Failure To Launch: Fried Critic's Worst Console Launch Picks
|Well, I'm positive Nintendon't do that, Sega.|
Only time will tell if these launches go well, but odds are they'll go better than these duds.
|Well, that's subtle.|
"Lynx Eats Boy's Lunch." That's what the early advertisements for Atari's handheld system proclaimed, and before the system actually came out in 1989, it looked to be true. Color graphics, a bright screen, and up to 8 person multiplayer? Well, Christ, that sounds like a surefire win to me! Unfortunately for Atari, who had been getting its ass handed to it by Nintendo for the better part of the decade after the former pretty much tanked the entire video game industry, their comeback kid had an Achilles Heel. And elbow. And torso. And pretty much every body part imaginable.
See, when kids actually managed to their hands on these machines, they realized a few things. Firstly, there were no games for battery-leeching brick when it came onto the scene. Remember classics like Blue Lightening and ElectroCop? What about Gates of Zendocon, or ooh, a pared-down port of California Games? Yeah, no, when people got the Lynx, put in the six AA batteries they needed to play for 4 or 5 hours, they realized that they'd been gypped really badly. And a few weeks later, they looked at their friends playing Super Mario Land, Castlevania: The Adventure and the other portable entries in established franchises to realize they'd made a huge mistake.
Lynx's luck never improved, even with a second build, and the bulky brick was confined to licensed crap and ports, and eventually went out with a whimper, with a puny 72 games published (compared with the Game Boy's, oh, 800 or so), with 26 more cancelled due to the console slamming its face into the pavement. Atari learned their lesson, and went back to the drawing board.
If you know anything about video games, then you knew this was coming from a mile away. No "worst" list can be complete without mentioning the blithering, awful pimple of a console that was the Phillips CD-i. The result of a botched deal between Nintendo and Phillips, the CD-i was to 1991 gaming what the Xbox One is to today. Seriously, that's no exaggeration. Just take a look at how they were marketing this glorified bookend, and then take a look at the Xbox One reveal from earlier this year. Both seem to be marketing on graphics, sports, and movies alone, because all of those are the most serious concerns to people who game.
But as fucking terrible as the CD-i was, there was something uniquely awful about its launch. Hasty and without any proper promotional materials, Phillips just decided to wing it and release the damn thing, whether there were any good games available at launch or not. And did you really think there were? Well, if you did, let's put those thoughts to bed. Unless you liked board games, boxing, golf, gambling, Seasame Street or ports of games that had been out for years, there were literally no reasons to own this thick, black turd. And this, of course, came way before Phillips decided to cash in on the Nintendo franchises they were legally sanctioned to make thanks to aforementioned FUBAR deal. We all know what a delightful heap of buggery happened after that.
Somehow, this console managed to flop around like a fish out of water for seven goddamned years without any good games to speak of, and the only one that might have been worth anything cancelled two years into the console's life cycle. Luckily, when 1998 rolled around, Phillips had taken such a loss on this stupefying failure that it finally pulled the plug. But that wasn't going to undo the many ruined birthdays, Christmases and Hanukkahs (?) wrought by this blight on 90's gaming. And it all started with the worst launch of any console listed here.
|Marketing. Marketing never changes.|
Remember when I said Atari went back to the drawing board? Nope! Instead, they just bumbled ahead with their terrible management and decided to throw their hat into the 3D ring with the Jaguar. Like the Lynx, this system seemed like a fan-fucking-tastic idea at the time. 64-bit processing, which allowed for "life-like" graphics, and games that were tailored towards a more mature, edgy crowd, for the most part. They were doing something nobody else was in 1993, so while the Genesis and Super Nintendo were still using 2D sprites, the Jaguar would be serving up sweet, polygonal goodness. At least, that's what we were led to believe.
But, as you can probably guess by its inclusion on this list, that's not what happened. Not even close. This jungle cat took a leap straight into the wood chipper, with barely any games at launch and a gamepad that's the bastard offspring of a telephone and a Genesis controller. No, really.
Unlike the Lynx, though, the Jaguar had some pretty good fucking games. I mean, it had a few. To the system's credit, Alien Vs Predator and Tempest 2000 were pretty killer exclusives (although that last one was later ported), and the ports of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom were top-notch. But those titles were small bits of hope in a tidal wave of sludge during the launch, comprised of terrible kart racers, flight sims, and games were simply done better on other systems. Sales tanked brutally, and even with a price cut, the Jaguar couldn't compete with the arrival of the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. The Jaguar crashed and burned so terribly after its awful launch that, after years of trying to regain the public's favor, Atari left the video game market, and ended up dissolving a few years later.
|They wanted the Call of Duty audience. They just didn't know it yet.|
If you were a marketing executive in 1995, and your job was to compete with a highly anticipated console, what would you do? Well, logically speaking, it would be a great idea to work with retailers to have your console out a few weeks before the competition, have a few first-party exclusives in the pipeline, line up a nice bundle of third-party games to hit at launch, and begin a pretty good marketing campaign. That looked to be what Sega was doing, which was scheduled to hit in September of 1995, a week before Sony's virginal entry into the console market.
But what if, at the inaugural E3 during May of that year, you decided to announce that it was available right then. At 4 retailers. Without telling people developing any third-party games that were slated to hit around the original launch window. And only 2-3 games that were worth a shit, all developed and published by your own company. That's exactly what Sega did, and it was publicity stunts like that which helped push the Saturn into the deep end without any flotation device.
That isn't to say, however, that the Saturn was a bad console. In fact, it's probably one of the best damn systems ever created, much like its ill-fated successor, the Dreamcast. There were numerous fantastic exclusives, both third and first party, throughout the console's life cycle. The controller has a nice heft, and feels great in your hands. It was the first system to save your data inside of the console, and for Christ's sakes, the fucking thing played CDs. And did I mention the fucking games?! This was the console for hardcore gamers, through-and-through.
|Here are a handful of choices. Yeah, this is only a handful of what you could get.|
Aside from fantastic exclusives, it also had ports that kicked those on the PlayStation firmly in the ass. To this day, the Saturn versions of Tomb Raider and Duke Nukem 3D are among the best available on consoles, not to mention the plethora of arcade-perfect 2D and 3D fighters. So what did it in? Well, mainly, Sega's marketing back in the day was absolute ass. The old men in suits didn't really know how to market the rare, beautiful gem they had, and used tits, ass and violence to push the console. Not only that, but there was no identifiable mascot for the franchise. Sonic's big debut on the console via Traveler's Tales (yep, the Lego people) was unfortunately dumped late into development, and all we got from the Blue Blur was a middling cart racer with great music, a collection of solid ports with a 3D hub world that would serve as the basis for Sonic Adventure, and an upscale of a severely underwhelming spin-off.
The launch of the Saturn completely tanked sales in North America (it did pretty wonderfully in Japan), and compounded by the lack of mainstream appeal, horrible marketing, and no new Sonic game to push for the kids, the system plummeted into obscurity, especially after the launch of the Nintendo 64. One more excellent but woefully mis-marketed console later, and Sega was out of the hardware business for good, ending over a decade of unforgettable gaming memories. Saturn games are now stupidly expensive, and it's only now that people are appreciating what a great system it was.
|Blatant pandering to the "Fist of the North Star" audience.|
The launch was pretty much a disaster, despite the launch games themselves being pretty solid. This disaster was based mainly on the fact that the console didn't really work as advertised. Sure, the games were in 3D, but they were also only shades of red and black, and didn't feel like virtual reality at all. In fact, people could only play for a few minutes before getting splitting headaches, and if you're going to get a splitting headache from playing a game, you'd probably be wanting something a little more than the novelty of 3D with only two colors.
Backlash from this failure was immediate. The system didn't sell, reviews were terrible, and no amount of price drops could save it after it shot out of the gate with both legs tied together. Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi, who also fathered this bastard child, was so disheartened that he left Nintendo altogether, despite his best efforts of keeping the system alive. People thought Nintendo was doomed... then they came out with the Game Boy Color, and proceeded to dominate the handheld market, which is a trend carrying on to this day. But nobody could have seen that coming in the Summer of 1996.
Before razing my home and urinating on my earthly possessions, let me clarify something for the Sony diehards out there, considering that I'm one of them. The PlayStation 3 is in my personal top five favorite consoles I've ever played, and is in my opinion leaps and bounds ahead of the inconsistent, laggy money-sucker that is the Xbox 360. That being said, things were not always so sunny for the third incarnation of the juggernaut brand, and for a while, it was looking like Sony was pretty much done for. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was all thanks to the most broken launch of the last generation. Yep, I went there.
Much like the PS3, the 3DS is another one of my favorite consoles. In fact, it's arguably my favorite handheld ever. You wouldn't catch me saying that a few years ago, though, thanks to Nintendo shoving its tiny eye-strain device into the faces of the public and expecting them to bite based on brand recognition alone. The digital marketplace wasn't even ready at launch, and there were no games worth jack shit. You had a choice between ports of games that were years old, a port of a game that needed serious work, and games for children. That's, of course, not including the fantastic, groundbreaking showstopper of a first-party title, Steel Diver. Gee, thanks, Nintendo.
|Pictured: Lindsay Lohan at the PS3 launch party, shortly before she tried snorting a game disc.|
The problem started with the system's unveiling at E3, with a lackluster showing of games played by people who had absolutely no fucking clue what they were doing. And that was before Kaz Hirai came out on stage and simply stated, "599 US dollars", before exiting. Surprisingly, this made Sony look like a collection of pretentious, circle-jerking windbags who were way too confident after the rollicking success of the PS2. Even more surprisingly, this all culminated in nobody really wanting one of the systems after the initial launch rush of Sony fanboys, which admittedly, I was a part of.
And speaking from experience, I can firmly state how disastrous that launch was. There were only 2 games worth any fucks, those being Resistance: Fall of Man and Virtua Fighter 5, the latter of which was later ported out, and the former of which ended up being followed up by an inoffensive, pithy sequel. Even within the first year, things didn't improve. Players were expected to lap up multiplats, and play the occasional exclusive, only a few of which were worth buying in the first place.
|Others... not so much.|
Luckily, after about two years, Sony wised up. Naughty Dog took their fledgling Uncharted series to the next level and created one of the greatest games of all time, the Infamous series took off, God of War finally saved the day, and their digital marketplace became not shit. Today, people look at exclusives like The Last of Us and curse owning a 360, and it's all thanks to one of the greatest damage control efforts in video game history.
|(insert something referencing "My Body Is Ready" here)|
Things didn't really improve in the subsequent months. All the system got were ports, and while admittedly they were very good ports, like Star Fox 64 3D, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, people didn't buy the nifty 3D handheld for ports. Luckily, things improved within a year, with a deep price cut, and the sales of more first-party games encouraging more and more publishers to jump on board. Fast-forward to now, we have a superior version of the handheld with the XL, a library of titles that has something for almost everybody, and a killer digital marketplace. That's not including the fantastic StreetPass features, the steady stream of improvements and tweaks, and the huge amount of games still being announced and released.
With the handheld now overtaking the lifetime sales of the Nintendo 64, it is one of the biggest success stories in the industry. It's a fun system with a ton of games to choose from, at an attractive price point with three different models to choose from. The Vita, good system though it may be, can't even hold a candle. Honestly, when I held the system in my hands on launch day, though, I thought for sure it would be a failure like Nintendo's other 3D handheld with a terrible start.
That's about it, then. By now, most of you either have a PS4 or are prepping to get a XBOne, or both. From the looks of things, the PS4's launch is a pretty big success, with a decent selection of games to choose from, and despite looking like a pretty shitty system overall, Microsoft's new machine will probably do well at the start. With the possible exception of the WiiU, the eighth generation seems to be kicking into full gear without much of a hitch. Maybe game companies have finally learned from past blunders, and more dead-set on making launches worth a damn.
|Or maybe not.|