Some of my fondest memories growing up were of my best friends and me sitting around a television with controllers in our hands, pummeling baddies on screen. We certainly had our good times playing sports and games outside, but having to find a large group to have a nice sized opposing team limited this type of play to birthday parties and holiday events. It was much easier to get three or four friends to come out on a Saturday and pop in NBA Jam or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and play against a computer-generated opposing team.
When online play began picking up steam, I couldn't help but get excited. I mean now I could play with my friends anytime I wanted, not just when we could all get together! Who wouldn't want that? But that came at an unforeseeable cost. Not much later when a small group of friends and myself got together, and outside activities were not an option, we found ourselves wanting to put in a game to play together like old times. While the classics were fun for awhile, we began to want something new. This got me searching the market.
While this is not a top five list, these are definitely some of the ones I have enjoyed a lot. I also went with last-gen as not everyone has been able to make the jump to current-gen.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
The Smash Bros. series has been a big contributor to local multiplayer gaming. Being able to pick from a list of your favorite Nintendo characters and engaging in chaotic, mindless combat with a few buddies makes a game night a winner. Brawl introduced a few new characters to the series and gave us the unreasonably over-powered Super Smash Ball. If you are lucky enough to break the floating ball before your opponents, you are able to unleash a potentially screen-covering super attack that is almost guaranteed to earn you a KO. (The ability varies depending on the character who breaks the ball.) With the internet capabilities of the Wii, Brawl also brought online multiplayer to the series. So while this ranks as one of the best games to play locally with your friends for me, it is no longer limited to local play. Double win!
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
The war for the One Ring is raging in Middle-Earth, and the Fellowship are battling Sauron's forces to destroy the ring and bring peace to the land. You control one of three heroes dispatched away from the main story line to the north to keep Agandaur and his army from assisting Sauron in obtaining the One Ring. While this only has local multiplayer for two people, and the option for a third to play via internet, the gameplay made this game a worthy mention for this list. The constant slaying of orcs, leveling up, and discovering rare weapons and armor makes it hard to put this game down. War in the North is not without its faults, there are a few times that it would lock up and some times that it would glitch, but with the game's frequent autosave you rarely miss out on anything major. This journey across Middle-Earth kept my friends and I happy for many hours.
No multiplayer list is complete without having a Halo game on it. As the first Halo on the Xbox 360, this last-gen first-person shooter is bordering classic. "Why would you go six games back in the series?" you ask? Good question, Halo 3 was the last in the original Halo storyline and I just enjoyed it more than its descendants. (Simple enough, right?) Halo 3 allows to you play without the restrictions of a class type (though class types has its benefits) and my group of friends sank a lot more time into this game. The traditional Halo maps you are familiar with from previous games, with the addition of new ones, make this game easy to pick up for people who are long-time lovers of the franchise. New-comers to the series will find the relatively easy-to-navigate maps of some of the levels a quick learn as well.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Who hasn't played a Super Mario game? Putting three friends on screen at one time in a Mario game makes this an easy choice for this list. Having four people at a time in this side-scroller is fun, hilarious, and infuriating at the same time. You can jump off of your friend's heads both cooperatively to reach a new place that wouldn't be reachable solo, or to knock them into the abyss for messing that last level up for you. What also played a large factor into New Super Mario Bros. making it on this list is that you can sit down with your 28 year old friend, your 48 year old mother, or your six year old nephew and still have a blast with this game. (Though playing with your 48 year old mother may make you want to pull your hair out.)
Dungeon crawlers are among my favorite types of games. Playing a dungeon crawler with three friends makes this game an obvious choice for a multiplayer list to me. Being primarily a console gamer, I have not played any of the previous Diablo games, but this one has been a lot of fun for my group of friends. With a healthy selection of character classes, and the ability to choose gender for each class, you are sure to find an avatar that puts you neck-deep in this world. The barbarian is a great class for people who simply like to run in and mow down baddies and the wizard is a good choice for those who like to stand back and blast them tactically. Blizzard always does a great job of creating games and making them easy to pick up and play, and Diablo 3 doesn't stray from that path.
Like I said before, this isn't a top five as I have not played every game in this classification (had I had a chance to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it would likely be on here) nor listed every game I like, but these are definitely worth looking into if you want to sit down with a few friends to play a game.