Its no secret that the era of LAN gaming has passed its prime. Friends dont lug around entire PCs to their friends house to play in a local network game session. Game consoles dont support LAN play with the ease and convenience they used to. While the practice is in a losing battle with online internet multiplayer, there does remain one saving grace. Theres one company that is still fighting that good fight, even if most people don't realize it. And thats Nintendo.
Thats right, one of the oldest gaming console makers of the modern era is also one of the few major companies that still makes an active effort to not only support LAN play, but has developed it in a way that doesn't even need an access point. And theyve been doing it for the last 11 years.
Allow us to explain. If you own a Nintendo Switch or a Nintendo 3DS, you may have noticed that they support a wireless multiplayer mode called Local Wireless. When playing a game that supports this mode (many multiplayer games do), the Switch/3DS will switch into Local Wireless mode, where they can host or find hosts for lobbies of the game theyre playing. On the surface, it seems to operate the same as a LAN session.
But even then, that doesnt really show its true potential. Unlike LAN play, Nintendos Local Wireless works anywhere, regardless of networks. This includes places like on a train, in a state park, or just about anywhere in general. But how?
What IS Nintendo Local Wireless?
This is because Local Wireless is just a more consumer friendly word for an Ad Hoc Wi-Fi. In laymans terms, this is when the console uses its Wi-Fi connection hardware to connect directly to each other instead of connecting to a local access point. The system works similarly to Bluetooth, but with more convenient ways to access each other.
This isnt even new technology, per se. The first form of ad hod wireless networks were invented in the 1990s. It wasnt until the 2000s and beyond, however, that the concept started to be refined enough for use in consumer electronics. Nowadays, we can see the technology used in everything from medical equipment to smart doorbells.
Nintendo seems to be the only game company that cares about playing locally with friends or family. That was a major advertising point of the console, after all, so it makes sense. And were happy that they do. Weve made good use of the feature ourselves, when playing 51 Clubhouse Games will in a cabin in a local state park (which lacked any Wi-Fi, cell signal, or data). We have memories of going to a gathering of friends and playing Super Smash Bros from our respective consoles with ease. Meanwhile, we couldnt begin to tell you how to play LAN with our Xbox Series S (if it can even do that).
Granted, the Nintendo Switch is the only portable current generation game console. But even this excuse is becoming invalid as Valve produces the Steamdeck, a handheld gaming console capable of playing PC games in a portable way. This, of all things, would be perfect for Local LAN play. And while the hardware theoretically supports the idea, theres not been a clear or convenient way to ensure it works correctly. And it's not like people don't want it.
But lets take a step back, toward gaming laptops. Modern computers are powerful enough that you can find one capable of gaming on a reasonably priced laptop. Since theyre portable, they are the perfect medium for hosting a LAN session with friends. But what do you play? Plenty of older games support LAN play, which is great.
But the newer the game, the less likely you are to find support for local area network support. Age of Empires is one of the most classic examples of LAN games. And yet, the recently released Age of Empires 4 doesnt support offline LAN multiplayer. You know what does? Mario Party Superstars, which released less than a year ago. Or even more recently, Kirby and the Forgotten Lands, which is only about 4 days old at the time of writing. Even that supports the Local Wireless mode for co-op gameplay. When it comes to modern gaming, Nintendo is the only major name still ensuring the option for local multiplayer.
Theyre Not Perfect
Not to say that Nintendos Local Wireless is perfect. To be honest, its not. Nintendos multiplayer technology in general, both online and local, has a reputation for being slow, unreliable, and sometimes troublesome. Weve experienced that plenty of times as well. But when youre the only one in the industry still trying, its hard to gauge whether their shortcomings should be criticized or given leniency.
Ideally, wed love for Nintendo to resolve the issues with connection and stability, dropping out half-way through a game can be tremendously frustrating. We had hoped that their not-that-old decision to charge a monthly fee for online play would resolve some of this, but weve yet to see that happen.
Theres also an issue with content availability. While Nintendo supports local wireless, theres no guarantee that any third party produced games will. And since Nintendo has an established mantra to produce fun and family friendly content, that leaves a certain style absent. The lack of options toward mature war games aside, real time strategy itself isnt exactly preferable on a controller.
What to Take From All of This
What wed love to see the most is more support for local play by other gaming hardware creators. Perhaps if modern consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series had their own LAN or ad hoc Wi-Fi option. But we understand that consoles are stationary and rarely taken away from home.
A much more reasonable request, in our eyes, would be to have more major titles have LAN support for PC, opening up the possibility for easier LAN parties via laptops. You wouldnt need to convert entire consoles to support this, and we cannot imagine that adding in such an option would be terribly complicated for the developers. If a can can play online multiplayer, it should be able to support local multiplayer with relative ease.
So what can we as consumers do? Well, not much. The only actual thing we could do to make this happen is to support games that DO have LAN play, while also being sure to express a desire for such functions in consumer reviews and surveys. If enough people make their desires known, any company worth their salt would at least take it into consideration.
In the meantime, Im going to go play virtual backgammon at a campground.
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