Who said there is no such thing as a free launch?
Although content delivery platforms have a mixed reputation, no one can argue that there’s a huge appeal to have one’s games, applications, and media arranged in a neat and attractive interface. This is especially true when PC gamers have so many formats to choose from, and this dilemma grows exponentially when one is a retro game collector and delves into emulation. Various front-ends are available, with assorted pros and cons, but without a doubt one of the best on offer is LaunchBox. We’ve been given the chance to test a fully licensed version of the product, and suffice to say, we’re suitably impressed.
But before we can begin this review, we need to get one thing out of the way. We here at Hey Poor Player have to issue the disclaimer that we in no shape or form endorse piracy. Distributing and downloading ROMs is illegal. As is playing any game you’ve not purchased. If you enjoy a game, show love to the developers by shelling out cash for the right to play it. And with that out of the way, let us begin!
It’s time to think inside the box.
Starting out life as a simplistic front-end for DOSBox, LaunchBox has grown into a full-fledged game manager. You can download and install it for free, which is a piece of cake and consists of answering a few prompts. You can allow it to scan your drives for a plethora of different titles, and it supports a multitude of other content delivery platforms, as well as games released on Windows outside of Steam’s walled garden. This allows you to build a mixed-medium library and navigate it from a singular interface. Think of it: modern Windows games and old DOS classics, side-by-side! And it’s arguably far more attractive than any game launcher to date. In fact, it’s downright gorgeous.
LaunchBox connects to a massive database of game information, which includes detailed specs on the title such as its genre, date of release, and a small blurb. Additionally, there’s cover art, manual scans, and even wallpapers and fan art, which varies from title to title. If you want to be really fancy, you can modify a game’s info, mark it as a favorite, tick it off as completed, install multiple versions, and even enter a bunch of additional command-line parameters. The app additionally allows for game-specific configurations. If you want to enable certain switches for one title, or need multiple emulators for different games on the same system, LaunchBox has you covered. This is where the strength of the app lies, as it’s very easy to add games and make them look superb, and great for more technical users who aren’t afraid to fiddle with its settings.
Get ready for the launch.
There’s a lot to see and do in the free version, but if you’re willing to shell out some moolah for a license, you’ll unlock a number of extra features, including more customization options and the ability to download gameplay movies. These are utilized in the “BigBox” mode, which switches the application from its usual windowed interface to an immersive desktop, not unlike Steam’s “Big Picture” mode or Kodi. Here’s where things truly shine, and is great for a more arcade-like experience. You can even navigate with a controller!
I did run into a few minor hassles in my time with LaunchBox, however. It occasionally it wouldn’t update, or the database would identify a game incorrectly. It mostly handled my collection well, requiring relatively little in the way of my intervention to correct some categorical issues, but the experience could still be streamlined. Finally, my database got corrupted and required me to restore an earlier version, but fortunately this was relatively painless and required a simple replacement of an .xml file. The program is also updated frequently, with its various bugs continuously squashed and new features added constantly.
LaunchBox is easily one of the best game-launching and interface tools ever released on PC. Unlike similar programs, LaunchBox requires relatively little in the way of technical know-how, yet is extremely flexible and configurable. With so many different stores and content delivery platforms, this is the closest we’ll get to a unified interface for everything. It’s not only attractive, but surprisingly functional. Once you get it, you’ll wonder how you got by without it. You can get a lot of use and mileage out of the free version, but if you want to use it to its maximum potential and unlock all the eye candy, then a license comes highly recommended. Either way, head on to the app’s official page to grab your copy now. It comes highly recommended. Absolutely the best!
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Unbroken Software ; Developer: Unbroken Software.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a premium license of LaunchBox given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.