Debut Duds: The Worst PlayStation Launch Games

Though Sony's console brand would build a legacy, the launch lineup wasn't exactly batting a thousand.

Analysis by Bob Mackey, .

If you were alive and able to process advertising 20 years ago, you'd know the PlayStation's launch was built on one thing: hype.

Sony, lacking the recognizable characters and brands of their competition, latched onto the aggro, in-your-face marketing style of the '90s: an era when even family friendly Nintendo used a Butthole Surfers song in their "Play it Loud" campaign. Since the promise of 3D graphics alone was enough to sell a console in 1995, it didn't necessarily matter if the PlayStation launched with mostly unknown quantities—we were gaming in the future with polygons and CD-ROMs, maaan.

To be fair, few console launches deliver anything truly worthwhile, and though the PlayStation had a few gems early on, its first day also saw plenty of dreck. So let's point and laugh, now that we're two decades removed and enveloped in the comforting warmth of ironic detachment.

Street Fighter: The Movie

For the longest time, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were rivals—at least in the eyes of fighting game fans. So it was more than a little odd to see Capcom's fighter co-opt the digitized graphics of their competition with Street Fighter: The Movie, based on the hit film of the previous holiday season. It's definitely rare to see a game based on a movie based on a game—similar to when Hollywood makes a movie based on a musical based on a movie—but there's at least one bright spot to this confused production: Capcom took over for Incredible Technologies with their home version of Street Fighter: The Movie, making it feel much closer to the fighting game we know and love. Still, there's only so much Capcom can do with a production that looks so goofy, and the presence of real actors doesn't make for an improvement over Street Fighter's traditionally stylish anime graphics. While the source material makes for silly, campy fun—mostly thanks to Raul Julia's wonderful scenery chewing—its video game adaptation is largely remembered for being an abject embarrassment.

Power Serve 3D Tennis

There's a certain tragedy when a game is bad, but not memorably bad. And that perfectly describes Ocean's Power Serve 3D Tennis, a title that should inspire questions like, "Wait, was that actually a thing?" The bad news: yes, it certainly was. And if you wanted a sports game on launch day that wasn't notably "extreme," you had no choice other than Power Serve 3D Tennis. If you're familiar with Ocean's output from the '90s, you probably know they're a name that shouldn't inspire much confidence: if you spot a lousy, licensed, 16-bit platformer, there's about a 40% chance their name is on the box. And Power Serve 3D Tennis isn't just bad; it's also fundamentally broken. If you want to play with a buddy, split-screen isn't the default option: Instead, they'll be running around on the opposite side of the net with their controls reversed. (Only a code in the manual will help you escape from this sports nightmare.) Tennis games wouldn't become truly great until Sega's Virtua Tennis arrived in 1999, and failures like Power Serve prove we still had a long way to go.

Total Eclipse Turbo

On the 3D0, Total Eclipse existed as a shallow, but technologically impressive take on the 3D space shooter. Just one year later, and it couldn't help but feel hopelessly dated—mostly because Crystal Dynamics designed it for a system whose polygon-pushing capabilities paled in comparison to the PlayStation's. Even though developers' early PlayStation games look astoundingly primitive compared to later releases like Metal Gear Solid and Vagrant Story, Total Eclipse Turbo takes a step back from this early standard, and looks like a high-res take on Star Fox as a result. The Total Eclipse series didn't last beyond 1995, and with good reason: it didn't have much more to offer than "3D graphics, am I right?"

Kileak: The DNA Imperative

Kileak: The DNA Imperative may sound like a techno-thriller from one of Tom Clancy's many ghostwriters, but it's actually one of the numerous Doom clones to take advantage of the mid-90s FPS fad. Granted, these were the days when mouselook was sheer fantasy, mostly because tilting your point of view would shatter the illusion of these not-really-3D worlds, but the PlayStation controller really isn't equipped for this kind of an experience. Essentially, Kileak got by on the sheer novelty of exploring a (kind of) 3D space—something that was previously impossible on 16-bit consoles, outside of nightmarishly ugly Doom ports. Some games age gracefully, but Genki's take on the FPS has "product of its time" stamped all over it. Surprisingly, Kileak managed to generate enough interest to see a sequel just a year later, but it would go on to be just as forgotten.

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Comments 16

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  • Avatar for riderkicker #1 riderkicker 3 years ago
    I've never heard of these games. I'm glad I skipped buying games new as a habit.
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  • Avatar for grappler51 #2 grappler51 3 years ago
    Adventure Pals over on youtube has pretty great series called PlayStation Year One, where he is currently going through the first year of PS1 releases in chronological order.
    Interesting stuff, especially for someone like me who never had the system!
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #3 SuperShinobi 3 years ago
    There was certainly a mountain of hype behind the PS1, which is not suprising considering that video games were undergoing a paradigm shift with the move to 3D graphics. The launch games were a mixed bag, consisting of dross like the games mentioned here, but they also had some great ones to deliver on the hype - like Ridge Racer and Wipeout for the Western release.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #4 SatelliteOfLove 3 years ago
    The only thing Ocean was good for in the 90s was their deeee-licious soundtracks.

    Also note how many games of any quality in those early years were non-Japanese.Edited September 2015 by SatelliteOfLove
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  • Avatar for gigantor21 #5 gigantor21 3 years ago
    Having owned the first 3 Playstations, hearing Sony brag about how the PS4 had "the best launch lineup in Playstation history" wasn't much of an incentive. :p
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  • Avatar for yuberus #6 yuberus 3 years ago
    @SatelliteOfLove The Jurassic Park SNES soundtrack... mmm, just amazing.

    SF The Movie at least isn't abjectly terrible on console. It's basically just a janky version of Super SF2 Turbo, which... there are worse things to be.
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  • Avatar for Don-Rumata #7 Don-Rumata 3 years ago
    Kileak is much less a Doom clone than a souped-up yet anemic action-based dungeon crawler, a genre better serviced by Space Griffon VF-9 a while afterward. Still Genki was (as described in Adventure Pals) playing to their strengths prior to hitting it big with Shutokou Battle, so to make this, Robotica, and a few other of these games within just a few years isn't trivial.
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  • Avatar for Natabuu #8 Natabuu 3 years ago
    I'm guessing Battle Arena Toshinden isn't on here because it was actually popular at the time.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #9 metalangel 3 years ago
    The difference in quality between the launch and swansong titles on the Playstation is perhaps the most pronounced of any system or generation.

    You look at how incredibly chunky and choppy the old 3D games were and compare them with the likes of Gran Turismo 2 and Metal Gear Solid and Syphon Filter. They really learned how to push the hardware over its lifespan.
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  • Avatar for boxofficepoison #10 boxofficepoison 3 years ago
    @metalangel It's definitely up there, but Genesis really got a lot better from launch to the end of it's lifespan, from Altered Beast and Last Battle to Vectorman and Phantasy Star 4. There was some real garbage in the genesis launch year.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #11 bobservo 3 years ago
    @Natabuu Yeah, it was basically a system-seller and at the front of Sony's marketing campaign.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #12 Monkey-Tamer 3 years ago
    I remember the Toshinden hype. I got it for Saturn. That game hasn't aged well. It was sold on Sophia's impossibly huge breasts. I still enjoy the first Street Fighter Alpha, but that wasn't released during the first year of the PS1's life if I recall correctly.
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  • Avatar for Hero-Protagonist #13 Hero-Protagonist 3 years ago
    @grappler51 He just compiled the launch line-up into a one hour video. It's the perfect companion for this article.
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  • Avatar for Damman #14 Damman 3 years ago
    I have an unreasonable love for ps1 era cg cutscenes. Everything is just so smooth and animated on robotic hinges. It's great!
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  • Avatar for metalangel #15 metalangel 3 years ago
    @boxofficepoison I agree with you there (as a lifelong Sega fan). Some of the stuff from the final year, like Sub-Terrania, Comix Zone, Batman & Robin, and Zero Tolerance, were unbelievable considering those ropey launch titles.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #16 bobservo 3 years ago
    @Damman Don't forget the sausage fingers!
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