The Launch Titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System were the games available on its first release in the United States of America. The exact date of its release, and which games were available, are not as precisely known as they were today. In the mid-80s, after the great video game crash of 1983, video games were toys, and unimportant ones at that, and there was not an entire field of video game journalism dedicated to detailing developments in real time. The Nintendo Entertainment System was first released in the New York City market in October of 1985, was then released in other large cities in spring of the following year, and was released across the United States for the next Christmas season. But for its original, October 1985 release, the following games were available for sale with the NES:
Although many sources claim Donkey Kong Jr. Math and Mach Rider were launch titles of the NES, most of the evidence, including advertisements from that time seem to dispute this. Given the haphazard nature of the industry at the time, and how long ago it happened, it seems possible that some mislabeled boxes of test cartridges could have gotten to Macy's, so it is possible that Mach Rider was sold at launch. However, whether or not, it doesn't change the basic idea of what was included at the NES' launch. What type of games were included?
First, two games, Gyromite and Stack-Up, were both designed for use with the R.O.B. device, a robot that Nintendo included with the original launch for marketing reasons. The R.O.B. proved to be unsuccessful, and no other games were designed for it. The list also includes three games utilizing the Zapper light gun: Duck Hunt, Hogan's Alley and Wild Gunman. Like the R.O.B., the Zapper was included for marketing reasons: after the game crash of 1983, Nintendo advertised its product as an "entertainment system", and novel peripherals were a way to do that. Of the other games, seven were sports games: 10 Yard Fight, Baseball, Excitebike (more or less), Golf, Pinball (arguably), Soccer and Tennis. Notice that four of those also had very prosaic names. There was one puzzle/maze game, Clu Clu Land, which roughly resembles Pac-Man. There was one puzzle game, Wrecking Crew, one fighting game, Kung-Fu, and of course, Super Mario Bros..
Given the later impact of the Nintendo, and the genres of video games it helped invent, this list has some conspicuous absences. In the 1980s, arcade games were popular everywhere, but the launch titles included only two games that were ported from the arcade: Kung-Fu and Wild Gunman, neither of which were a famous arcade title at the time. Nintendo would later release many more arcade ports, such as Galaga, Pac-Man, Dig-Dug and Bubble Bobble, but that wasn't evident from the first release. Since Nintendo was trying to rebrand itself as an "entertainment system", and not just a video game system, it might make sense to eschew beep-beep-blink-blink games, and instead focus on sports games, or on games that featured electronic accessories. I don't know if that is the case, but it seems reasonable that the launch titles could have been meant to expand demographic appeal.
But I haven't even touched on the most important point, which I want you all to sit down for, because it is in "blow-your-mind" territory: the original Nintendo launch titles only included one "Nintendo Game", which was Super Mario Bros. Because while the Nintendo provided an adequate platform for remixed Arcade Games, and would have a host of sports games over its life, "Nintendo Games", as opposed to games on the Nintendo, were a special type of game. They had bright, sometimes cartoonish graphics, they told stories, and they had worlds to explore. I was born in 1979, so my first exposure to games were just as things that were miraculously allowing us to change what was on our TV screen, and that was attraction enough. But when I was old enough for Nintendo, the appeal was that we got to explore our own worlds: places with strange, yet mostly consistent laws that gave us a feeling of exploring a real place. Super Mario Bros. was the first game to really introduce this, in a technical and creative breakthrough, but other games would come later. Although there were many good games in other genres, the Nintendo is mostly remembered for its platformer and adventure games. But in 1985, there were still years before Castlevania, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda and Mega Man were released.
The reason that I thought to write about this is not because I think people specifically need to know about Clu-Clu Land, but because it interests me that people often remember something's most prominent features as necessarily being its earliest features. The Nintendo that so interested us on the playground in sixth grade was not present from its earliest days. The artistic and commercial success of the Nintendo seems almost coincidental in retrospect, because it is entirely possible that in slightly different circumstances, Nintendo would have continued to market the Nintendo as a toy where people could play golf with the help of a robot, and the expansive worlds that were the source of so much excitement on our middle school playgrounds would have never come to be.