With the memory of console launches fading behind us – and inevitably looming ahead of us – our minds turn to the games that launched alongside them. These “launch games” are, for many people, the first taste of a new generation and they set the stage for the years ahead. While most launch games are nothing to write home about – previous generation ports and titles rushed to meet the launch deadline – there are others whose quality and influence extend far beyond launch day and become the platform’s defining titles. Some are not just great launch games; they’re some of the best games ever made.
We’ve compiled a list of launch games that are the best of the best. We’ve scored them based on both quality – obviously – and their lasting influence on the industry. Here we go.
Soul Calibur (Dreamcast, 1999)
Soul Calibur gave us a glimpse into the future. Never before had anyone seen a 3D game that was smooth and playable, and with graphics that wowed everyone to the extent thatSoul Calibur did. Soul Calibur was the biggest leap forward for the fighting game genre since Virtua Fighter and, in 1999, it blew our minds that a game could look and play this well.
Super Mario World (SNES, 1991)
What better way is there to introduce a successor to the NES than with a new Mario game? Take the biggest franchise in gaming and bring it into the 16-bit era. It was everything we loved about Mario but now bigger, brighter, and better. While Super Mario Bros. 3 was an incredible game in its own right, Super Mario World gave us the biggest Mario adventure yet and introduced Mario’s dinosaur sidekick, Yoshi.
Super Mario World gave us our first taste of what the 16-bit era had in store and pushed the Mario formula so high that it, arguably, has still not been topped.
Tetris (Game Boy, 1989)
The original “blue ocean” game, Tetris is the first game that really appealed to everyone. There was no violence and no antagonist, just the devilishly addictive premise of stacking blocks to clear lines. It was a game that proved that you didn’t need complexity to be great.
Tetris is on this list not just for being the greatest puzzle game ever made but for being the one that established the Game Boy and turned handheld gaming into a very real thing. Nobody dislikes Tetris. Nobody.
Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox, 2001)
Sure, first-person shooters have been on consoles before but none of them were as great as Halo. Today, the FPS is the biggest genre in the world, and the genesis of this success comes from Halo. Why do most shooters limit you to two weapons at a time? Because Halo did it. Why do they have regenerating health? Because Halo did it. Why are there squads of AIs that follow you and vehicles to drive? Because… you get the idea.
With its large scale combat, engrossing story, buttery smooth gameplay, and brilliant multiplayer, Halo pushed forward an entire genre and singlehandedly gave the Xbox its place in the industry, making Microsoft a major player in the console market. Halo: Combat Evolved could not have had a more fitting subtitle.
Wii Sports (Wii, 2006)
The game that sold 100 million systems. If you’ve ever seen a Wii in your grandma’s living room, Wii Sports is the reason why. Nintendo reached beyond the traditional gaming demographics and crafted an experience that resonated with everyone. The concept was as simple as it was brilliant: use the Wii’s new motion sensitive controller to recreate sports. Tennis, bowling, baseball, boxing, golf – sports we’re all familiar with, and all instantly engaging. Love the Wii or hate it, you can’t deny the effect Wii Sports had on the industry.
Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)
If you were alive and playing games at the time, we don’t even need to explain why Mario 64is on the list; you already know.
For those of you who weren’t, let me explain. Seeing Super Mario 64 for the first time was like when cavemen first discovered fire. It completely changed the way games were played and showed that 3D really was the future. The world, the graphics, the characters, and, most importantly, the controls were all fine tuned to perfection, making Mario 64 simple to get into while hiding incredible depth. Super Mario 64 is so brilliant that – I would argue – it hasn’t even aged a day. Go download it on the Virtual Console – it’s still as playable and fun today as it was in 1996.
Many titles are game changers but only one can still be called the best of its genre nearly two decades after its original release. Here’s to you, Mario.