released on Dec 31, 2016
Multibowl is a two-player challenge of skill and knowledge, across exciting moments in over 300 historical games across dozens of hardware platforms. It’s the first video game collage, maybe.
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Unequivocally the best video game ever made, though that has to be cheating, right? After all, you wouldn’t say your Raspberry Pi loaded with ROMs is itself a video game. An official compilation already stretches the definition of a video game, much to the chagrin of any dweeb trying to weasel their way out of providing an actual list of their favourite games. Yet this unofficial potpourri does what a mere compilation cannot, what your ROM library fails at. Multibowl! puts these games on equal footing with one another, contextualises them, renders their objectives concrete, and synthesises them into a new, greater whole. It is the wet dream of the games historian, the archivist, the obscura-seeker, the high-score-chaser, the competitive gamer, the informed, the ignorant, and the creative.
Bennett Foddy and AP Thomson have unenviably plumbed the depths of numerous ROM sets to scrounge up treasures both noteworthy and forgotten, presenting them all as equals as games and micro-competitive arenas. Obvious mainstays of games history, Mario Bros., Gauntlet, Metal Slug, and NBA Jam operate as immediately recognisable artefacts with goals and control schema that are already familiar to many. However, they are just as likely to come up as titles which are not generally considered competitive and oppositional: Lemmings; Maze; Bonanza Bros. Though lacking internal mechanisms for confrontational gameplay, clever use of save states and memory analysis allow Multibowl! to check for some change in some variable to grant one player a point.
One of the greatest joys in Multibowl! is its deep cuts, its pulling up of games you have never heard of, the sort of title your eye skips over in your search for that SegaSonic Bros. ROM, titles bordering on the uncanny in their near-familiarity, games that make you quickly jot down their title out of befuddlement or glee. Games you would never reasonably play. In a vacuum of playing them on their own, those works might not hold your attention long enough to grasp their purpose or gameplay. Within the rapid pace of Multibowl!, within a framework of having no choice, they demand attention, dissection, and comprehension. The coercion for the players to stick with these titles for a mere thirty seconds acts as a microexposure to the realities of most of games history, namely the lack of anything else to do. When these games necessarily compete for your attention in backlogs and ROM sets with hundreds, if not thousands, of games, there is no reason for most players to approach an understanding of them. Why expose myself to the dregs of history when Pac-Man is right there?
A games historian, archivist, or obscura-seeker has some secondary goal for their play here, that of context and exposure. Someone like myself is not necessarily playing these for their worth as fun experiences, but to come away with a fuller understanding of games as a whole, games as a cultural expression, games as a reflection of a zeitgeist, games as escapism, games as political tools, games as violence, games as transgression, games as collaborative, games as competitive, games as more than just games. Games as a means, not an end.
Multibowl!’s real purpose is not as a game, at least not to me, but as some smörgåsbord of curatorial excellence, diversity, and inversion. It demonstrates how games have always been inventive and worthy of attention in some capacity, while still remaining semi-boundless in and of itself, conveying the unceasing work of history. Histories are forever rewritten for new contexts. The once irrelevant becomes critically important with changing tides. The once foundational becomes a historiographical assumption. With vast shifts in the goals of games histories, there will always be more to uncover, more to connect.
Here's to 1,000 more.