With Black Friday gone, and the Holiday season fast approaching (though there are no console launches this year), I have decided to list the best console launch titles of all time. After all, most gamers that want a new console (be it PS5 or XBSX) haven’t been able to nab one. Thus, the new console spirit remains potent, even a year after these consoles launched.
This list will not be based on Metacritic’s rating for each game. If that were the case, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be our number one title. Instead, this list will take into account the impact of these launch games on both, gaming industry and the console that they launched on. This list will also take into account critical reception, including my own.
That said, I will not rank the games numerically. I think a numerical list would not be appropriate, mainly, because I loved many of these games in different ways, and it would be tough to say that “game A is factually better than game B”.
However, if you need to know, my favorite launch game of all time is Super Mario 64 (by a wide margin), but the point of this list is to celebrate great titles that showcased new hardware and broke new ground in our entertainment medium.
Super Mario Bros. (1985) (Nintendo Entertainment System)
Sales numbers: 40.26 million units (Best Selling in Series) *The game was bundled with the NES System (which influenced sales numbers)
Super Mario Bros. is the first Super Mario game that I played. I played it 1989-1990 when I was 4-5 years old, so I wasn’t around at the time of its launch (I was, but I was less than year old then, not the right age to make a proper assessment of a video game, to say the least).
While most consider Super Mario Bros. as a world wide launch title for the NES, the truth is that the NES had its Japanese launch on July 15, 1983 ( I wasn’t even on my momma’s womb at that point). So, Super Mario Bros. was only a launch title for NES’ arrival on American shores in 1985 ( The NES would receive European and Australian launches from 1986-1987).
The NES brought back the home console market from the brink of doom (at least in North America where many had pronounced the Video Games industry as a “fad” or even “dead” after the infamous video game crash of 1983). Nintendo would go on to sell 61 million NES units globally, with over half of those units being sold in North America alone.
Why the mini history lesson? Because without Super Mario Bros. none of that success (outside of Japan) might have happened. Super Mario Bros. (many would say that it invented, while others would argue that it revolutionized) was the pinnacle the side-scrolling genre, at the time. In either case, Super Mario Bros. represented a perfectly designed, visually pleasing (and great sounding) side-scrolling game whose experience was ground breaking, and truly, more fun that anything that you could play at the arcades, at the time.
Super Mario Bros. and the NES showed that Console gaming could thrive in America when done right. Super Mario Bros. itself remains an incredible 2-D platformer experience, even today. Platforming and 2-D scrolling games would dominate gaming for an entire decade (until 32-64 bit machines and 3-D gaming’s arrival). An absurd amount of clones, and competitors arose from Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece in 2-D gaming design.
The best thing that I can say about Super Mario Bros. is that even 36 years years later, the only 2-D platforming games that are arguably better….are newer Super Mario 2-D games that followed its timeless blueprint.
Super Mario Bros. marked the start of a franchise known for design excellence and commercial success with over 550 million units sold (franchise wise) to date.
Super Mario World (1991) (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)
Sales Numbers: 20.60 (31.15 if SM All Stars is counted) Million Units. *Game was bundled with the SNES console
It was the early 1990s and Super Mario was synonymous with “Nintendo”. Copying its own strategy with the NES, Nintendo launched the SNES in American markets with Super Mario World ‘packed in’ with the console. While the SNES would be immensely successful, it sold less units than the NES thanks to stiff competition from the Sega Genesis (and its own mascot Sonic).
None of that takes away from the greatness of Super Mario World. SMW helped moved SNES units, and it was one of the key games in helping the SNES achieve ultimate sales victory over Sega’s Genesis. Super Mario World. was bigger, and more challenging than previous Mario games . SMW also introduced Yoshi to the masses, and the game was the perfect follow up to the great Super Mario Bros. 3.
In retrospective, Super Mario World didn’t exactly showcased the full potential of the SNES (hardware wise), the other launch game “F-Zero” did a much better job on that front showcasing the system’s “Mode 7”. This mode allowed developers to utilized a novel (at the time) texture mapping technique which presented the illusion of 3-D enviroments during normal gameplay.
That said, with a 94% Gamesranking score, SMW was the true star of the SNES launch, and it is generally considered one of the greatest games of all time.
Super Mario 64 (1996) (Nintendo 64)
Games Sales: 11.89 Million Units
Shigeru Miyamoto is the greatest video game creator/designer/producer (whatever you want to call him) in history. He just is. The man either created entire genres, or revolutionized them in ways that were unimaginable before he, and his team at Nintendo made the impossible… possible.
At no point in gaming history was there ever a greater example of something previously thought impossible made possible than Super Mario 64.
Yes, Miyamoto and Nintendo EAD did not make the first 3-D game ever. Instead, they made the first 3-D game that looked and played right…and the gap between them and other developers of the time was immense. Super Mario 64 alone sold millions of Nintendo 64 units, even when it was clear that there was nothing much to play beyond it (early on), and game cartridge costs for consumers were off that charts.
You had to be there (in 1996) to experience the full effect of witnessing a 3-D game done right for the first time. Super Mario 64 wrote the book on how to make proper 3-D games, and consequently, the game has aged well even when compared to newer games like Super Mario Odyssey.
Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) (Xbox)
Game Sales: 6.43 Million Units
In 2001, Microsoft broke into the console gaming industry with the most powerful hardware ever conceived for a home console, at the time. The industry would never be the same, as hardware these days is built on the same principles that Microsoft built its Xbox with.
But the game that built the Xbox brand is none other than Halo: Combat Evolved. At the time, Sony was already in full dominance of the market with its PlayStation 2 (which had a weak launch lineup as is customary for Sony), but Microsoft still had to contend with Nintendo which was coming from a distant second place in the previous generation, but from a solid foundation in massive first party software sales, and brand recognition.
Overall, the Xbox had a much better launch lineup than the one that the Nintendo Gamecube featured, but by far, the best game at that point in time for any console (PS2 included) was Halo: Combat Evolved.
Halo didn’t invent the first person shooting genre, or even the multiplayer component. But it made all of those things better (some would say perfect) on home consoles. Halo: Combat Evolved was also a tour de force of the Xbox Hardware providing a large fast paced First Person Shooter experience that would not have been possible on PS2 hardware (see the original Killzone).
The Halo franchise has grown into one of Microsoft’s most important assets (within the Xbox brand) with 81 million units sold to date.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild (2017) (Nintendo Switch)
Game Sales: 24.13 Million Units
For minute there, as an Ocarina of Time lover, I was worried that Breath of the Wild would over take its Metacritc crown four years ago. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the single most powerful reason for my purchase of a Nintendo Switch unit.
While Breath of the Wild is a cross-generation title (it is really a late generation Wii U game), it served as the spark and ‘killer app’ needed for the Nintendo Switch to lift up into its astronomic wave of success (95 million units sold and counting)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the biggest shake up in the The Legend of Zelda series’ formula since Ocarina of Time brought the franchise into the third dimension, if glorious form. A gigantic open world governed by a unique physics system, and the ability to go in any direction from from early stages of the quest made The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild an instant master class in open-world design.
The game also happens to look gorgeous on the Switch’s 720p screen which showcased the enormous potential of Nintendo’s handheld machine.
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