Launch Legends

Sometimes, new consoles come bearing extra-special gifts!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 11/12/2014 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

New Super Mario Bros. U Screenshot

If any game has high expectations placed upon it, it’s a console launch game. Fans await a new system with the bare minimum expectation that their investment in unproven hardware will be validated by astounding software. These games should either bring something entirely new to the table, or do something much better than a similar title before it, but to fall short of either is almost flat-out unacceptable. It’s a reasonable expectation, for the most part. After all, with asking prices for consoles in the hundreds of dollars, plus the need for an extra controller or two, and a game to play, it’s an often daunting financial proposition to latch onto a new system, sight unseen. All that cash and time spent anticipating a launch should at least yield a title worth writing home about (or even making a social media post about!).

It takes quite the commitment to be an early adopter of a console, and video game developers work hard to justify their audience’s trust. As a result, many launch day titles rank up there as some of the best games ever made-especially on a Nintendo console. Perhaps the most important launch games released in the history of the medium was Super Mario Bros. for NES. That game not only propelled NES to success, but helped reinvigorate a dying video game industry. It didn’t hurt that it set the standard for 2D platformers to this day. Considering that consumers had been badly burned by console manufacturers and software developers prior to the great crash of the 1980s, Nintendo knew it had to do something special to turn things around, and did exactly that with Super Mario Bros.

Twilight Princess Link on Epona

Some games go a different route and instead leave their mark by displaying just what makes a console so special in the first place. Tetris on Game Boy epitomized that train of thought, providing an addictive puzzler that enticed nearly every person who gave it a try. Tetris didn’t wow the masses with cutting-edge graphics or a moving narrative, but what it did do was put its infallible gameplay on display and lure players to Game Boy in droves. This set the stage for the litany of games that would follow, including Pokémon. Who knows if anyone would ever have been able to catch ’em all if Tetris hadn’t made Game Boy a hit.

Super Mario 64 was as much of a benchmark for the industry as Super Mario Bros. was. Debuting with Nintendo 64, Mario’s first trip into 3D was the ultimate trial by fire for Nintendo. Writing the rules book for 3D gaming as they went along, development of Mario 64 was as much a lesson in how to create a 3D video game as it was making the next great platformer. As a proof of concept, Mario 64 showed the world that not only was 3D gaming finally possible, but it could be really fun, too. For fans, it was less about the historical importance of Mario 64 as it was basking in the game’s seemingly boundless environments… and trying to catch that darn rabbit.

Speaking of proof of concepts, Wii Sports provided that and then some when it bowed with Wii. Motion controls were an abstract concept before players finally began waggling a Wii Remote (and some accidentally sending said remotes through their TV screens!) and hitting digital tennis balls back and forth. Like Tetris on Game Boy, Wii Sports appealed to a broad and varied demographic of players and got Wiis into countless homes as a result. The historical importance of Wii Sports is still open to interpretation, and while I wouldn’t put it quite in the same class as Mario 64 and Super Mario Bros., it was a game changer nonetheless. As a launch title, the pressure was on for Wii Sports to deliver, and deliver it did.

Of course, not every launch game needs to rock the world to be a success or leave an impression. Luigi’s Mansion was the first time Nintendo launched a console without a Mario game, and as far as many fans were concerned, it didn’t matter one bit. I know that the first time I played that game, I couldn’t get enough of simply moving Luigi across the screen. Watching the dust swirls interact with the Poltergust, marveling at the realistic lighting, especially what was shooting out of Luigi’s flashlight, remains one of the more powerful moments in my gaming memories. GameCube eventually went on to become a low point for Nintendo in terms of sales, but it wasn’t from a lack of incredible games like Luigi’s Mansion.

Console launches don’t come often, but when they do, the software that comes in tandem is always worth paying attention to. Sometimes, developers breath new life into a stagnated series. Other times, something entirely original comes as a result. Launch games establish the road map of what’s to come, and often set player expectations accordingly. It’s a big responsibility for any developer, but so long as there are consoles to launch, fans will be there waiting to catch a glimpse at the future of gaming.

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