With the launches of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 just around the corner, much talk is being devoted to the various merits of the competing systems, and not least their line-ups of launch games. It’s worth being reminded here that for the most part, launch games tend to be generic, undercooked and quickly forgotten soon after the console hits its stride. Anyone remember FantaVision on the PS2? Or Street Fighter: The Movie on PS1? Fuzion Frenzy on the Xbox? Thought not.
It’s not always like this of course: occasionally a console will launch with a game that blows everything else out of the water and sets the gaming agenda for years to come: Super Mario 64, Halo and WipeOut are a few launch games in this category. And sometimes there’s a launch game or two that, despite not sharing the limelight with the big hitters, offers up some unique and solid gameplay. This article is dedicated to the launch games that were quickly forgotten but that perhaps deserve a second look.
Sir Gaulian – They say “History is written by the victors” and that is no truer that in the case of PlayStation launch title Jumping Flash. While Super Mario 64 is often referred to as the first 3D platformer, it was actually Jumping Flash that started a genre which would become a console stalwart for many years to come, albeit from a first person perspective. The game’s title pretty much says it all: Jumping Flash was all about the jumping, and to what great heights the robotic frog could jump. Do you remember Samus looking down when jumping between platforms in Metroid Prime? Jumping Flash did that too. It also happened to look bloody impressive while doing it, particularly for the early days of the Playstation and 3D games in general. It was an impressive piece of tech that showed off what polygons were all about way back in 1995.
Lucius – I bought this game as present for my friend Paul years ago. I’d heard it was surprisingly good, but I had no idea it would turn out to be such a massive time sink for me and my friends. Graphics-wise it’s no great shakes – the designers have a questionable love of the colour brown – but it flies along at a fantastic pace and the action is non-stop. Essentially it’s a racing game without borders – you can go anywhere as long as you get to your destination in time and your car isn’t destroyed by rival gangs or the police. In two player it really comes alive as you battle with your friend over who can get to the cargo and return it to your base – if you’re first to get it, expect a queue of rivals and the police on your tail as you frantically blast your way over ridges and through valleys in an attempt to shake them. One of Rockstar’s earliest games and one of the best.
Project Rub: Feel the Magic XY/XX (DS)
Sir Gaulian – Remember mini games? How could you forget, they were on any street corner over the life of the Nintendo DS. While Warioware: Touched has remained in the minds of most early adopters of the system as the epitome of mini game collections, SEGA also had an early offering that not only offered an eclectic mix of mini games, but also a heart warming story and impressive minimalist visual style to go along with it. Project Rub (or Feel the Magic XX/XY as it was known in other territories) tells a pretty standard boy meets girl love story, but the game itself revolves around his pursuit of the girl and the great lengths he goes to to win her heart. His attempts play out through various mini games that are so unbelievably ridiculous that they are absolutely worth discovering and experiencing first hand. Along with Warioware, Project Rub used every feature of the DS and in that way is the ultimate embodiment of the console’s 2004 launch. Unbelievably there was a sequel to this game, The Rub Rabbits!, released in 2006.
Sir Gaulian – Every portable console launch needs a puzzle game, and for the Nintendo DS it was Japanese developer Mitchell Corporation’s long-forgotten brain strainer Polarium. Polarium is a vertically oriented block game where the aim is to align blocks according to their polarity by tapping or drawing across them. Its simple concept and incredibly crude presentation masks an incredible layer of depth and complexity in what is probably my favourite puzzle game. In addition to your standard infinite mode there was a devious puzzle mode that required the player to clear the lines of a set pattern by drawing one continuous line. The combination made for a an addictive and excellent distraction from the world around and a magnificent time sink that was a mainstay in my travel bag. I wouldn’t be lying if I said Polarium continually occupying my Nintendo DS is probably the single biggest factor in ensuring that Animal Crossing: Wild World (released over 12 months later) never got its hooks in.
Metal Gear Acid (PSP)
Sir Gaulian – It’s no wonder Metal Gear Acid gets lost amongst the shuffle. Overshadowed by its bigger and more explosive cousins, the non-canonical Metal Gear Acid is more Lost Kingdoms than it is Metal Gear Solid, with every movement and action being dictated by what cards the player has in their posession. But what it’s missing in instant action it more than makes up for in its approach to turn-based strategy, and way back at the launch of the PSP it made for a welcome change to a series more known for its stealth. The sequel released a couple of years later was a significant step forward from the original, but Metal Gear Acid still remains a portable-friendly game worth playing, particularly if you’re interested in a card game based on the Metal Gear characters and universe.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (GBA)
Sir Gaulian – I am a long-time fan of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series and, like many others, I’ve been mortified at the steady downward spiral the series has taken this generation. But there was a time when publisher Activision could do no wrong with the series and everything that the Hawk touched turned to goal. That included bringing what is widely regarded as the best in the series, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, from its home on the PlayStation to the Game Boy Advance. Making the switch from a behind-the-skater viewpoint to an isometric one was a smart move, and developer Vicarious Visions managed to do the impossible by bringing the fully fledged console experience to a system that shouldn’t have been able to handle it. It looked the part, sounded the part and played the part: something that gave Vicarious Visions the right to develop six more entries in the series for the system, and several more for its successor the Nintendo DS.
Lucius – Toshinden is unfairly dismissed by many in the fighting community. After the release of Tekken and Soul Calibur, the series quickly retreated into the shadows, petering out at Toshinden 4. But many forget how revolutionary the game was when it was released – after all, this was the first 3D fighter to feature weapons, and the first to introduce the sidestep, a move that was the key to its success. Being able to swiftly bob to the left or right of your opponent transformed the way fighting games were played, and I remember happily playing the demo of Toshinden with friends for hours when I got my PlayStation.
Lucius – TrickStyle was clearly inspired by WipeOut, but it had the added bonus of hoverboards – anyone who grew up on Back to the Future II will know how much of a draw this is. As a launch game, it was an impressive display of the power of Dreamcast, and the futuristic version of London that you dived and spiralled through was an absolute treat. Pulling 360s with your board during races felt great, although the game was hampered by slight lack of speed – something that could easily have been fixed in a sequel that, sadly, never was.
Lucius – I bought a GameCube at launch, but I could only afford to get one game with it. After careful consideration, I chose this: Bloody Roar: Primal Fury. While everyone else was threading their way through Luigi’s Mansion, I was transforming into a lion and laying the smack down on giant metal moles: I definitely made the right choice. Like Toshinden, the Bloody Roar series seems to have petered out, which is a real shame: the character design was excellent, and the ability to transform into a beast added a real tactical element to the gameplay – as well as a lot of laughs.
Lucius – I was doing work experience at CVG just before the launch of the GameCube, and I was there when Wave Race: Blue Storm arrived along with one of the first GameCubes to reach the UK. I was given the task of taking screenshots of the game, which was one of the sweetest jobs I’ve ever been given – the chance to sit in an office all day and play a superbly crafted and (still) wonderful looking racing game made by Nintendo’s finest. If only I’d been paid for it, it would have been even sweeter.
Sir Gaulian – I’ve played a lot of racing games in my time, but I’d be hard pressed to not put Nintendo’s brutally difficult Blue Storm in my favourites pile. It was a technical tour de force at the time of its release, with the water physics absolutely blowing the world away at the time. But while it looked awesome it was the way it played into the game that made it so spectacular, and being pushed off of your ‘racing line’ by a wayward wave made for a dynamic and unpredictable experience. Don’t let the difficulty put you off – Blue Storm is still to this day an excellent racer.
Lucius – Finally, here’s something more recent – the best launch game for the Nintendo 3DS. Designed by Jullian Gollop of XCOM fame, this is a wonderfully designed strategy game that makes effective use of 3D effects and is perfect for handheld play. Even now it’s probably the 3DS game I’ve played for the longest time. Check out my review for more reasons on why you have to own this game if you’ve got a 3DS.
Have memories of any of the games we listed? Think we missed something? Are you a FantaVision apologist? Tell us in the comments below.