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

Microsoft Xbox

Microsoft Xbox

Above: The Microsoft Xbox included a hard drive.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Launch date: November 15, 2001

Launch price: $299

The story: Computer giant Microsoft was looking to get into the video game console market, and the original Xbox was the result. The system had much more in common with PCs of the time than its competitors. Not only were much of its innards similar to PC hardware, but it was the first console to include a hard drive, negating the need for memory cards for storing save data. The Xbox launched on November 15, 2001, a little more than a year after the PS2 and just three days before the Nintendo GameCube.

Notable launch games:

  • Halo: Combat Evolved: Few first-persons shooters proved successful on consoles, but Halo popularized a twin-stick control scheme that modern shooters still adhere to today. Halo featured a unique sci-fi setting on a ring-shaped world, and players were lugging their Xbox’s around to connect with friends and host giant LAN parties. Halo’s high 97 Metacritic score cements it as one of the most successful launch games ever.
  • Dead or Alive 3: Although most gamers today probably picture embarassingly-jiggly, under-clad women when they hear the name Dead or Alive, the third installment in the fighting game series proved a great graphical showpiece for the new Xbox. It was also one of the best reviewed titles at launch, with a Metacritic score of 87.

Did you know?

The Xbox got its name because Microsoft’s graphics techology Direct X team created the first prototype. It named its Windows-based system the DirectX Box, later shortened to just Xbox.

Nintendo GameCube

Nintendo Gamecube

Above: The Nintendo Gamecube was a lot more colorful than its competition.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Launch date: November 18, 2001

Launch price: $199

The story: While its competitors Sony and Microsoft were moving towards more “grown up” consoles with slicker, darker designs, Nintendo decided to promote its next system, the GameCube, as a “fun machine.” The GameCube originally came in a bright, purple color and featured a handle on the back, causing many to note its resemblance to a lunch box. Nintendo also finally got rid of cartridges for disks, although ones smaller than normal DVDs via the miniDVD format. The Gamecube was also the first Nintendo system to launch in the U.S. without a Mario game, although his brother Luigi starred in his own title, Luigi’s Mansion, for the launch.

Notable launch games:

  • Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rouge Squadron II: The original Rogue Squadron was a popular flight-base shooter for the Nintendo 64 that let players take control of some of the most popular spaceships from Star Wars. The sequel featured a similar concept, but had much better graphics thanks to the GameCube’s improved hardware. Rogue Leader has a Metacritic score of 90.
  • Super Monkey Ball: It was hard for many to believe that Sega, Nintendo’s old rival, would release a game for the GameCube’s launch, let alone a bizarre thing where players had to tilt large platforms so monkeys trapped in glass balls could collect bananas. Still, Super Monkey Ball was a colorful, addicting bit of nonsense that also featured four-player minigames perfect for parties. It has a Metacritic score of 87.

Did you know?

The GameCube’s original codename was Dolphin. Coincidentally, water-based games appeared often during the GameCube’s life. Wave Race: Blue Storm was a jet ski racer released at launch, and two of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, Zelda and Mario, had water-themed games for the system. Super Mario Sunshine gave Mario a backpack that could store and shoot water, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker took place on a massive ocean that players had to sail across.

Xbox 360

Xbox 360

Above: The Xbox 360 could stand vertically or horizontally.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Launch date: November 22, 2005

Launch price: $399 for the regular bundle (came with a 20GB hard drive) and $299 for the Core bundle (came with no internal storage)

The story: The original Xbox never came close to matching the PlayStation 2’s massive sales success, so Microsoft didn’t wait long before making a successor. Officially introduced via an MTV special on May 12, 2005, less than four years after the launch of the original, the Xbox 360 boasted better graphics, a greater emphasis on online features, and a slick new console that Microsoft most often showed standing vertically in promotional materials.

Notable launch games:

  • Call of Duty 2: Microsoft promoted Perfect Dark Zero as the Xbox 360’s premier shooter and launch game, but Call of Duty 2 ended up getting a lot more attention (and about a hundred more sequels). The first-person shooter took players through a thrilling campaign set during World War II, and featured plenty of multiplayer options to show off the system’s online support. Many of the game’s conventions, notably regenerating health, have become standards in the industry. Call of Duty 2 has a Metacritic score of 89.
  • Project Gotham Racing 3: The first Project Gotham Racing was a well-received racer for the original Xbox’s launch, and this sequel performed just as well. The noticeable graphical upgrade between Project Gotham Racing 3 and its predecessors did a great job of showing everyone just how much more powerful the 360 was than the original Xbox. Project Gotham Racing 3 has a Metacritic score of 88.

Did you know?

By the way, none other than everyone’s favorite hobbit, Elijah Wood, hosted the MTV event that introduced the Xbox 360 to the world. The show also featured a musical act from The Killers.

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More information:

Nintendo of America is consistently amazed and humbled by the passion and loyalty of our fans. Our hope is that this Page can be a place where that excitement can live, thrive and be shared. And while we love your creativity and are he... read more »

Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. is a major video game company specializing in a variety of areas in the video game industry, and is a wholly owned subsidiary and part of the Consumer Products & Services Group of Sony. The company was... read more »

As one of the leading interactive entertainment companies, SEGA cultivates creative talent worldwide with offices in America, Japan and our European HQ in London. Our acclaimed UK based studios include Sports Interactive and The Creati... read more »

Microsoft Studios is the video game production wing for Microsoft, responsible for the development and publishing of games for the Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Games for Windows and Windows Phone platforms. They were established in 2002 a... read more »

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