The Xbox One launched earlier today, completing the new console launches for this generation. Also, earlier this week, a very close friend mentioned that he’d always wanted a Game Gear just to be able to play Mortal Kombat. Granted, Mortal Kombat wasn’t a launch title, but these two things did make me think about a trend in recent console launches.
None of these consoles launched with a title that is considered a “must have” game for that console. Part of this is the fact that so many games are now cross-platform, meaning that no matter how good a game is, you can probably pick it up for the other console as well. But I’ve also noticed that in recent years, it seems that consoles have begun to take the limelight away from the games. At one point in time, the push was all about the games. Now, it seems that the console itself is the focus and the games, while there and well made, are almost secondary. This was never more evident than in Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One.
In my mind, a must have launch game is a console exclusive. It’s a game that sells a console. It can be boxed with the console or sold separately. We’re just not seeing that anymore. For the Xbox One, what is that main title? Ryse: Son of Rome? I’ve heard quite a bit about it, but I wouldn’t call it must have and I’m not picking tons of hype around. The same is true for Dead Rising 3. Regarding the PS4, maybe it’s Knack. Again, it’s a tough call, made tougher by the fact that if we accept my definition of a the launch game needing to be console exclusive, there just aren’t that many exclusives. Taking the WiiU into account, the game is a bit easier to identify as they launched New Super Mario Brothers U with the console, but it was hardly an evolution of the series, as we’ve come to expect, and based on sales, certainly wasn’t a must have game that pushed the console.
Beyond the cross platform availability of games, I believe that this lack of the must have launch game can be traced directly to the shrinking technological gaps between consoles. From the NES to the Super NES to the Nintendo 64, there were major leaps in what the consoles could do, and the Mario launch games with each of those consoles reflected those advancements. The games were a showcase of what the console could do. Now, granted, these were usually packed in games, but even had they not been, the hype around them would have been enormous (maybe not so much the original Super Mario Brothers for obvious reasons) and they still would have moved consoles. Also, since packed in games are a dying tradition, I think it’s perfectly fair to make this comparison, even if we just look at the hype and excitement surrounding the packed in games. Apart from Nintendo, I can point to the Sonic titles for Sega (Sonic Adventure definitely comes to mind), and Halo for the original Xbox.
The best recent example of this is probably Wii Sports. When Nintendo launched the Wii, they were banking on overcoming an underpowered console (compared to its contemporaries) with an entirely new kind of input. Wii Sports, which was packed with the Wii, brilliantly showcased what the Wii controls were capable of and how they differed from how we were used to playing games. Including it with the consoles was a shrewd move by Nintendo for that reason, but I do wonder how it would have sold had it not been included with the console. A budget price of $20 to $30 probably would have moved it well. Still, even with my Nintendo fanboy glasses on, I can’t even say that Wii Sports equals those past must have titles.
We haven’t had that new input or technological gap that created that must have or must play game this generation. These consoles seem to just be turbo charged versions of their previous incarnations. Even the WiiU gamepad and Microst’s Kinect 2.0 have failed to create a buzz about new ways to input you controls. While I may have showcased Wii Sports above, I think the last truly must have game that launched with a console was Halo for the Xbox. Based on the current trajectory of gaming consoles, I also think it may be the last must have launch game we’ll see.