When compared to major competitors like Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has been developing home consoles for much, much longer. They’ve been around since video games first started to become big on a global scale. As the industry evolved with improving technology, Nintendo was always there to keep up with the latest updates. And as the company that brought upon those updates for several years, Nintendo got comfortable sitting at the forefront of innovation. It really wasn’t until Sony swooped in with the PlayStation that Nintendo actually got knocked back a few pegs. While the Nintendo 64 was able to survive Sony’s much stronger system to become one of the most fondly remembered consoles in history, the damage was obviously felt in terms of sales. Unfortunately for Nintendo, its successor, the GameCube, fared even worse.
This past week was the 13th anniversary of the GameCube’s release in North America on November 18th. As Nintendo’s entry into the sixth generation of consoles, the GameCube directly competed with Microsoft’s Xbox, Sega’s Dreamcast, and Sony’s PlayStation 2. Comparatively, the GameCube has plenty of advantages. It boasted a similar price tag to the Dreamcast ($199) but had the sterling Nintendo brand behind it. Nintendo had already supplanted itself as a company with reliably entertaining first party games so people knew the GameCube had good value in that regard. It also had four person multiplayer, was exceptionally light and easy to carry, and was able to connect with the immensely popular Game Boy Advance.
However, for every advantage there was a significant disadvantage. The harsh truth was that the GameCube was significantly weaker than anything else on the market, meaning many developers flocked to the competition to get their ambitious games produced. Combine that with its inability to play DVDs like the PlayStation 2 and you have a surefire recipe for disaster. That’s actually a word used to describe the console. In light of Nintendo’s poor sales and financial losses, publications like Time International called the system an “unmitigated disaster.” With words like this thrown around, it’s easy to see why the GameCube isn’t remembered with a lot of fondness.
That’s a shame though because, as anyone who bought the system can attest, it was a really great console. The games truly were a lot of fun and more than justified ownership. You had Super Mario Sunshine, one of the most unique Mario games ever, Metroid Prime, Samus’s first adventure as a first person shooter, and Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the game that redefined how a Zelda title can look. Of course, the game people tend to remember the most is Super Smash Bros. Melee. Despite two other Smash Bros. games following it, fans still considered Melee to be the best of the best. Just this year it was used as one of the big games at EVO. Without a doubt though, these games were just the tip of the iceberg. There also was Resident Evil 4, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and many others that quickly grew to become favorites. The GameCube also has the distinction of being both the last console to feature a game for each of Nintendo’s biggest mascots (Star Fox never came to the Wii), and the first Nintendo system to not have their mascot Mario lead a launch title. That glory went to his brother Luigi with Luigi’s Mansion, a best-seller.
The GameCube wasn’t without its innovation too. Earlier in the post I mentioned how it could connect with the Game Boy Advance. Even though this wasn’t utilized on a grand scale, it still can be considered a big deal. This was the very first time a handheld console worked in tandem with a home system after all. It’s something Sony is doing right now with the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo is going all out with the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS. The Wii U’s controllers can even be used separately, occupying an extremely similar role the GBA played before. There’s also the “small matter” of the industry’s first mainstream wireless controller, the WaveBird. Released in 2002, the WaveBird is powered by 2 AA batteries and has an “official” range of 20 feet. It was a big deal upon release and it ushered in a brand new era of wireless gaming. By the next generation, all controllers became wireless with either rechargeable battery packs or replaceable batteries. Even with a “low selling” system like the GameCube, Nintendo still changed how people enjoy these systems forever.
I loved the GameCube. A lot. In fact, I still own my original system and maintain a solid handful of games because they really are spectacular. As the dominant multiplayer console in my house, the GameCube was my go to system whenever friends came over. We’d play Mario Party 4, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, and obviously Melee for countless hours. Its lightweight structure, complete with a handle, made it exceptionally easy to carry around as well. That really made it the ultimate system. But on a personal level, I will always hold the GameCube close to my heart because it was the first home console I ever bought with my own money. I babysat in middle school and saved up everything, even change, so I could buy one way back when. My defining moment though was when I asked my Dad if I could get it with my own money, completely prepared to convince him why, only to have him immediately say, “Okay. It’s your money, you can do what you want with it.” Wait, you mean that if I keep working outside of school, I can buy cool stuff with that money?! Hello getting an actual after school job in 8th grade!
I can’t believe it’s been 13 years since the GameCube came to the States. I remember waiting for it to come out with such aggressive eagerness. My love for the system will never waver, so it saddens me to see how poorly some people remember it. What’s even worse is that it’s tough to disagree. The GameCube was technologically weaker and was a noticeable step down from the PS2, Xbox, and Dreamcast. There’s a solid chance I used my PS2 more than the GameCube too, but what do you expect when you have an amazing game console and a DVD player? Clearly, there’s a reason why the PS2 outsold the GameCube by over 130 million units. Perhaps if the GameCube came out at a different time it would have done better. That’s pure speculation though. Honestly, numbers be damned. The GameCube was amazing and it deserves to be remembered with fondness after nearly a decade and a half.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.