RELEASE YEAR 2005
As the first high-definition game console ever introduced, the Xbox 360 represents a milestone in videogame hardware history. The Xbox 360 represents a first-time shift in standalone platforms to crisp, clean, high-definition graphics with advanced shading and physics effects. While these features were long-since a staple of PC gaming, they had never before been seen in the console market. Additionally, the Xbox 360 was also the first console to hit the market with an integrated wireless controller system. Although wireless controller solutions were present in previous game systems, wireless connectivity could only be achieved through external dongle attachments.
But beyond its hardware innovations, the Xbox 360 marked a huge software push in terms of creating an all encompassing media and gaming platform. The Xbox 360 launched with a completely revised Xbox Live online networking system, which enabled new and unprecedented ways of accessing video, audio, and game content, as well as connecting with friends. Xbox Live has since grown to be one of the most successful console-based online gaming networks ever created, with over 17 million members as of January, 2009. Through its extensive online-integration, which allows for practically boundless optimization, feature additions, and improvements, the Xbox 360 has drastically extended the lasting appeal and life expectancy of the average console.
RELEASE YEAR 1989
The Genesis was known for having classics in nearly every genre with support from Electronic Arts giving it the edge in the sports category (go NHL ’94!), the bloodier Mortal Kombat, and what some consider to be the greatest controller ever created: the six button.
It isn't difficult to prove why the software lineup was so successful considering the recent release and success of Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection. Just tick down the list and you'll find a bundle of absolutely brilliant games. The Phantasy Star and Shining Force series combined to offer role playing options that were equal to, if not better than anything available from the competition and titles like Ecco the Dolphin and Comix Zone offered dashes of edgy action that were highly original at the time.
There were brief moments when the SEGA Genesis overtook Nintendo in terms of market share and at the time they were the only two players in town. This meant for a time, the Genesis was the most popular game console in the world and for a good reason.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
RELEASE YEAR 1991
The first true battle of the consoles began in 1991 with the US release of the Super Nintendo. Boasting 16-bit graphics and a superior soundcard than its competition (the audio system was entirely standalone), Nintendo pushed its art style and name branding against SEGA's "SEGA does what Nintendon't" campaign, but in the end it was what Nintendodid – or had, rather – that put the SNES higher on our chart. Despite "hardcore-minded" competition, Nintendo pushed a pedigree of original content, starting with the debut Super Mario World and carried on through titles like Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, F-Zero, Mario Kart, and the dawn of the FX chip which brought the debut of Star Fox. Developer Rare continued to push the console in its later years with the help of Nintendo, introducing larger cart sizes with Donkey Kong Country, and a flood of third party support pushed the Super Nintendo to legendary status with games like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Gradius III, Contra III, Mega Man X, Secret of Mana, and many, many more. When it comes to a pure concentration of AAA titles, few consoles – if any – can stand up to the Super NES.
The sales showed it as well, with the first true console war ending in an important Nintendo victory on both the hardware and software front. The Super NES's library was the start, or continuation in some cases, of franchises that are still alive and well today both on a first party and third party front – proof of its legacy. The Super NES controller laid groundwork for the now-mainstream four-button face of both the PlayStation and Xbox controllers, and the experimental first steps into 3D gaming (both real and faked via the FX chip and Mode 7 technology respectively) laid the groundwork for the industry’s future.
RELEASE YEAR 2000
The PlayStation 2 is the best-selling videogame console ever with more than 130 million units sold by the end of 2008. That alone says a lot regarding its place in history and its reception amongst the general population. The PS2 was not only a major highlight in Sony's history (for both its games business and the company as a whole), but it also helped launch the DVD format into the VHS-killer that it became.
But company financials and movie formats aside, it's really the games and wide accessibility that made the PS2 what it was, and even now, nearly a decade after its release, it still is. The fact that the system is supported to this day and that we're still seeing games released for it on a weekly basis is a strong testament to its staying power.
Looking at the system's library (which is nearing 2,000 titles at the time of this writing), there are a number of games that were not only breakout releases, but have defined what we're playing today. Grand Theft Auto III and Guitar Hero are two that paved the way for some of this generation's most popular genres, and when you're talking about software as an art form, you needn't look any further than titles like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
It may be long in the tooth, but without the PlayStation 2, gaming today, and even home entertainment in general, may be a lot different were it not for Sony's über-popular console.
RELEASE YEAR 1977
This is it -- the console that our entire industry is built upon. Though it also nearly took videogames to the brink in the system’s latter years, the Atari 2600 was a certifiable phenomenon in its ascendancy as the herald of a new entertainment medium.
Shepherded to market in 1977 by visionary Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, and his head engineer Allan Alcorn, the Atari 2600 was the second home videogame console to use removable, programmable cartridges instead of being a dedicated machine like Atari's own Pong (The Fairchild F beat Atari to the punch by a year). The system was not an immediate success, though. It wasn't until 1979 when the videogame craze truly exploded did the 2600 begin its meteoric path. Atari was quick to license popular arcade games for the machine like Space Invaders, Missile Command, and Pac-Man, which also helped it become the dominant console in American living rooms. By 1982, the 2600 was a $2 billion business for Atari.
But the good times were not to last and the skyrocket trajectory of the Atari 2600 was partially to blame. With videogames white-hot, everybody wanted in. And Atari did not have any solid quality-control mechanisms in place. No game epitomizes this lack quite like E.T., a licensed title that was forced to market after a five-week development cycle. Atari took a bath on E.T. and consumers started to sour on the breath of subpar games clogging shelves. Thus began the great video game crash of 1983 which laid waste to the entire industry.
It is this incredible story, a console that is responsible for the incredible games we're playing now yet almost drove a stake through the heart of the industry.
Nintendo Entertainment System
RELEASE YEAR 1985
Prior to 1985 in the US, Nintendo was a strong name in the arcade with Donkey Kong and it was cleaning up in the toy aisle with its Game & Watch handhelds. But the home console industry was buried under the figurative dust after the industry collapsed on itself, and "videogame" was considered a bad word. Nintendo set to change all that with the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The company was already seeing insane success with the Famicom in Japan with its release in 1983, and after two years, it was time to bring that success to a new territory. After a failed attempt to partner with Atari to bring the system to the US, the company decided to do the job itself. The Famicom hardware was given a sleeker, more Western-friendly appearance, and the NES was born. The initial release in 1985 was only a test in specific US markets, but it was shipped across the country after the Holiday season in 1986.
Nintendo instituted a strict licensing program to ensure that the industry crash – with its glut of games of questionable quality -- would not happen with the NES. No unlicensed games would be tolerated on the NES platform. All games would have to be approved by Nintendo and third parties could only create a certain number of games a year for the NES, while the same games could not be made for competing consoles for two years.
The strategy worked. Nintendo's quality first-party efforts as well as the incredibly powerful third-party support resurged and revived the home videogame industry. If Nintendo didn't step up to the plate, the industry as a whole may have turned out entirely different.