Everything Old is Cool Again
The GameCube is 20 years old, and after all this time it’s still one of the coolest systems on the block. Everybody loves the GameCube! It’s got a handle, it’s got an incredible library of sought-after games, it’s got one of the most loved controllers ever made. it’s got it all!
But that’s not how I remember things. No, things for me went very differently. For GameCube fans during the time of its release, it was dark days indeed. So while it’s nice to see all this Cube positivity out there, I know revisionist history when I see it.
I have to start with this statement. The GameCube has always been a good system. Yes, even back when it was released, it was a good platform. Did it get every third party game the other two consoles did? No. Were the GameCube ports often lesser than their cousins on Xbox and PlayStation 2? Yes. But these issues plagued the competition sometimes too, and they didn’t have Nintendo’s exclusives.
The problem was perception, which time seems to have done a real number on. Before we look at the GameCube, let’s take a second to appreciate what’s happened to the Nintendo 64. People are constantly begging for a N64 mini console or to have N64 games put on Switch online. They sell N64 shirts at Target and Kohls. If you bring the N64 up in conversation today, you’ll likely be greeted by fellow stories of having a great time playing wrestling games, Mario Party, or GoldenEye. Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 are held in the highest regard today, and Rare’s output like Banjo-Kazooie is nothing short of legendary.
At the time though, it was all doom and gloom all the time for Nintendo. PlayStation had killed the Saturn, and the N64 was next on the chopping block. Nintendo would surely go 3rd party at any moment, and that was good. Who wanted to play N64 anyway?
Apparently everyone. Everyone knew someone with an N64, and maybe it didn’t have anywhere near the sizable library the PlayStation did, but it did what the box said it was made for. It was The Fun Machine, and people still talk about its games to this day, arguably even more than PlayStation 1.
Now we’re seeing the same exact situation with the GameCube. Liking the GameCube back in those days was considered a cardinal sin by the gaming masses, and now it’s far more sought after than PS2 or Xbox consoles. So what was the big deal? Why all the hate?
It’s a little purple lunchbox. It’s small, it’s brightly colored, and it has a handle. Game consoles should be gigantic, beefy MONSTERS! Yes, Nintendo marketed the purple SKU first, but on launch day the console was also just as readily available in black. The system isn’t default purple, that’s just the picture that seemed to get run in the magazines more.
Is the handle kind of silly? Sure. But it doesn't exactly get in the way of anything and it gives the thing a bit of a personality. As for the size, having something that powerful in that small a package was incredibly cool. It wasn’t hard to pack up your GameCube and take it to a friend’s house. Nobody wanted to move their Xbox consoles because they weighed a ton, and PS2s were ludicrously fragile. That’s not to say the PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles are bad looking designs, far from it. They’re both fantastic looking systems. But so is the GameCube, and the argument that it’s somehow a more toy-looking machine than its competition is silly. It fits in with the competition just fine.
Do you remember how many people hated the GameCube controller back then? Those kidney bean shaped buttons, that terrible D-pad. And what was with that C-stick? My, how the times have changed.
I’ll level with you, I loved my GameCube but even I had issues with the controller, and this is absolutely an example of strange overcorrection in terms of history. The controller has its good points, including being one of the most comfortable-to-hold controllers ever, and in darn near every respect it’s a better controller than the Xbox one, even the S. But just because it’s great or Smash Bros., doesn’t mean it’s an amazing controller for everything. The D-pad really is awful. The analog triggers were great for some things but very much not for others. There’s only 1 Z button on the right shoulder instead of something on both sides. The analog stick doesn’t sit in a circle.
BUT, that button layout was actually very clever. Putting the focus on a single button and making the others sort of build around that one is a great concept. It’s ultimately been undone by the standard Nintendo themselves set with the SNES controller, but it was a really cool idea. The WaveBird was easily the best wireless controller option of its time, and the comfort factor can not be overstated. The GameCube controller was a joy to hold, and while its reverence is a tad overblown, there’s a reason people still like using it today.
Back when it was released, online was the future of gaming. And don’t get me wrong, it absolutely was. But Nintendo was playing in a different sandbox than the other guys. They recognized online’s potential, but it wasn’t their focus. One look at the game library tells you Nintendo was still all about creating local multiplayer and memorable single player experiences. The lack of online in their games certainly doesn’t matter now, and its exclusion has actually helped keep the games more relevant in the modern day.
Of course, Nintendo has always struggled with online stuff, and that hasn’t changed, but on GameCube? I never personally felt like I was missing out on online stuff because the games on the system just weren’t made for it. They were made for me and my friends, and that was more than enough.
Talk about a feature that doesn’t matter now but couldn’t possibly have been bigger back then. When I worked in game stores selling GameCubes, I can’t tell you how many people didn’t purchase a GameCube or Xbox because they weren’t also DVD players right out of the box. Even the Xbox struggled because you had to buy a remote to make the feature work at all. But the GameCube didn’t do it no matter what, and that was a straight up non-starter for a ton of people for the duration of its life.
Look at it now and, who cares? Nobody’s buying a PS2 as a DVD player today, and the lack of DVD playback certainly isn’t hurting the GameCube collectors market. Time is a heck of a thing.
Games for Kids
And here we have the biggest kick in the pants of them all. Nintendo had garnered a reputation for being a kiddie game company back in the Nintendo 64 era and it took multiple generations to shrug that off. The thing about games at this time was that if it wasn’t a hard-edged gritty grit fest or Halo, it wasn’t worth the plastic it was printed on. And Nintendo was just the house of Mario and Kirby. But that perception simply wasn’t true, no matter how much evidence to the contrary there was.
Pictured above are 8 GameCube exclusives I pulled off my shelf, and the thing is they aren’t alone, especially when you count multiplatform stuff.
GameCube was the birthplace of Killer 7, Resident Evil 4, and the original Resident Evil Remake. It had plenty of great 3rd party games like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Splinter Cell. But more importantly than that, the perception that games needed to be a certain way in order to be good was complete and utter malarkey.
The best of all possible examples of this is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. This game was absolutely brutalized when it was released for being a kiddie Zelda in a world where people wanted Link to grow the heck up already. Wind Waker is regarded as a genuine masterpiece today, but for those of us who loved it when it came out, especially those of us who worked in game stores at the time trying to convince people that it was worth trying, it was impossible. The gaming discourse had become very nasty towards the GameCube and honestly just about anything with color in it, and liking games with even a dash of proper whimsy was in bad taste.
Now look at some of the other games that come up when talking about the GameCube. Beloved classics like Billy Hatcher, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Luigi’s Mansion, Pikmin, Viewtiful Joe, Pokemon Colosseum, Super Monkey Ball, the list goes on and on. Heck, even Super Mario Sunshine got a fresh breath of life in hindsight.
The GameCube was host to some of the best Mario sports titles like Mario Superstar Baseball and Super Mario Strikers. It was the home of the last console F-Zero game with the unforgettable F-Zero GX. It was the only place to play Twilight Princess without motion controls before the HD remake. It’s where Animal Crossing got its start in the US. It gave the world Kirby Air Ride and Mario Kart: Double Dash. It introduced us to super weird stuff like Odama, Chibi-Robo, and Cubivore. It was a treasure trove of creativity with Four Swords Adventures, Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, and DDR: Mario Mix. Unlike the also now fondly remembered Wii U, GameCube had a pretty solid release schedule and at least half decent third party support. EA Sports games came out on GameCube and while they may not have been as good as their other console cousins, they were perfectly serviceable ports. And that’s to say nothing of the absolute juggernaut that Super Smash Bros. Melee has become.
Ultimately, it’s great to see people enjoying the GameCube library now the way I enjoyed it back when it released. Yes, the actual release schedule was pretty slow when compared to the other platforms, but for me at the time it always just meant I had more time to play the games I already had, or catch up on some of the ones I had missed. It's my stance that the GameCube isn’t just good now in retrospect. It’s always been good. And it always will be.