Now that the PS4 is in the wild and the Xbox One is launching, we thought it would be a good idea to look back on launch titles of the past for The Top 5: Console Launch Games!
This week’s honorable mention goes to Halo: Combat Evolved. It was a killer app for the Xbox and might be directly responsible for Microsoft’s place in the console market today. Though given Microsoft’s resources, their sheer stubbornness might have kept them in the business even without Halo, but I still think it was an incredibly important launch title.
Now on to the list proper, which as you can see is filled exclusively with Nintendo launch titles. Nintendo doesn’t get nearly enough love here at Gamer Horizon, so I’m glad that this week’s Top 5 provides such a good excuse to give Nintendo some due credit for a change. If only the Wii U had a stronger launch title than the way too familiar New Super Mario Bros. U, the system might have built a stronger install base. Perhaps Super Mario 3D World will be the killer app that the system needs, but that remains to be seen. Anyway, let’s move on to my Top 5 North American launch titles which were all killer apps and system sellers!
5. Wii Sports for the Wii – Launching a Nintendo console without a Mario game is like starting a race with an empty gas tank. And yet somehow, Wii Sports, which was bundled with every Wii launch console, managed to be the launch title Nintendo needed. The game really wasn’t that great, earning only a 76% Metascore on Metacritic, but it served a greater purpose than earning good review numbers; Wii Sports proved to the world that motion control could be fun and entertaining. It justified the Wii’s existence, despite its funny remote controls and infrared bar. It may be unfair to say this considering it was a bundled game, but Wii Sports has sold more copies than any other console video game in history, with around 83 million copies sold. I have to give Nintendo a lot of credit for Wii Sports. I didn’t play very much of it, but I can’t deny its significance as a launch title.
4. Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 – I’ll never forget the first time I played Super Mario 64 at Toys”R”Us in Santa Monica. There was a crowd of kids gathered around the demo unit. The system was still a month or two from being launched, but the hype was palpable. When my turn came to play, I picked up the controller and found it to be completely bizarre… and to be fair, it really was a strange controller. But putting that aside, I started to play Super Mario 64. I patiently moved Mario around the castle courtyard, testing out his ability to tiptoe with the analog stick, and marveling at the precision of the control. By the time I had finished playing the first level, I knew that a truly new generation of gaming was fast approaching. Though the Nintendo 64 launched with only two titles—Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64—those games were enough. Specifically, it was Super Mario 64 that made the system worth owning, even on day one, and despite an infuriatingly slow trickle of new releases in the following months.
3. Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – Bundling Super Mario World and two controllers with the SNES made the system absolutely irresistible. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was nothing quite as exciting in the video game industry as the release of a new Mario game (expect perhaps a new Final Fantasy). Fortunately, Super Mario World was a fantastic entry in the series, with gorgeous graphics, fantastic level design, a lovable new character (Yoshi) and a huge world full of secrets to explore. Thanks to Super Mario World, every kid on the block begged and pleaded for their parents to buy them an SNES. Super Mario World was a system seller, a killer app and a remarkable game all in one.
2. Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System – For me, it all started with Super Mario Bros. (though in my case, the game included Duck Hunt). It was the first videogame I ever owned, though I had played a few games before on my brother’s Commodore 64. Still, this was the first time I had ever really been addicted to anything. I played tons and tons of Super Mario Bros., and I wasn’t the only one. In an era when the video game industry was still young, Nintendo managed to sell an incredible number of systems bundled with this game, and they would not have such success again until Wii Sports. Over 40 million copies of Super Mario Bros. have been sold worldwide to date, and I don’t need to tell you how popular the Mario franchise has remained over the last couple of decades. Super Mario Bros. is without a doubt one of the greatest launch titles of all time.
1. Tetris for the Gameboy – Yes, Tetris. Don’t underestimate its importance. Tetris was not only an incredibly addicting puzzle game, but it was also the perfect killer app for the Gameboy. It proved that deep gaming experiences could be had on a portable video game system. It also sold a hell of a lot of Gameboys. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that Tetris is the single game most directly responsible for the success of portable gaming, and as such, I consider it the most important launch title of all time.
5. Hydro Thunder for the Sega Dreamcast – I always liked playing Hydro Thunder in the Arcade back in the day. When I heard that this game was launching with the Sega Dreamcast, I had to get a system. Truthfully, I wasn’t planning on buying a Dreamcast until I saw Hydro Thunder. I’m not real big into racing but there’s something about racing a boat down a river at high speeds that I really like.
4. Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – Not the first Mario game I played, but one of the best. I liked the cape power up that let Mario fly along with the introduction of Yoshi and the giant Bullet Bill. Super Mario World introduced a lot of new features that are still used in subsequent Mario games today.
3. Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 – Super Mario 64 looked amazing when it first came out. Playing with Mario for the first time in 3D took some getting used to but once I got the hang of it, I was hooked. I loved that the different stages were in paintings that Mario jumped into in order to collect stars needed to advance the game. Even the boss battles with Bowser were great. You had to run around to get behind him, grab his tail and spin Bowser with enough momentum to throw him into a bomb. That’s so much better than jumping over Bowser’s head to activate a switch that drops him into a lava pit.
2. Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader for the Nintendo Game Cube – Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader brought back all the love I had for the movies and threw them into a game. Being able to fight in the battle of Hoth, flying through the trench on the Death Star, and piloting numerous ships from the movie was awesome. The graphics and music were excellent and light years better than the Nintendo 64 version. Now all I need is for Factor 5 or someone else to make another Star Wars game.
1. Resistance: Fall of Man for the Sony PlayStation 3 – This franchise of shooters is one of my favorites on the market today. The story was excellent, even if it depicted the destruction of the human race. I like the weapons Insomniac created as well as the brutal and unforgiving nature of the Chimera. The Bullseye happens to be my favorite weapon in the game because of the way it looks. The ability to fire homing rounds is great but I rarely use it.
5. Summoner for the PlayStation 2 – Going into the PlayStation’s second outing as a huge RPG fan, there was nothing quite like it on consoles. Sure it wasn’t an amazing game from start to finish, but that doesn’t diminish the impact the game had on me. Looking back, it seems like a lot of the ideas in the Elder Scrolls games could be traced back to this flawed, but impressive action RPG from the now defunct, THQ.
4. Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – Once again, Nintendo knocks it out of the park with a new Mario title. What I have always found impressive about Nintendo is how they can constantly offer a fresh take on their classic IPs. Super Mario World took the sidescrolling template from Super Mario Bros. and its NES sequels and added a cape and Yoshi the dinosaur to the repertoire. Outlandish but always fun, Super Mario World was the reason to buy an SNES at launch.
3. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 for the GameCube – Did I actually play it for the GameCube? Nope. But that doesn’t keep me from saying it’s one of the best launch titles for a console. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is still the high point of the series in terms of controls, freedom and all around fun and it was available at launch for the GameCube.
2. Call of Duty 2 for the Xbox 360 – It’s probably the franchise most associated with Xbox outside of Halo, and even 8 years later, Call of Duty 2 is still damn impressive. From the opening’s Saving Private Ryan level of chaos and carnage, to storming theatre after theatre, Call of Duty 2 blew me away. From the amazing controls, the fantastic graphics (for the time) and the epic sense of scale, few titles have resonated as much with me as one of the all-time greats.
1. Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System – For those that know me, it may seem odd that I’ve chosen a Nintendo game for my number one spot, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Super Mario Bros. might just be the most important game of all time. A masterpiece in design, controls and the standard bearer for years to come, its influence still permeates console launch’s decades later. While only Nintendo can match or out-do themselves when it comes to quality launch titles, you can’t blame others for trying. A true classic in every sense of the word.
5. Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast – I will never forget 9/9/99. The Dreamcast might have only lasted a couple years, but it ended up with a heck of a respectable lineup. Soul Calibur was THE game to have at launch, and it had a wealth of content. Unlockable characters, fun little martial arts demonstrations, solid gameplay, and graphics that were simply unparalleled at the time. Compared to the block PS1 and the washed out N64, the Dreamcast boasted sharp, clean graphics, and Soul Calibur was its herald.
4. Tetris for the Game Boy – Portable Gaming. We take it for granted, but in 1989 Nintendo released a big bulky box. But it wasn’t big or bulky at the time; it felt fine. Its creamed spinach color never really bothered me, and it had a great lineup of games. Tetris was the pack-in game, and good god, I still say it’s the best version of the game ever. It had a two player mode over link cable, but basically the game ate up enough time just trying to get as many lines scored as you could. It was the perfect use case for portable gaming.
3. Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 – 3D action titles were an unknown commodity. How would we control them? We had no real concept of the camera, or how it would work. Super Mario 64 was a gem of a game; I remember flying around World 1 with the wing hat, just swooping and diving and exploring. I don’t know if I’ll ever enjoy a game quite like that again. The game was easy to beat, but to earn all 120 stars would try many people’s patience.
2. Halo for the Xbox – Launching a new console is a great way to lose a lot of money as a company. Microsoft was willing to pay that price, but they needed market share and they needed mindshare. Quick, name Xbox launch titles that weren’t Halo. That’s a testament to how well Halo has taken off over the years, and basically helped launch the Xbox brand. Without Halo, the Xbox might have not made it to its second and third incarnations.
1. Super Mario Brothers for the Nintendo Entertainment System – Video games almost died in the 80’s. A plethora of shovelware almost did them in. Nintendo had to be cautious on their approach to the market, and called the NES a toy instead of a video game system. The soft launch of the console in New York in ’85 featured the ROB unit and a few games that utilized it, but for the US launch in 1986, Super Mario Bros. was the main attraction. Considered by most designers to be the perfect example of game design teaching people how to play the game, the first level is so iconic that it can be used to provide an instant nostalgia blast.
That’s it for our lists! What about yours? Let us know what you think the best console launch titles are in the comments below.