Whenever a new console is released, one of the biggest points of discussion is the quality of the games available, as an outstanding launch title can instantly sell a system. While the best games of the generation generally arrive later in a console’s lifespan once developers become more familiar with the hardware, there is still a bounty of impressive launch titles released throughout gaming history. The following are the 10 best video games released at the time of a console’s launch.
Note: This list omits launch European and Japanese launch lineups, focusing exclusively on titles released in North America.
10. Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3)
The PlayStation 3 burst onto the scene in November 2006 amid skepticism regarding its high initial selling price. With the Xbox 360 having a year’s head-start on the market, the PS3 needed a game to display the high-end tech packed in their console. Resistance: Fall of Man provided the perfect outlet, as Insomniac (the creators of Ratchet and Clank) brought together a fantastic first-person shooter with gorgeous graphics running in HD. Resistance also showed off the PS3’s online capabilities, with maps that could accommodate 40 players at once with little-to-no lag. The fact the online was free gave Resistance a huge boost and allowed it to become the PS3’s greatest launch title for successfully showcasing the capabilities of the console.
9. New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
Neither groundbreaking or innovative, New Super Mario Bros. U received poor press upon its release. Nintendo is known for crafting revolutionary launch titles for its successful systems and NSMB U was considered a step back in this regard. In retrospect, gamers were wrong to shun this offering as it is a strong 2D Mario platformer in its own right and will likely hold up for decades. New Super Mario Bros. U introduced the series to HD and will hopefully be remembered fondly in the years to come. While the Wii U was a commercial flop at launch (and still is today unfortunately), NSMBU is not to blame. This imaginative game offers a brilliant design and one of the best platformers of the last decade. Really, what more could be asked of a launch title?
8. NFL 2K (Dreamcast)
Sega’s decision to create Visual Concepts and the subsequent “2K” series led to EA withholding their popular sports titles from the system. This would prove devastating for the Dreamcast’s future and is one of the reasons the Dreamcast ended up being a commercial failure. However, in the short term, the 2K brand did present the greatest gridiron title of the decade and one of the best launch titles ever released. NFL 2K was hyper-realistic. EA’s Madden series had built a reputation for being the realistic go-to football title for hardcore NFL fans, putting the more arcadey NFL Blitz series to shame. Yet seeing NFL 2K in action really put things in perspective regarding what a football title could be. If a linebacker was covering Randy Moss, he would certainly get burned and the AI would exploit it. No longer could you run up the gut against a stacked 3-4 formation. NFL 2K was a revolution for sports games and considering how polished it was, it’s hard to believe that it was a launch title.
7. SSX (PS2)
SSX took the growing popularity of extreme sports video games and refined the formula brilliantly. The marriage of fast-paced racing with trick performance provided a beautiful synergy and came together so well that it produced a completely original snowboarding title. With controls that still hold up to this day, SSX was a landmark achievement. What can’t be understated is the raw creativity clearly on display in this game. SSX was the reason to upgrade to the PS2 and proved yet again that the PlayStation brand provided genres not available anywhere else at the time. Offering some of the best musical tracks in video game history and a tempo that sped up or slowed down depending on how the race was going, SSX pretty much made the PS2 a console worth owning in its early days thanks to the game’s mass appeal.
6. Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)
The Dreamcast had one heck of a launch lineup, as the US launch featured a whopping 19 games, the majority of which were marquee titles. In fact, the Dreamcast’s launch games were so strong that we actually had to debate including more than two titles on this list, as Sonic Adventure and Power Stone just missed the cut. However, this amazing launch lineup featured one game that stood out from the rest of these quality titles. Soul Calibur provided an arcade experience in the comfort of your own home. It was the most polished fighting game to ever hit consoles and was reason enough to go and purchase a Dreamcast. With realistic animation and a cast of characters that gamers could grow attached to, Soul Calibur and its unbelievably tight controls were an instant hit and was the clear champion of the fighting arena for a long time.
5. Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
With Microsoft entering the console market in the early 2000s, they required an elite game to draw attention and to help sell their system. Fortunately for them, Halo: Combat Evolved provided just that. Halo was a cultural phenomenon and did precisely what a launch title is designed to do: sell the system. Halo took all the elements that made great first-person shooters in the past and expanded on them. With the growing popularity of PC gaming at the time, Halo proved that first-person shooters not only had a home on consoles but could thrive. Presenting a detailed campaign with an excellent story as well as the most addictive multiplayer on the planet (that could even be system-linked for up to 16 players), Halo managed to do what few games before it had done. The majority of FPS’s at the time were geared either toward a solo campaign or toward multiplayer. In contrast, Halo’s single player and multiplayer modes played like separate, distinct entities and neither mode felt “tacked-on” and instead provided wholly unique experiences. Without Halo, the Xbox brand very likely would no longer exist and for that reason, Halo is one of the finest launch titles ever released.
4. Wii Sports (Wii)
The Nintendo Wii has sold over 101 million units to date and with Wii Sports included as a pack-in title, it is technically the highest-selling game of all-time. The Wii earned a negative reputation for catering more toward the “casual” crowd and motion controls are now generally scoffed at. Yet the Wii sold about three times the amount of units as the Nintendo 64 and nearly five times what the GameCube managed to move. The reason is Wii Sports, which successfully showcased the capabilities of the console in a fashion few launch titles have ever managed to do. Attracting millions of non-gamers across the globe, Wii Sports arrived and motion controls exploded onto the scene. While the later Wii Sports Resort may be the more technically impressive title, the original Wii Sports is what started it all and is the more fondly-remembered title. The game sold a system, which is exactly what launch titles are supposed to do.
3. Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)
Super Mario Bros. 3 continued to sell new copies leading into the release of the Super Nintendo. Indeed, the NES was still profitable at the time and there’s reason to argue that Nintendo did not yet need to release a new console. However, with Sega already having released two consoles since the NES’s launch, both of which were superior to the NES in terms of hardware specifications, Nintendo knew it would need to release something new. What better way to launch a new console than with a brand new Mario game? Super Mario World was a vibrant, fun, and engaging title that took the foundation that SMB3 laid in terms of a world map and evolved it tenfold. Featuring secret exits and entirely optional worlds, Super Mario World was a breathtaking new spin on the platforming genre. Many gamers migrated to the newer console quickly as everyone simply needed to play this game.
2. Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo Entertainment System)
Following the video game crash of 1983, one special title would receive a large portion of the credit for rescuing the industry. Indeed, Nintendo’s platformer was the “must-play” title of the decade and would go on to become the most recognized video game in history. Mario would become the most iconic character in gaming history and an army of clones would appear, attempting to imitate the genius that Nintendo produced. Super Mario Bros. didn’t just sell a system; it sold the idea of video games to the public. For that reason alone, it deserves to be cherished forever.
Fortunately, Super Mario Bros. is not simply a piece of history in the record books; it is an intelligent, highly addictive game full of secrets. SMB is a timeless classic that will never get old (well, only in years). Discovering new secrets when you accidentally descend a pipe you didn’t know led anywhere is a cherished gaming memory for many. The game still draws appeal on speed runs or simple playthroughs, and with an accessible length, the game remains playble and enjoyable to this day.
1. Super Mario 64 (N64)
Moving the Mario franchise from 2D side-scroller to an open-world 3D adventure, the direction of video games was forever changed and the gold standard for 3D gaming was set by Super Mario 64. Whereas previous Mario titles were without a doubt platforming titles, Super Mario 64 was in fact a puzzle/adventure game. Rather than proceed from left to right on a screen, gamers had to discover the variety of secrets held within self-contained worlds with merely a short hint for guidance. Not only were the puzzles unique, different aspects of levels were ingeniously created.
Nintendo maneuvered within their new sense of dimension and provided levels where the water level would rise depending on how players entered the level, a level where Mario was either very large or very small and interacted with objects depending on his size, and a level where platforms move at different speeds depending on how you entered the level (which happened to be a giant clock). The fact that Nintendo introduced so much originality and flair into this title is remarkable before even taking into account that the game also introduced true 3D gaming to the public. Mario 64 is without a doubt the most impactful launch title of all-time.