The GameCube: Finally Appreciated After 20 Years

Last week I talked about the Game Boy Advance, and today it’s time to gush about the GameCube.

The GameCube launched in November of 2001. Like in my last post, this was a time before I had regular access to the internet and so could only find out about games through TV ads, store demo kiosks, and my group of friends. However, while I only had one friend who played on the GBA, I had many more friends who owned home consoles. This was a time in my life when all of my friends were very much into video games, and the console wars of the 6th Generation (GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Dreamcast) got quite heated. Most of my friends ended up with 2 or more of these consoles, though I only stuck with the GameCube. I had wavered between the PlayStation 1 and the Nintendo 64 back in the 5th Console Generation, but it was during the GameCube era that my love for Nintendo really cemented itself.

Who could forget that catchy startup jingle?

Among my group of four friends, we had access to all three of the major consoles (sorry, Dreamcast) and most of their popular releases. The first friend, whom I’ll call D, exclusively owned a GameCube like me. The second friend (named RS) owned both a PS2 and a GameCube. The third friend exclusively owned an Xbox, and was massively obnoxious about it (he’s named J). Finally, I had a friend who owned all 3 consoles… lucky guy… (he’s named RG).

RG, the one who eventually got all 3 consoles, bought a GameCube in 2001, and I remember playing the games that came out near its launch. J kept calling the GameCube a “kiddie console” and would only play with us after much persuasion. Eventually he came around when he saw Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Since I was without a GameCube myself, my first impressions of the console came mostly from my local multiplayer experiences and from watching others play. We played Melee all through the night during sleepovers. All the characters looked so much more realistic, and the roster at the time felt massive. I couldn’t believe that villains such as Bowser and Ganondorf had made it into the game. They had never been playable in any video game before; it was a goofy power trip to control them. Super Smash Bros. Melee was the one game everybody in my group liked — the one that everyone agreed to play without any problems. I mean, we also played Halo and other games that I sucked at, but I took it for the team.

Not every hangout was with all 4 friends, though. Sometimes RG invited D and myself over to his place, and we’d lend him a hand in working through the GameCube port of Phantasy Star Online. Other times he came over to my house and my brother would join us. I’d never seen a game like Phantasy Star Online before, with its odd blend of co-op Action RPG mechanics. I particularly liked the different classes, which allowed us to experiment on different builds and how they interacted with each other. We got quite far, but I don’t think we ever finished it. When we felt satisfied with co-op for the night, we would often face off against each other in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. That was a really fun time, and that game also made me covet a GameCube quite a bit.

Regarding single-player, I also observed my friend RG play Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and occasionally took a couple of turns playing myself. I was once again blown away by the realistic-looking space battles – the glow from the ships’ thrusters was particularly impressive to me. The same thing happened with D and Star Fox Adventures. In hindsight, the character models are dated and the animations look stiff, but at the time they were cutting edge. It was a big deal seeing characters that looked like the actual thing rather than clumps of polygons that merely evoked the intended object.

2002 and 2003 passed this way, playing on my friends’ consoles. I remember that summer when RG brought home this odd game where you don’t fight anything at all. In fact, the entire point of the game was just living a virtual life in a quiet town with animals as your fellow citizens. I was instantly hooked. After we turned off the console, it was hard for me to sleep, because I started planning out what I would do the next day and what new items might appear in the racoon’s shop. I made a note to write down the name of this game, because I definitely wanted to own a copy of my own someday: it was just a little game called Animal Crossing.

RG bought Soulcaliber II one summer, and this was how I learned about Fighting games outside of the Smash Bros. series. We played through match after match for several sleepovers in a row. I was very confused that Link had found his way into the game while other Nintendo characters were missing, replaced by weird anime people. I asked RG, “Why can’t I make people fall off the edge of the arena?” — it took me longer than I care to admit to realize that Soulcaliber wasn’t a Smash Bros. spinoff.

This was the Zelda Gamecube Promotional Ad that convinced my brother and I to get a GameCube of our own, uploaded onto YouTube by RGTV.

Near the end of 2003 my brother and I saw an ad for a $99 GameCube packed in with The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition for free. This was a ridiculous deal: on the disc was Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, the 2 original NES games, and a demo for The Windwaker. We decided that we couldn’t just wait for our parents to buy us a GameCube any more — we needed to pool our money and get it ourselves.

And that’s exactly what we did. We were able to find a GameCube for a good price, but unfortunately all the special Zelda pack-in consoles had already sold out. Instead we bought a game that I’d never seen before: Pikmin.

This ended up being one of the best risks I’d ever taken. I fell in love with Pikmin’s atmosphere, tense story, charming world, and compelling gameplay. I couldn’t believe that the GameCube was capable of creating such realistic shadows, foliage, and water effects. I felt like I was on a nature walk with my army of tiny plant people. My brother and I played this game over and over again. In hindsight, Pikmin was the game that solidified my trust in Nintendo — no matter what kind of game they made, I knew they would deliver a solid and fun experience. It gave me the confidence to try out their other games on the console.

I can still hear this title screen soundtrack in my head, just by looking at this image.

I’d seen RG play Metroid Prime, but I’d never tried it out for myself. It looked tense, it looked odd. I wanted to see more. Metroid Prime came out in 2002, but it was rated T for Teen, and I was 12 in 2002. My parents were rather strict about those ESRB age guidelines, and so the only games we were allowed to buy and keep in the house were rated E for Everyone, at least until both my brother and I were teenagers. Before then, I only knew about T-rated and M-rated games from friends. And so in 2003, when I was finally old enough, I borrowed RG’s copy. It was worth the wait — this game was an experience.

Metroid Prime is in my opinion the single best game on the GameCube. This game whisked me away to another place, experiencing a SciFi world as the capable bounty hunter Samus instead of dorky ol’ me. In most games with silent avatars, like Link and the Pokemon Trainer, you put some of yourself into the character. But for some reason with Samus, it was like the opposite: I forgot myself as I made room for Samus in my psyche. She wasn’t just an extension of me in a video game, I had to role play as her, a different person with a different name. I remember several weekend nights where I stayed home with just the glow of the TV immersing me in the puzzles and the dangers of the planet Talon IV. Metroid Prime was a welcome respite during those tough middle school years. If it weren’t for Pikmin, I would’ve never tried new games, and I would’ve never found Metroid Prime, one of my most formative gaming experiences ever.

Since we didn’t rely on my parents for financing our GameCube, and since my parents had finally allowed me to own T-rated games, the GameCube felt like a rite of passage, a stepping stone into teenagehood and into feeling more independent. Somehow I managed to convince my parents to move the GameCube from the living room to the corner of my bedroom inside a spare cupboard with a small TV sitting on top. Now I could play video games any time I wanted. Don’t worry, I was a responsible kid. I still managed to do my homework, and I kept up my high grades. I knew that if I let those grades drop I wouldn’t be able to keep our purple cube (well, technically ours was the black variant) in my room. I was one lucky teen. I often sat on my bed every Friday night, decompressing from the stresses of school. Furthermore, I could conveniently play with my friends and siblings without waiting for the living room TV to become available. It also proved helpful when my younger sister started playing video games and would often ask for help. I could be at my desk on call to teach her what to do.

Believe it or not, my other GameCube-owning friends did not like Super Mario Sunshine or The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker. These games were a bit of a financial risk for me. But once again taking a chance on Nintendo paid off. Super Mario Sunshine had one of the most charming worlds I’d ever explored. I loved how F.L.U.D.D. expanded the ways you could move around. I actually quite disliked the platforming challenges where F.L.U.D.D. was taken away, as those were very difficult for me back then.

The Windwaker, to me, was another masterpiece. I felt a sense of awe and wonder sailing around the Great Ocean. I never knew what lay at the end of the horizon — every island felt like a meaningful discovery, with its own secrets and collectibles. The cel-shaded art style also made the game look incredibly good on the hardware. It looked like you were controlling a cartoon. You could say it was released this year, and people would believe you. You can’t say that for most games released in the 6th console generation.

We eventually got our own copies of Rogue Leader, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and of course Animal Crossing. In fact, I know that the Wii was advertised as this “casual-friendly” console for the whole family to play together on, but it was the GameCube with our copy of Animal Crossing that brought our entire family together. My brother and sister each had a house, I had a house, and even my mother took up the game for a while. My own mother, who once said video games were a waste of time. I remember coming home and seeing her catching fish and catching bugs in Animal Crossing, telling to me what silly things the animals told her. I never thought I would see my mother touch a video game case, much less enjoy a video game.

Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life somehow captures that early morning haze perfectly

After Animal Crossing, I really got into Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. I’d enjoyed the previous games on the N64 and Game Boy Color, and I was satisfied with this installment on the GameCube. I was quite impressed by the transition into a true 3D environment, though the town itself felt rather small and lifeless. The unique thing about this game, though, is that you actually play through the entire protagonist’s life, starting with him picking a romantic partner, then raising a child, and at the end, he dies. Most farming sims just end the story after marriage and getting a baby. The baby never grows up, and you never grow old. I thought that it was cool to have the bittersweet experience of growing old simulated in a video game. I still sometimes listen to the Spring soundtrack to help me relax.

One summer, our family went to visit my cousins back on the East Coast, and during that visit we played a lot of my cousin’s copy of WarioWare on the GameCube. We basically played it every day, and every time I ended up busting my gut with all of the hilarious, dumb microgames. I loved how the game sped up after a while; the tension rose the longer you played.

One game I feel is often overlooked but that I enjoyed quite a lot is Zoids: Battle Legends. You basically fight in large arena robot battles, earn money, and then use that money to buy better robots, better weapons, and better parts. I’m sure it takes a lot of inspiration from the anime, of which I’d only seen an episode or two. I had no idea who these characters were, or what the plot was about, but I thought the game was really cool anyway.

During this time period The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was really popular. My father almost never took us to see movies in the theater, but he made sure to take my brother and I to see The Lord of the Rings. I quickly became a fan of both the movies and the books. So when I saw a turn-based RPG called The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age at my local game rental store, I took the chance. Once again I was impressed with the quality of the experience. You control a servant of Boromir, and along the way you chase after the Fellowship, following the plot of the books / movies, but controlling an entirely unique cast of characters. I rarely see RPGs being recommended on the GameCube, let alone this one, but it’s good.

The 6th console generation was a time where game companies began publishing collections of their older games. I particularly remember we got Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, with over a dozen classic arcade games included on one disk. You cycled through them like you were walking through an arcade, with an ’80s soundtrack playing in the background. Similarly we bought the Sonic Mega Collection with all of the Sonic Genesis games we wished we’d owned back in the early ’90s. I still feel like the “collection” approach is the best way to keep classic games relevant on current-gen consoles. You get a sense of context and progression that you wouldn’t necessarily get just having the games released separately, like on the Virtual Console. They also usually have extra goodies that I appreciate, like old Sonic comics or manuals.

Like I said in my last post, eventually our family moved from Arizona to Florida. I had to say goodbye to my small group of friends, and so my gaming experiences shifted from primarily multiplayer to primarily single-player, though I still played together with my siblings. After we unpacked, we moved the GameCube and the small TV into the den, where my two siblings and I huddled together on a beanbag and played through many, many more games.

I remember my sister and I played a lot of Mario Kart: Double Dash this way. This game is perhaps the #1 racing game on the GameCube. It’s also my favorite Mario Kart game, and possibly my favorite racing game ever. To me, the physics are just right, and each character had their own unique special move. That character select screen became about more than just choosing your cosmetic preference. I loved playing by myself, but it was also fun that my sister wanted to join in.

We also played a lot of Star Fox: Assault during this time. I liked the game, but I also wanted more from it. The presentation was very slick for a GameCube game. I liked the return to on-rail levels where you actually piloted the Arwings. To me, the inclusion of the on-foot levels were inoffensive. The thing I missed the most, though, was the ability to choose a route through the solar system. With only one set path of missions, it made the game less replayable. There also wasn’t enough Arwing levels to completely satisfy me. But overall I thought it was a solid entry in the series and a worthy follow-up to Star Fox 64.

In 2006, late into the GameCube’s life, I finally got around to playing Luigi’s Mansion. I kicked myself for not playing it sooner. As with Pikmin and Metroid Prime, I was once again impressed by the atmospheric experience. By 2006 the game’s visuals looked a bit old, but I didn’t mind. That’s the nature of video games — even on the same console, graphics can advance rapidly. But the exploration, gameplay, and charm of its main character won me over. What an underappreciated game. Even I didn’t give Luigi’s Mansion the attention it deserved at first.

After we moved to Michigan in 2007, my time with the GameCube began to wind down. I think one of the last GameCube games I played was 1080 Avalanche, which was a fun distraction every now and then. We eventually got a Wii; and once we purchased the Wii version of Twilight Princess, we rarely brought out the GameCube. My brother finally found a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition during this time. We played it and many other GameCube games on the Wii thanks to its backwards compatibility. But like with the Game Boy Advance, I eventually took a hiatus from video games and left our purple (actually black for me) box behind. To this day it remains in the care of my older brother.

But even then, the GameCube never went away entirely. People in college loved having throwback parties featuring Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mario Kart: Double Dash. When I started dating my partner, I learned about some of her favorite GameCube games as well. Her #1 game for the system is Mario Party 4, and we often played that game both by ourselves and against some of our college friends. That’s a perfect example of Nintendo’s pristine software quality during the GameCube era — my partner and I still could have fun with a game that debuted in 2002.

On one hand, I’m happy that people are finally giving the GameCube the respect that it deserved back in the day. The GameCube definitely bore the brunt of schoolyard derision as the “kiddie console,” despite its many experimental and mature games. It has certainly come a long way since then. Now it’s the premier collector’s item of the 6th Console Generation. But with this rise in appreciation comes ridiculous prices for its games. GameCube games were already expensive even when I was getting back into gaming, and now these prices have only gotten more and more prohibitive, especially with the pandemic.

Once upon a time, I had a dream of getting the physical copy of Path of Radiance, but that dream didn’t involve paying $400. Woof.

I would love to play these games on the original hardware. I would love to build up a GameCube library the way I have with the 3DS and the Switch. However, that’s simply not possible. The prices for these games now are just too high. And with Super Mario Sunshine being the sole exception on Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Nintendo does not appear interested in putting these games on current-gen hardware. Like with the Game Boy Advance, the GameCube is becoming another relic of the past. It’s sad, because this was a generation with so much experimentation, and a lot of the library would still be fun to play even today. The games had many of the modern quality-of-life elements we’ve come to expect, but without the inconveniences of microtransactions and the like. Thank goodness for the Dolphin emulator for helping these games remain alive and relevant, because otherwise there would be no way to explore the games I missed out on.

Hey, if you made this all the way to the end, thanks for sticking with me. This post ended up much longer than I intended, but I wanted to do the console and my memories with it justice. What were your favorite GameCube memories? I’d love to hear your stories and any games you’d recommend in the comments!

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