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

Nintendo 64

Nintendo 64

Above: The Nintendo 64 still used cartridges at a time when its competitors switched to disks.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Launch date: September 29, 1996

Launch price: $199

The story: With Sony and Sega releasing new systems, Nintendo knew it had to make a successor to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The new console featured a 64-bit central processing unit, compared to the 32-bits the Saturn and PlayStation boasted. Nintendo touted this feature so much, it named the new console the Nintendo 64. And while Sega and Sony’s machines ran games off of CDs, Nintendo was sticking with cartridges. The Nintendo 64 launched a year after the PlayStation on September 29, 1996.

Notable launch games:

  • Super Mario 64: At this point, Nintendo knew that good things happened when it launched a new Mario game with new hardware. Super Mario 64 was one of the first 3D platformers, allowing players to explore large, non-linear levels with 360 degrees of movement control. Fans and critics consider Super Mario 64 a classic and one of the best games to ever launch with a system. It has an average review score of 96.42 on GameRankings to back that claim up.
  • Pilotwings 64: OK, so maybe Pilotwings 64 is on here by default. It was the only other game to launch with the Nintendo 64 besides Super Mario 64. Still, it was a great title in its own right. A followup to Pilotwings on the Super Nintendo, the sequel also had players fly jet packs, gliders, and airplanes through a series of obstacles. You could also freely explore the island where all of this action took place. Pilotwings 64 has an average review score of  87.52% according to GameRankings.

Did you know?

Nintendo was originally going to name the Nintendo 64 the Ultra 64, and two arcade games planned for eventual release on the system, Killer Instinct and Cruis’n USA, actually showed Ultra 64 logos during their idle screens.


Sega Dreamcast

Sega Dreamcast

Above: The Sega Dreamcast featured a controller with a small screen that doubled as a memory card.

Image Credit: Sega

Launch date: September 9, 1999

Launch price: $199

The story: After a string of disappointing hardware, Sega was hoping to make a comeback with the Dreamcast. The new system boasted noticeably better graphics than the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, and cost a reasonable $199 on its September 1999 launch. Sadly, despite an initially strong launch, the Dreamcast could not compete with the PlayStation 2 once it came out in 2000. Sega later became a 3rd-party developer, making the Dreamcast the last Sega system you’ll see on this list.

Notable launch games:

  • Sonic Adventure: Despite the success and popularity of Super Mario 64, the plumber’s greatest rival, Sonic, never had a 3D adventure of his own on the Saturn. Sega made an attempt with Sonic X-treme, but that project was eventually cancelled. Sonic instead made his 3D debut alongside the Dreamcast with Sonic Adventure, a speedy platformer that featured Sonic and friends battling Dr. Eggman in a more realistic setting. Sonic Adventure has an average review rating of 86.51 according to GameRankings.
  • Soulcalibur: A port of the 3D, weapons-based fighter originally released in arcades, Soulcalibur on the Dreamcast actually featured graphics better than the original arcade version. It’s not just considered one of the greatest fighters of all time; with a Metacritic score of 98, Soulcalibur is one of the best-reviewed video games ever.

Did you know?

One of the Dreamcast’s biggest games, the open-world Shenmue, was the most expensive game ever made for its time, with a budget of $47 million. Today, Grand Theft Auto V holds that title with a production budget of $265 million.


PlayStation 2

PlayStation 2

Above: The PlayStation 2 had a sleek design with sharp edges.

Image Credit: Sony

Launch date: October 26, 2000

Launch price: $299

The story: The PlayStation 2 launched a year after the Dreamcast and quickly surpassed its competition. The PS2 was the first gaming console that could play DVDs, still a relatively new format back in 2000. At $299, the PS2 was a relatively cheap DVD player, especially considering it doubled as a gaming device. It was also one of the first systems to feature backwards compatibility, meaning every PS2 could play games for the original PlayStation.

Notable launch games:

  • SSX: Although technically coming out four days after the PS2′s launch, SSX was still close enough for most to consider it a launch title. SSX was a snowboarding game that focused on tricks and racing, abandoning any sense of realism in favor of arcade-style fun. SSX has a Metacritic score of 93.
  • TimeSplitters: TimeSplitters was a first-person shooter made by several developers who previously worked on popular Nintendo 64 shooters GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. Similar to those games, TimeSplitters featured a competitive multiplayer mode that allowed up to four players to shoot each other in split-screen action. TimeSplitters has a Metacritic score of 81.

Did you know?

With over 155 million units sold worldwide, the PlayStation 2 is the best-selling gaming console ever. By comparison, the PlayStation 3 has sold a little over 77 million units worldwide as of May 2013, according to VGChartz.

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