FEATURE: Heart-Shaped Box: Celebrating 10 Years of the Nintendo GameCube

Nintendo's sixth-gen console was neither success nor failure, but we still love it

The fifth and sixth console generations were really rough for Nintendo.  Sticking to their guns with the N64's cartridges lost them a lot of third-party and fan support.  Once the sixth generation rolled around, Nintendo's GameCube--formerly "Project Dolphin"--was set to undo all the mistakes of the last gen, with more horsepower than the PlayStation 2, a unique proprietary optical disc format, and a competitive $199.99 price point.

It's not fair to say that the Xbox killed Nintendo's hype with Halo.  Nintendo had only shown a few brief previews of launch title Luigi's Mansion, and while it's a rather well-loved title in hindsight (enough for a sequel to be in the works for 3DS!), it didn't light the world on fire at the GameCube's launch.  Sure, we had Rogue Leader to show off the system's power right out the gate, but we'd have to wait a few weeks for the system's defining title, Super Smash Bros. Melee.  What followed were six long and lean years of being maligned for its family-friendly image, another generation lacking third-party support, and underappreciated exclusives, with several key titles later being ported to the PS2 to make up for lost profits.

The launch titles for the GameCube were an unusual mix: two almost-shovelware licensed games in Batman: Vengeance and Disney's Tarzan Untamed, a handful of sports games from a new Tony Hawk's Pro Skater to NHL Hitz, a graphically impressive sequel to Nintendo's Wave Race series, the exceedingly fun Super Monkey Ball, a port of the Dreamcast's Crazy Taxi, and the aforementioned Luigi's Mansion, which traded the familiar hop-and-bop action of previous Mario titles to give his little brother Luigi the run of a haunted mansion with a ghost-sucking vaccuum.

But once Super Smash Bros. Melee arrived in the US on December 3, it looked like the GC's fortunes had changed.  Not only did people buy the system specifically for Nintendo and HAL Laboratories' goofy four-man party fighter, but people also bought extra controllers, taking full advantage of the system's four controller ports.  With Melee's simple gameplay and chaotic battles, everyone had a chance to win, making the game fun for players of all levels.  Figuring out whose turn it was to tip the pizza guy became a lot easier when people were able to throw down for a few quick matches of Melee.

Unfortunately, most of the GameCube's best ideas never fully panned out.  The much-touted Capcom Five--five GameCube-exclusive titles utilizing Capcom's best and brightest talent--didn't fully take off.  One title, Dead Phoenix, was cancelled early in development.  Sexy futuristic shooter P.N.03 was met with poor sales and bad critical reception, and Suda51's trippy psychological shooter killer7 flew right over gamers' heads, also garnering poor sales and mixed responses from critics.  While cel-shaded 2D brawler Viewtiful Joe was adored by critics, it wasn't a GameCube exclusive for very long and was later ported to PS2.  Resident Evil 4, arguably the most-anticipated of the Capcom Five, had modest commercial success in addition to rave reviews from critics, and for a while was the reason to own a GameCube--at least, until it was ported to PS2 (and later all three of the current generation's consoles).

An exclusive Metal Gear Solid title, The Twin Snakes, retold the first game's story with cutscenes by (in)famous action director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Devil May Cry 3), turning Solid Snake from a gritty hardass soldier into the second coming of Keanu Reeves from The Matrix.  The slick, imaginative action choreography is one of the reasons I like The Twin Snakes, but putting Metal Gear Solid 2's mechanics into the original Metal Gear Solid completely breaks the game's difficulty and makes it almost insultingly easy, making The Twin Snakes the black sheep of the newer Metal Gear titles.

But where the GameCube really shined, like every Nintendo system to date, was in its first-party offerings.  We’ve talked about Luigi’s Mansion and Super Smash Bros. Melee, but the GameCube also gave us what was probably the single most solid first-party line-up of the last generation.  Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the GC’s library from first- and third-party developers:
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Super Smash Bros. Melee- I run the risk of angering a lot of you, but seriously, it’s not a real fighting game.  The real joy of Smash Bros. lies in the fact that you can have a complete slobberknocker of a fight that can go any which way, and victory can go to any player, making “one more game” mean you’re going to be on the couch for another three hours.
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Pikmin- Inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto’s gardening hobby, Pikmin puts you in the shoes the very little Captain Olimar in a very big world.  I was completely overwhelmed with how quickly the little Pikmin would die for me--and they’d just met me!
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Animal Crossing- One of the greatest strengths of the GC’s library was that it gave experiences so unlike others in gaming.  Animal Crossing was a fun, lighthearted diversion that rotated a huge cast of neighbors and local characters where you didn’t have any distinct overarching goal--just have fun, make friends, and collect fish, furniture, fossils, clothes and trophies like a hoarder.  It’s now one of Nintendo’s best-selling franchises.
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The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker- My single favorite Legend of Zelda game, The Wind Waker was at first the subject of fanboy whining because of its storybook art style.  All I have to say is that they’re dead wrong, as The Wind Waker had some of the most beautiful animation and graphics of the past generation, along with a fun and incredibly huge world to explore.
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Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes- Quick, I’m gonna say a sentence and watch fanboys’ heads explode: Metroid as a first-person shooter!  Well, it’s not quite a first-person shooter as much as it’s a first-person adventure, as the Prime games play and feel like the side-scrolling adventures of yesteryear.
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Mario Kart: Double Dash!!- Another instance of “one more game” meaning that nobody in the house is getting any sleep, Double Dash introduced the concept of two drivers in one cart, letting four players work in teams of two to show who really ruled the racetrack.
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SoulCalibur II- In a cool and unique move, SoulCalibur II was simultaneously released for the PS2, GameCube, and Xbox, each version with a unique guest character.  The PS2 version got Tekken’s Heihachi, the Xbox got Todd McFarlane’s Spawn (for some reason), and the GameCube got Link, who was by and far the single cheapest playable character in a Namco fighting game.
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Viewtiful Joe- It’s a game where bad guys will shoot at you from all directions, and you respond by slowing time, kicking each bullet back in slow-motion, and killing your attackers with their own bullets, striking a badass pose at the end.  The game thinks you deserve... a C.  You can do better than that!  Viewtiful Joe was the first game from Clover Studios, setting the stage for more imaginative and exceptional action games.
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Resident Evil 4- Don’t believe people when they say that this game ruined Resident Evil.  Point of fact, RE4 saved the series and presented a very tense trip through Spain’s backwoods as Leon Kennedy searched for the President’s kidnapped jailbait daughter.
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Super Mario Sunshine- We finally got a Mario game around the middle of the GameCube’s life, and it was a solid and enjoyable adventure taking Mario to sunny Isle Delfino, where he cleans up graffiti and damage caused by the mysterious Shadow Mario.  But since it felt so much like Super Mario 64, fans and critics alike were neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed, they were just... whelmed.

I’m a little sad to say that the GameCube was the least-used of my four last-generation consoles--I even played my Dreamcast more than it--but I have a lot of fond memories of the little box, almost all of them related to “okay guys, one more game and--holy crap, is that the sun?”

Who else here had a GameCube?  Tell us about your favorite memories of the system!

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