A History of Video Game Console Launches Part One: Nintendo

Written by Adam Shear

In the video games industry, launching a new console is one of the trickiest things imaginable.  To be honest, there really have been no outstanding console launches to date.  What does a perfect console launch mean?  It means that on the first day the console is out, all of the console’s major features are up and running, there are plenty of games with both quantity and quality mattering, the hardware is in good shape with little to no bugs or defects, and there is enough supply to go around.  Not only that but the launch window, the short two or three month period after the launch, also needs to be filled with quality games and updates.

Nintendo’s console launches have been very interesting.  There are some really good ones and some really bad ones.  The best that come to mind were Nintendo’s first three systems.  The NES, the SNES, and Nintendo 64 all launched with major Mario titles.  Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 all provided gamers proper introductions to their new systems.  Without a doubt, I would consider Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64 tied for the greatest launch title in video game history.  Not only was Super Mario 64 great, it changed the whole video games industry.  Just about very 3D game to release was inspired by Super Mario 64.  It was the first 3D game where a player can control their movement and viewpoint independently.  It also justified why the analog stick would become a staple on the video game controller today.  The original Super Mario Bros. single handedly saved the video games industry in the United States.  Nobody wanted to get back into it after the video game crash of 1983.  Super Mario Bros. on the NES got people into games again due to its fun gameplay and incredible graphics. Without Super Mario Bros., the video games industry as we know it today might not have ever existed.  Coming in a close second in my opinion is Tetris which was not just a launch title for Game Boy, it was bundled with the system on day one.  It made the Game Boy a must have and got people completely addicted to such a simple game which can be carried around anywhere.

The launches of NES and Game Boy were not bad.  They had a few other games worth playing such as Duck Hunt and Super Mario Land.  The launches of SNES and Nintendo 64 only had Mario and Pilotwings.  The SNES also had F-Zero.  It was literally just those two or three games.  Nintendo didn’t rely on third party launch titles until the introduction of Game Boy Advance in 2001.

Nintendo’s first launches were great.  After that unfortunately, it went downhill from there.  The Game Boy Advance launch just featured a rehash of Super Mario Bros. 2 which people can take on the go as well as the first and only portable F-Zero game to date.  Its third party launch titles were not bad but none really stood out.  The launch of Nintendo GameCube was Nintendo’s first system launch without a Mario game.  Instead, Nintendo had Luigi’s Mansion which was not a bad game, but definitely no killer app.  Wave Race: Blue Runner was also not bad but not a must have.  The highlights of GameCube’s launch were Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and Super Monkey Ball.  Nintendo’s big 2001 titles, Pikmin and Super Smash Bros. Melee, did not come until two weeks after launch.  Super Smash Bros. Melee was easily the killer app for Nintendo GameCube.  It may not have made it to launch, but it made it just in time for Christmas shoppers to pick it up.

The Nintendo DS was a very different system.  It had two screens with one screen being a touch screen, two media slots (one for DS cards and another for GBA cartridges), more buttons than the Game Boy Advance, and it was more powerful than the Nintendo 64.  Buying a Nintendo DS was my first experience picking up a system on launch day.  Sure, Nintendo DS had a couple of great launch games, but none really were killer apps.  The biggest launch title and my personal favorite was Super Mario 64 DS.  I never played the original so I was amazed by the game.  Those who did play the N64 classic were less interested.  Probably the coolest thing to play on launch day was the pack in demo of Metroid Prime: Hunters which came with every system.  It really showed off the graphical capabilities of the Nintendo DS and showed what the system could do.  Another stand out title was Feel the Magic which provided quirky minigames that took advantage of the system’s touch screen and dual screen capabilities.  Japan got better launch titles such as a new WarioWare game which Americans would not get until three months after launch.  Gamers knew that the DS had a lot going for it with games such as New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart DS, coming within less than two years of the system’s launch.

Nintendo’s new Wii console in 2006 had to be a hit with all types of gamers.  Nintendo realized that adding value to their system would convince people to purchase it.  It would also justify making the Wii the most expensive Nintendo console to date.  For $250, the Wii came with a lot of built in or free downloadable software such as the Mii Maker, Weather app, News app, the Opera web browser (free for early adopters), and it came with the game Wii Sports.  Nintendo figured out how to add value very easily.  The Wii’s launch titles were not bad.  The biggest one was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.  No Mario titles for the Wii’s launch but a major Zelda title is a nice alternative.  Even though this was a GameCube game, it was redone to add Wii controls and could be displayed in higher resolutions than on GameCube.  Other highlights included Excitetruck, Rayman: Raving Rabbids, and Trauma Center.  Red Steel was supposed to please hardcore gamers but failed to do so.  The launch definitely fell under expectations after Nintendo announced a year earlier that there would be an online Super Smash Bros. game available on day one.  We had to wait until 2008 for that to happen.  Wii Sports was easily the killer app.  It opened gaming to a whole new audience and made the Wii very hard to find in stores due to an extremely high demand.

Nintendo’s most recent system launch, the Nintendo 3DS, was nothing short of a disaster.  Even though the system was priced initially at $250, it came with a lot of value.  It had the AR cards, Face Raiders, the Mii Maker, and more.  Even if someone did not buy a game for their Nintendo 3DS, they would still have a lot to do on the system itself.  The launch of Nintendo 3DS went wrong because Nintendo simply rushed the product to market.  They clearly were not ready to launch it when they did.  Both the Wii and Nintendo DSi had their online stores open on launch day.  3DS owners had to wait three whole months for the launch of the eShop.  Not only that but early adopters had to wait about twice that amount for original content on the eShop, not just Game Boy games and 3D Classics.  Even worse than that were the launch titles.  Nintendo initially promised at E3 2010 that Kid Icarus: Uprising would be a launch title.  This never happened.  Nintendo’s launch titles included Pilotwings Resort, Nintendogs + Cats, and Steel Diver.  I’m not gonna lie, I had a lot of fun with Pilotwings, even if it is no hardcore game.  Street Fighter IV 3D Edition was easily the most hardcore launch title.  A portable, 3D version of Street Fighter IV made most gamers happy for the time being.  There really were no stand out games until The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D released three months after launch.  Nobody bought the 3DS when it first came out due to a lack of games and a high price.  This is why Nintendo dropped it by $70 and why it sold like hotcakes by the time Super Mario 3D Land released.

There really are a lot of trends when it comes to Nintendo’s most recent launches.  From now on, they are going to add lots of value to the system itself and price it as high as they can.  Exciting launch titles were announced upon many systems’ debuts such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Kid Icarus: Uprising, but they were each released more than a year after launch.  With the Wii U, there are lot of things that are easy to predict.  I believe Nintendo will price the Wii U between $250 and $300, most likely $250.  It will come with a ton of pre loaded games and applications or free ones that can be easily downloaded.  Aside from pre loaded games, there will most likely be a retail game bundled as well.  It will be something that is more geared towards casual gamers.  At E3 last year, Shigeru Miyamoto announced that Pikmin 3 is in development for Wii U and could very well be a launch title.  Considering that Pikmin 3 has been in development for at least four years, first on Wii and then transitioned to Wii U, I think it probably will make it out on launch day.  As for other titles, I’m not so sure.  Nintendo definitely has a few surprises in store.  Not only that but I’m sure the Wii U experiences Nintendo has showed off to the press such as Chase Mii and Battle Mii will somehow make it on the system with more features.

Overall, Nintendo demonstrated that a great launch needs either great games or a great value.  They showed what the power of a pack in game such as Wii Sports or Tetris can bring to the table.  They will continue these trends in their future and many of their competitors will or have taken notice.  Stay tuned for three more parts featuring systems from Sony, Microsoft, Sega, and more.


About the author

Adam Shear

Contributing Writer. @AdamShear. When he's not spending his hours working in the TV industry, he's spending his time playing video games and thinking about them.

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