As of 2014, Nintendo is a longtime veteran of launching hardware. To my count, they've had a dozen major launches: the NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii, and Wii U on the console side, and the Game Boy, Virtual Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, DS, and 3DS on the handheld/ "third pillar" side.
So, based on my admittedly biased views, I decided to go back and rank the quality of each launch.
Note that I'm focusing on the American launches of each product. Sorry, but in some cases, the launches of systems occured years apart around the world with vastly different lineups. Focusing on America at least lets us blame Reggie if it turns out recent launches have been subpar.
Without further ado, let's begin!
12. Virtual Boy
The VIrtual Boy is often remembered as Nintendo's greatest failure. There are many good reasons why, and the launch was one of them. Costing about $180 in 1995 dollars, the Virtual Boy was actually the most expensive Nintendo handheld ever adjusted for inflation, beating out even the 3DS. However, whereas the 3DS had a nice-sized library off the bat, the VIrtual Boy had a total of four games at launch. Of these, Mario Tennis was supposed to be the killer app, but there's a reason this series only became popular when Camelot took over. This launch honestly lacked any real positives, making it unique among Nintendo system launches. Which is why it is down at #12, the worst spot.
A lot of people may be wondering what I was smoking if I consider the SNES to be the second worst Nintendo launch in American history. Well, first of all, consider the price. At $200 in 1991 money, it cost the equivalent of over $330... something even the Wii U managed to avoid in its lower end sku. As for the games, sure Super Mario World was excellent, but it was not the game-changer that Super Mario Bros was on the NES or Super Mario 64 was on the N64. It was a step up from Super Mario Bros 3, which you didn't need to get a new system for. As for the remaining games at launch, there were only four of them. And although Pilotwings was an interesting game in 1991, it did not sell a lot of systems.
Finally, a 21st century flop! The 3DS had a lot wrong with its launch, including a price tag that only PlayStation fans (and me circa April 2011) would find acceptable, not to mention a lack of any real stars in the lineup. Well, maybe Nintendogs+cats, but not really. However, the 3DS had one perk that prevents it from being further down this list: third party games. The 3DS had Street Fighter, Ridge Racer, Tom Clancy, LEGO Star Wars, Super Monkey Ball, and Samurai Warriors games... many of which were actually decent. Maybe the price was too high and there were no stars, but the 3DS had launch titles worth playing.
9. Game Boy Color
This is the last of what I consider to be Nintendo's "subpar" launches. Honestly, this launch was disappointing for a very obvious reason: games. There were three of them at launch, one of which was a colored version of Tetris. Considering how Pokemon had just come out in America, there was little reason to upgrade. At least the price was right; this gadget cost $80 at launch, making it cheaper than the 2DS even adjusted for inflation.
8. Game Boy Advance
Honestly, I think spots #8 through #4 are largely interchangeable on this list. All five of these platforms had "mixed" launches, containing a mixture of good, bad, and meh. But there had to be an order, so here's the GBA at #8. Anyhow, the GBA had, like the 3DS, the virtue of coming out with a lot of games. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon alone was one of the best-received entries in the genre ever back in 2001, and there were over a dozen games total to get at launch. The price tag wasn't terrible either, at a reasonable $150, or roughly $200 in modern moolah. The problem: no killer apps. The Game Boy Advance was a system that relied heavily on Pokemon to carry it, and there was no Pokemon at launch. Instead, there was Super Mario Advance, a port of a section of the ancient All-Stars remake for the SNES. As killer apps go, this was not the greatest of all time.
The DS launch was a bit weird; if one word were to describe it, that word would be "meh." The launch price was $150, like the GBA, but since it only launched a few years later, it wasn't actually that much cheaper even after inflation. With 7 launch titles, the selection was limited, but at least more diverse than many earlier handheld launch lineups. As for Super Mario 64 DS... it was good, but for every moment where you fell in love with the second screen and the DS's power, you ended up wishing for an analog stick. So overall, the DS launch was... meh. Which is a shame, cause I love the DS.
6. Nintendo 64
The Nintendo 64 was "quality over quantity" personified. Coming out at a reasonable $200, or a bit under $300 in today's money, the N64 had a grand total of two launch titles in America. This was the smallest number of any Nintendo launch recorded in the country. However, there was a saving grace: Super Mario 64. Honestly, that was one of the biggest deal launch titles in the history of the industry, and people played that game for years uncovering every secret there was to be found. This is a case where one great game can save a launch.
5. Wii U
The Wii U has not been a huge success since launch, but back in 2012, it had quite a few things going for it. Sure, at $300 minimum, it was one of Nintendo's more expensive products ever. But the sheer number of 3rd party offerings gave it the most diverse lineup in Nintendo's launch history, even ignoring eShop exclusives. Meanwhile, Nintendo themselves released Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros U. Although neither game changed the industry, they have pretty much moved most of the Wii U hardware since the platform's launch, so kudos to them. Wii U... your launch was okay.
The GameCube was kind of in the same "meh" zone as the DS would be a few years later. Remember, there was no Pikmin or Smash Bros Melee on launch day! The star of the launch was Luigi's Mansiion, a game that... did fairly well, but was no Wii Sports or Super Mario Bros. As for the wider selection of games, there were some choices, including Super Monkey Ball and Rogue Squadron 2, but not that much. And the GameCube's price, though low by even 2001 standards, didn't include any bundled games like the NES or Wii did. So overall, the GameCube had a great launch window, but a merely decent launch.
3. Game Boy
The Game Boy had a kickass launch. This thing came onto the market at $90, about half of what the competition cost. Even in modern money, it would still cost only about $166, less than the price of a new standard 3DS. The Game Boy also came with two killer apps off the word go: Super Mario Land and Tetris. The former brought the face of gaming to handhelds, and the latter opened gaming to a wider audience. Honestly, if the Game Boy offered more than about three other games at launch, or if they were a bit better than Alleyway, it might be #1.
At $100, the NES was Nintendo's cheapest console ever at launch. In modern terms, it cost a bit over $200 and came with Super Mario Bros. I could stop there, but the NES offered even more. Nintendo had been making Famicom games for years, and brought as many of them to America as possible. Thus, you ended up with 18 launch titles, including games as diverse as Golf, Excitebike, Ice Climber, Pinball, and a bunch of others. Really, only one console could possibly top the NES's launch.
Why is the Wii at #1? Well, you may have noticed that I've been roughly judging on a few criteria: price, games available, star games, etc. The Wii is among the top Nintendo platforms ever at launch in every of those departments. First, the price. For under $300 adjusted for inflation, you got a shiny new console and a copy of Wii Sports. Wii Sports, incidentally, is a huge killer app of a game that changes how people interact with them for years to come. You also have Twilight Princess, a more "hardcore" killer app, which ranks as one of the best-rated games of the mid-2000's, let alone launch titles. And the Wii had more than just these two games; you had shooters like Red Steel and Call of Duty 3, racers like Excite Truck and Need for Speed, family games like Super Monkey Ball and Raving Rabbids, a DBZ fighting game, a bunch of licensed games, etc. Not all of these were necessarily the best games ever, but many of them were great, and even a lot of the duds were revolutionary in how they used the Wii's technology. In conclusion, the Wii marks the pinnacle of Nintendo system launches, and marks a point that they should constantly strive to reattain in the future.
Any thoughts or criticisms? Please elaborate on them!
Love and tolerate.