The Top Ten Launch Games Of All Time

by Dan Ryckert on Oct 27, 2010 at 01:50 PM

Everyone gets excited about a new console launch, even if most of the immediately-available titles don’t particularly strike their fancy. While each new console comes with a bunch of ho-hum titles and games that look like previous-gen tech with a new coat of paint, there have been some launch titles that knocked it out of the park. Some even managed to carry the console on their backs for the first few months. Here are our picks for the ten best launch titles of all time.

10. SSX (PS2)

We all know that the PlayStation 2 ended up being one of the most successful consoles of all time, but its first heavy hitters (Metal Gear Solid 2, Gran Turismo 3, Twisted Metal Black) weren’t available until 2001. Back in October of 2000, its launch lineup was filled with forgettable games like Kessen, Evergrace, and Fantavision. Tekken Tag and Timesplitters were both worth picking up, but the real star on day one was snowboarding newcomer SSX. Its exciting tricks, superb visuals, and rock-solid gameplay did an awesome job of tiding us over until PS2’s lineup fleshed itself out the next year.

9. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

In 2010, many gamers look down on the Wii for its mountain of shovelware and motion-based gimmickry. However, every gamer has a soft spot for Zelda, and Twilight Princess was exactly what the more hardcore crowd needed at the Wii’s launch. It may not have sold us on the Wii’s hardware (replacing a button with a swipe didn’t really draw us into the experience any more), but it was an extremely solid Zelda title. Its level of quality made us forget about the system’s faults for a while.

8. Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360)

Xbox established itself as a shooter-friendly brand ever since it launched with Halo. Considering Halo 3 wasn’t ready for launch, Microsoft needed another big name to satisfy all of the FPS fans. Thankfully, Infinity Ward stepped up in a big way with Call of Duty 2. It may have had a glitchy beginning in regards to online play, but things smoothed out and it became one of the most-played games on the system. Not only did it kick off the 360’s long history with FPS titles, but it also started a string of console Call of Duty titles that dominated sales charts throughout the entire generation.

7. Tetris (Game Boy)

Game Boy blew the doors off portable gaming and became one of the most-purchased systems of all time. It did so thanks to its understanding of what “portable gaming” should be - games that were complex enough to warrant many return visits, but still conducive to “pick up and play” gameplay. Tetris nailed the concept right away, and was the perfect cart to keep tucked into your portable’s game slot on a near-permanent basis. You could play it for an extended multiple-hour session, or a quick game on a bus ride. It’s still played regularly over 20 years later, a testament to its superior quality.

6. Super Mario Bros. (NES)

It may not have aged as gracefully as the rest of the core Mario games, but this first foray into the Mushroom Kingdom is iconic for a reason. We still see fire flowers, invincibility stars, Koopa Troopas, 1ups, and Bowser today, and they all made their debut in this NES classic. It’s one of those rare games that seemingly everyone has memories of, from the nerdiest guy at high school to the captain of the cheerleading squad. Your gamer status doesn’t even matter with this one...you almost certainly played (and loved) this one as a kid.

5. Wii Sports (Wii)

I mentioned in the Zelda entry that the Wii isn’t the console of choice for hardcore gamers, but even the most hardcore can’t deny the brilliance of this pack-in. It’s a title that offered easily understood yet undeniably fun games that highlighted the strengths of the console while hiding many of its weaknesses. People loved watching their Miis strut onto the tennis court and mimic the motions they made with the Wii remote, and the controls were extremely responsive. Boxing isn’t exactly a winner and Baseball was bare-boned, but Tennis, Golf, and Bowling kept living rooms, dorms rooms, and even nursing homes active late into the night. Well, maybe not nursing homes...they usually cash in around 8pm.

4. Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

Super Mario Bros. may have kicked off decades of the plumber’s constant presence on gaming consoles, but Super Mario World was the title that may as well have perfected 2D platforming. Gamers love to debate Super Mario Bros. 3 vs. Super Mario World, but there’s no denying which is the better-looking game. Colors popped off the screen, gigantic Bullet Bills wowed gamers, and Bowser’s flying clown-mobile showed off effects the NES simply wasn’t capable of. The introduction of Yoshi, the sweet cape, and the lengthy adventure (complete with awesome secret worlds) were just icing on the cake.

3. Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)

You won’t see many Dreamcast games on this list, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it had a weak launch. NFL2K was one of the best football games of its time, Sonic Adventure wowed us with its visuals, and Hydro Thunder, Power Stone, and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing featured some fun arcade thrills. However, the definite standout of its lineup was Soul Calibur, one of the first console ports of an arcade game that outshined its source material in virtually every category. Its graphics were jaw-dropping, the controls were smooth as silk, and the gameplay is still a blast 11 years later (check out the XBLA port for proof). It’s one of the best fighting games ever (the best in my book), and the fact that it was a launch title makes it all the more impressive.

2. Halo (Xbox)

If there was ever an example of a single game carrying a console through its early months, Halo is it. Microsoft had a couple big problems with the launch of their first gaming console – almost everyone hated their “cheeseburger with buttons” controller, and its launch lineup didn’t exactly set the gaming world on fire. However, no one gave a crap about disappointing debuts like NFL Fever 2002 or Mad Dash Racing, because everyone was way too busy playing Bungie’s iconic shooter. Without Halo, the Xbox may have been a complete failure. Think about how different the gaming landscape would be today if Master Chief and company hadn’t saved Microsoft’s console in its first year on the market.

1.Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

Halo saved a system, but Super Mario 64 introduced us to the new era of video gaming. We all have fond memories of playing 2D titles on 8- and 16-bit systems, but by the mid-'90s we were ready for the next logical steps in gaming’s evolution. While it wasn’t technically the first 3D game, it was the first to really show off what was possible when done right. Nintendo took the ball and ran with it, bringing Mario’s world into the third dimension in a remarkable way. It was his first step into 3D, and it was done with such quality that other platformers were playing catch-up for years. It belongs high on the list of all-time greatest games, and at the very top of the list of best launch games.