Last week, I talked about some of the best U.S. launch games ever. This time, I want to look at the consoles that had the weakest launch lineups.
I have a few notes before we get started. I’m talking about home and handheld consoles starting with the NES (if only for the arbitrary reason that I just don’t know much about the home gaming market in those Atari days). I’m also not going to be worrying about smaller or infamously bad consoles. Yes, obviously the CD-i had a bad launch lineup.
I also want to say that having a small selection of games doesn’t determine the quality of the whole lineup. I know that Nintendo 64 only came out with two titles, but one of them is Super Mario 64, which is among the greatest games of all time. That automatically makes it one of the best launches ever. Pilotwings 64 isn’t too bad, either.
Now then, with that out of the way, let’s get to it.
Game Boy Color — 1998
The Game Boy Color is kind of a weird system. While it was new hardware, the handheld had strong ties to its predecessor. It’s a good thing it could still play Game Boy games, because the four titles that debuted with the Color aren’t too exciting. Yes, Tetris DX is nice, but that should be the bare minimum for a Game Boy launch. A new version of Centipede and a Game & Watch collection don’t fill things out enough. I do have a soft spot for Pocket Bomberman, which is an interesting sidescrolling take on the series.
PlayStation 2 — 2000
This may be one of my more controversial selections here, but I don’t like much about the PS2’s launch lineup. I will say that it had a lot of games when it debuted in the U.S., I just don’t think any of them are that good. Even the ones that some people seem to have liked, like TimeSplitters and Tekken Tag Tournament, never did anything for me. You do have a somewhat interesting oddity in the fireworks-based puzzle game FantaVision, but it’s more often the subject of mockery than praise. This launch also taught me that, no, the Dynasty Warriors franchise is not for me. Thankfully, the PS2 would quickly rebound from this mediocre start.
Nintendo DS — 2004
The Nintendo DS is one of my favorite systems ever, but it had a pretty lousy start. The highlight is an enhanced port of Super Mario 64. It was neat to have that game on the go, and adding three new playable characters made things interesting. But the port was also difficult to control. The original Super Mario 64 made the analog stick famous. Now here was a version of the game that couldn’t support an analog stick. And you know that things were bad at launch when the next most interesting game is Sega’s Feel the Magic: XY/XX, a minigame collection all about dating.
PlayStation 3 — 2006
A large part of my distaste for the PlayStation 3’s launch stems from my dislike of Resistance: Fall of Man. This first-person shooter was Sony’s most important game for the PS3’s debut, but it angered me. Insomniac, a studio that brought us the charming and creative Ratchet & Clank series, was now working on a bland shooter franchise. Yuck. There’s a reason why you never hear anyone talk about the Resistance games anymore. Outside of that, you have forgettable schlock like Genji: Days of the Blade, which we all remember more for its poor E3 showing (giant enemy crabs, anyone?) than the actual game itself.
Nintendo 3DS — 2011
Man, Nintendo has had a rough time with the launches of a decent percentage of its portables. And the 3DS may have the worst starting lineup of them all. Nintendo seemed to think that Nintendogs + Cats would help carry the day, but the charm of that pet sim wore off after playing the original DS game. It’s not an idea that warranted a sequel, then or now (sorry, Switch, I’ve pet enough virtual doggies). Pilotwings Resort, while being the first entry in the franchise in what felt like forever, is surprisingly forgettable. Seriously, I know that I played it, but I can’t remember anything about it. I will say that Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is a bit impressive. It was cool having that fighter on a portable, but it’s not enough to save a boring launch lineup that doesn’t have a Mario or Zelda in sight.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.