The top five console launch lineups of all time

by on October 19, 2020

There are few things more exciting in gaming than the launch of a new console. A box capable of gameplay and graphical feats you never thought possible, with a lineup of exciting launch titles waiting for you to power up for the first time. From struggling to sleep on Christmas Eve, to camping out for a midnight launch, there’s no bigger buzz than when you finally get your hands on the next generation of gaming.

This November, we have two new console releases from Microsoft and Sony. Although Covid 19 may have disrupted some of the launch games we could have been playing on day one, with titles like Demon’s Souls, Spider-Man Miles Morales and Gears Tactics, we will have some exciting titles to begin our journey into the next generation of video games.

Miles Morales will launch of PS5 in November

Throughout the decades we’ve seen some incredible launch lineups, with plenty of instant classics to sink your time into before the next big thing comes out. After a lot of research, I’ve come up with what I think are the top 5 launch lineups of all time. This list focuses on the EU releases only (since I’m in the UK) and does not include handhelds.

Honourable Mention: Nintendo Switch – European launch: March 3, 2017

  • 1-2-Switch
  • Fast RMX (eShop)
  • I Am Setsuna (eShop)
  • Just Dance 2017
  • New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (eShop)
  • Othello (eShop)
  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (eShop)
  • Skylanders Imaginators
  • Snipperclips – Cut it out, together! (eShop)
  • Super Bomberman R
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • VOEZ (eShop)
  • Vroom in the Night Sky (eShop)

Breath of the Wild single handedly launched the Switch

If there had been any notable games other than Breath of the Wild available at launch, the Nintendo Switch would have absolutely made this list. It isn’t one of my personal favourite Zelda games, but Link’s first foray into open world gaming was met with almost universal praise. Snipperclips is an entertaining little co-op distraction, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the reason that so people bought Nintendo’s new hybrid console.

5. SEGA Mega drive (aka Genesis) –  November 30, 1990

  • Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
  • Altered Beast
  • Columns
  • Golden Axe
  • Space Harrier II
  • Super Thunder Blade
  • Thunder Force II

At only 5 months old I wasn’t exactly in prime position to enjoy the launch of Sega’s most successful console, but over the years I’ve played the majority of its launch lineup. In the 90s you either owned a Sega or a Nintendo, and even though I was Mario mad, I was lucky enough to have neighbours willing to give me my Sonic and Ristar fix. Neither of these classics were available day one, but there was still plenty to play as an early adopter.

Released with Altered Beast as standard, every Mega Drive purchaser was able to enjoy this tough arcade beat em up. For platform fans, Alex Kidd provides entertainment as long as you don’t mind losing at Rock, Paper, Scissors a lot.

If you were looking for something a little different, Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade showed off the power of the new console with their pseudo 3D gameplay. Those wanting less action and more puzzling had Columns, a puzzle game that although not often talked about, is still fun today.

The best Sega Mega Drive launch game

Alongside these very enjoyable games, the most historically significant launch title of the Mega Drive/Genesis was Golden Axe. Possibly the earliest beat em up that is still fun today, Golden Axe saw you and a friend fighting wave after wave of fantasy monsters (occasionally with the help of a handy mount). It has an incredible soundtrack, fun gameplay, and definitely warranted the 2 sequels that would come to the console at a later date.

4. Nintendo 64 – March 1, 1997

  • FIFA Soccer 64
  • Pilotwings 64
  • Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
  • Super Mario 64
  • Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
  • Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey

The launch of the Nintendo 64 is the first console launch I remember. There was nothing that 7 year old Lyle wanted more than the 64 bit console. I entered a competition on popular children’s show “Live & Kicking“, wished on dandelions, and eventually found one under the tree on Christmas day. A certain Italian plumber was also waiting for me on that festive day, but I’d eventually gather most of the enjoyable day one games.

Outside of the mediocre sports titles, every Nintendo 64 launch title brought something to the table. Star Wars fans were greeted by incredibly named Dash Rendar in Shadows of the Empire. Featuring innovative 3rd person shooting and some cracking aircraft combat that paved the way for Rogue Squadron, this was a licenced game worth blasting your way through.

Shadow of the Empire Hoth battles were so much fun

If you’d rather shoot dinosaurs than Stormtroopers, Turok was the game for you. It’s incredibly hard to enjoy nowadays, with its awful fog and aggravating collectables, but before Goldeneye this was a Nintendo fans only opportunity to try out FPS gameplay.

A true showcase of the power of the console, Pilotwings 64 let players explore an entire world in all manner of flying machines. Mastering each of the craft was tricky, and mastering the varied challenges the game threw at you took a lot of practice. Whether taking photos in a plane, or carefully landing using your jetpack, the arcade gameplay was totally different than anything you’d played before.

The true champion of the Nintendo 64 launch was Super Mario 64. One of the earliest and greatest 3D platformers of all time, Mario 64 featured 15 huge levels, 120 stars to collect, and set the bar for all platformers yet to come. There are few more beloved launch titles than Mario’s first foray into the 3rd dimension, and even today millions of people are enjoying gathering all the stars again as a part of Super Mario 3D All Stars.

Top 5 launch lineups of all time

3. Nintendo Wii – December 8, 2006

  • Barnyard
  • Call of Duty 3
  • Cars
  • Far Cry Vengeance
  • GT Pro Series
  • Happy Feet
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
  • Madden NFL 07
  • Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
  • Monster 4×4: World Circuit
  • Need for Speed: Carbon
  • Open Season
  • Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection
  • Rampage: Total Destruction
  • Rayman Raving Rabbids
  • Red Steel
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab
  • Super Fruit Fall
  • Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent
  • Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam
  • Wii Play
  • Wii Sports

After saving up my pennies washing dishes, the Nintendo Wii was the first (and only until the Xbox Series S this year) console I was able to pre-order. I was so ready for motion control, and even bought a huge CRT TV so I could experience the latest games in glorious wide-screen. The launch of the Wii took the world by storm, and you couldn’t go a day without reading a news story about old women getting exercise at a care home thanks to the new innovative controller.

Alongside some phenomenal titles, the Wii’s launch also had plenty of games made to show off the consoles tech. Mini game collections like Rayman Raving Rabbids provided some ridiculous entertainment, and Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz demonstrated that ball rolling was a perfect use of tilt controls (even if it was a weaker installment of the franchise).

Ubisoft brought more than just goofy Rabbids to the launch party, with Red Steel promising a new way to play your FPS games. At the time, it was a really interesting way to shoot your way through a tried and tested genre, with motion controls used in unique ways such as flipping tables for cover. The game would eventually be overshadowed by its superior motion plus using sequel, but blasting away the Yakuza was a great way to begin your Wii journey.

Since you wanted an extra controller to play with friends and family, chances are you bought Wii Play with your console. This fun little mini game collection came with an extra Wii Remote, and was a genius way to sell another game to consumers. The game itself had some fun games to play with friends, from hunting for the King of the Pond in Fishing, or scoring some impressive goals in laser hockey. Wii Play wasn’t the most beloved mini game collection to come out at launch, but the value of getting a bonus controller was undeniable.

As well as all the fun party games you could play with your friends, the Wii was also the first console to launch with a Zelda game. Twilight Princess promised hours of adventure for new Wii owners, with classic Zelda dungeons and weapons all enhanced by the use of Wii remote. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was Nintendo’s way of showing that this unprecedented new controller could still be used to play your favourite series, and that there would stilll be some single player classics on the little white box.

Wii Sports was packed in with every Wii

You can’t talk about the launch of the Wii without talking about Wii Sports. Packed in with the console, Wii Sports showcased all of the consoles unique new features in one family friendly package. Each of the 5 sports were simple enough for anyone to play, with intuitive motion controls which non gamers could immediately get to grips with. The game also perfectly utilised one of the Wii’s other standout features, Mii creation. Everyone you played Wii Sports with could create a charming little avatar to represent them from the console’s home screen, and getting to see a virtual version of your friend get punched to the mat in boxing was just so innovative and satisfying. Wii Sports simply took the world by storm, and every Wii owner had it ready for any time they had company.

2. Nintendo Gamecube – May 3, 2002

  • 2002 FIFA World Cup
  • Batman: Vengeance
  • Bloody Roar: Primal Fury
  • Burnout
  • Cel Damage
  • Crazy Taxi
  • Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2
  • Disney’s Tarzan Freeride
  • Donald Duck: Quack Attack
  • Driven
  • ESPN International Winter Sports 2002
  • International Superstar Soccer 2
  • Luigi’s Mansion
  • Sonic Adventure 2: Battle
  • Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
  • Super Monkey Ball
  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
  • Universal Studios Theme Parks Adventure
  • Wave Race: Blue Storm
  • XG3: Extreme G Racing

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Nintendo Gamecube. The beautiful little box was the first console I owned while also having the extra money to regularly buy games thanks to my paper round. I played absolutely everything that the Gamecube had to offer, happily swapping real life teenage misadventures with more time with Mario, Link and friends. Although the lowest selling console on this list, the Gamecube’s launch lineup is simply impeccable. Full of exciting new properties and complete surprises, for my taste it’s probably the greatest day one selection of all time. Perhaps lacking one marquee title to tie it all together, the strength of Nintendo’s launch lineup was simply in how great so many of the new series turned out.

Although games like Crazy Taxi, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and XG3 were already available on the PS2 at the time, the ability to play these games on day one was a huge deal for first time investors into this generation of consoles. Tonk Hawk 3 especially is still considered one of the best in a series enjoying a resurgence in 2020.

Another game that feels particularly relevant at the time of writing is Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. With EA’s current jedi space epic Squadrons receiving rave reviews, it’s important to remember that a lot of what people are enjoying in this current game was first tested in the Rogue Squadron series.

Racing game fans had a wealth of titles to try out on the latest Nintendo console. Kart racing fans had Cel Damage, Wave Race returned with some gorgeous water effects, and of course there was the debut of Burnout. Despite less emphasis on crashing compared to its beloved sequels, the basis for an incredible series was there back in 2002.

The Gamecube launch lineup included Sonic Adventure 2 Battle

Until the launch of the Gamecube, Nintendo loyalists had no way to experience the antics of everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog. After the unfortunate fate of the Dreamcast, Sega were finally able to bring Sonic into the welcoming arms of Mario, and bring an improved version of Sonic Adventure 2 into the Gamecube’s launch lineup. One of my all time favourite 3D platform games now featured an entertaining multilayer mode, pitting all manner of Sonic’s friends and foes against each other in races and battles. Collecting every emblem and unlocking Green Hill Zone would require a level of dedication I could never quite muster, making this one of the deepest day one experiences on offer.

Sega decided that the debut of Sonic on a Nintendo console wasn’t enough excitement for launch day, and also published my favourite launch title of all time. Super Monkey Ball featured the titular balled primates rolling along narrow walkways in order to reach the goal. As well as providing hours of arcade style fun in the main game, Super Monkey Ball featured some of the most enjoyable mini games ever crafted. Mastering the different lanes of Bowling, or aiming to land on the bullseye in Monkey Target was incredibly fun with friends, and got this successful series off to a great start.

The absence of Mario at the launch of the Gamecube was a concern for day one purchasers, but fortunately his green attired older brother was able to pick up the slack in Luigi’s Mansion. This light hearted horror romp was a unique experience, featuring ghost vacuuming gameplay and unfathomable amounts of charm. Featuring such an unusual title as the marquee title in your launch lineup was a risk that historically may not have payed off, but in terms of quality few launch games are as polished and entertaining that Luigi’s Mansion.

The Gamecube launch included Luigi's Mansion

1. Xbox –  March 14, 2002

  • Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding
  • Batman: Vengeance
  • Blood Wake
  • Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2
  • Dead or Alive 3
  • Fuzion Frenzy
  • *Halo: Combat Evolved
  • *Jet Set Radio Future
  • Mad Dash Racing
  • Max Payne
  • NBA Live 2002
  • NHL 2002
  • NHL Hitz 20-02
  • Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee
  • *Project Gotham Racing
  • Rallisport Challenge
  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
  • TransWorld Surf
  • Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions

In 2002, console gaming changed forever. Mega corporation Microsoft decided to join the console race, and the Xbox brand was born. With the fourth generation of consoles in the Xbox family releasing in just over a month, I think it’s safe to say that their foray into this market was a success.

Back in the early 2000s though, the PC companies’ fate in competition with Sony and Nintendo was much less certain. The games available on day one could be the difference between success and failure in Microsoft’s new venture. With a huge selection of games in a variety of genres, and the historic debut of one Master Chief, the Xbox ensured that gamers could not ignore the third console in the race at launch. In my ever so humble opinion, the Xbox has the best launch lineup of all time.

There was truly something for everyone available to purchase alongside their new console on March 14th. If you were a racing game aficionado there was the debut of Rallisport Challenge. For extreme sports fans Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and the exclusive Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding provided all the adrenaline fueling tricks you could handle. Dead or Alive 3 was perfect for fans of arcade fighting, and Max Payne brought bullet time into the limelight for years to come.

As well as packing out the day one selection with all manner of popular genres, Microsoft also ensured there were plenty of unique experiences available. Oddworld went 3D and away from Sony for the first time in Munch’s Odyssey. Switching between series mainstay Abe and new character Munch, you were tasked with escaping the Vykkers and saving innocent creatures along the way. The game was a little unpolished even in 2002, but an interesting installment in the Oddworld Franchise nonetheless.

Jet Set Radio Future was a great launch title on the Xbox

Oddworld wasn’t the only oddity in the lineup, with Sega proving their launch day worth once again with the release of Jet Set Radio Future. A sequel to the Dreamcast classic, the game saw you in-line skating around a future Tokyo and using grafitti to gain notoriety amongst the gangs while avoiding the evil police force. With outstanding cel shaded graphics, a killer soundtrack, and gameplay like nothing else, Jet Set Radio Future was a must buy for new Xbox owners.

Few console launches have featured a more enjoyable driving experience than that found in Project Gotham Racing. Before Forza took the role of exclusive Microsoft racing game, Project Gotham was the Lord of the Manor. Differing from its contemporaries by rewarding stylish driving as much as winning races, Bizarre Creations developed a hugely successful series that helped launch 2 generations of Xbox.

Top 5 launch lineups of all time

I don’t think there has ever been a launch title more successful, anticipated and genre shaping than Halo. The game was so universally praised, that for the entire rest of the console’s lifespan every PlayStation FPS was desperate to earn the title of Halo Killer. Halo put console FPS on the map, with its Sci-fi epic campaign, intense multiplayer, and unique weaponry. It goes without saying that the series went on to find success on all future Microsoft consoles, while also succeeding in making online multiplayer a global phenomenon. The adventures of Master Chief cemented the launch of the original Xbox as a huge success, and ensured that Microsoft’s foray into console gaming would be successful.

There have been so many great launch lineups over gaming’s rich history, with Mario, Link and Master Chief ensuring the success of many a piece of tech. The pure excitement of a new console is a feeling like no other, and without the games to back up the box this simply wouldn’t be the case. Only time will tell if another company will be able to amass exciting enough titles to overshadow the console debuts on this list, and I for one welcome that possibility with anticipation and a nervous wallet.