Inspired by the post about Sony hitting its stride, I will attempt to grade the various launches that I remember.
Keep in mind that I'm not going to take the time to consult any information here other than my memory. Feel free to chime in if that causes some mistakes. Also, there are going to be a few consoles that I leave out because I didn't buy them at launch (or observe them).
My grades will be based on a combination of games available in first 6 months and positive/negative hype after launch.
SNES: B. Lots of hype and a long delay between the American and Japanese launches (I seem to remember Japan getting this first) made Nintendo fans froth at the mouth. I also remember a good number of solid titles early on, with Super Mario World being an outstanding pack in game.
N64: D. Probably the biggest launch dissapointment I can remember. A total lack of compelling content, and to make matters worse, games for other systems seemed superior at the time because of the ability to playback video and CD quality sound. Granted, I was totally amazed and happy for the first month or so... Mario64 was a revolutionary game. But after that, and observing all the cool games the PSX was getting, I bailed and went to Sony.
PS1 A. They crashed the party Vince Vaughn style with this system. The Critic is right, awesome launch titles like Tekken (remember, we were still deep in the throes of one on one fighter mania) made me drool and also made me very jealous. It wasn't long before I had a PS1, and I sold off the N64 (which I regret since I missed out on both Zeldas and Goldeneye).
Dreamcast C+ A great system. Awesome games that truly looked "next gen" for its day. Yet it seemed doomed, hence why I remember this as a C+ launch.
Xbox B- One word: Halo. It would have been a total disaster if not for this important launch title. They lost millions of dollars on this system, but with this huge franchise they gained the second biggest game franchise next to Mario. When this system came out, my response was, "Oh, cool, a gaming system for real adults!" Which, in my opinion, is a blessing and a curse that haunts Microsoft to this day.
Gamecube: C-. Sort of caught between the PS2 and Xbox hype. This was also released at perhaps the lowest point of Nintendo's industry influence. It seemed to almost totally cater to the kiddies, and as my college boy sensitivity in those days was to play only games where men held big machine guns, it didn't appeal to me at first. It's like Nintendo made the same mistake Microsoft did (limiting the system to one demographic) but with the other end of the spectrum. Yet the usual array of quality Nintendo releases had me purchasing the system, mainly the ridiculously awesome multiplayer game Smash Bros. Melee.
PS2. A. You have to give it to Sony. They built a great launch out of the formula of Trojan Horseing the DVD player and massive, massive hype. The games were a bit soft, but it didn't matter because you were getting such a great deal on a pretty crummy DVD player. In a way, the succes for Sony would haunt them later, as this forumla is not working so far for the PS3.
Xbox360: C. A perplexing system. What do you get when you have a system with:
A wide selection of quality games
The best online service of any gaming company to date, with spectacular content
Multiple heavy hitting developers/franchises commiting to the system (Halo 3, BioWare's Mass Effect)
First system to fully embrace HD?
You get a system that is STILL falling short of expectations of sales, according to reports that I'm seeing on the web. Perhaps, when the numbers for Christmas 06' are in, the 360 will get the love it deserves as a moderately priced powerhouse system.
PS3: Tentative Grade: C+ Incomplete grade obviously, but so far it is going down like the 360's debut: issues with availability being so extreme as to actually hurt, not help the system. I also wonder what the price point will do to it. $600 is getting to the point of no return: young folk making $7 bucks an hour are eliminated, as are married men who have some financial responsibilities. It is also clearly percieved at this point as the hardcore gamer's system, thus probably looking a bit dim for family use.
They are trying the PS2 model again, by smuggling in cool new tech and making it look like a deal, but I'm not sure it is working as well.
Nintendo Wii: Tentative grade: A. It would get an A+ if not for the strap break issue (which is bogus anyway). An incredible launch title (Zelda), a fantastic free pack in game (Wii Sports), and a surprisingly varied launch lineup (including several FPS games, a well recieved version of Madden Football, Trauma Center, and Rayman, among others) and of course the Virtual Console, this sytem also is getting mostly adoring press. A great victory for Nintendo (commence flaming now!).