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From NES to Xbox One: A look back at the biggest and best console launches

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Above: The Super Nintendo competed against the Sega Genesis in an intense console war.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Launch date: August 23, 1991

Launch price: $199 (came with two controllers and Super Mario World)

The story: Sega had successfully marketed its Genesis system as the hipper alteamously stating in ads that “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.” Nintendo quickly countered with a 16-bit system of its own, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (most often simply called the Super Nintendo or SNES). Remembering how successful the Control Deck bundle of the NES was, which came with Super Mario Bros., Nintendo packaged a copy of Mario’s newest platformer, Super Mario World, with every console at launch.

Notable launch games:

  • Super Mario World: Super Mario World proved a perfect showcase for the Super Nintendo’s ability to run colorful, detailed games (at least when compared to the simplistic NES). It also featured the first appearance of Yoshi, Mario’s famous dinosaur steed with an appetite for just about anything. Super Mario World has an average review score of 94.44% according to aggregate site GameRankings.
  • F-Zero: It’s hard to imagine a time when Nintendo didn’t have Mario Kart around to tout as its premier racing series, but the genre was relatively new to the Japanese gaming giant in 1991. F-Zero featured a futuristic setting that showed off the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 graphical capabilities, which allowed a flat background layer to quickly scroll across the screen and simulate depth. F-Zero has an average score of 82.83% on GameRankings.

Did you know?

Wonder why the SNES had such a curved top, especially when compared to the flat surface of the NES? That’s because Nintendo was sick of gamers resting their drinks on the system, which often led to spilling and damage of the console.


Sega Saturn

Sega Saturn

Above: The Sega Saturn looked like a grown-up Genesis.

Image Credit: Sega

Launch date: May 11, 1995

Launch price: $399

The story: Sega tried to prolong the life of the Genesis as long as it could with add-on hardware like the disk-based Sega CD and top-loaded 32X, but neither really caught on. The Saturn was finally set to succeed the aging Genesis on September 2, 1995. However, Sega surprised everyone when they announced at the first Electronic Entertainment Expo on May 11, 1995 that its new system was available immediately, but only at Toys “R” Us, Babbage’s, Software Etc., and Electronics Boutique.

Notable launch games:

  • Panzer Dragoon: Panzer Dragoon dazzled gamers back in 1995 with its 3D graphics and epic levels experienced on the back of a flying dragon. It even spawned two sequels on the Saturn, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei in 1996 and Panzer Dragoon Saga in 1998. The original has an average review score of 90.92% according to GameRankings.
  • Virtua Fighter: Just like Altered Beast showed consumers the Genesis’ ability to play arcade-quality titles, Virtua Fighter replicated the then state-of-the-art 3D graphics of Sega’s popular fighter from the arcades. An updated version of the game, Virtua Fighter Remix, featured a higher polygon count and was later mailed to every registered Saturn owner in the U.S. for free.  The original Saturn release of Virtua Fighter has an average review score of 89.57% according to GameRankings.

Did you know?

Sega started to publicly talk about its next system, eventually known as the Dreamcast, just two years after the struggling Saturn debuted. This early reveal of a successor caused bad Saturn sales to get even worse.


Sony PlayStation

Sony PlayStation

Above: Sony’s first system, the PlayStation.

Image Credit: Sony

Launch date: September 9, 1995

Launch price: $299 (came with a demo disk)

The story: Sega released the Saturn early in hopes of getting a head start on its new competition, Sony. The electronics giant was about to release its first system, the PlayStation. At the same Electronic Entertainment Expo where Sega announced that the Saturn was out months before its planned September 2, 1995 release date, Sony unveiled that the PlayStation would be $100 cheaper than Sega’s console. It didn’t take the PlayStation too long after its September 9, 1995 release date to overcome the Saturn’s lifetime sales.

Notable launch games:

  • Battle Arena Toshinden: The Saturn may have had Virtua Fighter, but the PlayStation had Battle Arena Toshinden. The 3D fighter featured weapons-based battles before the Soul Edge/Calibur series ever debuted. Battle Arena Toshinden has an average review score of 85% according to GameRankings.
  • Ridge Racer: It’s Ridge Racer! Ridgeeeee Racerrrrrr. Long before the series became a meme, Ridge Racer was the premier racing franchise on the PlayStation. The first one debuted with Sony’s first system and showed off the PlayStation’s ability to render 3D environments. Ridge Racer has an average review score of 81% according to GameRankings.

Did you know?

Sony was originally helping Nintendo make a CD add-on for the Super Nintendo. Nintendo eventually backed out of the project, but Sony decided to release the device as a standalone system anyway, giving birth to the original PlayStation.

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