Strap in. This post is gonna be a doorstop.
I'll start with a story:
In November 2013, I had just been hired at the local international airport to work as a barista at the main-terminal Starbucks. Woohoo, employment! I didn't last long there due to a scheduling conflict, but that's beside the point. My orientation day was November 14th, which happened to be the day right before the Playstation 4 was to be released. I had pre-ordered right after E3 that year because Sony's press conference blew me away, and I had not anticipated actually having a job at that point because my career prospects were fairly dire. No matter. I went to the orientation, and I was given my schedule:
My first day was November 15th, 4:30 AM. I had to pick up my PS4 at midnight.
I got home at 6 PM on the 14th, slept 'till 11 PM. Drove to Gamestop, waited in line for a little bit (and saw one of my old roommates, though I don't know if he recognized me), and got my goddamn Playstation 4. I sprinted out of the store, drove home, and slept till 3 AM. After a shower, a long commute to the airport and a couple of parking mishaps, I was in-uniform and serving coffee a little bit before 4:29 AM.
What game did I get with the system? Killzone: Shadow Fall. Great game. Showed a lot of what the PS4 could do. I haven't bought a lot since then for the PS4, unfortunately.
I do, however, love looking back at the launch titles for other systems. When you're faced with the prospect of buying a new console and all the bits that have to come with it (extra controllers, memory cards, cables, etc), you're often left with enough cash to buy MAYBE one game, and two if there happens to be some sort of sale. In that moment, you need to think quickly, because that one game justifies your whole console. Which should you choose?
Throughout the last 30+ years, we've had a lot of launch titles to choose from when the next new thing hits the market. This is my personal list of my favorite launch games.
Remember: I'm just a guy who writes about video games. My choices are mine alone, so please keep that in mind. If I missed something, be sure to talk about it in the comment section, because I'll probably agree with you about how that game I didn't write about is awesome.
Also, I'm posting YouTube clips instead of static images. It definitely gives a better representation of the game itself. Credit goes to the respective uploaders.
Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition (Nintendo 3DS)
When the Nintendo 3DS launched, it didn't have too much going for it. The system was hard for people to deal with, since the 3D wasn't flawless, and the launch lineup was pretty much awful: We saw a return of Pilotwings, but how many people really were clamoring for another Pilotwings game?
(I totally was, but whatever...)
Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is a fantastic port of SSFIV. It's kind of insane to see it running on a handheld system (before the Vita came out, no less). Pretty much every bit of SSFIV were ported over, save for some of the more detailed backgrounds. Thanks to Capcom's implementation of streamlined touch screen controls and the standard SF button-layout, it means that both the experienced fighting game fan and the novice player can throw Hadoukens and Sonic Booms like they're nothing and both can have fun doing it. In all, Super Street Fighter IV is a great fighter on a system that isn't really known for its fighting games.
Wipeout: Pure (Playstation Portable)
The Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP both blew my mind, for one very specific reason: 3D gaming on a handheld.
This is commonplace today, of course, but after 15 or so years of 2D, 8-and-16-bit games on the Game Boy, Game Gear, and other systems, it was a feast for the eyes to see something like Wipeout Pure on the PSP. For me, it was a clear message: Handheld games are changing. Forever.
Graphics aside, the game is fantastic. Everything is crisp and streamlined, even down to the menus. The smooth, F-Zero meets Gran Turismo style is apparent in every aspect of this game's identity. It's probably my favorite of the Wipeout series, though a lot of the games tend to bleed together. Pure stands out, as it had the advantage of making Sony look lightyears ahead of their competition. It's funny to look back on it, as Sony didn't take the ball and run with it.
At least, they didn't run fast enough.
Power Stone (Sega Dreamcast)
I've talked about my initial experience with the Sega Dreamcast before. It's a very cool system that continues to have a reputation of being criminally underrated. The damn console had everything.
One of the best reasons to own the system is its library of arcade-perfect game conversions. Chances are, if you're playing a game on the Dreamcast that was initially an arcade game, there will be little to no difference between the two versions. Capcom was great at this. Case in point: Power Stone.
Power Stone is a 3D fighting game with a neat steampunk vibe to it. You play as multiple colorful adventurers, pirates, thieves, and other such types competing for treasure and bragging rights. It's an awesome game, and a very good example of a 3D fighter that works very well. The biggest downfall of it (other than the price) is the fact that you can only have two players at once in a fight. The sequel would rectify that problem.
The Dreamcast had a hell of a launch lineup, with classics like Sonic Adventure, House of The Dead 2, and Soul Calibur giving consumers a lot of reasons to own the console.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (Nintendo Gamecube)
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was a relatively-late release on the Nintendo 64. It was a game that showed that Star Wars-style ship combat was something that could be done easily on consoles, as opposed to using some kind of crazy flight stick on the PC with the TIE Fighter and X-Wing games. Rogue Squadron took the complication out of dogfighting and put a more comprehensive story behind it. It also took the fighting to the surface of planets in the Star Wars Galaxy, as opposed to being stuck out in space.
Rogue Leader, the sequel to Rogue Squadron, amped the awesomeness up quite a bit. The power of the Nintendo Gamecube made great cinematics possible in the game, which was something the first Rogue Squadron game was lacking. This is best shown in the first mission of the game, which re-creates the Death Star trench run from A New Hope near-flawlessly.
The game itself doesn't stick to movie moments, though. It branches off into Expanded Universe territory pretty quick, showing what happened to the Rebel Alliance between Episodes IV and V (namely, that the Empire wrecked their shit at Yavin IV, necessitating an emergency transplant to Hoth, and, of course, we all know how that turned out for the Rebels...)
The game goes beyond that, as well, covering the entire Star Wars Original Trilogy and a lot of the stuff that wasn't seen on-screen. That's pretty damn awesome. You have a multitude of ships to use, and most ships have individual uses which will need to be used eventually. I liked the A-Wing, but that's just me.
For the Gamecube launch, you had a few good options. Luigi's Mansion was a given (and it nearly made the list...), Batman: Vengeance was a really nice game if you didn't pay full price, and I don't even want to think about how much I played Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3...
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader was probably my favorite game of the Gamecube's launch. I know I waited in front of K-Mart long enough for it.
Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)
It was a hard choice for #1. I went with something that I was actually alive for (well, barely). First, a little background:
Super Mario Bros. on the NES is basically a perfect game. Really, it is. Anyone who claims that it is overrated is completely and objectively wrong. The reason for that is because without Super Mario Bros, we would not have video games as they are today. It simply would not be. Without Super Mario Bros, we would not have this entire section of not only the entertainment industry, but our culture.
Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but y'know what? Nintendo managed to improve on perfection. Mario 2 was a completely different take on the series that didn't quite move forward but still proved to be a very good game, but Mario 3 added some power-ups and a world map to make an AMAZING game that is probably the best game on the NES, hands down.
How do you improve on that, anyway? How do you improve on a game that had a feature film starring Fred Savage and the chick from Rilo Kiley to promote it?
You plan a game that is so packed to the walls it's standing-room only; it's so much of a leap forward that you need to create a whole new console to release it.
Super Mario World came out with the Super Nintendo, as the console's pack-in in the United States. This ensured that everyone got to play this beast of a game.
The game itself is fairly simple: Bowser kidnapped the princess, you gotta go beat him. Great stuff. The difference now is that you're doing it in a real, interconnected world. The Mario 3 world maps were basically a linear experience: You moved right, got to another area, and stayed there till you moved to another area. Super Mario World improved this by allowing backwards movement on the world map: you could go to previously-beaten areas and re-play them, sometimes finding hidden secrets, like hidden switches and alternate routes through an area. The game was massive to explore, and every area was unique, yet it was all interconnected. That massive world map you could see when you hit the select button on the map screen? You got to go to ALL of that and some parts that you didn't actually see.
The reason I'm putting this as the top launch title is because it represents a true centerpiece for the system it came out on. Every design choice in Super Mario World was meant to one-up (no pun intended) the original Nintendo's hardware limitations: Mario 3 didn't have backgrounds? Mario World has some awesome esoteric backgrounds that will stick with you to this day. Mario's new dinosaur sidekick, Yoshi, was added because Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto had always wanted Mario to ride a dinosaur but the technical limitations of the NES prevented that dream from becoming reality. The sound is more robust, the visuals are crisp and striking. Hell, Mario can FLY.
Super Mario World is a perfect sequel, and perhaps the perfect launch title for any system.