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Which Game Console Had The Best Launch Lineup?

by Matthew Kato on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:37 AM

The launch of a new video game console is a moment of hope and excitement. Sometimes the optimism is rewarded with wonderful new game experiences. Other times we suffer disappointment and buyer's remorse. Which outcome you experience is largely due to the games available for that system that first day you rushed to the store and put down your hard-earned money.* Not all console launch lineups are created equal, so we took a look at past console launches to analyze their performance.

Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Game Informer (#226). It's been amended to include the Wii U and Vita, but does not cover recent microconsoles like Ouya.

*Which games were actually available on day one was often unclear, and this article would not be possible without consulting Leonard Herman's Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames, Wikipedia, Midwest Gaming Classic co-founder Martin Goldberg, and various Internet sources. Thanks.

Atari VCS (October, 1977)

Launch Grade: B+

Atari's history-making console (which was known as the VCS before switching to the 2600 moniker) came with Combat – a title that offered 27 different variations of warfare, from tanks to planes. It and Indy 500 were strong titles that helped the console become legendary.

 

 

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Air-Sea Battle, Basic Math, Blackjack, Combat (pack-in game), Indy 500, Star Ship, Street Racer, Surround, Video Olympics

Mattel Intellivision (1980) 

Launch Grade: B-

Intellivision's graphics were great for the time, and the console tried to take advantage of them with a sports-heavy lineup – a game genre that Mattel bragged the competition was incapable of rendering.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
ABPA Backgammon, Armor Battle, Basketball, Electric Company: Math Fun, Golf, Hockey, Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack (pack-in game), Las Vegas Roulette, Major League Baseball, NFL Football, Sea Battle, Skiing, Soccer, Space Battle, Tennis

Coleco ColecoVision (September, 1982) 

Launch Grade: B+

At this point consumers were excited by the prospect of playing games in their homes, but everyone knew the experience wasn't the same as in the arcades. ColecoVision excited gamers because its versions of Donkey Kong and Zaxxon offered comparable home experiences of their arcade counterparts. The launch of the console also offered more titles via the $60 standalone Expansion Module #1 peripheral that enabled the ColecoVision to play Atari 2600 cartridges (which Atari legally contested).

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Carnival, Cosmic Avenger, Donkey Kong (pack-in game), Lady Bug, Mouse Trap, Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle, Turbo, Venture, Zaxxon

Atari 5200 (November, 1982) 

Launch Grade: F

Despite being the follow-up to the wildly successful 2600, the 5200 was rushed out and its software was simply updated 2600 games. Atari discontinued the 5200 two years later.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Super Breakout (pack-in game), Galaxian, Space Invaders

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) (October, 1985 (N.Y.)/1986 (Nationwide))

Launch Grade: A

Like other systems of the time, the NES debuted in a major test market before it was released nationwide at a later date. The actual day-one lineup of the fabled NES (which was out first in Japan as the Famicom) is hard to pinpoint because we're not 100 percent certain whether the legendary Super Mario Bros. was at the New York launch of the system. Regardless, Super Mario Bros. was also later offered as a pack-in title for the console.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong Jr. Math*, Duck Hunt (pack-in), Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite (pack-in game), Hogan's Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Mach Rider*, Pinball, Soccer, Stack-Up, Super Mario Bros. (later packed in with the system)*, Tennis, Wild Gunman, Wrecking Crew

*Available at the NES' national launch in 1986

Atari 7800 (January, 1986) 

Launch Grade: C

The Atari 7800 was originally supposed to come out in 1984, but the Great Video Game Crash of 1983 caused the company to shelve it for two years. Naturally, this didn't help the system.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Centipede, Asteroids, Dig Dug, Food Fight, Galaga, Joust, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position II, Robotron: 2084, Xevious, Desert Falcon

Sega Master System (June, 1986) 

Launch Grade: C-

Although the Master System later found success with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Phantasy Star, and more, its launch was unassuming. This was no doubt due, in part, to Nintendo's exclusivity deal with many third-party publishers.

 

 

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Hang On and Safari Hunt (pack-in games), Snail Maze (a hidden title built into the system)

Nintendo Game Boy (August, 1989) 

Launch Grade: B+

It's easy now to scoff at the black-and-white screen, but the presence of one of the greatest games of all time – Tetris – as a pack-in title no doubt was one of the keys to this system's phenomenal success.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Alleyway, Baseball, Super Mario Land, Tennis, Tetris (pack-in game)

Sega Genesis (August, 1989) 

Launch Grade: B

The Genesis' superior graphics to the NES allowed it to gain ground with its sports games and arcade ports, even if the only sport available at launch was baseball.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Altered Beast (pack-in game), Last Battle, Space Harrier II, Super Thunder Blade, Thunder Force II, Tommy Lasorda Baseball

NEC TurboGrafx-16 (August, 1989) 

Launch Grade: C+

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Alien Crush, China Warrior, Dungeon Explorer, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (pack-in game), The Legendary Axe, Power Golf, R-Type, Victory Run, Vigilante

 

 

 

Atari Lynx (October, 1989) 

Launch Grade: C

The size, battery consumption (six AAs), and price ($189.95) were some of the dings against the Lynx, even with its color, backlit screen.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Blue Lightning, California Games, ElectroCop, Gates of Zendocon

Sega Game Gear (April, 1991) 

Launch Grade: C

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Columns (pack in game), G-LOC: Air Battle, Psychic World, Revenge of Drancon, Super Monaco GP

Nintendo SNES (September, 1991) 

Launch Grade: A-

Despite the presence of only three titles on launch day, the NES follow up didn't disappoint fans by packing in the legendary Super Mario World (which we gave a perfect 10 in a Classic GI review in 2000). 

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Super Mario World (pack-in game), F-Zero, Pilotwings

 

The 3DO (October, 1993) 

Launch Grade: C-

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Alone in the Dark, Myst, Star Control II

Atari Jaguar (November, 1993) 

Launch Grade: D

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Cybermorph (pack-in game), Raiden, Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy

Sega Saturn (May, 1995) 

Launch Grade: C+

The games available at the Saturn's launch were overshadowed by the debut of the system itself. Sega was planning a September release of the Saturn (dubbed "Saturnday") to go up against Sony's soon-to-launch PlayStation system, but decided to get a leg up by releasing the Saturn directly after Sega's E3 presentation in May. This surprised retailers and third-party publishers, which were preparing for a fall launch. This left the system with only six titles (all Sega-made) on day one.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Clockwork Knight, Daytona USA, Panzer Dragoon, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Virtua Fighter (pack-in game), Worldwide Soccer

Sony PlayStation (September, 1995) 

Launch Grade: C

The launch of the PlayStation didn't betray its later success, although Game Informer gave good marks to Ridge Racer (9) and Battle Arena Toshiden (8.5). Unlike some systems, PlayStation's day-one software was soon followed up by quality titles. The month of November 1995 saw the release of games such as Twisted Metal, Tekken, and Destruction Derby.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Battle Arena Toshiden, ESPN Extreme Games, Kileak: The DNA Imperative, NBA Jam Tournament Edition, Raiden Project, Rayman, Ridge Racer, Street Fighter: The Movie

Nintendo 64 (September, 1996) 

Launch Grade: A-

Similar to the SNES before it, it was quality not quantity for the launch of the N64. Super Mario 64 introduced the 3D platformer, although it's hard to defend Pilotwings 64 now when you look back at it.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Pilotwings 64, Super Mario 64

Game Boy Color  (November, 1998) 

Launch Grade: C

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Centipede, Game & Watch Gallery 2, Pocket Bomberman, Tetris DX

Sega Dreamcast (September, 1999) 

Launch Grade: B+

Gamers were excited for the technologically advanced Dreamcast with its VMU screen and built-in modem, but these day-one titles didn't offer much outside of some alluring graphics. This was Sega's console swan song, but at least the Dreamcast's launch gave us Soul Calibur.

 

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Aero Wings, Air Force Delta, Blue Stringer, Expendable, Flag to Flag, House of the Dead 2, Hydro Thunder, Monaco Grand Prix 2, Mortal Kombat Gold, NFL 2K, NFL Blitz 2000, Pen Pen Tricelon, PowerStone, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur, Tokyo Extreme Racer, Trickstyle, TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat

PlayStation 2 (October, 2000) 

Launch Grade: C

Despite boasting the largest number of launch titles here (29 games), no doubt because of the brand equity of the PlayStation moniker, the PS2's launch was largely forgettable. The biggest reason was a noticeable lack of Sony-developed, first-party software.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Armored Core 2, DOA 2: Hardcore, Dynasty Warriors 2, ESPN International Track & Field, ESPN Winter X Games Snowboarding, Eternal Ring, Evergrace, Fantavision, GunGriffon Blaze, Kessen, Madden NFL 2001, Midnight Club: Street Racing, MotoGP, NHL 2001, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, Q-Ball Billiards Master, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2, Ridge Racer V, Silent Scope, Smuggler's Run, SSX, Street Fighter EX3, Summoner, Swing Away Golf, Tekken Tag Tournament, TimeSplitters, Unreal Tournament, Wild Wild Racing, X-Squad

Game Boy Advance (June, 2001) 

Launch Grade: B

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Army Men Advance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, ChuChu Rocket!, Earthworm Jim, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, FirePro Wrestling, GT Advance Championship Racing, Iridion 3D, Konami Krazy Racers, Namco Museum, Pinobee: Wings of Adventure, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, Rayman Advance, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2, Super Dodge Ball Advance, Super Mario Advance, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

Microsoft Xbox (November, 2001) 

Launch Grade: B

In its console debut, Microsoft put some noticeable first-party effort behind the launch. Although almost all of those franchises are now gone, without Halo: Combat Evolved Microsoft might be out of video games by now.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
4X4 Evo 2, AirForce Delta Storm, Arctic Thunder, Cel Damage, Dead or Alive 3, Fuzion Frenzy, Halo: Combat Evolved, Mad Dash Racing, NFL Fever 2002, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, Project Gotham Racing, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

Nintendo GameCube (November, 2001) 

Launch Grade: B-

Unlike previous Nintendo home systems, the company decided to pad out the GameCube launch with some third-party titles. While this approach was admirable, the exclusive titles like Luigi's Mansion and Rogue Leader remain the only stand-out games.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
All-Star Baseball 2002, Batman: Vengeance, Crazy Taxi, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2, Disney's Tarzan Untamed, Luigi's Mansion, Madden NFL 2002, NHL Hitz 20-02, Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II, Super Monkey Ball, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Wave Race: Blue Storm

Nintendo DS (November, 2004) 

Launch Grade: D

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Super Mario 64 DS, Asphalt Urban GT, The Urbz: Sims in the City, Feel the Magic: XY/XX, Spider-Man 2, Madden NFL 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

PlayStation Portable (March, 2005) 

Launch Grade: C

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Ape Escape: On the Loose, Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower, Dynasty Warriors, Gretzky NHL, Lumines, Metal Gear Acid, NBA, Need for Speed: Underground Rivals, NFL Street 2: Unleashed, Ridge Racer, Spider-Man 2, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix, Twisted Metal: Head-On, Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, Wipeout Pure, World Tour Soccer

Xbox 360 (November, 2005) 

Launch Grade: B-

Unlike the launching of the original Xbox, the 360's lineup contained a noticeable dearth of first-party titles (even sadder is the fact that Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero were duds). Although in hindsight the Xbox 360 launch doesn't draw much excitement anymore, the 18 games listed garnered an average 8.2 score from Game Informer.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Amped 3, Call of Duty 2, Condemned: Criminal Origins, FIFA 06, Gun, Kameo: Elements of Power, Madden NFL 2006, NBA 2K6, NBA Live 06, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, NHL 2K6, Perfect Dark Zero, Peter Jackson's King Kong, Project Gotham Racing 3, Quake 4, Ridge Racer 6, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland

PlayStation 3 (November, 2006) 

Launch Grade: C

It took a while for developers to get a handle on making games for the system, making this launch lineup less than exceptional.

 

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Call of Duty 3, Genji: Days of the Blade, Madden NFL 07, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, NBA 2K7, Need for Speed Carbon, NHL 2K7, Resistance: Fall of Man, Ridge Racer 7, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, Tony Hawk's Project 8

Nintendo Wii  (November, 2006) 

Launch Grade: B-

In what may be viewed as a portent of the casual audience that became the system's bread and butter, the Wii launch was not dominated by The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but rather by pack-in title Wii Sports.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Avatar: The Last Airbender, Call of Duty 3, Cars, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, ExciteTruck, The Grim Adventures of Bill & Mandy, GT Pro Series, Happy Feet, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Madden NFL 07, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Monster 4x4 World Circuit, Rampage: Total Destruction, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Red Steel, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Creature From The Krusty Krab, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, Trauma Center: Second Opinion, Wii Sports (pack‑in game)

Nintendo 3DS (March, 2011) 

Launch Grade: D 

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Asphalt 3D, Bust-a-Move Universe, Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, Nintendogs + Cats, Madden NFL Football, Pilotwings Resort, Pro Evolution Soccer 3DS, Rayman 3D, Ridge Racer 3D, Samurai Warriors: Chronicles, The Sims 3, Steel Diver, Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Super Monkey Ball 3D, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

PlayStation Vita (February, 2012)

Launch Grade: C

Despite the sheer number of games, the Vita started out not having learned the lessons of the PSP – that you need a killer app to draw people in.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Army Corps of Hell, Asphalt Injection, Ben10: Galactic Racing, Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend, Dungeon Hunter Alliance, Dynasty Warriors Next, F1 2011, FIFA Soccer, Lumines Electronic Symphony, Michael Jackson The Experience, Plants vs. Zombies (PSN), Rayman Origins, Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen, Tales of Space: Mutant Blobs (PSN), Touch My Katamari, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Virtual Tennis 4: World Tour Edition,

Wii U (November, 2012)

Launch Grade: B-

The Wii U benefitted from a better third-party presence, even if some of the games had already been released on other systems. In general, the launch was about quantity rather than quality. It's telling that among the many games here, none of them made the case that the system's GamePad was indispensable.

Titles Available on Launch Day:
Assassin's Creed III, Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition, Ben 10: Omniverse, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Darksiders II, Epic Mikey 2: The Power of Two, FIFA 13, Funky Barn, Game Party Champions, Just Dance 4, Madden NFL 13, Mass Effect 3: Special Edition, Nano Assault Neo, NBA 2K13, New Super Mario Bros. U, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, Nintendo Land, Rabbids Land, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Sing Party, Skylanders: Giants, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Sports Connection, Tank! Tank! Tank!, Tekken Tag Tournament 2: Wii U Edition, Transformers: Prime, Trine 2, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper, Wipeout 3, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013, ZombiU

The Best & Worst Launches

The award for the best day-one software lineup has to go to the NES. The national launch featured one of the greatest games of all time – Super Mario Bros. – and was far from a one-trick pony. Titles like Excitebike, Kung Fu, and Duck Hunt are still synonymous with the system.

This accolade for Nintendo is balanced out by the fact that the Nintendo 3DS was the worst-rated launch according to Game Informer's own review scores. The 15 titles available day one (not including Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, which we didn't review) only scored an average of 6.45. This was only slightly worse than the DS' 6.75 average.

Despite this, of the platforms listed above, the launch of the Atari 5200 has to go down as the worst in history for its inability to offer relevant games or do anything to positively state the cases for the system.