The Rapid Reviews’ Views – What can we learn from previous console launch line-ups?

Reading Time: 12 minutes

With the next Xbox (Project Scarlett) and the PlayStation 5 on the horizon, discussion over the next console generation is in overdrive. Well, sort of.

With one of the burning questions being about the games launching alongside the hardware, I thought it would be fun to analyse some details about the console launch line-ups from the last couple of console generations to see if there are any clues in there about what’s to come.

Launch titles are frequently a mixed bag and the correlation between launch games and success isn’t always going to be the deciding factor. As you may recall, some were better than others. Bear in mind, all the examples are taken from the UK/EU line-ups, largely excluding digital releases, so our international readers may notice the odd regional variant. We start with the not-so-humble beginnings of the HD era, the Xbox 360.

Xbox 360 / December 2005

Launch line-up:
Amped 3
Call of Duty 2
Condemned: Criminal Origins
FIFA ’06: Road to FIFA World Cup
GUN
Kameo: Elements of Power
Madden NFL 06
NBA Live 06
Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Perfect Dark Zero
Peter Jackson’s King Kong
Project Gotham Racing 3
Quake 4
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006
Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland

Despite the success of the console, the 360 rushed into the market with a plethora of hardware problems. However, the launch line-up was all about appealing to as broad an audience as possible.

Call of Duty 2 opened to massive critical and commercial success, with its ease of accessibility, PC-like graphical prowess and 60hz framerate target (a target it often struggled to maintain to be fair), this was an obvious candidate for the dawn of the 360. RARE, acquired by Microsoft just three years prior, put out the first party studio’s sublime Perfect Dark Zero with Quake 4 and Condemned rounding off the first-person shooter offerings. Even looking at the FPS games alone that’s a lot of variety and enough to satisfy a large group of core gamers.

Naturally, sports fans were heavily catered for with the annual sim games coming in droves but the addition of the goofier (and fun) extreme sports games in Amped and Tony Hawk’s again really display that drive to widely cater. And there was that NFS game but who cares about that when you have Project Flipping Gotham Racing? We in Europe didn’t get Ridge Racer 6 until late 2006, what’s that all about?

This is one of the larger launch line-ups over the last couple of gens but what strikes me is the lack of risks. A lot of ports and iterations which, as we will see, is a general theme. Kameo is perhaps the only title that tries anything new, though Condemned had a nice chunk of melee and horror to help it stand out from the shooter crowd.

Mike’s Verdict: Spice in variety but playing it safe… in HD!

Lessons learned: Making stuff shiny and new looking but also bringing the big guns is an obvious recipe for success. Rushing your launch date may also assist, even if it’s surrounded by an ominous red ring.

Wii / December 2006

Launch line-up:
Barnyard
Call of Duty 3
Cars
Far Cry: Vengeance
Gottlieb Pinball Classics
GT Pro Series
Happy Feet
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Madden NFL 07
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Monster 4×4 World Circuit
Need for Speed: Carbon
Open Season
Rampage: Total Destruction
Rayman Raving Rabbids
Red Steel
SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab
Super Fruit Fall
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent
Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam
Wii Play
Wii Sports

In terms of relevance, the Wii falls low down on the list for a number of reasons. First up, hardly anyone could actually find one at launch. Second, I liked waggle bowling, you liked waggle bowling, your grandma like waggle bowling. Third, this was far from a traditional console, even by Nintendo standards.

Having a cross-section of games that really nailed the waggle-control proof of concept like Super Monkey Ball, Red Steel, the phenomenal Wii Sports (with the genius decision to package it with the console), the Wii line-up did what it needed to do then (semi-)inadvertently allowed the shovelware crowd a chance to capitalise. For the kids, you understand.

The importance of the Wii launch line-up after the crown jewel of Wii Sports wasn’t entirely insignificant. LoZ Twilight Princess promised to draw in the usual Nintendo hardcore fans, and then the family angle was leaned into some more with a range of kid-friendly (and mostly horrifically sub-par) offerings. Let’s not forget the Virtual Console opened at the same time setting a new standard for hosting (officially licenced) retro games. So, CoD 3 was gimped, Tony Hawk’s was weird, and Need for Speed had control issues, who cares? This was Nintendo doing it their own way and devs had to follow suit or… well, go develop for other systems.

The variety angle was present in a similar manner to the 360’s launch but with fewer heavy-hitters. Note the lack of Mario.

Mike’s Verdict: Who needs Mario when you’ve got Mii?

Lessons learned: That once in a lifetime multi-million-dollar idea will overshadow any game launch. Expect Wii Sports. That’s a keeper.

PlayStation 3 / March 2007

Launch line-up:
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII
Call of Duty 3
Def Jam: Icon
Enchanted Arms
Fight Night Round 3
Formula One Championship Edition
Full Auto 2: Battlelines
Genji: Days of the Blade
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Mobile Suit Gundam: Target In Sight
MotorStorm
NBA Street: Homecourt
Need For Speed Carbon
NHL 2K7
Resistance: Fall of Man
Ridge Racer 7
Sonic The Hedgehog
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent
Tony Hawk’s Project 8
The Godfather: The Don’s Edition
Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
Virtua Fighter 5
Virtua Tennis 3
World Snooker Championship 2007

Now, for me, this is more like it! A From Software JRPG, a big SEGA presence including a new Sonic game, a Gundam game, new IPs all over the place. Yes, this is what I’m all about.

Wait, the PS3 cost how much on launch? Ah, that would be why I didn’t get these games then…

Yes, the PS3 launch didn’t go as planned and, a cursory glance would suggest it wasn’t the software’s fault, especially with the backlash of the pricing and spreadsheet-driven statistical marketing of the Cell processor.

Even then, when you start digging in, there were a number of problems, especially for someone like me, whose tastes generally lean heavily towards Japanese developed games; namely, Gundam completely sucked and Enchanted Arms was mediocre (as well as out on the 360 six months earlier).

The broader picture isn’t so pretty either; you’ll likely have spotted the fact that FIFA and Madden were absent on day one; an ill omen of grave significance. Well, maybe, I don’t play either. But people like these games. Note these points down folks, they’re gold.

Again, we see a lot of sequels, some great (Virtua Fighter 5, Ridge Racer 7, Splinter Cell: Double Agent), some not so much (the less we say about Sonic ’06, the better) but there’s a broad range with a number of genres well-represented. Marvel Ultimate Alliance was low-key but excellent (albeit already available elsewhere) and with Insomniac’s calibre pulling through with the masterful Resistance, there was plenty to love, even if many of the others were multi-format.

Then they announced the price of the console and Sony’s crown started to slide off, only bringing the PS3 back in line in the latter years of the console cycle.

Mike’s Verdict: Something for everyone (if you were rich), a few risks, some originality. No FIFA.

Lessons Learned: Hard to tell, really. The colossal cock of the marketing and pricing means the likes of SEGA never really stood a chance in the early days. All-in-all the key principal of the seventh console generation launch line-up was spanning as many genres as possible and it’s hard to argue Sony didn’t manage that here, even if the quality doesn’t quite stack up throughout.

Wii U / November 2012

Launch line-up:
Assassin’s Creed III
Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Darksiders II
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
Sports Connection
FIFA 13
Funky Barn
Game Party Champions
Just Dance 4
New Super Mario Bros. U
Nintendo Land
Scribblenauts Unlimited
Skylanders: Giants
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Tekken Tag Tournament 2: Wii U Edition
ZombiU

It’s tempting to suggest people had reached peak ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ fatigue at the time but the attach rate suggests otherwise. It’s a great game, with a few minor flaws, but it’s one that Nintendo saw fit to give a second run on the Switch. However, this was as safe a title as they come with later releases Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario Maker showcasing what the system was capable off far too late in the day.

I really enjoyed certain titles specifically on this system that could work in a unique way. ZombiU presented a great case for how the Wii U’s tablet could be utilised in a fun and unique way, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed made the case for local multiplayer with separate screens. Unfortunately, nothing else did.

Nintendo Land was a curious collection of hit and miss mini-games which, to be fair, was pretty great overall but for a game that attempts to leverage a raft of the big N’s IP, something as fragmented and badly messaged as this was never going to hit home with the mainstream public. They named the console after the waggle-winner; anyone who didn’t think the Wii U was a Fisher Price sponsored tablet add-on for the Wii was probably expecting the next Wii Sports. This wasn’t it.

Mike’s Verdict: Who needs U when you have Wii?

Lessons learned: That once in a lifetime single-dollar idea will overshadow any game launch. Hold on, no it won’t.

Xbox One / November 2013

Launch Line-Up:
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Battlefield 4 
Call of Duty: Ghosts
Crimson Dragon
Dead Rising 3
FIFA 14
Fighter Within
Forza Motorsport 5
Just Dance 2014
Killer Instinct
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
LocoCycle
Madden NFL 25
NBA 2K14
NBA Live 14
Need for Speed: Rivals
Powerstar Golf
Ryse: Son of Rome
Skylanders: Swap Force
Xbox Fitness
Zoo Tycoon
Zumba Fitness: World Party

This is a prime example of how not to launch a console. I mean, does anyone even remember the launch line-up? I just remember being so repulsed by Don Mattrick’s marketing doublespeak that it all seems a bit hazy.

What was released? Halo? No? Ah, Madden, FIFA and pals.

Actually, the reality was a pretty damn solid list in isolation. The ever-present Ubisoft putting out the best Assassin’s Creed game (leave your tuts to yourself), a solid Forza entry, Rare and Double Helix bringing back Killer Instinct in style (if barebones), top-draw shooters in CoD and Battlefield and some Kinnect nonsense. Alright, we’ll forget that bit.

However, Things are now following an emerging cycle at this point; cross-generation games. How many of these experiences were brand new or not released on the previous generation’s consoles? Even Crimson Dragon was a 360 Kinnect game until they switched nearer to the One’s release. Once you remove Kinnect games you’re left with five exclusives: Killer Instinct (light on content), Dead Rising 3 (mixed reception), Forza Motorsport 5 (safe bet) and Ryse: Son of Rome (all pout, no clout).

Alright, it’s not unusual in more recent years for new consoles to be a little anaemic on brand new titles early on. After all, developers must choose to take a gamble on the success of the system or adopt a wait-and-see stance while getting to grips with the architecture. However, with the Xbox One, the line-up was, fairly or not, under extra scrutiny given the marketing mishaps.

There’s a notably very low presence from Japanese developers too, though this was always to be expected for a console that was never going to make gains in Japan. That’s largely changed now of course… the devs jumping on board, not the success in Japan, I mean. It’s dead out there.

Mike’s Verdict: Welcome to Rehash City, population: One, where we’re all out of ideas.

Lessons learned: The spotlight’s not on the games and it’s boring in the dark.

PlayStation 4 / November 2014

Launch Line-Up:
Angry Birds Star Wars
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Battlefield 4
Call of Duty: Ghosts
FIFA 14
Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition
Just Dance 2014
Killzone Shadow Fall
Knack
LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes
Madden NFL 25
NBA 2K14
NBA Live 14
Need for Speed: Rivals
Skylanders Swap Force

And this is how you capitalise on your opponent’s mistakes. The PS4 hardware came with such great promise and confidence that Sony basically didn’t mind releasing zero games alongside their new flagship. Worked a treat!

Alright, so there were some games. Knack, right? That was a game. Holy moly, I didn’t actually realise how bad it was until I read this list…

Enhanced re-releases en masse were the name of the game in the early generation but on launch day itself? Well yes, pretty much here too. The staple in their cross-generation formats is all present and correct.

Killzone was alright.

Mike’s Verdict: We’re here for the party, screw the buffet. Wait, no it’s the other way roun… oh, forget it.

Lessons learned: Don’t sleep on your rival’s cockups and you don’t even need any games, promise.

Switch / March 2017

Launch Line-Up:
1-2-Switch
Fast RMX
I Am Setsuna
Just Dance 2017
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

For the Switch, Nintendo opted for a steady flow of big titles throughout the year. The launch though? The tactic was to prevent anything coming out too soon and focus entirely on Breath of the Wild.

Though the compulsory gimmick showcase game was doing the rounds, the new direction for The Legend of Zelda was where all the attention was really diverted. With truly unparalleled confidence in both the new hardware and their big first-party release, Nintendo strutted out to immense success; the sort of success not seen since… well the PS4, I guess.

Enough said.

Mike’s Verdict: A breath of fresh ‘open-air’… or whatever the hell Aonuma called the open world at the time.

Lessons learned: If you can’t join them, beat them. Or put out a game that scores 10/10.

And looking ahead…

PlayStation 5 / 2020

Well, Guerrilla Games has been knee-deep in that blubbery black goop in Kojima’s mind so, while it may be reasonable to expect a Death Stranding patch. Bank on the fact that we’re not going to see the next Horizon in time for launch.

This is with good reason, Sony will likely want one killer app out, perhaps aping the Switch launching with Breath of the Wild, however their big first-party studios shouldn’t, and most certainly won’t, rush their titles out.

Some of the cross-gen stuff will be tasty (think FF7: Remake and Cyberpunk 2077). Or bland, like BLOPS 5. The Last of Us Part 2 is going to be given the time it deserves for that trademark Naughty Dog polish, no doubt.

So, what does that point to? Insomniac’s next sure-fire hit (Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, c’mon) likely a good couple of years off, there’s a gap waiting to be filled.

Bloodborne 2 would be fantastic but it’s not going to be much of a system seller. They need something special. Ghosts of Tsushima, perhaps? If they can manage that for launch and throw in a major remaster (something already said to be in the works – hoping for Demon Souls here, personally), they should hit the ground running.

Personally, I’d like to see something from SIE Japan Studio. Not Knack though. Not that.

Xbox (Project Scarlett) / 2020 (TBC)

Halo’s in the bag, this is no secret. The question here is how the rest is approached.

The best move for Microsoft, in my humble view, would be to pack Halo in with the console and add a top-end upgraded Minecraft experience for free. Add 3 months’ worth of Game Pass and make sure there’s a Forza Motorsport title ready with a massive Horizon 4 patch, leverage the backwards compatibility to fill the gaps.

Guesswork Time

So, did we learn anything? I think it’s clear that the birth of the HD-era and waggle controls of the seventh generation were something that no has a similar appetite for. Back then, the mass market appeal of something ground-breaking was aided by a range of new products.

The developer-friendly system and brilliant marketing strategy for the PS4 meant the hardware held the appeal with promises of greatness, something it’s hard to argue wasn’t achieved (bar that Jaguar pair but let’s not go there). But the launch line-up? Nothing new there. If anything, the Xbox One’s launch line up was arguably better but it quickly stagnated and took Microsoft several years to really get back in the game.

This time, while the hardcore crowd will be impressed by the concept of what the close integration of the new SSDs – acting more like main memory if reports are to be believed, due to a gargantuan increase in bandwidth and speed – are capable of producing when coupled with the fairly decent CPU and closely paired GPU combo. But it’s going to be a difficult generation to capture the general public’s interest without a killer title. The hardware promises more 4K and even some level of hardware-accelerated ray-tracing, which I expect will produce interesting results a couple of years post-launch, after developers have got to grips with the true potential of these machines, however for the average person browsing for their kid’s new gift or for a shiny new piece of tech, is there much to offer a population that’s been slow to adopt 4K TVs? The sort of tech promised from both boxes gives us fair warning that only an unexpected component price drop could see either of them coming in at less than £400-£500, presumably without a game.

Launch line-ups usually try to cater to everyone and try to show off the console’s unique features; I don’t see much of this happening. I suspect the play will be focussed on a couple of core games while allowing the use of souped-up last generation’s services. My feeling on the newest launch line-ups is that both consoles don’t need the staples this time, they don’t need the variety in new sequels; patches and backwards compatibility will see to that. The gains made the last generation saw console ownership as almost a given in most households at a time when the gimmicks were largely thrown out. I’ve heard plenty of saying the opposite but, in my mind, what’s needed this time is a killer title.

The Takeaway

It’s easy to think the brand power will carry the next-gen but it’s hard to see why the casual audience would want in. This time around, I think Zelda: Breath of The Wild made a huge statement and worked perfectly for the Switch’s impressive launch. Unless Halo is ground-breaking rather than the safe game I expect it to be, I don’t see Microsoft managing to hype their launch up particularly successfully without a AAA output from another of their first-party studios alongside it. As for Sony, well it’s anybody’s guess.

Switch Pro?

Yeah, just upgrade it and you’re golden.

Do you think the previous gen’s line-up provides any clues? Hit me up @2DMike3D on Twitter or comment below to share your ideas!

You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.

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