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In the long history of video games, there has almost always been one truth that early adopters have been forced to swallow: launch games are usually terrible. Sure, they might show off the graphical power of the console, but they do little to push the gameplay forward, and most games look vastly superior just a year out from the launch of a console. Players who run out launch day to get the latest piece of gaming hardware generally accept this fact, as part of the enjoyment is just being among the first to experience the future.
All of that said, there are some exceptions. Every once in a while, the stars line up and a launch game hits the market that’s actually good. It’s a rare occurrence indeed, and one that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen on the PS4 and Xbox One, but it has taken place.
Super Mario Bros (NES)
We have to start this off with the launch game that defined launch games: Super Mario Brothers for the NES. You could make an argument that this game is actually a big reason that the video game crash was undone, and the hobby we all know and love today is thriving, with two new consoles set to make their way to market and Wii U already available.
People fell in love with Mario on the NES, and with good reason. It was a huge jump from the games in the Atari era, with beautiful graphics, a detailed sense of exploration, and tight controls aided by Nitnendo’s Dpad. As far as launch games go, it’s hard to find a flaw, and it’s a game that was only really topped by Nintendo’s own sequel, specifically Super Mario Bros 3.
Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)
Another game featuring Nintendo’s beloved plumber? That’s right. Mario 64 reshaped the way we thought about a game taking place in a 3D space. Mario is one of the best side-scrolling platformers ever, so to see Nintendo move it into 3D was a big change. Thankfully, Nintendo found a way to do it in style, with gameplay so good it’s still beloved by players today.
Super Mario 64 is so beloved today that we often forget that it was a launch game at all. There are very few experiences from the launch of a console where you don’t have to specify that it’s good for a launch game. Instead, when people talk about Mario 64, they just talk about how good it is for a game in general, which is no small feat for something being built on completely new hardware.
Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
Halo is the game that turned Microsoft into the video game powerhouse that it is today. Gamers questioned whether or not the Xbox was a good idea from the company known for its operating system and office software, but once they got their hands on Bungie’s Halo: Combat Evolved, the system quickly became a must-have piece of consumer technology.
Not only is Halo a fantastic shooter, but it also redefined how shooters could be played on consoles. It took a completely PC dominated type of game and showed gamers and developers that not only does it work on a console, but it works well. Launch game or not, Halo is just an incredible experience, and one that even today is still a ton of fun. In fact, it seems like each Halo game that hits the market just makes players long for the days of the original, and that’s quite an impressive legacy for a launch game.
Wii Sports (Wii)
Nintendo brought back the pack-in game with Wii Sports, and it was probably the smartest move the company has ever made. Anyone, not just gamers, could immediately pop in a copy of Wii Sports and get it. It perfectly showcased how motion controls work, and love it or hate it, it has gone a long way towards influencing the direction the video game world has moved since.
Whether playing bowling, baseball, or any of the other minigames, Wii Sports was just simple and fun. People ran in droves to get their hands on the Wii, so much so that the system was supply constraint for months after the release. Sure, many of them never bought another Wii game again, but it still turned Nintendo’s console into one of the best selling home units ever, and that would have never happened if not for Wii Sports.
Who says launch games have to be forgettable piles of garbage like Perfect Dark Zero? These games prove that with the right team working on a game, generally a first-party developer, launch games can be among the best of the generation.
What are your favorite launch games? Hit the comments section below and let us know!
Image Credits: Orcun Acik Via Flickr