Weekend Hot Topic, part 2: The best video game console launches
GameCentral readers discuss the most memorable console launches of yesteryear, from the PS1 to the PC Engine.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Trantor, who asked what previous console launch do you remember most fondly? Was it purely because of the console and the games or did the hype and marketing surrounding it help to make it feel even more exciting?
Many people picked whatever was the most prominent in their childhood, with a lot of mentions of the PlayStation 1 in particular, but also less successful consoles such as the Dreamcast, N64, and original Xbox.
I can honestly say the Nintendo Switch was the most memorable launch for me, even though it was quite recent and had relatively few games. I’ve a few reasons for picking it, Zelda: Breath Of The Wild being one of them. I genuinely believe this is the best game ever made and ever after anticipating it when first starting I became gob-smacked at just how good it was. Even tens of hours later it was surprising me and I have never played anything similar before or since.
But the other reasons are just as important. People quickly forget what dire straits Nintendo were in at that time. The Wii U had been their biggest failure ever and they were being steamrollered by Sony and Microsoft. If the Switch had failed then Nintendo would’ve become irrelevant and very probably gone under or changed themselves into something unrecognisable.
But the buzz about the Switch was good right from the start and I felt confident about getting it straight away, as well as in a way wanting to support Nintendo. Thankfully I was rewarded on all fronts and I’m still amazed by the Switch’s design and how it has completely changed how, and where, I play video games.
I’m not sure if this counts but it’s the first thing that came to mind, perhaps because of GC’s recent preview of the PC Engine Mini, but I remember the build-up to the launch of the PC Engine quite vividly. Me and my friends were constantly gawking at the screenshots in the games magazines at the time (Ace, I think, was one of them?) and with all the talk of CD-ROMs and arcade perfect conversions it seemed like a real breakthrough even beyond the Mega Drive and SNES.
The irony is that I never got one though. My friend did, about a year later after it came out, but he only got a couple of games for it and interest seemed to quickly peter out. But I remember the excitement of the time, the anticipation of new technology and all the things it would enable…
It was because I was young, of course, but I’ve never had quite the same feeling about any other console, even though many have been much more important than the PC Engine. I will be picking up the Mini though, just to see what I missed out on, and I’ll look forward to the PlayStation 5 but will probably give it until at least next year to be sure.
Arcade at home
Now into my forties, my gaming tastes have certainly evolved. My favourite console launch was the Dreamcast, a close call between that and the Mega Drive. It was a difficult time in my life and I reconnected with gaming in a big way, the promise that machine held… I was day one and it was incredible to have Soulcalibur on a TV in my room, then The House Of The Dead 2 and Crazy Taxi. I was truly living the arcade at home dream! My phone bill not so much, being on a dial-up connection!
As time marches on wisdom has taken over, and having been burnt by hardware failures so many times, not to mention the expected high costs of this hardware, I’ll join this next gen probably right at the end – so about five years. Gives me time to save and by then costs will be down and any hardware problems known and hopefully fixed!
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One of my favourite gaming memories is of walking into a shop and seeing Super Mario 64 on a N64 demo unit. People talk about having their mind blown but this was literally draw-dropping stuff. Nobody had ever seen anything like it at the time and my young mind couldn’t comprehend anything other than wanting it for myself.
Luckily I was able to combine both Christmas and birthday, together with my brother’s, to get it and a few months later it was ours and… lived up to our expectations. It’s not often that happens but the game was amazing and while not all the others were it wasn’t too long before Wave Race 64 and Zelda: Ocarina Of Time were wowing us as well.
No new console before or since has had that effect on me, not even the Switch, but then I’m generally more cautious nowadays, especially of buying early and being stuck with a faulty console or one with an unfixable design fault. For that reason alone I’m unlikely to get a next gen console this year, unless there’s a new game on the par of Super Mario 64. But I think it’s probably a safe bet to say there won’t be.
Super launch ball
There is only one console I ever bought at launch, as usually it’s not worth the bother. I bought the first Xbox only when Microsoft, out of nowhere, slashed £100 off the price like a month after release. God that thing was heavy! I took home Dead Or Alive 3 (because I’m a dirty boy) and Halo.
Dead Or Alive 3 was… okay. And while Halo was not entirely my cup of tea, it was definitely the main draw.
But I digress. The console I bought on launch day was the adorable, dinky little GameCube that I have to this very day! And that most certainly was not heavy! You can carry it like a lunchbox! Don’t try to put your sandwiches in it, though – they won’t fit.
I bought Bloody Roar: Primal Fury – which was quite pretty and had one of the most awful soundtracks you have ever heard. I think playing it for too long summons Cthulu or something equally vile and terrible. Bloody Roar was also just okay and quickly left my collection as a trade-in. I wish I had bought Luigi’s Mansion – which I still enjoy! But, the best thing to bring home on day one was Super Monkey Ball.
It had monkeys (okay, they were apes as they had no tails), they were in Perspex balls and it was super. This might be the last great instance of pure arcade magic that you can experience. Perhaps not amazing to look at from a strictly technical point of view, it was and still is quite the beauty.
There was something very special about seeing those Babylonian ziggurats and towers, the toy room stars of the bonus stage and end credits that you could play through and my personal favourite: the nighttime diner stages. the silhouettes of the monkeys against the warm, golden light as you sped past and often off the stage into the infinite night below was just so heart-warming.
And it had really fun multiplayer, too! Quite frankly, it is one of the finest launch games there has ever been. Of course it’s not as strong as Super Mario 64 or Halo, but is still better than most. Shallow? Yes, somewhat. But, being one of the most arcadey games ever, I would argue it doesn’t really need much depth. It just needs to be a lot of fun. Which it is. So there.
I’ve never bought a console at launch! Despite playing a bit in seaside arcades as a kid I only really got into gaming a lot later so I’ve always been a generation behind!
I’m in fact still playing PlayStation 3 games more at the moment despite having a PlayStation 4, so with a huge amount of PlayStation 4 games still to play I definitely won’t be getting a PlayStation 5 this year!
I’m quite happy taking my time, plus when I do get round to the next gen both the games and console should be cheaper!
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The PlayStation 1 was me in the thick of it. A program called Bad Influence with Andy Crane and Violet Berlin showed the functionality of this new state-of-the-art console. The points I remember were no full games were bundled with the launch console, unlike the previous Nintendo and Sega releases, and what about saving the games – no memory cartridges as of yet!
It basically came with a demo disc with a noteworthy Tyrannosaurus Rex in full polygon motion and, to be honest, it was pretty impressive. But the fact that Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on the Nintendo 64 had a whole bunch of awesome looking dinosaurs, plus the T- Rex as an end of game series of bosses, kind of won it more for me.
WipEout and Tekken were impressive, a bit like having arcade quality in your own home at last. To be honest though you would have to wait a fair bit for the games that really sold the system a few years later, as the initial line-up were mediocre in a respectable way.
No Mario or Sonic beaters here but Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7 and Metal Gear Solid were on their way and Tomb Raider was lighting the way with a bright burning torch, also. The PlayStation 1 was soon going to unbeatable. Also, with classics like Jonah Lomu Rugby, decent Formula 1 titles and FIFA games, I can safely say that the PlayStation 1 launch was probably the dawn of what the future of mainstream gaming would eventually be for the new gaming-curious masses.
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