With 3D gaming fully ushered in, thanks in-part to the N64, Nintendo was ready to start upping their game with their new console. The Gamecube not only looked nicer than the fat N64, it had a much more powerful processor capable of putting more polygons on screen. Basically, the games could look prettier, something that’s been commonplace these past few years among video game console launches. But while the Nintendo 64 was innovative and had a deep library of classics, the Gamecube suffered from a smaller collection of titles and some backlash from longtime Nintendo fans.
The Gamecube released in 2001. During it’s release, both of my brothers worked at our local Toys ‘R Us, and I had one of them secure me a console for pre-order! I remember getting the tiny blue box with a handle (for some reason) home in November, only to realize upon booting it up that it was defective! The damn thing didn’t spin any discs, and I thought maybe I was doing something wrong! Worse yet, Phil told me they didn’t have any extras at the store! But thankfully someone turned one in or something, because the next day I was able to exchange my busted console for a new, albeit black, one. And thankfully this one worked!
When the Cube launched there were just a few games that came out for it: Luigi’s Mansion and Wave Race: Blue Storm were the big Nintendo games to come out with it, but I only picked up one game at launch: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. Hot damn did I play that game a lot! Since it was the only game I had on the system for quite some (and also because it was a great game in it’s own right), I ended up completing it to its fullest. Every skater, every stat point, every stage, all done. I have very fond memories playing the Foundry stage, doing the entire thing with one continuous trick, and watching the points skyrocket! It was great, and that soundtrack was awesome too!
My good friend Andy picked up a very different yet equally amazing launch game: Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. The original Rogue Squadron released on the Nintendo 64, but it wasn’t until Rogue Leader that I really started to enjoy the series. And man, what a game that was! The visuals were absolutely stunning, even holding up to this day. The action and varied gameplay styles between levels, coupled with a straight from the movies soundtrack and effects, made for a one of a kind Star Wars experience! Out of all the Factor 5 (The game’s developer) games, I would venture to say Rogue Leader is far and away the best one they ever made!
The Gamecube era was kind of a renaissance for me: I played a ton of games at the time, many of which on the Cube. A few stand out as video game-life shaping titles. The first happens to be the best selling game on the system, and one that is still, believe it or not, played to this day: Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee was an instant success, building upon everything we loved about the first game and adding a ton more! More characters, more stages, more trophies, more game modes, better visuals, the list goes on! The game was also tweaked and refined so much so that it is still frequently added to fighting game tournaments around the world, often eclipsing the newer released games in the franchise! My friends and I played this game endlessly for years! I even won a 50-man tournament at a local video game store with my Link! A definite highlight of my gaming career, let me tell you!
Outside of Smash, one other game greatly defined my time with the Gamecube: Sega’s fantasy RPG Phantasy Star Online. Originally released on the Dreamcast, PSO was, as the name suggests, supposed to be played and enjoyed online with friends. But my lame self didn’t have anyone to play with, and seeing as pretty much no one played the game online, it was a decidedly solo experience. Despite this, I still managed to log literal hundreds of hours into several characters, completing the game and unlocking a handful of additional difficulties to continue grinding through. There was just something simplistic and addictive about playing just a bit more, killing those same damn bear enemies again and again in hopes of finding a great piece of loot, and showing off to my friends (even though they didn’t play the game) how much I had done. I still look at the Phantasy Star Online series to this day and think about picking it back up again, just to see what the world is like almost 15 years later.
While every system, Nintendo or otherwise, has good games to make it worthwhile to most, it was the Gamecube that started Nintendo down a path where quality games would almost come exclusively from Nintendo owned studios. Outside of the aforementioned games above, the other standouts on the Cube are mainly Nintendo properties: Mario Kart Double Dash!!, Metroid Prime, Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Pikmin, and Animal Crossing were all Nintendo games. Random other standout games that aren’t Nintendo ones are hard to find, but the Resident Evil series did find a home on the console for a short while, and Sega had some luck with new series’ like Super Monkey Ball. Unfortunatley Nintendo consoles at this time weren’t as powerful as the others on the market, namely the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox. Because of this, a lot of third party developers steered away from the Gamecube entirely, and when sales of the PS2 went into the tens of millions and the Gamecube stayed well below half that, the issue of new releases only got worse.
On top of that, Nintendo opted to finally switch over to disc based media for the Cube, but chose micro DVD optical discs instead of normal DVDs. This move was done to apparently cut on costs as well as make piracy more difficult, but it could have been one of the contributing factors for publishers not to put their games on the console. Since the micro DVDs weren’t capable of storing as much data as the standard DVD used in the Xbox and PS2, some games released on the Cube with multiple discs, removed content, or in some cases not at all! This trend would unfortunately continue for the foreseeable future with Nintendo’s upcoming consoles.
If the Nintendo 64 was what really got me into gaming, then the Gamecube is what solidified me as a big Nintendo fan. There are plenty of reasons to look at the Gamecube and call it a failure, but the wins for the console are absolutely huge. Super Smash Bros. Melee is a quintessential fighting game and one of Nintendo’s best franchises. The Metroid Prime series is often regarded as one of the best series’ in all of gaming, and the first game on the Gamecube is often called the best in the entire franchise! The Wind Waker caused quite a stir (for some reason) when it first released thanks to its visual style, but it is absolutely cherished as a classic now. The last console F-Zero game, and arguably the best F-Zero game, came out for it, and we’ve been clamoring for a new release since. And who could forget Resident Evil 4? It debuted on the Cube, and brought with it an entire genre shift that is still felt to this day! Quirky games like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles take the honor of some of my most fun, most memorable gaming experiences! As with any console, the more you devote to it, the more you get out of it, and while many found faults with the Gamecube, I only found things to love!
Toward the end of the Gamecube’s life, my tastes had started to shift, and I could no longer rely on Nintendo to provide me with what I wanted from video games. Their titles were wholesome, great games, but sometimes I wanted something more serious, more adult. By 2004 I picked up my very own PlayStation 2, and with it I started to play a lot more action games, and a heck of a lot more RPGs. Unfortunately for Nintendo, I started to gravitate away from them for a few years. Although my tastes had started to change, Nintendo’s charm did not. They continued to make games in such a way that only Nintendo could. This trend in gaming continued into their next console release, and the company’s best selling home console, the Wii!
But that’s a tale for another day!