The Nintendo GameCube. It may seem odd to some off us elders, but this little console was the entrance into both the realms of Nintendo AND Sega for an entire generation. Mind-blowing', much? But truth is often stranger than fiction. So lets chat about the GameCube...
Nintendo's GameCube was the companies entry into the then next-gen console race to compete with the Dreamcast (despite the phasing out of said console by the point of NGC release), Sony's PlayStation 2 and the original Microsoft X-Box. One major difference however, was that Nintendo didn't learn from their former rivals over at Sega. What does this mean? Well, what the GameCube didn't have in common with the PS2 and XB was that it wasn't a well-suited multimedia device and lacked the capabilities of DVD playback.
This was a huge misstep, as an entire new era was dawning for what the average consumer was looking for in a video games console and Nintendo's finger was clearly slipping off the pulse and pushing them further away from their once near-global domination of the home market. Nintendo had already played with fire by choosing cartridge over optical disc with the N64 and had even claimed that such formats were not the way forward for the company nor the industry as a whole. Had the grip gone limp once and for all?
The N64 hadn't been the success of the NES or SNES, so Nintendo were looking to bounce back. With a hope to sell 50million consoles by 2005, yet by the end of the entire lifespan of the console less than half of that had actually been sold and even less than the N64. There is multiple reasoning’s gaming historians and critics have put this down to: the family-friendly appeal accompanied by the units toyetic design (literally a brightly coloured 'Cube with a handle on the back), an overall lack of technical innovation, relatively poor launch line-up and near enough any other reason you can dream up has been slapped all over the GameCube. It even got so bad at one point that production was halted to shift unsold units. Eeesh!
This isn't to say that there wasn't any power in that little toyish box. It featured a IBM Gekko CPU clocked at 485MHz with the ATI Flipper (162MHz) powering the graphics. Audio wise there was support for Dolby Pro Logic II, so that's a definite plus. Going the Sega Dreamcast route of utilising its own form of media specific to the console, the Nintendo GameCube game disc was a mini-CD format that could contain 1.5GB of read-only information...Much less than the DVD-ROM of PS2, X-Box and even PC at that point in time.
Initially launching in Japan in late 2001 with only a small handful of titles, but over its 6-year span this obviously bolstered. The GameCube's library of titles featured many a port, including the most obviously significant in those published by Sega. The one-time massive rivals now working together was for some a dream come true, for others just the evolution of the industry.
The likes of the Sonic Adventure ports are the titles that for the most part introduced that generation to the Sonic franchise overall, something many retro-gamers get funny over in long-considering Sonic dead in the water. Other 'modern' Sonic titles such as Sonic Heroes, etc. have established the brand in the consciousness of a certain number of gamers around the world and has forged a multi-platform relationship for the series that continues to this day.
While the Super Nintendo was good ol' Ninty's first shot at handheld cross-compatibility, the GameCube featured the Game Boy Advance Player. This allowed folks to play their shiny new GBA titles on a bigger scale on their home TV sets. Although, that wasn't all this time round! There was a fair selection of titles that allowed the GBA to extend play on games through the separate consoles. This interconnectivity may be something mostly abandoned by Nintendo now, but appears to be a wave of the future - while in itself being a more, ahem, advanced VMU-style/NGP cross-compatibility that was first seen with Sega's Dreamcast.
Obviously Nintendo's original IP's all had strong shouts on the GameCube. Luigi's Mansion, Super Mario Sunshine and Wario World, as well as; the Mario Party and Legend of Zelda series' all had significant impacts on the console. The reimagined Metroid series into FPS' with Metroid Prime was equally controversial as it was successful commercially and critically. Alongside these, all new originals such as Pikmin ensured Nintendo diehards remained happy.
The likes of Factor 5 and other studios made sure that the lack of Rare (who were bought by Microsoft) would make up for that lack of second-party support. Rare who Nintendo top brass had noticed were no longer the prolific producers of must have games, it was clear they had peaked during the N64 so a $350 Million lump sum of cash for a developer not doing anything worthwhile was a master stroke on Nintendo's part, at least they got something 100% right during this round.
Speaking of the IP's Luigi's Mansion in itself is a rarity. No, not on a collection stand point. But for its taking the place of a Mario launch title. With the bumblimg brother in green running around sucking up ghosts with a hoover, the overall confusion as to what Nintendo were doing with GameCube may have only been increased. That said, Luigi's Mansion is a landmark game in the tinkering with IP's that followed. Super Mario Sunshine had Mario cleaning things up with water and Windwaker had a completely new art style. If but nothing else, much like Sega have continued to do with their own mascot; the reinvention of conventions was a constant on the GameCube. It just unfortunately caused a hit and miss factor with audiences, but in retrospect have gained praise for doing just that.
Nintendo relied heavily on their host of original titles exclusive to the console to woo people over while hugely popular games of the generation were making their homes on the competition (hello, Grand Theft Auto). But none of that particularly matters, as for better or worse the GameCube's legacy is that of being both a missed opportunity to show a former giant still had what it takes mass market sales wise in the industry and sadly a prototype Wii.
The Wii bounced Nintendo back big time and its innards are practically one in the same with big change-ups in the interface, design and controller. More on that in time though. The GameCube, perhaps unfairly, does remain the least relevant of Nintendo's home consoles and isn't the nostalgia-inducing wonder that its counterparts of the day are. It may not have the same elite fanbase the NES or SNES has but its highly comfortable controller, sturdy design and handful of oft-brilliant exclusive titles makes the 'Cube well worth a look!
Many retro nuts consider the Gamecube to be the last True Nintendo console, the last time they ever took real risks regarding the games themselves, maybe losing out to their competitors in every round since the NES had conquered the world meant that from this point on they would simply play everything safe and go for a complete pandering to a mass market audience, a certain angry Decepticon agrees with this statement for sure.
Regardless of whether you see this little box as a misunderstood attempt at reminding gamers that ultimately it was all about the games rather than being able to play DVD’s or if instead you see Nintendo completely missing the point of the changing markets of it’s era and releasing something that looked and felt in most ways like a kids toy it would be a crime to not pick one of these up and give it a play. From Luigi’s mansion to Twighlight Princess, from Rogue Squadron to Metroid prime and from Mario Sunshine to Pikmin if you look between the lines of multi format ports you will find more than you think to bring serious joy to your face, there’s real moments of art here.
This is Nintendo’s equivalent to the Sega Saturn in that for some unknown reason it’s been judged far too harshly, compared against other things rather than being analysed for what it was, what it could do and the games it brought to the world. At Retro Game Geeks we ask you to never judge a book by it’s cover and absolutely never believe what others may tell you as recognised fact, go look for yourself and make up your own minds. Put simply boys and girls…Go Play! You may just find tons of fun...Cubed!