To show off the capabilities of a new console, lure players in with must-play exclusives, and build an early player base, the launch lineup of a console is important. A combination of system-defining exclusives, quality third-party support, and potentially new IP can assure players that the time to buy the new console is now. For Nintendo, having all three of these factors present in a console launch lineup hasn’t always been possible. Yet, time and time again, Nintendo has shown that the quality of its launch games has often been worth the price of admission. Here’s what we think of Nintendo’s home console launch offerings.
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Consumers needed a solid reason to buy into Nintendo’s first home console. Luckily, Nintendo had exactly the right bargaining chip for prospective buyers with Super Mario Bros. for the national United States launch. (Currently, no one can say with certainty if Super Mario Bros. was a launch title during the New York City test launch.) There has perhaps never been a better way to introduce people to console gaming. The timeless two-button platforming gameplay was simple to understand yet contained enough nuance and depth to its level design to keep players entertained, even to this day. Other Mario-themed games like Wrecking Crew filled up a respectable number of launch games for the system.
As the main attraction, Super Mario Bros. did more than enough to convince people that the NES was worth getting, but it was far from the only game available on release. The classic Dunk Hunt and Gyromite were included with the console (along with R.O.B, which is another story), while fondly remembered titles like Excitebike and Ice Climber offered entirely different genres for those that were curious. Sports titles such as Tennis, Golf, and Baseball offered further variety (with varying quality) and at least provided other experiences for players that had already had their fill of Super Mario Bros. A varied and lengthy list of launch games was important to have for Nintendo’s first console overcoming the stigma of Atari’s failure, but in all likelihood Super Mario Bros. was the game that sealed the deal for most early adopters.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
While not to as severe a degree as would be the case with the Nintendo 64 launch lineup, SNES had a small selection of games available at its launch. However, SNES was bundled with a classic game in the form of Super Mario World. Many will debate over their personal favorite 2D Mario games, but it’s hard to argue that Super Mario World isn’t amongst the best games of the Super Mario series. As a launch game and new exclusive title, Nintendo couldn’t have done more to entice both NES owners and new fans alike thanks to its evolution of the Super Mario formula and shiny 16-bit graphics.
The other offerings, F-Zero, Pilotwings, Gradius III, and SimCity, provided some great variety and strong first-party offerings from Nintendo too. F-Zero in particular paved the way for high-speed racing games that were significantly different from other Nintendo racing franchises, and it and Pilotwings really emphasized SNES’s new Mode 7 technology. With Super Mario World enticing NES fans and new IP like F-Zero to appeal to a wider audience with (not quite) 3D graphics, SNES presented a 1-2 punch with its launch lineup.
It’s not often that one of the greatest games of a console is available from the get-go, but when Nintendo 64 launched in September 1996 in North America, that was exactly what happened. Genuine 3D games were not new to gaming at this point, but the release of Super Mario 64 shook the industry with its genre-defining gameplay and made Nintendo 64 a must-own system for series fans from the beginning. Navigating the Italian plumber through a 3D space with a moving camera was a gaming experience unlike any other at that time.
Granted, the North American launch of Nintendo 64 otherwise only saw the well-received Pilotwings 64, but the European launch added diverse titles Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire and (three days later) Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Despite being a short list of games, many of these are now considered classics, with the ambition of Shadows of the Empire being apparent and Turok still being ported to new consoles. The launch lineup of the N64 was a rare case where the breadth and variety of content was missing, but the quality of a few (or even just one) must-play games made it one of the most memorable console launches Nintendo has ever had.
While there wasn’t necessarily a single killer app amongst GameCube’s launch library, there was a commendable variety of solid-to-great games that made the console worth checking out. From exciting new first-party IP like Luigi’s Mansion to third-party support in the form of games like Burnout and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, there were plenty of genres and new ideas on display that could appeal to different kinds of potential Nintendo fans.
Ports of games like Crazy Taxi were fun additions to have alongside new and returning series as seen with Super Monkey Ball and Wave Race: Blue Storm respectively. There was even a surprising exclusive Star Wars title with Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, setting a template for future space combat games in the series and maybe in other series as well. The lack of a new Super Mario title, coupled with fans being (unfairly) disappointed with Luigi’s Mansion, might have hurt the sales of the GameCube compared to other Nintendo systems, but few can deny there wasn’t something for everyone with GameCube’s third-party support at launch.
The launch of a system is a time where developers want to show off the console’s brand new features, often leading to what some consider to be gimmicky games that implement those new ideas. Critics may argue that was the case with the Wii, but the impact of Wii Sports cannot be understated. As the first console to implement motion controls as its core control option, the Wii needed to sell people on the idea as fast as possible, and having Wii Sports as a pack-in title with every console was the best way to do just that. It created a zeitgeist around the Wii, likely contributing to the Wii’s tremendous launch window sales and subsequently causing the console to be sold out for months on end afterward.
Aside from Wii Sports, the launch of the Wii involved another 20 games, including The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. It’s rare for the launch lineup of a console to have both quality and quantity, but the Wii just about pulled it off. Wii Sports was a perfect introduction to motion-controlled gaming for both gamers and a new audience alike, while Twilight Princess was the darker-toned spiritual successor to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that the Zelda audience had been waiting for. Rounding this list out with other titles like Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and Trauma Center: Second Opinion resulted in a solid launch lineup that covered the gamut of gaming tastes.
The release of the Wii U saw a smattering of third-party support out of the gate. Third-party exclusives like Zombi U provided some fresh and mature ideas for the Nintendo crowd, while a selection of acceptable-to-solid ports such as Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge helped to provide players with more content. Yet, although the Wii U had a decent number of launch titles, many of these were games that people had already played elsewhere or were ports that were not up to standard.
Much like with the best of Nintendo’s home console launch lineups, the Wii U had to rely on its exclusives to do the heavy lifting. New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land were Nintendo’s core offerings for those that had taken the day one plunge. Just like how Wii Sports demonstrated the possibilities of the Wii hardware, Nintendo Land attempted to do the same for the Wii U as a pack-in. However, lightning didn’t strike twice, and despite some fun uses of the GamePad, Nintendo Land did not become a killer app. New Super Mario Bros. U fared better thanks to its great critical reception, but it arguably suffered from a lack of innovation relative to most previous Mario games. This, in combination with an arguably underwhelming list of third-party ports and poor marketing, left Wii U in a rough spot from the beginning.
When it comes to launch lineups, there is often an argument to be made for the quality versus the number of available games on the first day. With the Nintendo Switch’s launch in March 2017, there were only a select amount of games releasing alongside it and third-party support was understandably slim due to the woes of the Wii U. Games like 1-2 Switch and Super Bomberman R were received well enough, while Fast RMX provided a fun racing game for F-Zero fans and Snipperclips offered a refreshing new take on cooperative puzzle-solving. Individually, these games weren’t a compelling reason to pick up a Switch, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the elephant in the room that couldn’t be ignored.
Not since Nintendo 64 has a Nintendo console launched with a must-own first-party game of this caliber. As the first Zelda game to launch with a Nintendo system since Twilight Princess on the Wii, Breath of the Wild was an explosive debut for anyone interested in buying a Switch. The critical reception and sales figures have since spoken for themselves, and it’s a perfect example of how a single killer app can save the day, regardless of what other games are available.
What are some of your favorite Nintendo launch lineups?