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  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Multitap

    Posted on May 11th, 2009 keving 5 comments

    Multitap (マルチタップ)

    Maker: NEC Home Electronics (NEC-HE)
    Release Date: 10/30/87
    Price: 2480 yen

    Up to 5 Players at Once?!


    From the moment the PC Engine was conceived, “multiplayer” was the serious watchword. Multiplayer was possible on the Famicom and other game systems at the time, of course (Mario Bros. was the FC equivalent to Halo 3 in terms of multiplayer addictiveness, once you threw out that “co-op” BS and played by the Marquess of Queensbury rules instead), but it was strictly one-on-one. How about some party games where everyone in the room could get in the action? That question was on Hudson’s mind from the very beginning stages of the PC Engine’s design.

    Having the question in mind is all well and good, but the hardware needs to support it before it can become a reality. As a result, the hardware support for multiplayer was implemented, and the PCE went on sale, while the software to take advantage of it was still in development or the concept stage. Instead of throwing two controllers on the unit Famicom-style, the PCE wound up having a single removable controller port, requiring the Multitap for games with multiple players.

    Supporting up to five players at once on the PC Engine is an interesting example of “more is more,” something you don’t see very often in Japanese consumer engineering like this. They wanted to have as many controllers snaking out of this thing as possible, no doubt. Interestingly, the Multitap’s design remained unchanged (even in color) for the entire life of the PCE.

    There was just one problem: games that support five players at once had a tendency to not come out very much. One-on-one or co-op games really only needed two controller ports, which made the five on the Multitap seem like too much of a good thing. The hardware manufacturers of the age must have thought the same thing, as the PCE saw later third-party multitap peripherals like the Joytap 3 (Hudson, 3 ports), the X-HE2 (Dempa Shinbunsha, 2 ports), the Battle Tap (Big Club/Nihon Soft, 4 ports), and much later on, the Twin Tap (Sur de Wave, 2 ports).

    The first PC Engine game that supported the Multitap was Hudson’s YuuYuu Jinsei (1988). Even that, though, was simply a video version of The Game of Life, something that could be played just fine by passing the controller around the players with each turn, so it wasn’t much of a showcase for the accessory. The thing didn’t become practically useful until Namco’s Pro Tennis World Court (1988), which allowed for four-player doubles matches. Dungeon Explorer, an action RPG released the following year, was the first PCE game to support up to five players at once.

    PCE multiplayer didn’t really take off until Hudson tackled it in depth, releasing games like Super Momotaro Dentetsu (1989) and Bomberman (1990). These two titles became the standard party games on the PCE, getting ported to all manner of other consoles and staying in circulation as viable franchises to this day. Good things come to those who wait, apparently, because early PCE adopters had to wait a whopping three years for the Multitap to seem like a smart purchase.


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