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The Underwhelming Nature of Console Launches

The Wii U Launch Wasn't Mind Blowing, But That's Nothing New

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When the Wii U launched, critics complained that there were no true console-selling games available. There were some good games, and some bad ones, but the only great games on the Wii U were available on other systems as well. This, everyone agreed, was very disappointing.

But there’s something that we seem to forget every time a game console launches: launches are, more often than not, disappointing. Often the exclusive games meant to define the system are lackluster, and at times there just aren’t enough games available to make buying the console seem worthwhile.

Don’t believe me? In the time I’ve been writing about games I have seen a great many consoles launch, and have almost always sat there with my new toy saying, is this it? Here’s a look back at the home console launches I have witnessed.

Playstation 2

Sony

Launch Date: October 2000

Launch Exclusives: The PS2 had a whopping 29 titles for its North America release, the vast majority of which were exclusives (a number were ported from arcade machines). You might expect this record-holding selection to make the PS2 launch the best of all time, but sadly, most of the games fell into the sort-of-okay category. On the review aggregate site metacritic, only three of the exclusives reached a score above 80 (TimeSplitters, Tekken Tag Tournament, and the critically lauded SSX), with other launch exclusive scores languishing in the 60s and 70s.

The Takeaway: This wasn’t a terrible launch, but it was an inauspicious beginning for a console that arguably wound up with the greatest game library of all time.

Launch Grade: B

Xbox

Microsoft

Launch Date: November 2001

Launch Exclusives: The Xbox offered only 12 North American launch titles, but a respectable 8 of those were Xbox exclusives, including Microsoft’s monstrously successful Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo alone was enough to make a successful launch, but the Xbox also launched with several other solid titles, including Dead or Alive 3, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, and Project Gotham Racing.

The Takeaway: This was Microsoft’s first foray into console manufacturing, and the company knew they needed to hit it out of the park. They did, quickly establishing themselves as a force to reckon with.

Launch Grade: A-

GameCube

Nintendo

Launch Date: November 2001

Launch Exclusives: The GameCube, like the Xbox, had only 12 North American Launch titles. Unlike its competitor, only 4 of those were exclusives, including Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and Luigi's Mansion. These games were well reviewed, but the pickings were still slim, with the most notable GameCube game that year, Pikmin, missing the launch by a month.

The Takeaway: GameCube’s launch proved prophetic, as the console never caught up with the Xbox or the PS2.

Launch Grade: C+

Xbox 360

Microsoft

Launch Date: Nov. 21, 2005

Launch Exclusives: The Xbox 360 launched with 18 titles in North America. Five of them were exclusives; a couple of racing games (Project Gotham Racing 3, Ridge Racer 6), the snowboarding game Amped 3, the FPS Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power. Metacritic scores were generally in the 70s, with PGR3 being the critical darling. The 360 also had a few games, like Condemned: Criminal Origins and Quake 4, which came out for computer systems but appeared on no other console. The console didn’t see anything from its most popular franchise, Halo, for another two years.

The Takeaway: The 360 launched a year ahead of the PS3 and Wii, allowing it to build up its audience, and while it never had a huge number of really impressive exclusives, Microsoft’s Halo and Gears of War franchises were enough to keep its core audience enthralled.

Launch Grade: B-

Playstation 3

Sony

Launch Date: November 2006

Launch Exclusives: The PS3 North American launch was remarkably underwhelming. Only 4 of their dozen or so launch titles were exclusives, and only two of the exclusives got decent reviews, the racing game Ridge Racer 7 and the acclaimed but overrated FPS Resistance: Fall of Man.

The Takeaway: This was one of the worst launches of all time; not only were the initial offerings poor, but it took a full year before Sony released something truly great for the console, and years more before the PS3 really hit its stride.

Launch Grade: C-

Wii

Wii Console System
Nintendo

Launch Date: November 2006

Launch Exclusives: Nintendo’s Wii launch was everything its GameCube launch wasn’t. Of their 21 North American launch titles, 8 were exclusives, and most of these received good to great reviews. They launched with something from one of their biggest IPs, The Legend of Zelda, and also offered up the fun combat-racing game Excite Truck. And then there was Wii Sports, the little mini-game collection that perfectly encapsulated the appeal of the new console, luring in a host of non-gamers. Third parties also did their share, delivering Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and Trauma Center: Second Opinion. And of course, they bundled the Wii with Wii Sports, a fun mini-game collection that many people liked so much they never bothered to buy anything else for the console (which obviously wasn’t what Nintendo had in mind).

The Takeaway: The Wii’s ultimate trajectory was the opposite of the PS3’s; it started out incredibly strong, easily trouncing the competition, but so many third party titles skipped the Wii in favor of the more powerful 360, PS3 and PC that within a few years the Wii had become a dungeon of bad mini-game collections. Within a few years good Wii games had dwindled down to hardly any. It’s an important game launch lesson: good or bad, a launch is only a small part of a much longer journey.

Launch Grade: A

Wii U

Wii U Console + Gamepad
Nintendo

Launch Date: November 2006

Launch Exclusives: The Wii U launched with 32 titles (5 eShop-only), edging out the PS2 for the most launch games I've ever seen. Nine of these were exclusives, but of the nine, none achieved "killer app" status, with only a single game - New Super Mario Bros. U - breaking 80 on Metacritic.

The Takeaway: While not as much of a train wreck as the PS3 launch, Nintendo failed to effectively sell the Wii U through its launch titles, instead seemingly hoping the unique gamepad controller would be the selling point. It's too early to say whether that strategy will work.

Launch Grade: B-

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