sony playstation 1

The Top Ten Greatest Consoles of All Time According to the NER


Editor’s foreword: There are two separate rankings listed: The official ranking which is the ‘NER’ ranking, and the Personal Ranking. The entire list is mostly subjective, as quality of games and my experiences with said games are the biggest deciding factor in terms of ranking. However, the NER ranking takes many other things into consideration, and it is my objective ranking of the consoles. My personal ranking is simply just that, it rates which one of these amazing systems are my favorite by numerical order according to personal preference. Mid generation refreshes such as the Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro weren’t factored in, as they are both compromised by the base hardware of the original consoles. Enjoy!

#10 — GameCube (2001)

nintendo gamecube
The Nintendo GameCube

NER’s #10

Personal Ranking:#10

Sales: 21.75 Million Units

Specs:

GPU: 9.4 GigaFLOPS

Media Format

Game Disc

CPU

32-bit IBM PowerPC 750CXe Gekko @ 486MHz 

Memory

24MB of 1T-SRAM @ 324MHz as system RAM

Storage

Memory Card 16MB

GPU

ATI Flipper GPU@ 162 MHz with 3MB embedded 1T-SRAM

Audio

Dolby Pro Logic II (Analog Stereo)

Some Notable Games:

Rogue Squadron 2, Luigi’s Mansion, Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Resident Evil 4,Tales of Symphonia, Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Kart: Double Dash, Animal Crossing,Mario Party 4,5. Pokemon Colosseum, Resident Evil, Resident Evil:0.

Strengths: 

It was more powerful than the PS2. It had Nintendo’s usual strong first party lineup. Capcom supported the platform with a few RE remakes, and the amazing RE4.

Weaknesses:

 It was weaker than the Xbox. Nintendo sold Rare in 2002 and it was sorely missed by fans of their work on the N64. The Gamecube used its own mini disc format meaning no DVD playback ( and this was a big thing back then). The kiddie launch box design was a bit misleading as the platform featured some of the most amazing M rated games of the time. It lacked most of the Japanese software support that the PS2 had.

Why it earned its ranking:

Nintendo’s library alone will sell its consoles until the apocalypse comes for us. That said, the GameCube had quite a decent library of exclusive titles going for it. For starters Capcom’s Magnificent Remake of Resident Evil 1 was visually mind-blowing. Then you had the revolutionary Resident Evil 4 which came at tad late on the console’s lifecycle but none the less it was a spectacular visual tour de force that probably made some Xbox owners a tad jealous for just a bit.

RE4 looked so fantastic on the GC, that the later PS2 version looked lackluster by comparison

Nintendo kept some first party studios under its wing in Factor 5 and Retro. Factor 5 delivered big time with Rogue Squadron II at launch, giving the system’s otherwise un-stellar lineup a game that could visually match some of the most impressive Xbox launch offerings. Retro on the other hand, would deliver one of the GameCube’s seminal moments in the form of Metroid Prime.

Metroid Prime is generally regarded as one of the very best games of all time, and perhaps the best game available on Nintendo’s purple console. While Super Mario Sunshine didn’t receive the universal acclaim that Mario 64 did, it was a suitable Mario game, and the system had two brilliant Zelda entries. While the games didn’t achieve the same impact on the industry that its N64 forefathers had – they were just as excellent, and the GameCube had much stronger third party support than the previous Nintendo Console.

Some of my greatest gaming memories came from hours of playing RE4, Metroid Prime, and Twilight Princess. The GameCube had a lesser amount of highs than the PS2, but the few highs that it had went farther up than anything I ever experienced in Sony’s system save for Shadow of the Colossus.

#9 — Switch (2017)

nintendo switch
The Nintendo Switch

NER’s #9

Personal Ranking: #7

Sales: 54+Million Units

Specs:

GPU: 1.00 TeraFLOPS

Media Format

Game Card, Digital Distribution

CPU

Quad-core Cortex-A57 + quad-core Cortex-A53 @ 1.02GHz

Memory

4GB LPDDR4

Storage

32GB eMMC, Removable Storage Micro SD/HC/XC (up to 2TB)

GPU

256 Maxwell based CUDA GPU cores at 720MHz docked, 460MHz undocked

Audio

Linear PCM 2.0 (undocked) 5.1 (docked)

Some Notable Games:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Pokemon: Sword and Shield, Pokemon Let’s go Eve!, Let’s go Pikachu! Super Mario Party, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Astral Chain.

Strengths:

The most powerful handheld gaming device out there. It doubles as a home console. Nintendo’s first party lineup. Portability. Indie games heaven. Did I say that you could play some thing as large as The Witcher 3 on the go? I didn’t? Well with the Switch you can!

Weaknesses:

The least powerful home console of the current gen. Faulty docking stations in some devices, and a widespread issue with Joy Con drifting in its analog sticks ( it’s a real issue, it happened to my device) that Nintendo refuses to acknowledge as a flaw in the original design.While Nintendo will repair your Joy Cons free of charge, it is disappointing that the underlying issue for the device malfunctioning hasn’t been addressed. Short battery life in early models.

Why it earned its ranking:

I will give you two reasons: TLoZ: Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey. The games were released within months of each other and both scored ridiculously high with critics everywhere. Many which quickly proclaimed each game to be the greatest video game of all time at the time of their respective releases. No console that I can think off has held such a distinction ( Having two top 5/10 all time great games) save for the N64 and the SNES.

zelda breath of the wild screenshot of link
BotW is one of the largest, and greatest games ever made.

It doesn’t end there for the Switch, the system is the home of many last generation remasters and current generation ports like Doom, and The Witcher 3. While those games take a visual hit due to the lower hardware specifications of Nintendo’s hybrid console, the fact that you can take them on the go while the games still look good in the process, is a near miraculous feat.

Because of its portability, the Switch has become the go to console for many fans of Free to Play Multiplayer Online games such as Fortnite, and Asphalt Legends 9. Breath of the Wild alone is worth the purchase of Nintendo’s popular hybrid. The rest of the stellar lineup will keep your Switch powered up for a long, long time!

#8 — Playstation 4 (2013)

Sony PlayStation 4
The PlayStation 4

NER’s #8

Personal Ranking:#6

Sales: 108+Million Units

Specs:

GPU: 1.84 TeraFLOPS

Media Format

Blue Ray, DVD, Digital Distribution

CPU

Semi-custom 8-core AMD x86-64Jaguar 1.6 GHz CPU 

Memory

8GB GDDR5(unified – all models)
256MB DDR3
RAM (for background tasks on PS4 and PS4 Slim)

Storage

HDD, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB (user upgradeable, supports SSD)

GPU

Custom AMD GCN Radeon integrated into APU; clocked at 800MHz

Audio

 HDMI and optical S/PDIF

Some Notable Games:

The Last of Us Remastered, Uncharted 4,Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider Man, God of War, Gran Turismo Sport, Detroit: Become Human,Killzone Shadow Fall, Bloodborne, Nioh Final Fantasy VIIR, Journey, Flower, Persona 5, Days Gone, Shadow of the Colossus, Ratchet and Clank.

Strengths:

It’s exclusive lineup of games is only matched by Nintendo’s in terms of critical appeal. Excellent Hardware capable of hitting 1080p in visually intense games. and the console itself was designed just to play games. While being a bit more powerful than the Xbox One at launch, it also held a $100 dollar price advantage over Microsoft’s system. HDR ready since launch (Xbox One got the HDR functionality on the S model years later)

Weaknesses:

The controllers are more frail than ever.

Why it Earned its Ranking:

Sony’s domination in the current generation is similar to its glory days during the PS1, and PS2 era. Massive success such as the one that the PS4 has achieved is not only attained by the console hitting all the right notes, but by its competition (Nintendo and Microsoft) making some blunders.

Microsoft literally left the door open for Sony to step in, and take over when under Don Mattrick the new console made a shift from a Video Gaming centered approach into a multimedia one. Truth be told, I use my PS4 mostly for streaming in terms of usage hours, so Xbox was onto something back in 2013. That said, stating that the console needed a consistent internet connection, and that games would only work on a single system (thus losing all resale and lending value) is not something gamers wanted to hear. Packing the system with Kinect, while forward thinking, only served to drive the price up. Sony’s turn at the 2013 E3 stage came right after Microsoft, and the company played all of its cards right.

It Plays Games

Right out of the gate, Sony stressed that the PS4 didn’t need an internet connection to play games, and that games that the costumer bought wouldn’t be confined to their own console. More importantly their console was $100 dollars cheaper than Microsoft’s and it had more horsepower. Microsoft ended up firing Mattrick, and doing a complete reversal on their policies, but by then the damage had been done.

The biggest marketing point in Sony’s favor was the PS4’s ability to hit 1080p consistently during an era where 1080p TVs had finally achieved mass market penetration, and Xbox One’s inability to do so (hit 1080p).

Basically, if you bought an Xbox One at launch, you were paying $100 more than you would for the PS4 in order to play games at 900p. It hurt the Xbox One from the get go, but things would get worse.

It’s All About the Games

For reasons that are still puzzling to this day, Microsoft had banked its success on the new Kinect device (which truth be told was pretty cool) and established console selling franchises such as Halo and Gears of War. Kinect was a massive failure (eventually being cut off from the system) and Halo never reached the heights of critical reception under 343 Studios that it had garnered under Bungie.

By contrast, Sony’s first party studios remained in control of their original creations, thus we saw refinements done to the formula of the Uncharted series, and even a retooling of the God of War formula that would make the 4thmain entry in the series a Game of the Year contender in 2018.

While Microsoft completely ignored their one, and only franchise with open world potential in Fable, Sony heavily invested in studios developing open world games for the PS4. Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider Man , and Days Gone were born of such efforts.

While Sony really stopped pushing for a Halo killer during the gen, and thus left the PS4 without a great FPS franchise of its own, it redoubled its efforts on the one genre that was trending upwards since the late PS3/360 games (GTA V is the highest selling game of all time behind Minecraft) as show by an amount of big sellers being ‘open world’ in the current generation.

The Xbox One lacked in other areas too, cinematic action adventures such as Uncharted 4, God of War (and eventually Last of Us 2) belonged to the PS4.

The PS4 would lose its lead as the most powerful console of the generation with the release of the Xbox One X, but by that point it was too late for Microsoft to mount a comeback. With a fantastic library of critically acclaimed exclusives the PS4 is the current ‘best’ console in which to enjoy a large variety of genres. I bought the PS4 mostly because I wanted to play the Last of Us 2. In the meantime I have enjoyed one of the greatest games of all time in God of War, and have new favorite franchise in Horizon Zero Dawn.

horizon zero dawn screenshot
Horizon Zero Dawn is perhaps the best new franchise of the current generation.

In addition, the PS4 is a decent set up box for your TV with the usual popular apps such as Netflix, Youtube, HBO go, ESPN+ and more available on the platform. In the end the PS4 does exactly what the Xbox One does, but with a better library of exclusive games. Microsoft’s early policies, though prophetic (Most consoles are always Online these days, and digital distribution has grown immensely) served to aid the PS4 to be crowned king in the current sales war.

#7 — Dreamcast (1999)

sega dreamcast
The Dreamcast

NER’s #7

Personal Ranking: #8

Sales: 9.13 Million Units

Specs:

GPU: 1.4 GigaFLOPS

Media Format

CD, 1GB GD-ROM, Mini-CD

CPU

Hitachi SH-4 32-bit RISC @ 200MHz 

Memory

16MB RAM, 8MB video RAM, 2MB audio RAM

Storage

Removable Storage 128KB VMU

GPU

100MHz PowerVR2, integrated with the system’s ASIC

Audio

67MHz Yamaha AICA with 32-bit ARM7 RISC CPU core, 64 channels

Some Notable Games:

Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2, Skies of Arcadia, Grandia 2, Phantasy Star Online, Crazy Taxy, Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Virtua Fighter 3. 2k Sports Games.

Strengths:

Got a year head start over the PS2. The hardware was a clear leap in power over the previous generation of consoles. Had some excellent exclusives and even for a time, had a better library of games than what the PS2 had to offer. It was the first console with a built in modem, and it allowed for seamless web surfing and online multiplayer gaming. The VMU memory cards were a clever idea, and we would not see the likes of it until Nintendo’s Wii U shipped with a controller that featured a screen on it 13 years later.

Weaknesses:

As great as the games looked, Sony’s PS2 was much more powerful, and the company let the world know it in their marketing campaigns. Sega didn’t have the deep pockets to secure a long life cycle for the console, especially considering the lower than projected installed base of users at the time of the PS2’s launch. EA pulled its support from the console when Sega of Japan ditched 3Dfx’s GPU in favor of PowerVR. There were only two great RPGs on the console, and Square remaining with Sony, during a time where JRPGs still drove sales, hurt the Dreamcast badly.

Hey Now, Hey Now, The Dream is Over:

Sega’s final console aptly named the Dreamcast was Sega’s last shot at surviving the rough console wars, and just like an impossible dream, it wasn’t meant to be.

The ironic thing here is that when it is all said and done, the Dreamcast was a fantastic machine. In terms of design, and strategic choices, Sega couldn’t have done it better. But sometimes your past catches up to you, and no matter how much good you do to atone for past sins, those transgressions have a way of sticking with you until ‘death do us part’. This is exactly what happened to the Dreamcast. Costumers waited for the PS2, that is true. But the costumers who missed on a launch PS2 because of shortages completely ignored the DC in the 2000 holiday season. There was no such thing as an ‘impulse buy’ prayer for Sega’s console because in large part gamers just didn’t trust the company with their money.

resident evil code veronica screenshot
For a time, RE: Code Veronica was one of the most visually impressive games on the market

It didn’t matter that the Dreamcast had the greatest fighting game ever made in Soul Calibur, or that Sonic’s popular mascot had made a decent jump into the 3rddimension with Sonic Adventure. No one cared that NFL 2K was vastly superior to Madden, or that NBA2k completely obliterated NBA Live in quality. No one batted an eye at the fact that the Dreamcast offered fun online multiplayer for racing games, first person shooters, MMORPGs, and other games years before any other system would. No one got excited when Sega offered to send checks in the mail for $200, if people subscribed to them as their internet provider (effectively giving you a DC for free). Last but not least, very few individuals shed a tear when Sega announced in January 2001 that the dream was over. Indifference killed whatever chance the Dreamcast might have had.

That said, for the very few of us who did own the system, we can smile at the memories of having the most powerful console on the market for a time. We can marvel as we remember how amazingly real Resident Evil Code Veronica looked when it first was released on the DC. We can recount the wonderful travels through the sky, and through magical lands in games like Skies of Arcadia and Grandia 2. We can chuckle a bit (or maybe regret) at the remembrance of pedestrian High School grades because we were too addicted to the console’s online multiplayer games. Oh yes Dreamcast! You were just a fleeting dream, but what a dream it was.

#6 — XBOX 360 (2005)

microsoft xbox 360
The Xbox 360

NER’s #6

Personal Ranking: #5

Sales: 84 Million Units

Specs:

GPU: 240 GigaFLOPS

Media Format

CD, DVD, Digital Distribution

CPU

3.2 GHz Power PC Tri-Core Xenon 

Memory

512 MB of unified GDDR3 RAM clocked at 700 MHz

10MB of eDRAM cache on Xenos GPU

Storage

Detachable Hard Drives
20, 60, 120 or 250GB (older models); 250, 320, or 500 GB (Xbox 360 S models)

GPU

500MHz ATI/AMD Xenos

Audio

Dolby Digital 5.1

Some Notable Games:

Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3, Gears of War: Judgement. Halo 3, Halo: Reach, Halo 4. Fable II, Fable III. Bio Schock, Forza MotorSport 2, 3, Horizon, Horizon 2. Alan Wake.

Strengths:

Brilliant Developer Friendly Architecture. Had a year head start over the PS3 at a lower price point. Incredible line of first party, and exclusively timed third party titles during the first half (2005-09) of a long generation. Xbox Live, and its features.

Weaknesses:

The early models of the console had an extremely high failure rate ( The infamous Red Ring of Death), perhaps as high as 90%.  Everyone that I know that owned one, myself included, suffered from the same tragic fate. Just as the Xbox had the best exclusive titles early on, the PS3 caught up during a second half push in the generation while strangely the quality of first party franchises like Gears and Halo fell off (perhaps due the original developers leaving the franchises).

Why it Earned its Ranking:

The 360 had a year head start over the PS3, and even though Sony had a year to get a substantial advantage – hardware wise – over Microsoft’s console, it really didn’t deliver a more powerful system. On paper Sony touted the power of the Cell, and its 8 Cores. In actual performance it wasn’t until years later that Naughty Dog, and some other first party developer teams actually managed to make use of the machine to its full potential.

Nearly every Multiplatform title ran better on the Xbox 360, sometimes even to the extent of a no contest. Take Madden for example. Madden’s 2008 version ran at 30fps on the PS3, while the Xbox 360 delivered a buttery 60fps performance. It was telling. But perhaps even more egregious was the PS3’s weak launch lineup, partly carried by Insomaniac’s ‘Resistance’ which had to go head to head with the 360’s first defining game: Gears of War.

gears of war screenshot
14 years later…and the original Gears of War still looks great. A revelation during its time, and an early reason to own a 360.

The graphical difference – and truth be told; over all quality – heavily leaned towards Microsoft’s exclusive title. I remember Gears being the one game where I sat awe struck in front of my tv saying “My God, this is truly Next Gen.” Resistance looked pedestrian by comparison. The Xbox 360 would go on to enjoy a healthy life cycle full of great games, and it kept the Halo torch shining bright all the way to Halo: Reach which would end up being Bungie’s last masterful title to this day.

I can’t say enough good things about Xbox Live, and how it was the best place to play online games. Microsoft’s internet model would later be emulated by Sony with their own PSN/PS Plus/Now programs. Microsoft was a software company and the Xbox 360’s interface was way ahead of its time.

The console would have rated higher had Bungie stayed at the helm of the Halo series. Still, the 360 delivered some of the greatest moments in my life as a gamer. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was a seminal moment. While the popular open world game wasn’t an exclusive title, it shined as one. The PS3 version of it was a buggy mess than ran at terrible frame rates. The 360 version was a much less buggier mess that ran much more smoothly on the system.

In short, the 360 was the way to go for multi-platform titles, and this was true early in the generation and even as late as 2012. The 360 also established a solid base of First Person Shooting fans, and in short, if you were a First Person Shooter nut; the 360 was the way to go. The PS3 also had the Call of Duty games, but only one console was home to the Master Chief.

In other genres, Forza emerged as the premier racing title in the industry, finally dethroning Gran Turismo from its high perch. While I don’t recall the 360 as fondly as I do the original Xbox, I certainly had a better time in it than I did on my PS3, and Wii.

The PS3 ended up winning the sales battle at the end of the generation, but the Xbox 360 established the ‘Xbox’ brand firmly in the mainstream’s consciousness, thus earning its rightful spot on this top ten list.

#5 — Super NES (1991)

nintendo super nintendo entertainment system SNES
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System

NER’s #5

Personal Ranking: #9

Sales: 49.10 Million Units

Specs:

Media Format

Cartridge

CPU

Ricoh 5A22 @ 3.58 MHz 

Memory

128KB of general-purpose RAM 

Storage

Internal Battery saves in some cartridges

GPU

Super PPU

Audio

8 channels, stereo

Some Notable Games:

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Star Fox, Super Mario Kart, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV, Super Metroid, F-Zero, Super Mario RPG, Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, Donkey Kong Country, Super Castlevania IV, Secret of Mana, Yoshi’s Island, Earthbound.

Strengths:

While it had a less powerful CPU than its main rival the Sega Genesis (Mega-Drive), it had better RAM, a larger color palette, and Nintendo’s FX chip addition to some cartridges  which allowed for the existence of games not possible natively on the Sega Genesis. Large Library of games featuring some of the greatest games of all time. It had a relatively long and healthy life span in comparison to the Genesis’s troubled one.

Weaknesses:

It is hard to pin point anything that the SNES did wrong at the time. Nintendo’s child oriented marketing, and image kept Mortal Kombat from having blood and gore. The system had a large variety of titles in every genre, so it is really tough to find a weakness.

Why it Earned its Ranking:

I will name five titles: Super Metroid, TloZ: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI. A combination of those five titles (usually Metroid and Trigger) will usually make most of the top 5 all time great games lists that you will see on the web (or game magazines). The Genesis had great games with Sonic 2, Sonic CD and Phantasy Star IV coming to mind, but nothing that could stand up to the former five titles in terms of critical reception, and all time rankings.

Depending on whom you ask, Chrono Trigger might be described as the greatest JRPG ever

Nintendo has always been a better game maker than Sega. This was true when both companies were faced with translating their titles to 3-D, it is true today, and it was true during the peak of the Nintendo vs Sega war that took place during the 16-bit era. Let’s be honest, for all of the great things that the Sega Dreamcast did, Skies of Arcadia might be one of the few Sega games worth talking about from that generation. The Genesis was a bit different as Sega did have a lot of Arcade Translations, and Sonic 2. The harsh reality of the situation was that the SNES had a wider variety of games in most genres that Sega excelled at, which were just plain better.

Sega had a tumultuous generation after its initial success, as they added a plethora of ‘add-on’ devices to the Genesis that were pricey, and poorly supported. Nintendo on the other hand, just had the SNES, and if you owned one, that is all that you needed to care about, as the great games kept arriving at shelves all the way up to 1995-96.

#4 — Nintendo 64 (1996)

nintendo 64
The Nintendo 64

NER’s #4

Personal Ranking: #1

Sales: 32.93 Million Units

Specs:

GPU power: 100+ MOPS

Media Format

Cartridge

CPU

64-bit NEC VR4300 @ 93.75 MHz 

Memory

4 MB Rambus RDRAM (8 MB with Expansion Pak)

Storage

Internal battery saves in some cartridges, 32 KB Controller Pak

GPU

SGI RCP @ 62.5 MHz

Audio

16-bit, 48 or 44.1 kHz stereo

Some Notable Games:

Super Mario 64, Golden Eye 007, Banjo Koozie, Banjo Tooie, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fury,Mario Kart 64, Donkey Kong 64, Wave Race 64, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Star Wars Episode I: Pod Racer, Mario Party 1,2,3. Diddy Kong Racing, Yoshi’s Story, Turok 1,2,3. 1080 Snowboarding, WCW/NWO Revenge, Wrestlemania 2000, WWF No Mercy, Jet Force Gemini, Kobe Bryant NBA Courtside, Star Fox 64, Excite Bike 64.

Strengths:

The most powerful console of its generation, incredible lineup (perhaps the best ever) of first, and 2nd party games. The only console of its era that could render large 3-D worlds, and 4 player split screen modes in graphically demanding games. Introduced revolutionary concepts such as controller rumble, and the first really great 3-D gaming experience in Super Mario 64.

Weaknesses:

Cartridge format, and its lack of storage capacity handicapped the system. These facts didn’t favor some popular genres of the era (such as JRPGs). Cartridges were pricey for both costumers, and (more importantly) developers who were forced to leave for Sony’s greener  pastures. Sporadic lineup of titles with only about 300 hundred games in its library over its lifetime, a paltry number when compared to Playstation’s 1,100 games and even Saturn’s 600 titles.

Why it earned its ranking:

Quite simply, there hasn’t been a gap, as big as the gap in power between the N64, and the systems that came before it; including the PS1, and Saturn. Super Mario 64 in 1996 was a revelation. I cannot stress the former sentence enough. Mario 64 was worlds ahead of anything previously seen on any console, or PC at the time.

The size of its 3-D worlds were beyond anything thought possible, and it wasn’t just the worlds that impressed. What was more impressive is that nintendo solved every problem concerning the movement of characters, and objects inside a 3-D space – with perfection – on its first try.

Mario 64 was magical, and no other launch game (not even the mighty Halo) has come close to having the same impact that the game had in 1996.

Sometimes People Just Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Whether by overconfidence, greed or just plain old fashioned stubbornness Nintendo did just that; Shoot their own system down before a single N64 unit had been sold.

In one of the most dumbfounding decisions ever made by a hardware company in the industry – Nintendo decided to go with cartridges as the choice of media format for their system, even though the rest of the world had moved onto the superior, and more economic CD format.

That fateful decision, would cause Nintendo to hand over the keys of the generation to Sony – while simultaneously handicapping the N64 – effectively ending Nintendo’s reign of dominance in the home console business.

Nintendo luminaries such as Genius Shigeru Miyamoto, defended the choice of cartridge as a format with somewhat questionable scripted responses. There reality of the situation is that Miyamoto was just being a loyal company man, and Nintendo’s reasoning for going with the inferior yet more costly format wasn’t a matter of better load times/speed, but rather, a matter of corporate greed.

If a developer wanted to make 100,000 copies of their Nintendo 64 game, said developer had to pay Nintendo a $1,000,000 deposit for the cartridges to be manufactured. Cartridges costed $10 (there are claims of the cost being as high as $30) dollars a pop to make. By contrast CDs costed $1 each.

Clearly, developing a game for the PS1 was a less costly endeavor, and therefore less risky. Developers left Nintendo’s pastures for Sony’s greener ones. This led to many games being made for the PS1 – and conversely – said library of games was much more affordable for the costumers ( I remember some launch Nintendo 64 games selling for as high as $79.99).

Of course, there is some truth to cartridges being a superior medium for gaming as they are basically solid state memory. The problem is that in the 90s its memory was very expensive, and it wasn’t until the Nintendo Switch that a home console finally got cartridges that could match disc based storage at comparable prices for the consumer.

Nintendo had a solution planned for the storage issue though. It had the solution since 1995! Nintendo’s engineers weren’t ignorant, and they knew the new console would struggle with its storage constraints, and thus the ill fated 64DD was born.

The Lessons Not Learned From Sega

nintendo 64DD
1999’s (Japan only) 64DD

If going Cartridge for the N64 was (at least commercially) Nintendo’s biggest blunder, the absolute failure of the 64DD was its biggest embarrassment. This is a device that was announced, and perhaps existed since 1995 (The N64 came with a bottom port for the device since launch). Miyamoto ranted for hours on interviews about how Zelda (which ended up being the systems greatest critical achievement) would make use of the 64DD in ingenious ways that only he -Miyamoto himself – could make possible.

In layman’s terms, the 64DD was at least conceptually a very integral part of the N64. Because the add on device never made it to America (or Europe), many of you reading this feature won’t even recall its existence, but most times that Nintendo was questioned about why they went with Cartridge by the media, their answer would always involve the 64DD in some way.

The entire thing is an odd chapter in the company’s history – mainly because Sega had already shown that expensive peripherals were likely to fail more often than not. Other issues such as the 64DD’s media storage capacity of a paltry 64MB still held the N64 at crucial disadvantage as Sony’s CDs could hold nearly 700MB of data. Obviously, the 64DD could do other things that no other peripheral could at the time. Its memory was rewritable, and it had a real clock that would keep running even with the system powered off (Miyamoto wanted a pet breeding game to use this feature) but in the grand scheme of things it seemed like overkill.

Worst of all, the machine kept getting delayed, forcing Miyamoto to question whether the device should have just been packed in with the N64 console at launch (duh!). It seems to me that the 64DD’s launch was largely dependent on Nintendo 64’s performance on the market (sales), performance which was nearly abysmal in comparison to the Playstation’s.

And so, the device would see a limited release in Japan in the late year of 1999. The Sega Dreamcast which pretty much rendered the 64DD useless had been around for a year by that point. It was a failure. One that Nintendo would quickly sweep under the rug.

And So We Were Left With Quality Over Quantity

Indeed! Quickly Google “Metacritic’s greatest games of all time”, and you will see within its top twenty that there are two N64 games, including the greatest critically rated game of all time ‘The Legend of Zelda; Ocarina of Time’. Its 99 rating has withstood the test of time (no pun intended) for nearly 22 years.

On the other hand only one PS1 game makes that cut: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2…yeah, a product of its time. The point being that even if you scroll further down said list, the section is flooded with N64 titles. The point here is that Ocarina of Time is partially the reason why the system ranked at #4 in the official’s NER ranking, and forever at #1 in my heart!

The biggest weakness in the N64’s library, is quite simply, the long draughts in between great games appearing on the system . But how great were those few games indeed! Mario 64 by itself, set the N64 for a record launch (500,000 units sold in a day) at the time. Its momentum crashed shortly after that, mainly because of the draught of titles, and the cost of new cartridge games.

The Greatest Leap Ever Made In Video Games Before or Since

mario 64 screenshot
The game that first made 3-D right

2000’s kids will never understand – or even comprehend – how mesmerizing, mind-blowing, earth-shattering, dimension bending, and space/time distorting Super Mario 64 was in 1996. The previous sentence might sound like hyperbole, but if I could keep praising Mario 64 forever with no restraints; I would.

Before Mario 64 the gaming world had been confined to 2-D greatness (NES, SNES, GEN), and to pedestrian attempts at pixelated 3-D games on the Playstation 1.

Super Mario 64 – for a then 10 year old me – was like a door to another world. There seemed to be no limits as to what you could do in its world. I remember screaming for my mom to rush into the living room every time the Toys R’s Us commercial with Mario 64 came on TV. I can honestly say that no game before – or since – has excited me as much.

The jump between 2-D to 3-D that Mario 64 so gracefully managed to pull off, will never be replicated again until someone does Virtual Reality the right way, and we might be decades away from that particular event happening. The game garnered universal praise by critics, and remained the platforming standard bearer until Super Mario Galaxy arrived on the Wii more than a decade later. It has to be stressed that Mario 64 didn’t just set a standard on the N64 but in the industry as a whole. Playstation 1 and Saturn games got better as a result of developers being influenced by the N64 launch title.

Mario 64 did not only show the N64’s leap in power over the PS, but it also justified the N64 controller and the use of its joystick, as it became clear that this was the way 3-D games should, and would be controlled. The game ushered a golden era for the 3-D platformer with most of the outstanding ones also being exclusive N64 titles.

The Second Defining Moment

golden eye screenshot
Golden Eye paved the way for console first person shooters

Golden Eye is legendary, and it is so for a variety of things that it accomplished. First, it showed that consoles (or at least the N64) could run a FPS that could rival the ones on PC (some would say that Turok 64 did this first). Second, it proved that there was a huge market for it, and third, it became the holy grail of multiplayer gaming with its revolutionary (at time) 4 player split screen mode.

Golden Eye was perhaps, at the time of its release in August 1997, the most realistic looking game on home consoles. It was yet another title that just wasn’t possible on the PS1, and Saturn due to their hardware limitations. Due to the violent nature of the game, and its unparalleled realism (shooting enemies on different body parts produced different realistic animations) it also helped the N64 nab some teenage, and adult costumers looking for the best first person shooting experience on the market.

Widely praised as one of the best games of all time – GE a lot like Mario 64 before it – won most Game of the year awards for 1997. This is important because even if the N64 was consistently outsold by the PS1 at that point in time, for two years in a row, the system perhaps featured the best game for each of those years since its launch (1996,1997). The PS1 had a greater variety and selection of games, but the N64 had the absolute best games of the era, even if you could count them in one hand.

Rare the game’s developer would go on to become just as important as Nintendo’s EAD itself in supplying great games for the console. Banjo Kazooie, and its sequel received near universal acclaim as some of the greatest platformers ever made. Eventually Conker’s Bad Fur Day would crown it self as the greatest looking game that the system ever produced.

Apart from Golden Eye, Rare closely stuck to Nintendo conventions in developing Banjo and Donkey Kong 64 as larger, better looking alternatives to Mario 64. The same was true for Diddy Kong Racing as a more colorful and fun alternative to Mario Kart 64. Jet Force Gemini, and Blast Corps while not as well received as the others, were also excellent games in their own right.

conker screenshot
Conker was the most visually advanced title of its generation

The Third Defining Moment

There is no other console on this list that had as many defining moments. The reason for this might be that Nintendo is Nintendo, and that the N64’s hardware allowed for developers to pretty much set the standards on how certain genres were to be made in three dimensions. The next standard bearer on the list simply needs no introduction, but I will try my best.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released in November 1998, and it did something that hadn’t been done since Mario 64; translate a popular 2-D genre into the 3rddimension and at the same time perfect said genre on its first try.

ocarina of time screenshot
This is as large as game worlds got in the 90s

Ocarina did more than just reinvent a genre in an added dimension; it created one in the process. Never before had there been such a beautifully rendered world in glorious 3-D, with a realistic day, and night cycle, weather system, gorgeous water bodies, unlimited freedom of exploration, and incredible if near flawless level design in its dungeons. Ocarina of Time is the highest rated game of all time, and it was well earned.

OoT represents the most jaw dropping experience of my nearly 31 years of gaming, and no other game has really matched it. Not the Witcher 3, not Breath of the Wild, and certainly not Red Dead Redemption 2. Ocarina of Time, perhaps more than any other game, represents another triumph for the N64 hardware over its competitors. It was such a groundbreaking game that every action adventure and open world game since, has taken something from it.

For the third time since its launch the N64 would have the game of the year on its console (1998) and this time to universal acclaim. So between Super Mario 64, Golden Eye and Ocarina of Time – the N64 had the best games available on the planet from 1996-98 – at least by most accounts. This is the primary reason why the N64 rates as high as it does. Despite the lack of variety of titles in some of the most important genres of its era: Fighting, Racing, JRPGs, etc. The fact that it housed the best games of the generation, including what most perceive to be the greatest game of all time, is enough to earn it a spot in the top five of this list.

After Ocarina of Time, Nintendo would release its RAM Pak. The RAM Pak provided a 4MB RAM addition to the fantastic 4MB that the system already had internally, bringing the machine up to 8MB of RAM and keeping some of its games from looking dated as the Dreamcast launched in 1999. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Donkey Kong 64 and Perfect Dark were some of the most notable games that used the peripheral.

The N64 would also mark the last time that Nintendo would have a functional power advantage in terms of hardware over every competing console in a given generation. It was also the last time that a console would have a hardware advantage over PC at the time of its release. Yes, the N64 was a beast, and we salute it.

#3 — The Playstation 2 (2000)

sony playstation 2
The PlayStation 2

NER’s #3

Personal Ranking: #3

Sales: 155 Million Units

Specs:

GPU power: 6.2 GigaFLOPS

Media Format

DVD, CD-ROM

CPU

MIPS R5900 Emotion Engine @ 294.912 MHz 

Memory

32MB of RDRAM(system RAM)
4MB of eDRAM(video RAM)

Storage

8MB Memory Card, 128KB PS1 Memory Card, 40GB Hard Drive (attachment)

GPU

150MHz Graphics Synthesizer

Audio

PCM 2ch 48KHz, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1

Some Notable Games:

Gran Turismo 3, 4. God of War 1,2. Final Fantasy X, XII. Metal Gear Solid 2, 3. Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City, San Andreas. Shadow of the Colossus, Star Ocean 3, Dragon Quest VIII, Tekken Tag, Tekken 4,5. Kingdom Hearts 1,2. Jak and Daxter, Jak 2, 3. Ratchet and Clank, Ace Combat 4, Medal of Honor: Frontline. Devil May Cry, Yakuza.

Strengths:

Out of the box DVD playback, no adapter required. Backwards compatibility with all of the PS1 library, and considerably more powerful than the Dreamcast. Large library of Japanese games, including the vast majority of JRPGs of that generation. Massive third party support.

Weaknesses:

Considerably less powerful than the GameCube, and even more considerably less powerful than the Xbox. Weak launch lineup. Durability issues with its DVD reading laser (some consoles would lose the ability to read DVDs over time).

Why it earned its ranking:

I don’t know that there has ever been a more hyped console prior to launching than the Playstation 2. Realize this: Sega’s Dreamcast had a much better established Library of games than the PS2 would have in 2 years on the market by the time the PS2 launched, and it made no difference. Costumers weren’t buying a Dreamcast unless the had money to spare, even with Sega literally giving the console away for free1.

Basically, people were holding onto their money awaiting the PS2’s release. Sony did a heck of a Job in marketing their system early. The Dreamcast had a great launch, but its momentum was killed when a few weeks afterwards Sony announced the PS2.

The PS2 represented a big leap in graphical power over the Dreamcast, and Sony wasted no time in stressing that point in its marketing campaign. During its reveal in September 1999, Sony showed a few demos. Most didn’t look necessarily better than games on the Dreamcast, but there were two exceptions; Tekken Tag Tournament, and a new Gran Turismo. Both of these titles clearly showed noticeable graphical improvements from anything seen on the Dreamcast to that point, and thus Sony drove the last nail on Sega’s coffin.

Such was the Playstation 2’s hype, and anointment as king before ever seeing a store shelf, that the system could have launched with a disastrous game lineup, and it still would have found an enormous amount of success.

And thus, on October 26, 2000, the Playstation 2 launched in North America accompanied by a disastrous game lineup, and it went on to dominate sales thereafter by becoming the highest selling console of all time.

Better Late Than Never

The PS2 had a real drought of great titles early on. It wasn’t until July 10th, 2001 – after many months filled with pedestrian titles – that the system got its first must own game in the form of Gran Turismo 3: A- Spec. Having played that title at release ( and  IT being the only truly great title on the system before 2001’s holiday season), I can testify to its greatness. The greatest racing game at that time, and the most visually impressive title I had ever seen up to that point. It justified a PS2 purchase, and it finally showed me a game that just wasn’t possible (level of visual fidelity) on the excellent Dreamcast.

gran turismo 3 screenshot
Back in mid 2001, GT3 was the standard bearer for video games graphics

The Playstation 2 would eventually get other generation defining games later that year, such as Final Fantasy X (which is perhaps the last great Final Fantasy), and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Both games received top notch scores, and sold millions of consoles at the time. Truly the PS2’s head start coupled with an impressive 2001 holiday season, made it impossible for the Xbox, and the Nintendo GameCube to have a shot at catching up sales wise.

The system provided through its life span a steady flow of games with important franchises like the Final Fantasy series remaining exclusively on the console for the remainder of the generation. While Capcom surprisingly moved its prized Resident Evil series to the GameCube for a time;  though the great Resident Evil 4 eventually found its way into the PS2 library through an inferior looking port of the GC version.

Just like in the previous generation, it made no difference for Sony to have the lesser horse (in terms of hardware) in the race. Developers kept pushing the PS2 hardware in order for it to remain competitive with its rivals. Naughty Dog made an even bigger name for itself with the Jak and Daxter titles. The talented team pushed the PS2 in ways that it could challenge any platforming game on the competing consoles. They weren’t alone. Team SCE Japan and Team Ico crafted what perhaps is not only the most impressive game ever made for the PS2, but also one of the real monumental moments of the generation in ‘Shadow of the Colossus’.

shadow of the colossus screenshot
Shadow of the Colossus was the PS2’s Ocarina of Time/Halo moment

Shadow of the Colossus provided a unique game, featuring the most gigantic enemies ever seen on a screen, and a beautiful open world to explore with no load times. While the game suffered in the frame-rate department, it wasn’t bothersome at the time, and truth be told, I think every console of that era would have had dips (even the mighty Xbox) with such a visually demanding game. It was a stunning miracle that the PS2 could run it.

The First Multimedia System

This point isn’t stressed enough, but perhaps the main reason that the PS2 had such a quick market penetration, was its ability to play DVD’s right out of the box in the year 2000. By the end of that year, only 6 percent of households owned a DVD player, but the prices were rapidly falling. Still, in November 2000 the cheapest models could run anywhere from $100-$200 making the PS2’s $299 price point a very attractive one.

Apart from PS fans eager to play next gen games on the console, parents everywhere bought the PS2 for their kids because in a single purchase, and for an affordable price they got themselves a Sony DVD player. As DVDs quickly replaced VHS as the main media format for film watching, the PS2 also became a main fixture inside American living rooms everywhere.

Backwards Compatibility

Perhaps this was the one feature that I valued the most in the system. I will confess that most of my play time on the PS2, was actually spent playing PS1 RPGs. The Backward compatibility featured  texture smoothing enhancements available for all PS1 titles. There was no better way to enjoy such a library of classics.

The Verdict

Apart from some early mishaps with Anti-aliasing (early games were jaggy), and a weak launch lineup, the PS2 produced some of the greatest games in Video Gaming history. The PS2 still holds the record for most home consoles sold, and the reason for it is – that the console did everything well – from playing your favorite movies, favorite PS1 games, to playing some of the most outstanding games of its generation. Just like its predecessor, the PS2 was the console of choice for JRPG fans, though the genre was beginning to lose its massive influence on the western market by 2005.

The one genre that did slip away from the PS2 (due to its lack of horsepower) was the first person shooter. The great First Person Shooters of the era found a home on the Xbox, and Sony’s first party attempt with Killzone fell flat on its face (too ambitious for the hardware). The demise of the JRPG, and the rise of the FPS would greatly impact the upcoming console war.

#2 — Playstation (1995)

sony playstation 1
The PlayStation 1

 

NER’s #2

Personal Ranking: #4

Sales: 102 Million Units

Specs:

GPU power: 66 MOPS (Million Operations Per Second)

Media Format

CD-ROM

CPU

R3000 33.8688 MHz 

Memory

2MB RAM, 1MB VRAM

Storage

Memory Card 

GPU

GPU and Geometry Transformation Engine (GTE)180,000 Polygons per second.

Sound

16-bit, 24 channel ADPCM

Some Notable Games:

Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX. Final Fantasy Tactics, Metal Gear Solid, Tekken 3, Crash Bandicoot trilogy, Spyro The Dragon, Xenogears, Ace Combat Series, Gran Turismo 2, Resident Evil,1,2,3. Dino Crisis, Tomb Raider 1,2,3. Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Silent Hill, Chrono Cross, Medal of Honor, Parasite Eve, Syphon Filter, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

Strengths:

Well built Machine for ease in development, Massive third party support, a strong line of exclusive titles, and the King of Japanese RPGs during the era where Japanese RPGs mattered (the genre sold millions of units and systems). The console also had a hefty lineup in widely considered ‘Cool’ genres at the time such as Fighting, Racing, and Survival Horror games. Doubled as a CD player.

Weaknesses:

Underpowered in 3-D rendering capabilities, specially when stacked against the Nintendo 64.

Why it earned its ranking:

Playstation made ‘Video Gaming’ amongst the masses a ‘Cool’ and ‘Hip” thing. Before the system’s rise to prominence, video games were largely considered a kids, and teens pastime. Consoles were, for the most part, considered expensive toys before the PS1 proved that video games could reach the adult demographic with a degree of success rivaling (and maybe surpassing) every other entertainment industry.

Perhaps just as importantly, the brand “Playstation” became synonymous with “Video Games” managing to take that distinction away from Nintendo. I remember that for most of the 90’s decade, my mom – and almost everybody else’s ‘mom’ – would say,

“ Do you want to buy a Nintendo game for your birthday?” As if every console in existence was a Nintendo console.

But, by the end of the 90’s my mom was singing a different tune, the word ‘Nintendo’ had been replaced with ‘Playstation’ in her vocabulary.

New comer Sony would go on to dominate the video gaming market for more than a decade (95-2006) before its reign would eventually face a suitable sales challenge. Sony’s path to success was paved in large part by Sega’s, and Nintendo’s miscues. However, the right product, at the right price point, and with the right library of games was needed to pull off the stunning sales (and Brand building) victory that Sony would eventually achieve. And The Playstation was that product.

A Birth in Betrayals

The PS1 has one of the most interesting backgrounds stories of any console. Primarily, because a few moves here and there by Nintendo and Sega (The market leaders prior to 1995), and perhaps, the Playstation brand as we know, and love would have never seen the light of day. An entire book could be written chronicling the events that led to the Playstation’s creation, but I will greatly condense the tale for the sake of this article.

Nintendo in the late 80’s made a business partnership with Sony. Their deal consisted mostly on the creation of  a CD-ROM physical attachment for their upcoming SNES system. The device was to be designed and developed by Sony itself.

Now, the contract in place wasn’t satisfactory to Nintendo, as said deal, gave Sony a great degree of control over games developed on the CD-ROM format for the SNES.

Anyone following Nintendo since the 80s will tell you that the company was a control freak with their properties and the media that would play on their systems. The company went as far as enforcing near tyrannical practices against third party publishers. Knowing this, Nintendo’s move to betray Sony, and to form a partnership with Phillips – shortly there after – shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but apparently it did surprise Sony.

When the neighborhood bully beats you up, you have a few options left at your disposal. First, you can go, and seek out his number one public enemy in an effort to team up with him so that you can finally topple your common foe. Second, you could go and train yourself to a point of notable fistic proficiency, and try your luck again against the bully. Finally, you can just go home, and lick your wounds leaving things as they are.

Well, Sony actually tried the first two choices in that particular order. First, they went to Sega, and Sega in a move that would haunt them forever decided that partnering up with Sony in order to make a standalone console was a ‘bad idea’ since Sony didn’t know what it was doing in the console business (or at least that was Sega’s line of thinking back then at their Tokyo offices), as it couldn’t make hardware or software. So finally, Sony after some internal discussions decided to make their own console in order to the kick the proverbial bully’s (Nintendo) rear end.

And Kick Rear End They Did

The Playstation wasn’t the most powerful system of its generation, in fact, it was even less powerful in some areas than the Sega Saturn on paper. It was, however, the most smartly designed console of its time. The Saturn’s architecture made it a complex machine to program for, and Nintendo’s decision to go Cartridge as the N64’s media format, nullified some of the massive hardware advantages that it held over the other systems.

In most cases, developers could build a better looking 3-D game on the PS1, than they could on the Saturn given the same amount of resources, and time. In some ways Sega had to eat its words about Sony ‘not knowing how to make hardware’ because Sony ended up making a developer friendly console, and created a developer friendly environment to go along with it.

Sony, being new to the industry, decided to loosen the restrictions that had been traditionally placed on third party developers in order to build a hefty library of titles. The rest is history as they say. Nintendo lost most third party support to Sony, which caused them to finish at a distant 2ndplace in the generation, and the Saturn ended up tanking sales wise which accelerated Sega’s inevitable demise.

The Defining Moment

There were plenty of great moments, but Playstation’s biggest strength was its steady supply of good, to very good titles (amongst the sea of mediocrity that also found its way into the system) on a monthly basis, as opposed to Nintendo’s once in a lifetime revolutionary games that seemly came around once a year. However, the PS1 did have some revolutionary moments in its lifespan, most notably; Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII.

final fantasy 7 screenshot
FFVII’s heavy use of pre-rendered backgrounds made it an impossibility to fit on an N64 cartridge

Due to the success of the Final Fantasy series, and games like Chrono Trigger in the mid nineties, the JRPG genre seemed to be on an upward trajectory towards becoming one of the premier genres in console gaming. The genre just need one final spark to ignite the explosion that would boom it into its golden age.

That spark was Final Fantasy VII, and the explosion was the opened floodgate of great JRPGs that populated the western market after its release. Most of these titles found  their way into the PS1, greatly boosting its sales, and making it the console of choice for RPG gamers of the era.

A Varied Library

Apart from great Japanese RPGs populating the system, the PS1 had a library that would please fans of every considerable gaming genre. The Tekken series rose to prominence as perhaps the most popular 3-D fighting game series at the time. Tekken 3 being the pinnacle of the franchise in terms of excellence. Then there was Gran Turismo, a revolutionary racing game simulation that pushed the console to its limits, and ended up being the highest selling title on the system.

tekken 3 screenshot
Tekken 3 was as good as arcade ports got in home consoles
soul reaver screenshot
Large 3-D areas (a staple of the N64) thought impossible on the PS1, were made possible in Soul Reaver. A testament to the PS1’s Hardware and Developer ingenuity.

My memories of the PS1, are mostly confined to Japanese RPGs as it was my favorite genre back in that generation, but games like Resident Evil 2, and Silent Hill also consumed much of my time. Basically, the PS1 was the console that I most played in between big N64 releases.

While the PS1 didn’t lend itself well to Multiplayer games, it was the go to console for Fighting and racing games. The developers eventually found ways to keep the PS1 visually competitive, even in genres in which the system struggled to keep up with the N64 due to technical limitations. The Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver being, perhaps, the most notable graphical achievement on the system.

The PS1 kickstarted Sony’s dominance of the home console market. An affordable library of great games ( I still have some PS1 RPGs left to play on my backlog), and a developer friendly environment helped the system become the best console of the 90’s, and perhaps the most influential one too.

#1 — Xbox (2001)

microsoft xbox
The Xbox

NER’s #1

Personal Ranking: #2

Sales: 24 Million Units

Specs:

GPU power: 20 Gigaflops

Media Format

DVD, CD, Digital Distribution

CPU

Custom 733 MHz Intel Pentium III “Coppermine-based” Processor

Memory

64MB of DDR SDRAM@ 200MHz 

Storage

8 or 10 GB internal hard drive (formatted to 8GB with allotted system reserve, and MS Dash), 8MB memory card 

GPU

Nvidia GeForce 3-based NV2A GPU @ 233 MHz  8 or 10 GB internal hard drive (formatted to 8GB with allotted system reserve, and MS Dash), 8MB memory card

Audio

Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital Live 5.1, and DTS Surround 

Some Notable Games:

Halo, Halo 2, Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden Black, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Knights of the Old Republic, Knights of the Old Republic 2, Steel Battalion, Forza MotorSport, Fable, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Jade Empire, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Tom Clancy’s: Splinter Cell, Dead or Alive 3, Dead or Alive: Xtreme Volleyball, Doom 3.

Strengths:

By far the most powerful console of its time, even surpassing Nintendo’s Wii (2006) by a hefty margin. Internal Hard Drive, True 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound while in gameplay, 4 controller ports, incredible line of first, and third party exclusives. Could run multi-platform games much better than the other competing systems. Durable controllers, its ‘S ‘ controller being one of the most comfortable game controllers ever made at that point. Ability to Rip Music of CDs for custom soundtracks during some games. Ability to play DVDs.

Weaknesses:

In order to unlock the system’s DVD features, a separate DVD kit needed to be purchased. The original controllers caused some controversy as they were too big, and their buttons were set too close to each other (Personally, I didn’t have an issue with this). Lack of Japanese RPGs during that particular genre’s twilight.

Why it earned its ranking:

In 2001, the original Xbox arrived at store shelves boasting nearly three times as much GPU power as the PS2, and twice that of Nintendo’s GameCube. All of these improvements came at an affordable price point of 299.99 at launch. Affordable for costumers of course, but Microsoft was losing $125 for every console sold. The Xbox was a moderate success as it ended up outselling both the Nintendo GameCube and the Sega Dreamcast, but fell massively short to the Playstation 2’s 155 million units sold.

That said, unit sales didn’t factor much into this listing; games, features and hardware power did. And so, there has never been a better console at launch than the original Xbox. The Xbox isn’t the only console in history that has overpowered its generational competitors. The Nintendo 64 also had demonstrated a massive leap in hardware power over the Playstation 1, and the Sega Saturn.

The difference between the two systems was that Nintendo made a massive blunder by going cartridge during that particular generation, putting the N64 in a handicap situation. Microsoft in turn, made no such mistakes. The Xbox was far and away the most powerful console in the market, and it could run any game better than its competition. But what made the Xbox such a tremendous console for those who owned it were the fantastic exclusive titles. Titles that the PS2, and the GC could only dream of running.

Halo: A Once in a Decade Experience

My most memorable, and defining experiences in gaming were Super Mario 64, Golden Eye, and Zelda: Ocarina of Time. During the respective releases of those titles there was nothing that came close to the experiences that those games could offer in any of the competing systems.

As we entered the new millennium, I sort of accepted that maybe, no other system would arrive that would break the same amount of ground that the Nintendo 64 had.

The magic of the 2-D to 3-D transition that happened in the 90’s would never repeat itself. And yet, a then unknown launch game by the title of Halo: Combat Evolved rocked my world.

halo 1 screenshot
Halo’s draw in distance, and scale were unmatched in 2001

Once I landed on the ‘ring’ like world for the first time as Master Chief. I was nearly as mesmerized by the beauty, and size of the game’s world as I had been 3 years prior by Ocarina of Time. No console game, much less a First Person Shooter had ever looked that good. The texturing on the grass, the water effects, the sky box, in short; everything just looked fantastic!

It was easy to see that the PS2 and the GC would never run something like Halo. Especially at that frame rate, and with its visual quality. Basically, coming off a year of PS2 gaming, I truly felt that the Xbox was a generational leap within the same generation from what the PS2 could offer in terms of visual fidelity.

The great Xbox experiences didn’t end with Halo though, 2004’s Ninja Gaiden was another stunning revelation. At the time, it was one of the greatest looking games ever made, and it ran at a silky smooth 60 frames per second.

ninja gaiden screenshot
Yes, 16 years later the game still looks good. (Ninja Gaiden) Image credit: Team Ninja

The PS2 had the equally well received God of War in its shores, but in terms of visuals, and frame-rate it was a no contest win for Ninja Gaiden. The game was initially intended as a PS2 exclusive until Tomonobu Itagaki (Producer/Director) got his hands on an Xbox development kit, and thus, realized the gulf in power between the two systems.

dead or alive 3 screenshot
Dead or Alive 3

Itagaki’s Philosophy of developing games for the most powerful hardware available at the time would also produce Dead or Alive 3; the launch Xbox fighting game. Which was for a lack of a better word “Mindblowing”, a stunning piece of tech (and arguably the best looking game in 2001) that showcased just how powerful the Xbox’s GPU was at the time.

Perhaps the most stunning achievement in terms of character rendering in real time (especially the female body), came in the form of Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Team Ninja’s homage to the Dead or Alive girls remains a great looking game even today.

dead or alive xtreme beach volleyball screenshot
The Xbox could render realistic models that other consoles couldn’t.

While I have spent much of this article space, praising Halo and Team Ninja’s titles on the system, the reality is that those games only scratched the surface of what the Xbox had to offer.

Welcome to WestWorld

A drought of Japanese RPGs might have costed the Xbox a healthy lifespan in Japan, but its hardware allowed for the Western RPG genre (previously mostly a PC staple), to arrive at home consoles with some regularity.

Games like Knights of the Old Republic (possibly the greatest Star Wars game ever made), its sequel, Jade Empire, and perhaps more importantly the Elders Scroll III: Morrowind. All made their way into Microsoft’s console.

elder scrolls morrowind screenshot
Morrowind

In 2002, Morrowind was the biggest, most expansive game ever made. It was a 3-D open world that expanded upon the ground breaking Ocarina of Time in terms of real state (landmass size) . A game with so many customization options, and so much to do, had never been seen on a home console before. It wasn’t until we got the Xbox’s successor: The Xbox 360, that we finally got another game to match its scope in the Elder Scroll’s IV: Oblivion. Morrowind serves as another example of a game that just wasn’t possible on the PS2, and the GC.

While Ocarina of Time rightfully deserves at least in my opinion to be called the father of the 3-D open worlds, it was Morrowind that really set the more modern foundations by which all other fantasy open worlds would be built upon.

Open world games would end up taking off near the end of the PS3-Xbox 360 era. The genre would become one of the prominent, if not the most prominent genre during our current generation of consoles. The reason for that genre’s flourish to mainstream prominence was due, in great part, to the horsepower of modern consoles, and yet 18 years ago the Xbox was running the first real “Massive” modern open world game in the form of Morrowind.

A MultiPlayer King

I could keep rambling on, and on, about everything the Xbox did right, but I want to stress this next point because it is an important one: The Xbox took the multiplayer crown from the N64 as its rightful successor. The N64 was the Machine that ruled the college dorm rooms for intense Golden Eye, 4 player split screen sessions in the late 90s. The arrival of Halo marked the end of Nintendo’s reign as the multiplayer power house. Quite simply, playing Halo on a big screen, with four buddies in the same room was a life changing experience.

While the N64 with its great THQ/Aki wrestling games, Mario Party and most importantly Golden Eye brought 4 player split screen gaming into the world. The Xbox simply perfected this way of playing games. I can’t count how many hours I spent on Halo, Halo 2, and Nightfire in 4 player split screen mode. I do know that the play time surpassed that of Golden Eye, and that was a mighty impressive feat indeed.

I can keep going about how the N64 started an era of First Person Shooters in home consoles, but the Xbox drove the genre into its golden age. I can rant about how Bump mapping made some games in the system look an entire generation ahead of anything else on the competing systems. I can make an essay about how Xbox Live set the tone for the future of online gaming, and digital distribution. In the end, all that matters is this fact: There has never been a more complete, and more powerful console in a particular generation than the Original Xbox was in its time.

Agree with the author on which console is best? Couldn’t disagree more and are frothing at the mouth to tell him? Leave a comment below and make sure to follow Never Ending Realm on Facebook and Twitter!

 

We go into detail on why each console was ranked where it was. What’s your favorite console? Did it make the cut? This list might surprise you.

Posted by Never Ending Realm on Wednesday, May 20, 2020