Back in the days of the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube, 3D games had found their feet, better experiences were being created, and some stellar titles were released (for example) by the Metal Gear Solid, Halo, and The Legend of Zelda franchises.
Out of the three consoles, the PS2, as an entertainment machine, sold way more than the other two consoles (over 150 million units compared to 24 million Xbox units sold and 22 million GameCubes sold). However, in terms of which console had the best exclusives, I’d always go with the GameCube which had titles like Zelda: Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. Also, I think the GameCube was more of a fun multiplayer machine, and despite its lack of third-party support, it had a wide range of solid experiences. In this article, I take a look back at the system, as well as highlight some of its best games.
The GameCube, despite its small size, was really powerful for its time, with it being even more powerful than the PS2. Its best-looking game is probably Resident Evil 4, which at the time looked amazing. You could even see the wind move Leon’s hair in the game. Luigi’s Mansion was another great-looking game that showcased the power of the hardware. I remember when I first got the GameCube with two games: Luigi’s Mansion and Burnout. Both of them looked great graphically with particle effects, additionally having impressive models and textures. The shadows in Luigi’s Mansion looked really realistic, and Luigi’s character model was smooth and detailed and a massive improvement on Super Mario 64.
You could argue that the console was so powerful that Nintendo didn’t mind basically using very similar hardware to the Wii, the console that followed the GameCube in 2006. The GameCube was the last home console generation where Nintendo competed in terms of power with Microsoft and Sony, and although this tactic didn’t work in the long run, it meant that many AAA third-party games made it to the console. Towards the end of that generation, third-party support dropped a bit because the console wasn’t selling well enough. This is a real shame because the GameCube was well capable of running the best-looking games of the generation and also had an awesome controller that was comfortable with awesome analog triggers.
The GameCube controller had comfortable grips, well-placed face buttons, a massively updated analog stick (that didn’t wear down), and satisfying analog triggers that were used in many games (notably in Super Mario Sunshine). In my opinion, it beats the PlayStation DualShock controllers because it’s more comfortable and is great for Super Smash Bros. It’s so good that GameCube controllers were re-released when Super Smash Bros Wii U came out, and there are many variants available for Switch today. Considering the N64 controller was a three-pronged mess, the GameCube controller refined control in 3D environments and was good for both first-person shooters and 3D platformers/adventure games.
Zelda-likes and 3D Platformers
In terms of games, the GameCube is home to some of the most critically acclaimed games ever. Metroid Prime released for the system in 2002, looked amazing (and still does today), and brought Metroid into the third dimension by adapting 2D ‘Metroidvania’ gameplay into a first-person perspective in a 3D environment. For me though, the best single-player classic is Zelda: The Wind Waker. As with other people, at the time of release, I was put off by the cel-shaded art style, but once I actually gave the game a chance I became enthralled by how accessible the game is, which led to the charm, story, and lore of the game got me hooked.
While the mechanics of Wind Waker, in terms of combat, might not be as good as Ocarina of Time, in terms of story and atmosphere The Wind Waker has never been beaten by another game in the Zelda series. The first half of the game is really Zelda at its peak (although the second half feels like it has a lot of filler). Another great single-player GameCube game is Super Mario Sunshine which, similarly to Wind Waker, divided fans. The gimmick of the jet pack meant that the game didn’t rely purely on Mario’s nimble physical abilities (as in Super Mario 64).
However, Super Mario Sunshine is one of the more story-focused Mario games and at least it’s not loaded with filler like Super Mario Odyssey (so many moons to collect that it dilutes the experience). It’s also a really difficult Mario game. The early worlds aren’t difficult but some of the missions deep into the game will really test you. In my opinion, it’s the most difficult of the 3D Mario games.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
The GameCube, like the N64, was a great multiplayer machine with ports for four controllers. Super Smash Bros. Melee (a multiplayer game) was a great upgrade on the N64 original, with more characters, more modes, and the addition of trophies which almost made the game into a Nintendo museum. I was so excited about this game, and it didn’t disappoint. If you’ve never played Super Smash Bros before, it takes a while to learn the controls but once you do it’s as addictive as a fighter can be. The myriad of unlockables in the later games, including Melee, means you’ll never want to put it down.
In terms of multiplayer, it’s fun, and the element of randomness (similar to Mario Kart) means the best player doesn’t always win. Smash Bros. Melee has characters from lots of Nintendo franchises, meaning even a newcomer can pick a favorite and build their skills to challenge their friends and defend the series they prefer (even Mr. Game and Watch from over 30 years ago).
Mario Kart Double Dash
Mario Kart Double Dash on GameCube is another great multiplayer game. In this version of the series, there is a dual-player novelty to racing. This means a second player can launch weapons from the back of the kart. There is still the element of randomness and more or less anyone can win, although skill is still a big factor in determining who wins. Colorful, bright graphics and a satisfying boost mechanic mean that for many, the GameCube version of Mario Kart is the best (I think it’s hard to beat Mario Kart 64).
Double Dash received a bit of backlash upon release for not being a ‘traditional’ Mario Kart, but nowadays people have fond memories of it. A racer on the opposite side of the realism spectrum, Burnout is a serious adrenaline hit, and for me, the best racer on GameCube. Each time the player passed another car at speed, the boost meter would fill until, when full, you could unleash a massive increase in speed where it was very likely you’d be involved in a run-ending crash (and there’d be nice replays of said crash).
First Person Shooters
In terms of first-person shooters, the GameCube had many of them. The ones I remember most are 007: Nightfire and Timesplitters 2. The best of these is probably Timesplitters 2 which, developed by some of those who made Goldeneye 007, had an interesting theme and satisfying gameplay (enemies reacted realistically to being hit in different parts of the body). In this era, all three consoles (GameCube, PS2, Xbox) had loads of first-person shooters. Which maybe over-saturated the market. Due to this, the genre began to decline midway through the generation. I think people just began to have enough of this type of shooter. Once Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released near the start of the next generation (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii), the genre began to pick up again (with quality releases).
Lord of the Rings on GameCube
The GameCube generation was full of licensed games. There were more than the era of the Nintendo 64 (at least on that specific console), and in general, they weren’t the best games on the system. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers definitely wasn’t one of these poor-quality iterations though. The graphics were some of the best on any of the systems, and even now look impressive. Animations were fluid and realistic to what the game was based on. The combat felt good (if a bit repetitive), and the music and story followed the movies and created an appropriate atmosphere.
On top of all this, there were unlockable interviews and artwork from the movies! For some reason, at the time I remember a few reviews which weren’t full of praise and focused on the action is repetitive. The game also had a good difficulty curve, and you could upgrade your character as you went. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is built on the previous game. For some reason, I still think the first one was better (maybe because the camera seems closer to the action, I don’t know).
The GameCube was a powerful little machine with great single and multiplayer games. It had first-person shooters, Zelda-likes, 3D platformers, sports games, and more or less every genre of game. It was lacking in turn-based RPGs though. The little chime that plays while the machine is booting up is definitely nostalgic for many people between the ages of 25-35 today.
While it didn’t sell that well (22 million units sold compared to over 150 million units sold for PlayStation 2), it did influence controller design and set gameplay trends (Metroid Prime set the standard for first-person adventures). Also, its hardware was used in Nintendo’s successor console, the Wii. Overall, the Nintendo GameCube was a great machine that is massively underappreciated by the general consumer.