their own branded equivelent to the 4-Way Play and released a multitap for all. 'Cept, it wasn't for all, but I'll get to that in a second - hold your virtual horses.
Depending on your locale, it came in many name and flavour. The first generation of Sega multitap's for the MegaDrive/Genesis known as the Team Player (which is the name I prefer) or also either the Sega Tap or Multiplayer didn't do a whole lot to buck the trend that EA started. What I mean, yo? Sports games, d'uh. However, Sega's own did open up play for the likes of Mega Bomberman (oh-ho-ho-ho YES!), the already excellent Gauntlet IV and Worms. Not to say EA hadn't made 4-Way Play available on General Chaos and the like, but y'know. Jus' sayin'.
There again lay issues within on the ol' Team Player though. The original model was incompatible with the 4-Way Play, even if it was rectified by the release of a second version. It did however also counter the connection problems for the future Multi-Mega and co. So that was some nice forward thinking from Sega.
As popular as these multitap's were in their sports-based niches, though - they had hardly set the world on fire. Like I said, multitap's weren't a standard must-have for many people until the PlayStation forced its way into pretty much every person ever's home back in the 1990's. But there was another 4-player optioning available on the MegaDrive. Yes, yes there was. It came from a little company named Codemasters. A clever little invention already mentioned in this article by name. It's J-Cart time...
From a basic visual standpoint, the Codemasters J-Cart was your typical MegaDrive ROM cartridge variant (think the standard design in comparison to the EA yellow tab, etc) - but it always happened to stand out in a line up. Probably because it had two goshdarn controller inputs on top of the cart itself. I kid you not, Mr. and/or Mrs. Unawares!
I currently own a handful of J-Carts (one of which Megatrons_Fury does not hehe) and can tell you from first hand current perspective that the fun factor remains rampant in the badboys. Although only six were released, they're all great fun. The two Pete Sampras Tennis games, Micro Machines 2, '96 and Military and of course Super Skidmarks. The thing that the J-Cart variation of Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament so awesome (if rather odd) is the fact its up to 8-players. That's right! Using just the d-pad and buttons of a controller (eww, sharing) allows such madness. Whodathunkit? Codemasters, that's who!
When you take in to consideration that the 16-bit beast that is the mighty MegaDrive/Genesis was and is as a 2-player standard, you gotta give up props. Props to those clever design whizz's that opened up a whole new world with intelligent programming and workarounds to make it all happen for us back then.
In terms of recommendation for anyone thining of picking up a multitap after reading, you're probably gonna want some recommendations. As such, despite the games previously mentioned as standards, I'd recommend actually searching around online to find just what is compatible with your preference or availablity of model in terms of actual multitap.
When it comes to J-Cart you really don't need to worry other than having enough friends and controllers to go round, as it's all built-in brilliance. But, yeah. Rule of thumb is that the majority of games supported will state said support on the front and/or back cover itself. Example being General Chaos has the 4-Way Play logo encircled on the front of the box, letting you know directly.
Olly's Final Thoughts...
Though seemingly outdated now, the multitap process on the MegaDrive (and beyond) is still relevent for any true retro gaming geek looking to hook their friends up and have a good time. That extra bit of plastic could take an already magnificent videogame and turn it into something that would help define our childhoods.
Now it seems like a strange way of playing multiplayer however multitaps simply added more cool ways of playing in the same room as all of your friends past the point of original console design. Sure it was more money but divide that by the amount of fun times and it was a complete and total bargain.
Back in the day it blew you away and the fun factor will surely remain. Pick up a copy of Micro Machines Military or any other one of the many amazing other titles and have at it! You wont regret it, peeps!