The Nintendo Switch draws ever closer (gird your loins). The hullabaloo is exhausting, but it's also pretty exciting. There's something about a console launch that takes you back to the golden days of childhood -- except when you're an adult, you can grab your hardware on day one and not have to wait for your parents to cough up the goods on your birthday.
We've seen a lot of game consoles come and go since the '70s. Which console launch do you remember most fondly, and why?
Being of an enormous age, I remember an era when consoles didn't really have launches per se. That was the 80s, when new systems trickled into retail during a vague launch window, and you had to keep asking when they were likely to arrive so you could make sure that you were in the right place at the right time to get one. Not that there was any kind of mad rush in those days. Most of the time it was easy to get what you wanted if you were keen enough.
By the time the 90s rolled around, things had started to get a little more organized, with preorders finally becoming a thing, and stockists knowing exactly which day systems were going to arrive. However, since I was working in the industry at that point, I received all of the consoles of the period ahead of time when a review unit would be delivered to the office - so I don't really have much in the way of fond memories of queuing up at midnight and rushing home with a shiny new machine. Sure, it was an exciting day when a new console did arrive, and I remember the incredible thrill of unboxing systems like the SNES and Genesis when I got one, but it wasn't until just a few years ago that I finally experienced the satisfaction of properly hunting down a console and securing it for myself.
That was an Xbox One. We'd expected to get a couple of review units for USgamer, but we ended up only getting a single system. I really needed one, so I decided to go out on launch night and purchase a system for myself. Although lining up outside an out-of-the-way Best Buy for the better part of a chilly November night doesn't sound like a recipe for fun, it actually turned out to be a really memorable evening.
I've have to go with the original PlayStation. It launched in the United States in September of 1995, which was my first year working at a video game retail store. Yeah, that was my first job ever, selling games at a local version of GameStop. Been doing the games thing hardcore for a long time.
The PlayStation was my first launch experienced from the other side of the counter. It was the first disc-based system that seemed like it was going to hit it big and it was Sony's first real shot at a home console. (3DO was out there first, but… it's 3DO.) The PlayStation had the name, it stood out, and the $299 price tag meant it was in reach for many.
It was hectic as hell. I couldn't afford one myself, so all my playtime with the system and it's launch lineup was done at the store. I dove deep into Battle Arena Toshinden (which doesn't age well, but was amazing at the time), Warhawk, Rayman, and Ridge Racer. The first two were my go-to titles, the ones I'd expound on in great detail to anyone who expressed interest in the system.
I've participated in rougher and bigger launches since then, on both sides of the counter and later as a games journalist. But this was the first one where I really paid attention to the system, the marketing, all of the launch games and upcoming titles. This was the first time I saw the gaming industry as an industry. So it's probably key to who I am now.
Weirdly enough, probably the Game Boy Advance. I didn't have enough money to buy a console until about 2001 (and my parents weren't willing to help me out). I was on a train in Europe for the Xbox 360, and I was in Japan when the PS3 and the Wii launched (admittedly, it would have been cool to have stood in line at Bic Camera or something for a Wii). After that, all my new consoles started showing up in the mail, which was kind of... anti-climactic?
The GBA, at least, I picked up on Day 1. On launch day, I rolled into a GameStop and bought the last GBA in stock along with Earthworm Jim and Rayman Advance. It was all of about a day before I returned both of them, mostly because I hated them. I wound up getting Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and Super Mario Advance instead, which ended up being much better purchases.
That's the funny thing about console launches—they get you to buy shoddy games that you would otherwise ignore. I remember thinking, "I mean, it's on the GBA, so it's obviously going to look and sound amazing." Alas, graphics aren't everything.
I initially regretted my decision to pickup a GBA. I felt like it was a waste of money to invest in a platform with a poor launch lineup, and that feeling was compounded by the arrival of the GBA SP in 2003. These days, my main rule of thumb is to wait for at least five must-buy games to arrive before I pick up a console. But I was young and impulsive, and I had some disposable income.
Now I go to await my Switch.
For me, the N64 arrived at a real Goldilocks age. While I was very late to secure an NES and a Super Nintendo because I had to sock away months' worth of pocket change (which, I learned years later, my younger brother would sometimes dip into to buy cigarettes), I was old enough to work a part-time job in anticipation for the N64's launch.
I picked up that baby on day one, at a small independent game store that's still standing. It was my first time being part of the push, hype, and hustle. My mother insisted my brother go with me to fetch the console (my older brother, not the smoker), and we dragged it home on the subway in a totally inconspicuous garbage bag.
Then we discovered the N64 only came with A/V cables, and my parents' garbage TV from the '80s didn't have A/V output. So we had to trek back out and find a Radio Shack that was still open at ass o'clock at night in hopes of buying an adapter. Amazing. Awesome.
This is going to sound really depressing, but I never really experienced a console launch before I was an adult. My mom got me a Playstation 2 when Kingdom Hearts was released. Before that, I was pecking away at our old Playstation and a Gameboy Color when the world had already moved on to Gameboy Advance SPs. I never had a home Nintendo console until the Wii; I skipped the DS. I’ve never owned an Xbox console (I know, I know—a huge gap). Luckily in the years since, I’ve caught up in most cases.
But in 2010, when I worked at a local Gamestop, I finally got a Playstation 3 with my employee discount. It was the first console that I bought with my own money—and could afford to buy—and I immediately dove into Final Fantasy XIII, a game I had heard bad things about, but needed to experience for myself regardless. In the end, I actually enjoyed it, and I still think it’s the best Final Fantasy game post-IX. (Feel free to fight me.)
I guess my first real console launch was for the Playstation 4, which was incredibly underwhelming. I had the console pre-ordered, despite there being no great games at launch. I played through Killzone Shadow Fall, only to realize how much I detested the game in its final act and abandoned it. I don’t think I touched my PS4 for months after that.