The Dorklyst: The 12 Greatest Launch Games Of All-Time!

BY DAN ABROMOWITZ / JANUARY 3, 2013 Dorkly.com

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The launch of a console is terrifying. A beloved company could find itself dashed against the cold shoals of consumer culture, or exalted into everlasting greatness and high stock prices. You could end up sinking your hard-earned ~$300-400 into a big dusty brick to be boxed up with your broken VCR, or investing in a permanent fixture in dorms and apartments to come. But there, guiding you to safety like harbor buoys through a thick mist, there are the games launching alongside the console, and every now and then there comes a launch game so powerful, so potent, so perfect, it single-handedly justifies that day one impulse buy or that midnight launch line. Here’re the 12 best console launch titles ever put out.

12. SSX (PS2)

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Bright, bumping, and bold, SSX was a gauzy dream of a racing game, trading in the white-knuckled adrenaline of your Gran Turismo or your Mario Kart for a Zen-like downhill flow state, aided by dynamically shifting electronic music. The brilliance of SSX was that, at a certain point, the whole “racing” thing just falls away in your mind, and you become engulfed in floating through impossible topographies, borne on an infinite crystalline carpet, feeling the pulse of the world wash over you like a sonic ocean. I guess what I’m getting at is that SSX is basically just MDMA.

11. Soulcalibur (Dreamcast)

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Though it’s been years since I last hefted an enormous cursed living sword on the Dreamcast, I will never forget Soulcalibur as long as I live. This is because I see Voldo’s unearthly gyrations and gesticulations every time I close my eyes, even for a moment, his ornate codpiece thrusting closer and closer, closer and closer and closer. Because of this, life is a nightmare and I will welcome death with a kiss. But also, because Soulcalibur is an absolute gem of the fighting genre, a pioneer of the 3D fighter with its eight-way run system and, despite some balance issues, a sublime linked combo system toeing the line between the deceptive accessibility of the Tekken series and the extravagant button chains of Mortal Kombat, with cool-ass weapons slopped on top like molten steel gravy. And then there’s Voldo… hissing… thrusting…inscrutable and implacable. God. Oh, God.

10. Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3)

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When the Xbox 360 and PS3 launched, it was hell out there. All the arbitrary, brand-loyal partisan bickering from the previous generation came back in full force like weird hateful sex feelings towards an awful ex. For some reason, video games made us behave poorly towards each other. Looking back, one thing is clear: PS3 buyers had a better launch day, almost single-handedly due to Resistance: Fall of Man (though that the launch closely coincided with the release of Gears of War made it basically the Tet Offensive of console war escalation). Resistance did Perfect Dark better than Perfect Dark Zero did, with goofball guns out the ass, and did Gears of War almost as well as Gears of War did, with a humanity’s-last-stand storyline that, while involving no Cole Trains, was still pretty cool. Though it broke no molds, nor shifted any paradigms, Resistance is still a testament to good ideas and compelling world-building polished to a mirror sheen.

9. Rogue Leader (GameCube)

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You want to fly an X-Wing? Of course you do. You want to pilot the Millennium dang Falcon? Are you kidding? You want to drive a missile-firing Buick in space? Hell yes you do. All these things and more (exactly ten more, actually) are possible in Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, the balls-out space sim. A graphical powerhouse for its time (and, unfortunately, for most of the Gamecube’s lifespan), Rogue Leader rests comfortably in the small pantheon of distinctly good Star Wars games. Most of all, zipping around in the black of space blowing up TIE fighters, it had the good sense to make you feel cool, like an X-Wing pilot is supposed to. Except if you’re the fat one, Porkins. We miss you, Porkins.

8. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA)

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With the release of the GameBoy Advance, Nintendo chose for the big Mario release to be a remake of Super Mario Bros. 2, which isn’t many peoples favorite Mario game to begin with. Luckily, they also released Castlevania: Circle of the Moon along with it – it had the setup of the now-standard “Metroidvania” style of gameplay, plenty of RPG elements, and (best of all) card collecting. These cards, unlike Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon Card Game, had magical abilities, but still – you and I are not so different from vampire hunters. The only major complaint leveled against the game was that it was insanely dark, and thanks to the GBA’s initial lack of a backlight, very difficult to see what the hell was going on in the screen. Then again, maybe it was just extremely self-aware. After all, why would Dracula want light in his castle?

7. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (Xbox 360)

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Geometry Wars is tiny, beautiful, and perfect. It’s like a chicken nugget that reappears after you eat it, glistening with honey mustard or barbecue sauce. It’s like the little laugh after a first kiss. It’s cool and fun to yell at, like your best friend’s dog. It’s the arcade game kids in the 80’s had wet dreams about. It gets more gameplay out of two analog sticks than some games get out of entire controllers. It proved that a well-designed, well-polished, digitally distributed indie console game can actually sell well, so you might as well blame Geometry Wars for the proliferation of top-shelf indie games like Shadow Complex and Braid. I love it, and so do you. Geometry Wars!

6. Wii Sports (Wii)

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If Wii Tennis never made you grin like an idiot as you flailed your arms and unconsciously synched your breathing with the back-and-forth of the rally, you’ve failed some kind of Turing test. If Wii Bowling never made you scream cusses at your 8-year-old cousin for obliterating you on the lanes, you need to reevaluate your life priorities. If you’ve never gotten drunk and played Wii Golf and thrown the controller across the room and it knocks over a picture of your great-granddad and the glass breaks and your dad is screaming and crying because that was the only picture he had of his grandpa, then we have nothing to say to each other. Baseball and Boxing are fine, too, I guess.

5. Tetris (Game Boy)

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Tetris is the haiku of video games: utterly simple, breathtakingly elegant. I have had more Tetris dreams than sex dreams. Tetris nestles into our brains like it belongs there. Packaged with the original Game Boy (and its color version, Tetris DX, with the Game Boy Color), Tetris completed handheld gaming like Renée did Tom. There is, however, a dystopian alternate reality where this never happened; Tetris’s manufacture for the Game Boy, and its subsequent 30 million sold units, only came at the tail end of a protracted, years-long legal battle between Nintendo, Atari, and multiple developers. So remember: When a big corporation wins a big lawsuit, it’s always a good thing.

4. Super Mario World (SNES)

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Arguably one of the best games of all time for arguably one of the best consoles of all time, Super Mario World spiked the ball Super Mario Bros 3 had set for it and blew the damn roof off of what a Mario game looks like, what a platformer looks like, and what a video game looks like in general. Let’s talk about the controls: beautiful, buttery-smooth, flowing from your brain to your fingers to the screen like you’re Mario’s spinal cord. Let’s talk about the physics: Sir Isaac Newton would kneel and weep after a hot minute with our boy the plumber. Let’s talk about the fact that you hop on the back of a dinosaur like that’s not something worth taking a minute to thank God and the Devil both for. Let’s talk about how Super Mario World conveys a fully realized artistic vision, one you can play, and how incredible that is in and of itself. And then let’s stop talking so we can both find an emulator and play it.

3. Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)

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Anything I write here is guaranteed to make someone mad. Please just trust us on this one.

2. Super Mario Bros (NES)

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Super Mario Bros is the Plato, Marx, or Freud of video games; take your pick. It’s the Odyssey or Beowulf. It’s in the subconscious of all gaming, shaping the language, shaping how we think about games, shaping what games are and can be. There’s a very good reason why Braid, one of the most critically acclaimed “art games” of all time, is built on top of deconstructing Super Mario Bros. It doesn’t even matter whether you’ve ever even played Super Mario Bros: you know it, you know how it feels, you know what it looks and sounds like, that the Princess is in another castle, how to use a warp pipe. As gamers, it’s in our blood and bones. How cool is that?

1. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

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When I was young and owned no video game consoles, I had a dream that I received a Nintendo 64 for Chanukkah. In that dream, I set up the console, turned it on, and played Super Mario 64 for the rest of the night. This dream was so vivid that when I woke abruptly, early in the morning, I had to go downstairs and confirm that I did not, in fact, have an N64, a realization as crushing as the dream was fantastic. It matters very, very much whether you’ve ever played Super Mario 64, because it is joy, and it will never quite leave you. Holding the distinct status of having infinite replay value, Super Mario 64 is simultaneously a whole huge explorable world, a journey of discovery, a master class in truly great game design, a feast for the eyes and a banquet for the ears, any number of fantasies made experienceable, and just indescribably, deeply, capital-f Fun. And though there are hundreds and hundreds of games like it, there isn’t a single game like it.

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