Today, Nintendo announced the launch line-up for its next handheld console, the 3DS. Like many launch line-ups, its completely underwhelming. I've already pre-ordered a 3DS, and still plan on buying it (I mostly pre-ordered because that's the only way to get a new console in the first year of its existence these days), but it did convince me that Kid Icarus: Uprising is likely the first game I'll buy for the system.
That got me thinking, though--have any consoles had less interesting launch line-up? Have any been wildly better? Before I answer that, go take a look at the 3DS launch line-up. Done? Do any of those titles drive you wild with desire? Didn't think so.
The truth is, though, very few of the most influential consoles in history had great launches. In fact, the most successful launches tend to be the lest impressive quantitatively. Systems that launch with over 10 games tend to offer very little of note (e.g. nearly every post-Dreamcast console), though there are some exceptions (the U.S. launch of the NES, which included Excitebike and Super Mario Bros., and the Colecovision, whose 12 launch games were all perfectly geared to showing off the machine's technical superiority).
Launches with few games can be great successes, if enough care is taken. This is something Nintendo used to recognize, as the SNES and N64 both had strong, if vanishingly slim, debut line-ups. Even the Turbo-Grafx 16's launch was half-great, featuring Monster Lair (yes!) and Fighting Street (no!). But of course low quantity doesn't guarantee success, as the Atari Lynx, Sega Master System and Virtual Boy (among others) readily attest.
All we can glean from this is that there's no perfect formula for a launch. Ideally, the games will play to a system's strengths, as the SNES and, to a far lesser extent, Sega CD launches did. Having good games isn't necessarily enough--the games need to show why the new console is superior to anything else on the market (which is why Sony purportedly tried to minimize the number of 2D games released early in the Playstation's life). A long list of titles may look good in press releases, but odds are most of them will be forgettable, so it's probably better to focus on putting out a few highly polished games rather than loads of half-assery that will be populating bargain bins within six months.
Unfortunately, the latter is what I see when I look at the 3DS line-up. Nintendo's first-party games tend to hold their value, though I have my doubts about Steeldiver, given Nintendo's history with submarine games. Super Street Fighter IV will probably be the biggest hit, but personally I hate fighting games on handhelds, so I have no interest. And as for Resident Evil: The Mercenaries--when has plucking a bonus mode out of a full game and selling it as a standalone product ever worked out well?
Time may prove me wrong, but I don't expect to get much use out of my 3DS in the first few months. Still, when Christmas rolls around and good games finally start trickling out, I'll be glad not to fall victim to another of Nintendo's notorious, demand-increasing hardware shortages.