By Marshall Garvey
So, did you feel old at all yesterday when my colleague Terry Randolph observed the ninth anniversary of the PS3’s release? Well, get ready to scramble to the mirror to check for a gray hair or two: On this day, 14 years ago, the Nintendo GameCube was released to the public here in North America. As the Japanese company’s horse in the sixth generation race, it marked a radical change for Nintendo in many regards.
The first thing that separated the GameCube from its hallowed Nintendo console brethren was the format its games were played on. Instead of lovably clunky gray cartridges gamers could blow into like Sonny Boy Williamson on a harmonica, this new system’s titles were packed onto miniature discs similar to miniDVDs. This transition was no doubt a matter of inevitability, especially after the rift between Square Enix and Nintendo over the N64’s lack of CD-ROMs, which prevented Final Fantasy VII from being released on that console. Additionally, the three-handled controller of the N64 was replaced with a more practical two-handle one, with an enlarged A button designed to reduce the dreaded “Nintendo thumb.”
In another odd (but in my view, perfect) move, the GameCube wasn’t even launched by a blockbuster Mario title like in years past, but rather one centered around his brother Luigi. Instead of Mario leaping from one level to the next, things kicked off with Luigi’s Mansion, where gamers could channel their inner Ghostbusters and vacuum clean some spooky poltergeists. Subsequent Nintendo franchise classics on the system included Super Smash Brothers Melee (still heralded by many as the best in the series), Mario Kart: Double Dash and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. As far as original franchises, the cubic platform would be the host for perhaps Shigeru Miyamoto’s most innovative endeavor yet: Pikmin. The gentle, addictingly clever puzzle game put players in charge of a stranded astronaut who enlists the aid of a group of insanely cute plant animals to help put his ship back together. It would be followed by one of the greatest sequels in gaming history, Pikmin 2, in 2004.
Much to the system’s benefit, however, was the addition of third-party license games. Well before Solid Snake joined the chaos of Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Nintendo loyalists had a chance to play his actual story thanks to 2004’s Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, a remake of 1998’s Metal Gear Solid for PS1. Also available were the likes of Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, Super Monkey Ball and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. Best of all was Resident Evil 4 from Capcom, not only by far the best title to grace the console, but an undeniable contender for the greatest game of all-time. While it was subsequently made available on PS2 and Wii, the fact that an all-time top 20 title like it was initially a GameCube exclusive certainly gives the system a special prestige.
Even with all these games, however, GameCube never came within striking distance of the sixth generation’s clear winner, the PlayStation 2. While Nintendo would ultimately move some 22 million units, Sony’s console sold 152 million. Not helping matters were criticisms of its design and technology, with some considering its aesthetic too “toy-ish”. It also had an extremely limited number of online titles, part of what Time International deemed a lack of “technical innovations.”
Looking back on the arc of GameCube’s shelf life, though, it seems to be a perfect predecessor to the Wii U’s slow and steady surge in popularity. Despite notable third-party games and franchise favorites universally loved by Nintendo fans, Gamecube didn’t really have the blockbuster output that the Xbox and PS2 cranked out. Likewise, Wii U may never have the AAA deluge that XB1 and PS4 breathlessly race to offer. But by steadily building up a library of franchise favorites, it’s been able to hold its own in the eighth generation scramble.
From today’s viewpoint, the GameCube is arguably even better now than during its initial run. With the pressure of matching the sales of rival consoles long in the past, the other prevailing criticisms of Nintendo’s sixth-generation offering are far overshadowed by its highly underrated game catalog and accessible control scheme. It may not be as superlative in stature as the Nintendo systems that came before it, but when all’s said and done, the GameCube is an excellent console that maintains a special place in the gaming world. Happy 14 years!
Original commercials for the GameCube: