Remember how it felt to unbox your first console? The weight of that cardboard container, the scent of fresh plastic, and then finally that magical feeling of booting up your console for the first time, the controller trembling as the screen lights up. It’s truly an unrivaled feeling of joy. Then, you take out the game that accompanied your system and place it carefully in the machine, and a world of adventure unfolds before you. And you know you’ll never feel quite capture that feeling again. That’s the joy that comes with console launches, and consoles can live or die by their launch titles. After all, what good is a console if there’s nothing of value to play?
These consoles have shaped the landscape of gaming, delivering innovative and beloved titles that found their way into gamers’ homes and hearts. But all these systems started from zero and needed the springboard of a blockbuster to hit the ground running (though there were quite a few stumbles). So, without further ado, it’s about time we launch into the list of our favorite launch titles for each of these consoles. Just a reminder, these views are subjective and if we leave out your favorite, well, tough titties.
Nintendo 64 — Super Mario 64
Could it be anything else? This game burst onto the scene with the release of the N64 and changed gaming forever. The 3D display was something we had never seen before. The hub world environment where we could travel from level-to-level was a novel concept. The level designs were vibrant and full of fun challenges. The musical score was in-line with the Mario franchise and lent itself beautifully to each environment.
All of this was packaged in a launch title that basically sold the system on its own. Super Mario 64 was so far ahead of its time and it would take the better part of a decade before we would see other games that could match its grand, 3D open world. Other notable titles at launch were FIFA Soccer 64 and Pilotwings 64, but none rivaled the mustached plumber.
Xbox One — Forza Motorsport 5
This entry showcases exactly why the Xbox One finds itself at the bottom of the listings. Despite being a current gen console, the system struggled to find its feet. Poor showings at E3 2013 and a lack of exclusive content played major roles in its downfall. Forza 5 was the one of the exclusive titles that the Xbox One offered at launch, and while it was a competent entry in a prestigious racing game franchise, it highlights just how underwhelming the system’s launch was. They needed a massive statement to kick things off, but failed to deliver. Other titles included Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3, and Peggle 2, none of which were worth writing home about either.
SNES — Super Mario World
The mustached plumber is no stranger to console launches, and he’s had his time to shine long before the N64 rolled out. The SNES would only launch with a handful of games but all were fairly well-received. The likes of Gradius, F-Zero, and Sim City were also available, yet the mushroom-eating laborer wins the top spot again. Super Mario World took our favorite parts of the side-scrolling Mario format and improved upon them.
The changes such as the feather power-up that offered new innovative gameplay and the inclusion of Yoshi were welcome additions. And of course, Yoshi’s inclusion would be the spark that would later inspire the Donkey Kong Country series. This was arguably the pinnacle of the classic Mario side-scroller era, and therefore earns a coveted spot on this list.
NES — Duck Hunt
Is this one the best game at launch for the system? Perhaps not. We would argue however, that it is the most iconic. Duck Hunt made use of a gun-shaped console accessory that let them shoot ducks out of the sky with eagle-eyed precision, all the while under the scrutiny of the infamous dog who would giggle every time you missed your target. This game made great use of an unconventional NES accessory, the light gun, and still is referenced in gaming today. Its most notable appearance is in the Super Smash Bros. series as the joint character, the ‘Duck Hunt Duo.’
Nintendo 3DS — The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
The 3DS launch titles were in some regards, underwhelming. Not because they were bad games — far from it — but because they were predictable. The likes of Nintendogs, Mario Kart, and Animal Crossing had new entries ready for the system’s launch. Then out of nowhere, Nintendo decided to take Ocarina of Time, a game often touted as the best game of all time, and try and improve on what many consider perfection.
And to Nintendo’s credit, they did a fantastic job of respecting the source material and giving the new version a fresh coat of polish. In addition to the improvd graphics, there were quality of life changes like easier inventory and map access or updated aiming mechanics. The magic of the first installment was preserved, elevated, and offered to 3DS owners in the form of an amazing launch title.
PlayStation Portable (PSP) — Lumines
The PlayStation Portable had a decent number of games in its library at launch, with a number of them boasting PS2-level graphics on the go. However, it was a block-matching puzzle game with a synth soundtrack and a trippy, psychedelic feel that takes the spot on our list, even with games like Spider-Man 2, Ape Escape: On the Loose, and Wipeout Pure gracing the system at launch. However, this Tetris-inspired puzzler captured fans’ attention through its fun gameplay, amazing soundtrack, and fair, but challenging difficulty. Lumines has had a remaster and ports to the PS Vita, PS3, and even has versions available on iOS and Android.
Game Boy Advance — Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
It isn’t too harsh to suggest that the GBA’s library took a while to truly get off the ground. There were a number of launch titles that came from big-name franchises, but they failed to offer a lasting impression. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, however, managed to deliver a fantastic handheld experience. This game stuck close to the formula of non-linear gameplay that Symphony of the Night boasted years before. It offered a fantastic soundtrack, typically fun Metroidvania-style gameplay, and great visuals — if you could get enough light to hit your screen. The dark color palette didn’t transition entirely smoothly to the GBA’s screen without back-lighting. Despite that however, it’s still a contender for one of the all-time best 2D platformers for on-the-go play.
Xbox 360 — Perfect Dark Zero
The PS3 delayed its release whilst the Xbox 360 saw fit to launch in November 2005 — but perhaps it should’ve been delayed too. The launch titles on offer were, for the most part, ports of older generations’ games. The pickings were slim, but the somewhat underrated gem Perfect Dark Zero deserves its spot on this list. It was a respectable FPS espionage game that did a commendable job on following up its previous entry on the N64.
Perfect Dark Zero was reasonably well-received by critics and gamers alike, but suffered simply for not being a groundbreaking release. The 360 was calling out for a Halo-esque title to carry the system forward, but Microsoft decided to place their bets on PDZ being a hit. Sadly this game flirted with the notion of being a Golden Eye successor, but never quite sealed the deal. This game is certainly worth a play for avid FPS fans. However, it just wasn’t what Microsoft needed from their flagship launch title.
PlayStation 3 — Resistance: Fall of Man
The PS3 bode its time before launching, which meant that it launched with a bigger library of games. Some honorable mentions include Tony Hawk’s Project 8 and MotorStorm. The biggest launch title, however, was Resistance: Fall of Man. This iconic FPS shooter tells a fantastic story of an alternative existence where WWII never happened, but angry aliens sure did. The game combines tight gunplay, an eerie and ominous atmosphere, and varied enemies and weapons to create a unique FPS experience. The quick reactionary combat was quite reminiscent to that of TimeSplitters and gave PS3 owners a real gem of a game on launch day. The fact that this is still the most recent Resistance title on offer is a genuine travesty.
PlayStation 4 — Trine 2
As with the Xbox One, the PlayStation 4 launch titles were very disappointing as a whole, with annual franchises filling the majority of the list. Knack and Killzone offered some exclusivity but ultimately, the library was quite a letdown. Thankfully, the list of launch titles didn’t define the system. It was apparent that Sony had a lot in the works, so they weren’t too panicked by the console’s initial lull. Trine 2, a colorful indie title available from launch is the pick of the bunch for this system. It took the great side-scrolling puzzle action of the first game, gave the mechanics and graphics a polishing, and threw multiplayer into the mix. What’s not to love?
Nintendo Wii — The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I know that many of you are screaming “Wii Sports!” at your screen right now. Don’t get it twisted, it was fun and novel and helped sell the system to pretty much every demographic, gamer or not. Hell, even Metroid Prime 3 made a decent case for this spot. Yet our emerald-clad hero steals it again — this time in a much darker and grittier affair, with Link’s newfound ability to transform into a wolf, excellently implemented Wii control mechanics, and a more mature story. Many have placed Twilight Princess above the likes of Windwaker and Ocarina of Time as their number one Zelda game. Quite frankly, we find it hard it argue on that front. If you somehow missed out on this one, go dig out your Wii and give Twilight Princess a go. Also, if you see your guitar hero accessory, show it some love too. It feels lonely.
PlayStation — Rayman
Just pushing the initial Wipeout release out of the the top spot is our lovable, limbless hero. Rayman was brilliant in the simplicity of its premise. Save all the cute little critters and stop the bad guy. Easy, right? Well this title offered a vibrant and cartoon-esque presentation, but the difficulty wasn’t quite as inviting as the aesthetic. What begins as a fun romp through colorful landscapes, soon becomes a daunting task to survive the latter stages.
The current gen’s Cuphead bears similarities to Rayman‘s, which could be a real pain in some cases, but they also offered satisfying challenges. The musical score is also wonderfully wacky and lends itself beautifully to the games’ varied environments. This was, of course, the PlayStation’s first true side-scrolling platformer, and would go on to spawn numerous spin-offs and sequels, one of which was Rayman 2: Revolution, which is still considered a masterpiece of the platforming genre.
Game Boy Color — Pocket Bomberman
The GBC launch was again, one that would not define the success of the second most purchased portable gaming device to date. The four games that were released at launch didn’t test the system’s hardware in the slightest. These games ran like early NES titles and were uninspired entries as a whole. Game & Watch Gallery 2, Centipede, and Tetris DX were released along with our choice, Pocket Bomberman.
Players could play Tetris on their original Game Boys, GWG2 was quite a passive title, and Centipede already looked dated 18 years before its GBC release, so Bomberman is the obvious choice. It delivers a competent version of Bomberman on-the-go with visuals that are at least on par with previous titles. Gameplay is adapted for the system to a scrolling puzzle format but still stays true to its roots. The sound quality isn’t brilliant but does enough to appease long-time fans of the franchise. Overall, a fine title, but nothing special.
Nintendo DS — Metroid Prime Hunters
With a re-release of Mario 64 and a Pokémon title that flopped, the DS needed another big hitter in its launch line-up. WarioWare: Touched was a contender and served players that liked quick mini-games. It followed the original WarioWare‘s format and was perfect to play during little pockets of downtime. However, the top DS launch title was a first-person Metroid adventure. Metroid Prime Hunters offers a fantastic on-the-go FPS experience with tight controls and impressive, if slightly grainy, visuals.
The DS stylus is incorporated surprisingly well, and arguably offers the player more control than the face buttons. The single-player campaign is well-made and offers interesting lore throughout. The only minor issue was its linear nature compared to previous Metroid adventures. However, the game made up for it by including local and online multiplayer functionality with various game modes. These included variations of last man standing, king of the hill, capture the flag, and the unique Prime Hunter mode. Metroid Prime Hunters is still considered one of the top games for the system, so it was a blessing that it was available right off the bat.
PlayStation 2 — TimeSplitters
Then we have the one launch title to rule them all for the mighty PS2. The system had a number of excellent titles at launch, including the likes of Smuggler’s Run, SSX, Tekken Tag Tournament, and Dynasty Warriors 2. TimeSplitters is our pick of the bunch, though. It’s an FPS that came out in a time where the FPS genre was pushing for more narrative-based experiences. But developers Eidos decided to strip it back and focus on the basics. What they delivered was a great looking, arcade-heavy shooter with great multiplayer aspects in the form of TimeSplitters. The game offered varied game modes, weapon classes, and even delivered endless possibilities through a map editor.
Players were given as close to a sandbox FPS title as we would see on the system. For some, the lack of a conventional storyline or campaign can be an issue, but what it gives you in return is truly something to behold. This futuristic FPS classic was a must-have at launch and still is now.
That’s our list! Are there any launch titles you would see replaced? What kinds of launch titles do you want to see this generation? Are they even that important anymore? Have your say in the comments section below! Also, if you enjoyed reading this, be sure to check out some of our other content — like our thoughts about the future of E3!
And as always, thanks for reading!