Asymmetric Multiplayer

A ship that can only move left and right and drop depth charges and homing mines, vs. a submarine that can go anywhere and has to destroy underwater buildings. Totally different experiences.

Asymmetric Multiplayer is a multiplayer mode in which the different players have totally different roles and capabilities, unlike most multiplayer games, where all the players are generally doing the same thing and playing the game the same way. The Nintendo Wii U popularized the term as a way to describe how one player could play the game using the touchscreen-equipped GamePad controller, while others play on the TV, and the two groups have very different goals and even game mechanics. An example is New Super Mario Bros. U, where players who use traditional controllers control characters who run and jump on the TV, while the GamePad player can interact with the environment by messing with enemies, placing blocks in mid-air, and doing other things that affect the TV players' experience.

However, the concept has been around since ancient (by video game standards) times. Generally, it is quite rare in games, as creating two completely different gameplay experiences for two different players requires a great deal of balance.

This does not refer to such things as games where players can be different characters (e.g., a magic user and a sword user) with slightly different abilities but carry out essentially the same goal in the same way. This instead refers to games where the roles, abilities and gameplay experience are drastically different. To see whether an example fits, think of the question "Does each player have a totally different experience from the others?" If the answer is yes, it's probably Asymmetric Multiplayer.

Compare Variable Player Goals, which are often paired with Asymmetric Multiplayer but not the same thing (as Asymmetric Multiplayer can have two players working towards the same goal different ways, and Variable Player Goals can have all players use the same game mechanics).


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  • Possibly one of the oldest examples, Nautilus for the Atari 8-Bit Computers was a two-player game in which one player controlled a submarine and had to destroy underwater buildings, while the other controlled a ship which dropped mines and depth charges and attempted to repair the buildings, but was unable to go underwater. (Fun trivia fact: according to Wikipedia, it's also the very first Split Screen game in existence!)

    Sega Genesis 
  • Thunder Force IV had a two-player option, with one player piloting Rynex and the other aiming the weapons.

  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has a co-op mode where one player controls Link and the other uses a Game Boy Advance connected to the GameCube to provide support (potions, bombs, etc.) with the Tingle Tuner in-game item. (This doesn't apply to the WiiU remake - ironic in light of the WiiU Game Pad that can replicate the GBA functionality - instead having been replaced with Miiverse message sharing in the form of the Tingle Bottle.)
  • Pac-Man Vs. also uses a connected Game Boy Advance. The player using the GBA is Pac-Man and gets a full view of the maze, while up to three other players are ghosts and only given limited visibility on a TV split-screen.

  • In Duck Hunt "Game A", the first player shoots ducks with the light gun and the second player can control the ducks with the normal gamepad.

  • Savage, for the PC, is a cross between a Real-Time Strategy game and an action game. One player on each team would be the commander and could see the entire battlefield and issue orders to players. All other players would be individual soldiers.
  • In the Half-Life 2 mod Overwatch, one player controls Combine forces from an RTS point of view, while all the other players are on the opposing team and control an individual resistance fighter in typical FPS gameplay.
    • Another Half-Life 2 named Zombie Master is similar: most of the players are playing survivors in first-person shooter style, while one player plays as the titular Zombie Master, who spawns and controls the zombies and sets off traps in RTS-style gameplay.
  • Natural Selection is a Half-Life mod with Aliens (generally melee- and ambush-focused) vs. Space Marines (standard FPS gameplay and guns, and a Commander with an RTS perspective).
  • The Hidden is a source engine mod where one person with invisibility and a knife faces off against a heavily armed team of SWAT-type police with techno-gadgets.
  • Left 4 Dead has zombies vs. human survivors with completely different gameplay styles. The humans can revive downed teammates, and their goal is to reach the end of the level. Player-controlled zombies instead choose where to spawn, and must prevent the human players from reaching the end of the level by killing them. Their capabilities are also vastly different. Dead humans stay dead for a very long time, whereas dead zombie players revive shortly afterward to keep trying to stop the humans.
  • Island Defense, a popular custom map for Warcraft3, had 10 players controlling builders that need to collect resources and build a fortified base to hold of the Titan, while the remaining player controls the Titan, a powerful unit that tries to stop them before their bases become impenetrable.
  • The Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator simulates a Star Trek style spaceship bridge. Each player controls a different aspect of the ship, leading to very different play-styles; the captain is the most extreme example of this, since they cannot take any actions personally and instead relay orders to the other players.
  • Crawl Is a dungeon crawler where one player controls the hero, and the other three control the monsters so they can kill him and play as the hero.
  • The FPS/RTS hybrid Battle Zone 1998 and its sequel have two player states in the "strategy" multiplayer gamemodes; Commander and Pilot. The Commander takes over most of the RTS functions and have sole control over base equipment (factories and the like) and by default control all the Player Mooks. Pilots start out with nothing under their control besides their own Hover Tank, but the commander can grant control of units to pilots. Commanders generally remain in the base to build it up and defend it, while pilots guide Scavengers to biometal pools and engage the enemy. Players can freely swap between the role of commander and pilot in multiplayer. The MPA gamemode has a human team (commander and pilots) versus an AI controlled commander, and Strategy has two teams of human commanders and pilots.
  • Shores of Hazeron had multiple crew stations on its starships, each of which had unique tasks; the helmsman flew the ship, sensor station locked and scanned targets, and the engineer had to keep multiple constantly moving status indicators for the engines/reactor/FTL drive within a green zone or they would become inefficient, etc. The Captain's chair did little on its own, but could override other stations on the ship, such as allowing the captain to pull up the helm station controls and fly the ship manually. Beyond the starships, each player empire had multiple levels of authority for its members; players without the right credentials couldn't authorize new constructions on planets, while the Emperor or other high-ups could commandeer any starships and colony.

  • Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 allow the second player to point at collectibles with the Wiimote to pick them up.
  • The Metamortex sections of Kirby's Epic Yarn work this way, with the first player controlling movement while the second player handles a secondary aspect of whatever the two transform into. (Everywhere else, gameplay is identical for both players.)

     Wii U 
  • Nintendo Land is all about this. Many of the games have multiplayer modes in which one player's view of the action and role is different from the others. The cooperative games do involve players working towards a common goal, but with very different abilities. The competitive games, however, involve the players having totally different goals in addition to completely different abilities.
    • Luigi's Ghost Mansion has an invisible ghost, playing on the touch-screen GamePad, try to sneak up on ghost hunters, while the ghost hunters view the TV and try to stop the invisible ghost with the use of flashlights.
    • Mario Chase has one player view the entire playfield on the GamePad while the others, using split-screen views on the TV, attempt to chase and catch Mario.
    • Animal Crossing: Sweet Day has one player control two guards on the GamePad to try to catch the other players, who are viewing the TV and trying to steal candy.
    • Pikmin Adventures has one player using the GamePad control Captain Olimar, and can fight by throwing Pikmin at enemies and objects by touching them on the screen, while up to four other players control giant Pikmin on the TV and fight enemies directly.
    • Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest has one player on the GamePad as an archer shooting enemies with a bow and arrows, including at a distance, while up to four other players use Wii Remotes to fight enemies up close with a sword.
    • Metroid Blast allows a player using the GamePad to fly a gunship that has full freedom of movement and blast enemies or other players (if playing competitively), while other players run on the ground and control human fighters who can run, roll into balls, and use grappling beams, but lack the freedom of the gunship.
  • New Super Mario Bros. U allows up to four players to control Mario, Luigi and two Toads, while another player can use the GamePad at any time to create blocks that appear on the TV. Both players and enemies can jump on or interact with the blocks. The GamePad player has other abilities, such as interacting with enemies, defeating enemies in some instances, spinning gears in the opposite direction, or revealing invisible 3-up life blocks.
  • The Wii U version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has two exclusive modes: Banana Heist, where one person controls Aiai in a ball while everyone else races normally, and Aiai must take bananas from them; and Ninja Tag, where one person controls Joe Musashi and runs into the other players. In both modes, all of the other players need to defend themselves.
  • The Wii U version of Rayman Legends lets player 1 do this with the GamePad, using the touchscreen to control Murphy in order to clear obstacles and tickle enemies while letting the other players run and jump as usual. Certain levels require player 1 to do this; when playing solo, these segments skew more toward Unexpected Gameplay Change.
  • Mario Party 10 has a mode called "Bowser Mode", where the most of the players are aiming to acquire stars, but the player controlling Bowser is trying to take their stars away from them by swiping them on the Game Pad's screen.

  • Splinter Cell: Double Agent has a mode in which a team of players fight as mercs against a single player playing as Sam Fischer, who has his spy abilities.
  • This applies any time a 1 vs. 3 minigame comes up in the Mario Party series, for the obvious reason that it would be unfair otherwise.
  • Battlefield 2 has a mode where one player on each team is a commander, while all others are soldiers. The commander has the ability to issue orders to players as well as drop artillery, though they also exist as a soldier and can take personal action as well (and of course be killed).
  • Battlefield 4 re-introduces the commander role, but removes the player from the battlefield entirely, while also giving the ability to drop supplies, order troops, and other tactical advantages.
  • Pen and paper roleplaying games are essentially this in analogue form. The Game Master has complete control over everything and is unconcerned about leveling, loot, dying, or other player-only problems. The Game Master's job is provide balanced and challenging gameplay as well as rules adjudications. A player's job is to attempt to survive whatever the GM tosses at them. Several board games (such as Hero Quest or Descent Journey In The Dark) are like this as well.
  • Evolve pits four hunters against one alien, and each of the five players has their own unique abilities.
  • Shadow Realms is being developed as four-versus-one game. Four human characters face a single overlord character, with the latter's abilities being consciously patterned on those of the Game Master in a pen-and-paper RPG.