The Top 7... Best launch games of all time

5 – Soul Calibur (Dreamcast, 1999)

We’ve already named Soul Calibur the best Dreamcast game of all time, so that automatically guarantees it a place on this list. After years of blurry textures (on N64) and lethally sharp, jaggy polygons (on PS1), seeing these silky smooth fighters prance across the screen was like rubbing a decade’s worth of dirt out of our eyes. For the first time in years, it felt like we had a truly enviable console on our hands.

Soul Calibur represented more than a more powerful piece of gaming tech. It suggested Sega was on track to recover from the Saturn, and that the Dreamcast could restore the company’s Genesis-era popularity. With a game this clean, this ridiculously fun to play (and to watch) on day one, surely the next five years would be filled with even greater works. As you likely know, five years later Sega was out of the hardware business entirely, so Soul Calibur wasn’t strong enough to carry an entire machine (nor atone for Sega’s myriad mistakes), but it did move a boatload of consoles in that crucial holiday season and make us feel, even if just for a few months, that Sega had found its new golden goose.

4 – Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox, 2001)

Originally meant for both PC and Mac, Halo ended up as the single most important release for the original Xbox, ushering in a new age of copycat shooters and, most importantly, a newfound industry emphasis on multiplayer. Even though Xbox Live wasn’t around for the ’01 launch, the innumerable LAN parties that erupted – from console gamers, not hardcore PC techies – changed the gaming landscape forever.

Above: Plus it was full of fun ways to dick around 

Halo offered a fresh yet familiar take on the well-tread FPS genre, throwing in a great mix of tunnel shooting, vehicular combat and wide-open areas with the titular halo floating in the sky, plus the entire campaign available in co-op years before that became a major selling point. Cut to today, where Halo is a franchise so huge it has a near-constant stream of merchandise and routinely debuts at the top of the charts. If there had been no Halo, there’s a very good chance the Xbox would have floundered, making it an indispensable part of the system’s launch lineup.

Halo’s also partly responsible for the rise of machinima, specifically the hugely successful Red vs Blue series. Sure, people had used in-game graphics to make mini-movies prior to Halo, but Red vs Blue escalated and popularized the craft into totally watchable vignettes. In short, Halo sold five million copies, kickstarted console multiplayer and brought a new medium to the mainstream. Any one of those is an important milestone. All three makes it one of the most important games of all time, launch or not.

3 – Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)

When the N64 launched, it was one of the most feverishly sought-after products that holiday season (supposedly bested only by Tickle Me Elmo). With a launch consisting of just two (yes TWO) games, they had to be pretty damn good to justify all that hype. And if you were around for said hype, you know that Super Mario 64 lived up to 100% of the hyperbole (Pilotwings 64, not as much).

Nintendo more or less invented and perfected the 3D platformer as we know it, and did so in just one try. It dragged Mario out of his 2D prison and set him loose in (at the time) breathtakingly realized worlds that stretched out in all directions. From sunken pirate ships to erupting volcanoes to a 10-story grandfather clock, each world you visited felt like creativity incarnate. The appeal of this 3D reinvention was so strong it carried the entire system through its labored existence, remaining its best game from the moment it launched until the depressing, empty funeral in 2001.

Why no Super Mario World? As good as it was (which is damn good, btw), it was neither the game-changer of our number two entry, nor was it the mind-blowing recreation that was Mario 64. Plus, do you really want three out of seven entries on this list to be Mario games?


Top 7


  • thefreakysurgeon - August 26, 2010 9:37 p.m.

    Super Mario 64 was the BEST! Not my favorite game on the N64, though (Paper Mario is my favorite N64 game)
  • frogfromchronotriggerisactuallyjesus - August 24, 2010 1:20 a.m.

  • Bhup666 - August 20, 2010 10:26 a.m.

    For the first time in my life, I totally agree on a list on the internet! With everything! I loved Tetris on Gameboy back in 1990 when I first got that handhold console. Just loved it!! It's still my favorite game on DS.
  • Camoxide - August 18, 2010 9:13 p.m.

    wtf you had Wii sports over Twilight princess?
  • elpurplemonkey - August 18, 2010 6:25 a.m.

    Definitely one of the better Top 7's in the last few weeks. My personal number one would be Super Mario World, but I recognize that the list is more about impact on the system and the video game landscape than personal taste. Also, echoing another poster above me- way too many people don't know what the word 'launch' means.
  • bhamjustin - August 18, 2010 2:36 a.m.

    What a great & nastalgic (SP?) Top 7! I was sure that Mario was going to take the #1 spot with the NES, but when I saw you'd really thought this through and saw Tetris held that spot, I knew you were right. The fact that Tetris is now playable on all stages/platforms/anything, you are truly correct. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.
  • CoktorBloktopus - August 17, 2010 11:26 p.m.

    i love all of theses game. I have been laid because of WII .
  • fanboyhunter - August 17, 2010 10:08 p.m.

    Great article Brett! My pick would be Halo for #1 and Mario64 as #2 but I see your reasoning and agree.
  • Ravenbom - August 17, 2010 9:13 p.m.

    Thank you for taking the risk of saying "Wii Sports". As a hardcore gamer myself I can't deny the impact that it's had. There are people that think the Wii only plays one (5) games: Wii Sports. It's impossible to ignore. Though, if you want to get super hardcore, Pong is where it all started and it was HUGE in the land before I was hanging around in my father's ballsack. I would have changed out SoulCalibur for Pong, personally. Still, I personally can't argue with the entries at all, love it!
  • GameManiac - August 17, 2010 7:04 p.m.

    One of the best Top 7 articles in a while, especially since I've played all of the games on the list, except for Soul Caliber and Lumines.
  • SHAPATTAK - August 17, 2010 4:06 p.m.

    I had Tetris dreams for days after playing it for the first time on Gameboy (for hours straight).
  • Bitchslapthehomeless - August 17, 2010 2:55 p.m.

    This some ho-ass-shit to not include Kameo. Nah, just kidding.
  • joshin69 - August 17, 2010 1:49 p.m.

    For me ridge racer could and should have been on there for the PS
  • skyline19 - August 17, 2010 12:02 p.m.

    glad halo was in there, the memories :)
  • philipshaw - August 17, 2010 11:04 a.m.

    I agree with the number 1 but saying I wasn't born when it came out, Mario 64 is still my favorite lauch game
  • AuthorityFigure - August 17, 2010 9:05 a.m.

    So many sales, so few memories...
  • GamesRadarBrettElston - August 17, 2010 7:20 a.m.

    TECHNICALLY the N64 puttered through a final year and died in 2002, but there were no games released in the US in 2003, and 2001 was so utterly devoid of content that the system was effectively dead a month before the GameCube launched in November '01. 2001 had Paper Mario, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Madden 2002 and the Power Puff Girls game as the only notable releases. Very sad. Then THPS3 in 2002 as an afterthought.
  • QWERTYCommander - August 17, 2010 6:56 a.m.

    Hey Brett, the N64's funeral wasn't in 2001, it was in 2003, with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3.
  • PanzerDSS - August 17, 2010 6:48 a.m.

    No Panzer Dragoon? :(
  • jmcgrotty - August 17, 2010 6:21 a.m.

    I always found it humorous that at the time of the PS2s release, FantaVision was getting rave reviews.

Showing 1-20 of 83 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000