The Committee: Portable debuts

March 23, 2011

The Committee is in session. We’re taking on various issues in gaming, and our word is final. In this installment, we rank the launches of portables, just in time for the 3DS’ debut.

Staff picks for best launch games for each system are in bold.

Launch titles: Centipede, Game and Watch Gallery 2, Tetris DX

Justin Last: You can’t argue with a classic, and Tetris DX is exactly that. The original Game Boy launched with the classic puzzler as a pack-in and was well-served by it. The GBC followed suit and featured an updated version. Two new game modes and a few new music choices layered on top of classic Tetris gameplay make the GBC launch a good one. You’ve also got another classic to play in Centipede, but I’ve yet to meet a person that can’t be captivated by Tetris and keep playing just once more until it is well past bedtime.

Shawn Vermette: It’s hard to recommend a handheld launch as a good one when it launches with just three games. Though, it’s even harder when those three games consist of 2 remakes and a collection. As great as Tetris was, it just can’t carry two different system launches on its own. The lack of any games worth even looking at for purchase dooms the Game Boy Color to the obscurity, as far as handheld launches go.


Launch titles: Blue Lightning, Electrocop, Gates of Zendocon, California Games

Graham Russell: You have to give the Lynx this: the launch wasn’t boring. It clearly could have launched with early-’80s Atari arcade classics, but it didn’t. California Games is the clear standout, but you should really check out Blue Lightning. The team at Epyx pulled off a full-color 3D shooter in the Starfox vein, and they did it on a handheld in 1989. If Atari had a creative force like Miyamoto and a better business plan, this system would be a milestone rather than a footnote.

Justin Last: Platform launches need to be strong and hopefully include a system seller. Atari doesn’t have a mascot series to push units, it didn’t launch with a puzzler that appeals to players of all ages, and one of our two favorites from the lineup was California Games. There’s nothing wrong with California Games, but anybody who wanted to play it could do so on a number of other platforms. Nobody rushes out to buy a new platform for the hottest new game they can play on something else.


Launch titles: Galactic Pinball, Mario’s Tennis, Red Alarm, Teleroboxer

Graham Russell: You can make a joke about the Virtual Boy. It’s okay, it really is. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a somewhat enjoyable joke. While the system’s gems (Mario Clash and V-Tetris) didn’t make the U.S. launch (or, in the case of the latter, the U.S. at all, though the system’s region-free), Mario’s Tennis was a more-than-capable showpiece. Red Alarm‘s dual-digital control scheme worked great for 3D action. (It arguably led to the dual-analog setup we use today.)

Gerry Pagan: Ah, the Virtual Boy. Even a gem like Red Alarm couldn’t salvage a launch for a system that was ill-concieved from the start.  That leaves Pinball, a terrible Punch-Out! clone and tennis. And while Mario’s Tennis was fun, in the end you paid money for 15-minute chunks of eye-hurting Pong. A terrible launch for a completely flawed “handheld”.


Launch titles: Tomb Raider: Scion, Pandemonium, Sonic, Super Monkey Ball, Puzzle Bobble VS, Puyo Pop, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Andrew Passafiume: The N-Gage has been a running joke ever since it launched. It’s practically forgotten now, but it did have a decent selection of games. The games weren’t amazing, but those who actually decided to buy the system at launch were shown that Nokia at least tried to get some old favorites together. Like the GBA, it offered a decent variety of games that would fit every gamer’s needs.

Graham Russell: Oh, N-Gage. On paper, the system made sense, and with support from Sega, Eidos and Activision, it should have gained some traction. The horrible hardware decision to make you remove the battery to change the game? It was fixed in the second iteration, but by that time the system had lost its chance at success. It’s too bad, because no one was around for a rather-fun portable version of Civilization years before the release of Civ Rev, as well as some other late-life gems.


Launch titles: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Columns, G-Loc, Psychic World, Revenge of Drancon, Super Monaco GP

Shawn Vermette: All it really takes for a successful system launch is one or two good games, and the Game Gear had that. Castle of Illusion was a great Mario-style game, something badly needed on a non-Nintendo platform, and Columns is a Tetris-like game that is addictive enough to compare to Tetris without being a clone of it.

Graham Russell: A solid puzzler can salvage almost any lineup. Columns is about the best Sega’s ever done in the genre, and the colors in the game showed off the system’s main selling point over the venerable Game Boy. Unfortunately, an addictive game like that also shows off the system’s biggest weakness: its battery life.


Launch titles: Biomotor Unitron, Metal Slug 1st Mission, Pac-Man

Justin Last: Launch with guaranteed sellers – it’ll move units. Everybody knows Pac-Man and how to play it, and every kid that frequented an arcade at the time knew Metal Slug. Arcade games at home was big business and being able to take these two classics on a car trip was great. I can’t think of a single platform that shouldn’t launch with games like Pac-Man and Metal Slug. I’m still buying both series today on whatever platform they show up on, and seeing them in a modern launch lineup would certainly pique my interest, and I traditionally wait for a hardware revision.

Andrew Passafiume: NGPC’s launch is the perfect definition of barebones. Sure, it had a couple of decent games, but they are not games that get people running out to the store to buy the system. A launch either needs a variety of solid titles or a couple of strong games that are must-haves for any gamer. The NGPC was clearly lacking in both of these areas. Launching with only three games, it’s pretty obvious why the NGPC has become one of the many handhelds that are long-since forgotten by most.


Launch titles: Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt, Asphalt Urban GT, Ridge Racer DS, Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits, Spider-Man 2, Super Mario 64 DS, The Urbz: Sims in the City, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Madden NFL 2005, Sprung, Ping Pals, Feel the Magic: XY/XX

Gerry Pagan: The DS had one of my favorite launch releases, if just due to the variety of fun games available. Super Mario 64 DS and Metroid Prime Hunters would later go down in infamy as mediocre games, but they, along with Spider Man 2 provided something for the action gamers to look forward to. Mr. Driller would fulfill the puzzle niche, as well as other groups with sports games and racing games. It was a launch that covered all the bases, and a strong start for the best-selling handheld in history.

Shawn Vermette: The Nintendo DS had a fairly robust launch lineup… in terms of sheer number of games. Unfortunately, it was a solid example of quantity not being equal to quality. The standout title of the launch was Super Mario 64 DS, followed by Mr. Driller, two sub-par racing games, two stripped-down sports games, two somewhat creepy ‘dating’ sims, a movie game, a port of a bad Sims game and, well, an IM client.


Launch titles: Ape Escape: On the Loose, Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower, Dynasty Warriors, Gretzky NHL, Lumines, Metal Gear Acid, NBA, Need for Speed Underground: Rivals, NFL Street 2: Unleashed, Ridge Racer, Spider-Man 2, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2: Remix, Twisted Metal: Head-On, Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, Wipeout Pure, World Tour Soccer

Graham Russell: The PSP launch was robust by design; the system’s architecture was meant for PS2 ports, and the day one lineup included over a dozen games that used that to its advantage. The best game at launch, though, was an original gem: Lumines. You could pick up Twisted Metal and Underground to show off the system’s graphical capability, but Lumines kept going back in the UMD tray. Why? It was the most addictive portable puzzler since the genre’s revered grandfather, Tetris.

Justin Last: The PSP launch suffered from the same thing the portable has suffered from since – many (if not most) of the games feel like they could be done better elsewhere. The GBA didn’t have this problem because 3D went to the console while 2D thrived on the handheld. With the PSP, though, we got games that felt like stripped-down versions of their console big-brothers. It’s also heavy in sports titles which isn’t guaranteed to contribute to a bad launch, but sports titles were already complicated enough and invested enough in multiplayer that I want them on a console.


Launch titles: Alleyway, Baseball, Super Mario Land, Tennis, Tetris

Graham Russell: Tetris. The Game Boy’s launch was somewhat small (though not by standards of the time), but if you have one magnificent game that shows off the system’s advantages, that’s really all you need. (Not that Super Mario Land wasn’t fun, and I found Breakout-clone Alleyway a substantial timesink.) It could be played a little at a time, it was simple to understand, and it was there when you had downtime. If modern mobile and phone gaming has a blueprint for success, it’s Pajitnov’s masterwork.

Gerry Pagan: While Nintendo’s first offering of a handheld console went on to release a myriad of great games, it’s launch offerings weren’t exactly grandiose. Super Mario Land and Tetris can only hold you for so long, and the other games aren’t exactly impressive. A rocky start for the Game Boy, but it at least later picked up with better games. 


Launch titles: Army Men Advance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, ChuChu Rocket!, Earthworm Jim, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, Fire Pro Wrestling, GT Advance Championship Racing, Iridion 3D, Konami Krazy Racers, Namco Museum, Pinobee: Wings of Adventure, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, Rayman Advance, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2, Super Dodge Ball Advance, Super Mario Advance, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

Andrew Passafiume: What the GBA lacked in an amazing launch title it more than made up for in several solid games. A lot of handheld launches rely on just one (maybe two) big games, but the GBA relied on several. A handheld Super Mario, a new F-Zero, a new Castlevania, and a few solid ports make up an impressive lineup. Above all else, it supplies the buyer with something most handheld launches lack: variety.

Graham Russell: I can’t say the GBA launch was a bad one. In fact, we’re generally in agreement that it hasn’t been equaled. The only way in which it’s a bit weak? Very few of the games are worth playing now. Most were ports, though very good ports and fun ones to play. Looking back, though, most have been completely outclassed by their successors. Which is how it’s supposed to be, I guess: after all, when a launch lineup is the highlight of a system’s life, something went very, very wrong.


What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!