The Best Console Launch Games, Ranked

If everything goes as planned, 2020 will conclude with two brand new next generation video game consoles launching all over the world alongside a slew of brand new launch games to hopefully make their steep price tags worth it.The games available the first day a new console arrives usually run the gamut from slightly upgraded cross-generation ports to gorgeous but hollow racing game eye candy. But occasionally, a launch game comes along that is so exceptional and essential that it defines that console’s lifecycle and revolutionizes the video game medium as we know it. Here are the top 10 best console launch games of all time.

The Top 10 Console Launch Games


Click through the gallery above or scroll down for the full list!

10. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Game Boy Advance)

Amidst colorful racing games and ancient platformer ports, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was by far the deepest and most feature-rich Game Boy Advance launch game. Circle of the Moon took everything that made the franchise special up until that point and built upon it – that is, assuming you could actually see it. The GBA launched without a backlit screen, making Castlevania’s dark and moody graphics a bit hard to make out unless you were sitting directly under a lamp. But once you got cozy under the spotlight, it’s sprawling castle, giant boss fights and dual set-up system made it an epic title to launch an epic handheld console.

– Daniel Ervin, Producer

9. Soulcalibur (Dreamcast)

Soulcalibur was a fantastic game all on its own, but it was especially significant as a Dreamcast launch game because it was one of the first examples of a popular arcade game actually being better on a home console. The Dreamcast version of Soulcalibur looked dramatically better than its arcade counterpart, and also came with a host of modes and features that simply weren’t in the arcade version.Beyond all of that though, Soulcalibur gifted the Dreamcast with one of the best fighting games of its time at launch, and its success paved the way for other amazing arcade fighting game ports like Marvel vs Capcom 2, Capcom vs SNK, and many more

– Mitchell Saltzman, Editorial Producer

8. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo Wii)

Following bright, colorful games like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and its many spinoffs, fans were wondering when Nintendo would go dark again for its marquis adventure series. T he company responded with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, a Zelda game that begins with a literal royal coup. While Twilight Princess’ waggle controls on Wii occasionally frustrated, the game will be remembered as an achievement full of dark atmosphere, beautiful visuals, and ambitious storytelling that dared to imagine a Hyrule that was as grand as it was terrifying.

– Matt Kim, Reporter

7. Wii Sports (Nintendo Wii)

On launch day, every single Nintendo Wii was bundled with a copy of Wii Sports, meaning even if you didn’t care about real sports, it was a no-brainer to at least give Wii Sports and your brand new Wiimote a spin, a shake, a waggle, and potentially even an accidental toss through your television. Video games are usually designed for hardcore gamers to conquer in isolation but Wii Sports was designed to play at parties with friends and family members, causing millions of people – even those who had never played a game before – to join the fun and celebrate the game’s eccentric take on motion controlled sports. Making the experience even better was the addition of Nintendo Mii’s, allowing players to recreate themselves or famous pop culture figures and then sending them off to dominate the tennis court and bowling alleys.

– Brian Altano, Host & Producer

6. Tetris (Game Boy)

Tetris had been around since before the Game Boy launched, but it was the pairing of Nintendo’s handheld wonder with the Soviet-made block puzzle game that catapulted both into mainstream popular culture. The game’s simple graphics and easy-to-learn-hard-to-master game mechanics were perfect for the Game Boy, its limited hardware, and its washed-out green dot-matrix screen.

Nintendo wisely bundled Tetris with their handheld during the U.S. launch, and before they knew it, they had sold 40,000 Game Boy units in the first day alone, with that version of Tetris going on to sell 35 million copies. The world was and in many ways still is addicted to Tetris and the Game Boy let them take that addiction with them everywhere.

– Jobert Atienza, Producer

5. Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

Super Mario World was a revelation when it launched alongside Super Nintendo in the early ’90s. It was bigger, more colorful, and packed with more secrets and branching paths than any Super Mario game that came before it. Super Mario World’s dozens and dozens of levels were spacious and often incorporated verticality – a necessity to find the games numerous hidden exits and secret stages. And thanks to the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 capability, Bowser could spin, scale, and appear like he was flying right toward the screen. Super Mario World helped pave the way for the complex, larger-scale games that would start to become commonplace that console generation and set off the 16-bit era with one of the greatest games ever made.

– Chris Reed, Commerce Editor

4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)

Every IGN Zelda Review Score

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an interesting launch game because it also doubled as the swan song to Nintendo’s previous console, the Wii U. Nonetheless, when Breath of the Wild launched on Switch it instantly became one of the deepest and engrossing launch games ever made, giving players a massive, sprawling open world to explore and conquer in a seemingly infinite number of ways. Even more impressive is that it doubled as a portable game, meaning day one Switch owners could sink hundreds of hours of adventuring into this gigantic open-world game anywhere they traveled. Oh, and it also managed to successfully overhaul and evolve a franchise that had been going since the 1980’s which is no small feat despite the small screen.

– Brian Altano, Host & Producer

3. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

For a long time, Super Mario 64 was the benchmark to which every 3D platformer was compared to. Mario’s venture into the third dimension was well met, and proved that the fun and aesthetic of classic 2D game franchises could not only be recaptured in 3D, but in Super Mario 64’s case, set the standard for how 3D platforming games would be like for decades. Many people still remember where every single one of its 120 stars are located and sometimes it feels like the entire N64 controller was designed around this game. Super Mario 64 was the reason to own a Nintendo 64 on day one.

– Mark Medina, Features Producer

How important – and how good – was Halo 1 as the original Xbox’s premier launch title? For starters, there’s a strong argument to be made that the Xbox would not have survived without it. The rest of the Xbox launch lineup wasn’t anything to write home about, and in fact the console’s entire first year until Fall of 2002 – when Xbox Live launched and games like Splinter Cell began rolling in – was pretty barren. As to its quality, it defined “killer app” in that people bought the console specifically for it. Oh, and it also perfected and normalized first-person shooters on consoles in a way that Goldeneye and Perfect Dark never quite could.

– Ryan McCaffrey, Executive Editor

1. Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Outside of being vibrant, challenging, and just plain fun, Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System can be defined in one word: iconic. Not only did Super Mario Bros. set the stage for the NES as a console, resurrecting console gaming after the tragic video game crash of 1983 – it also instantly established Super Mario as one of the most recognizable characters in all of pop culture. Super Mario Bros. embodied what became part of Nintendo’s core philosophy as a game company – to create products that are fun to play for novices as well as difficult to master for pros. From children to aging casual gamers to hardcore speedrunners, Super Mario Bros. is still celebrated and played today, and thanks to tight platforming physics, great level design, and instantly recognizable music, the game will forever be synonymous as the medium of video games as we know it.

– Brian Altano, Host & Producer

So there you have it! As you can see, Nintendo dominates this list quite a bit, but it doesn’t hurt that they’ve launched more video game consoles and handhelds than their two closest competitors combined. Meanwhile it looks like Sony tends to save their biggest first-party guns for a bit later in their respective console’s life. But hey, this is just our list! What is your favorite video game console launch game of all time? What’s the game you couldn’t stop playing on day one and beyond? Let us know in the comments below!


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