For decades, the excitement surrounding the release of new gaming consoles has always been matched by the assortment of games that launch with it, with the games becoming an event within themselves in bearing the critical potential to sell the systems.
These launch titles have historically acted as representatives for the power of each gaming system, whether those incarnations meant the polygon-based action of “Super Mario 64” for the Nintendo 64 in 1996 or the upcoming 8k-resolution of the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X releases.
“Tetris” – Nintendo Game Boy (July 1989)
While the Soviet-sourced tile-matching block game had existed before the 8-bit gaming systems release, “Tetris” attained its true fame through its pairing with the Nintendo Game Boy in 1989.
The handheld gaming device sold 40,000 units in just the first day of its North American release, much in part to the timeless simplicity of Alexey Pajitnov’s game, which remains the single bestselling game of all time at 35 million copies sold for the Game Boy system.
“SSX” – Sony PlayStation 2 (October 2000)
Upon its release in 2000, “SSX” for the Sony PlayStation 2 was a psychedelic twist on a conventional launch title genre. The concept of racing games accompanying a new system’s release dated back to “Street Racer” for the Atari 2600 in 1977, but “SSX” broke the mold in bold fashion – literally – with the dynamic textures of its high-speed snowboarding action.
The prime launch title for the PS2’s release, “SSX” would go on to sell roughly 3 million copies and prompt five sequels from 2001 to 2012.
“Soul Calibur” – Sega Dreamcast (September 1999)
“Soul Calibur” was the fighting game that brought a piece of the arcade right to the living room. The tight controls and impressive graphics made the competitive, fast-paced fighter not only on par, but also preferred to its arcade-cabinet counterpart.
The merits of “Soul Calibur,” never mind the 18 other solid titles with which it launched, justified going out and purchasing a Dreamcast for that game alone, serving the purpose of a prototypical launch title to a tee.
Wii Sports – Nintendo Wii (November 2006)
With its iconic and approachable roster of tennis, baseball, bowling, golf and boxing games, Wii Sports managed to magnetize casual gamers and diehards alike through its accessible form of motion-controlled sports.
There wasn’t a sport included that didn’t appear to be teeming with intuitive fun, making it a staple for parties, friends and families to all be able to enjoy.
Through that accessibility, and its automatic inclusion with any sale of a Wii, Wii Sports is technically the highest-selling game of all time with 101 million units sold, according to goliath.com.
“Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” – Nintendo Switch (March 2017)
The 19th installment of the Nintendo franchise, “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” earned praise for blending the appointments of an open-world sandbox game with the known character and charm of the classic action-adventure series.
The game’s deeply reactive environment lent itself to a sense of directionlessness that doubled as an invitation for exploration and a storytelling device for the dilapidated ruins of Hyrule. More than that, the game used the features of the Nintendo Switch’s hybrid console capabilities, allowing users to play conventionally on TV screens or through the handheld gamepad.
Between its status as a launch title for the Switch and release for the Wii-U, “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” has sold nearly 18 million units.
“Halo: Combat Evolved” – Microsoft Xbox (November 2001)
The success of the original Xbox was almost entirely dependent, or due, to the overwhelming success of “Halo: Combat Evolved.” The sci-fi, first-person shooter provided a nuanced single-player campaign mode and comprehensive multiplayer capability at a time when other titles in the genre typically catered toward one or the other.
Given the comparatively thin selection of Microsoft’s other launch titles at the time, the sustained success of the Xbox is largely indebted to “Halo.”
“Super Mario 64” – Nintendo 64 (September 1996)
An inspired first step into the world of 3D gaming, “Super Mario 64” literally added a new dimension to what kind of gameplay was possible for in-home gaming systems. The release transformed the 2D platformer into something else entirely that was more cerebral, arguably weirder and undeniably innovating.
The unshakeable insistence on reinvention meant that pop culture’s prized fighter, er, plumber was now out to solve a new world of archaic puzzles with plenty of Goomba squashing and star collecting left to do.
The ingenuity and gameplay are just as timeless as the opening notes of the theme song to the franchise, resonating with gamers of yesteryear, today and tomorrow under a common name and truly vital launch title.