The GameCube was my favorite gaming console of the last generation. No it wasn't as popular as the PlayStation 2, as edgy as the Xbox, or as nerdy as the Dreamcast. It was a misfit little system that mostly appealed to die hard Nintendo fans, a label I'll wear proudly. When I remembered it was turning 10 this month I just had to write some tribute to it. One small problem - I've already talked quite a bit about my experiences with the system in this Decade in Review article. That's alright though, I can always do some kind of "top 10 list". That's a totally original idea that 1,000 other web sites totally won't think of right?
First a few rambling thoughts - like millions of others Nintendo loyalists, from the moment I saw the first Spaceworld trailers for the GameCube I had to have it. This looked to be Nintendo's triumphant return to the lead spot in the gaming market. It dominated the 8-bit generation and eventually outpaced Sega to win the 16-bit generation too. The next generation was not so glorious for Nintendo. Despite selling over 32 million units, the Nintendo 64 was soundly defeated by the PlayStation. For a brief moment the GameCube looked to be their return to glory.
Unfortunately for Nintendo they lost to Sony a second time, by an even wider margin. Nintendo would finally stage a comeback in the subsequent generation by not even trying to compete in a hardware arms race. Some would argue that they didn't try in the early zeros either. Regardless of the spec wars, I pre-ordered the GameCube and counted the days until it arrived. I spent my holiday break of 2001 vacuuming ghosts, blowing up the Death Star, and taking the Bears to an improbale 16-0 record. The following years were filled with even more GameCube adventures including numerous trips to the land of Hyrule.
The GameCube eventually gave way to the PSP as my primary system but it seldom stayed inactive for long. My daughter fires it up at least once a week and I've gone back to try a few games I missed the first time around. It's been a great 10 years and here are the titles that are most memorable to me...
So on to my rambling top 10 GameCube games countdown (this of course is limited to what I've actually played. I intentionally avoiding calling it "the top 10 bestest GameCube games evar" for reasons that will be obvious much later):
My top 10 GameCube games
#10 - Super Smash Bros. Melee
I understand this game is hugely popular and can respect that but it didn't do all that much for me. It's good enough to make the list but nowhere near the top. I thought the soundtrack was the highlight of this game, a collection of incredible remixes of favorite Nintendo tunes. Then again I can find better on Overclocked Remix. The battle locations were also a strong point, it was nice to revisit some old favorite spots.
The actual combat is where I thought this game fell short. I never once felt like I was really in control of the characters. So many things just seemed to happen at random. I've played about 1,000 hours of fighting games from the 90s so it's not like I'm a novice at the genre. On the plus side this means my 8 year-old daughter and I are completely evenly matched at it. I think others will find the same appeal in it. It's a fighting game that's more cartoony than violent making it safe for all generations.
#9 - Super Monkey Ball / Super Monkey Ball 2
I promise this whole list isn't "games I played with my kid". You have to cut me some slack on this though. She was born during the GameCube era and wanted to try it as soon as she could hold a controller. Of course I was happy to oblige. As someone who was raised on Intellivision it's hard to think of the GameCube as being anyone's "first" system. It's like you should have to start with blocky 8 color graphics and work your way up to 3D realism.
Alight, getting back on track... an odd thing happened in this generation - Sega began producing games for a Nintendo console. Although commonplace today just a few years earlier it was unthinkable. In 2001 it all changed when Sega scrapped the Dreamcast and became a third party publisher. Of the three remaining consoles, the GameCube in many ways became the spiritual successor to the Dreamcast. It was that quirky system that gamers either loved or hated. With its unconventional controller and near total disregard for online gaming, it was all too similar to Sega's final console.
The also quirky and unconventional Super Monkey Ball games seem like they were destined for the Dreamcast. Maybe it's the visual similarities to Samba de Amigo that make me think this. Whatever it is, when I play these games I'm sometimes surprised to see the GameCube controller in my hand when I look down.
Like the previous entry, these are games any level of experience can enjoy. Novice gamers can get through most of levels while veterans can try to challenge the clock.
#8 - Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
This is a fun game but barely qualifies as a Zelda title. Mechanically it's similar to Link to the Past or Link's Awakening but it doesn't otherwise follow the usual formula. I was expecting a more formal Zelda adventure and was initially let down. That feeling wore off quickly as I found this collection of mini-quests quite enjoyable. I suppose if they called it "The Miscellaneous Battles of Link" it wouldn't have sold quite as well but it's a more fitting title.
Beside fans of 2D Zelda games, you know who this game is good for? People who want to try a Zelda game but don't have the time or attention span for a long storyline or hours of exploring. I'd liken it to a wine-tasting only with boomerangs.
#7 - Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
When I pre-ordered the GameCube I was forced by EB Games to choose three games as part of the bundle. The first two were easy - Luigi's Mansion was certain to be worthwhile since it was the flagship of the new system. I hadn't played a new Madden game in what seemed like forever so Madden 2002 was the second pick. For the third I went back to those Spaceworld videos and was intrigued by this Star Wars game. I couldn't tell if they were showing cutscenes or actual gameplay. I took a gamble and made it pick number three.
I was happy to find that the gameplay and cutscenes were virtually indistinguishable. The spacecraft and environments are both very detailed making you feel like you're right in the middle of a Star Wars movie. The wide range of ships available and other hidden upgrades gives it hours of replay.
This game has aged remarkably well. Some launch titles look horrible when played again years later. Rogue Leader is as amazing today as it was a decade ago. As of this writing it's available at most GameStop locations for next to nothing, if you have a GameCube or Wii go grab this while you still can.
#6 - Luigi's Mansion
So can you tell I'm a fan of the GameCube launch library yet? If I ever do an article ranking the launch lineups for systems the GameCube will finish very high. Luigi's Mansion was a slight curve ball because most expected a formal Mario game in its place. By making Luigi the main character they were able to go a different direction though. A game starring Mario is implied to have a lot of running around and jumping involved. With Luigi as the star, anything goes.
The action in Luigi's Mansion was tame, only a couple spots that require fast reflexes. It focused more on creating a detailed setting that could be explored for hidden treasures. It showcased what the GameCube was capable of and how the odd controller could be used to its full potential. I think it did exactly what a first party launch title needs to do.
Fun game but I didn't get enough mileage out of it to crack the top 10. Like Smash Bros. it was cool to play with different Nintendo characters but only a couple were worth using. The courses looked incredible but they were too few of them. It's one of those games that's totally worth the $10-$20 it went for late in the system's lifecycle but it won't keep your attention for too long.
#5 - The Simpsons: Hit & Run
The GameCube lacked a GTA game. The system could have handled it and ports were rumored. Why they were never released is a mystery. Some speculate it's due to the system being marketed as "family friendly" but that sure didn't stop the even more violent Resident Evil games from being published. GameCube owners had to settle for imitations.
As copycat games go this is one of the rare great ones. It has all the flavors of a GTA game - free exploration, wide assortment of vehicles, races, costume changes, and sprawling maps. It's missing all the weapons and accompanying mindless slaughter. It makes up by including piles of references to the greatest gags from the first decade of the series. Let's face it folks, they ran out of good material somewhere around 1998. What's that another episode with a pointless arbitrary celebrity appearance? Maybe another one where they do three disconnected short stories instead of writing an actual plot?
Much like Vice City, The Simpsons: Hit & Run is an escape to another time. It's all too easy to get lost exploring the environment. This element compensates for the sometimes repetitive missions which almost seem secondary.
If you're not a GameCube owner you can find this game cheap on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC.
#4 - Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
One thing I will fault the GameCube for is a weak RPG lineup. Although vastly superior to the Nintendo 64 and Wii; it paled in comparison to the Super Nintendo, DS, Game Boy Advance, and even the original NES. The only other RPG I even played on the system was Baten Kaitos and I quit about an hour into it.
I'll admit "RPG" is a bit of a stretch for the Paper Mario games especially. The plot is linear, the battles are more like quicktime events, and the experience point system makes level grinding impossible. They don't follow the traditional formula but I think just barely squeak by enough to earn the "RPG" label.
If you disagree with the "RPG" label that's cool. Whatever you want to call it - it's a fun game with an especially memorable soundtrack, one of the best on the system. It was re-released as a $20 "player's choice" title which means it's still cheap and plentiful today. I'd recommend it to Wii owners itching for any RPG they can get.
#3 - Lego Star Wars / Lego Star Wars II
If my oldest daughter had a vote this would be her #1 pick. A big reason these made it so high on my list is the countless hours we played together. The Lego Star Wars games are others that appeal to every kind of gamer. Incredibly simple game play and unlimited lives makes them accessible to new gamers. Dozens of secrets to uncover in each level gives veteran gamers a reason to keep coming back. I spent hours grinding away until I unlocked every character and power-up.
One extremely fun feature of these games is the ability to use characters from the first game in the second if you own them both. Jango Fett in particular is a great character in the second game because of his jetback which makes accessing many secrets much easier.
Like The Simpsons: Hit & Run these are available for many other systems. Maybe I should focused this on console exclusives. Then again, applying this sort of filter would make most "top [arbitrary number] games or [whatever system]" lists awful. Top Atari 2600 games without Pitfall!, top 32X games without Mortal Kombat II, top 3DO games without anything, and so on.
#2 - Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Like the first Zelda game of the decade, Twilight Princess went with a dark visual style and theme. While most Zelda games take place in a cheerful setting that seems oblivious to impending doom headed its way, Twilight Princess toggles between a melancholy rendition of Hyrule and the nightmarish Twilight Realm.
It's possibly the best Zelda game in terms of dungeon design. They were intricate, detailed, and presented a balanced level of difficultly. I'll go so far as to give Snowpeak Ruins the title of "best Zelda dungeon ever". It's definitely the best Zelda game in terms of boss battles. Although easier than previous installments they were amazing experiences. The fights again Stallord and Argorok both left me in awe.
This was the Zelda game fans wanted when they saw the Spaceworld trailer in 2000. Maybe if it came 5 years sooner, as a launch title instead of a closing title, the GameCube would have finished ahead of a rival or two.
#1 - Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
Fine, call me a Zelda fanboy because my top two picks are Zelda games. Go ahead, I really don't care. If I made top X lists for every Nintendo system there would be a Zelda game at or near the top. Well, not the Virtual Boy I guess.
Why did Wind Waker edge out Twilight Princess? It comes down to Wind Waker having a more open world than Twilight Princess. Once the ability to control the wind is unlocked it suddenly has the largest overworld of any Zelda game. Not since the original can I recall one that encouraged such aimless wandering.
I've read some opinions that were critical of the sailing element as being boring. I found that to be a highlight of the game. Instead of being forced down a particular path you could spend hours hunting for secrets and battling pirates. They could have removed the storyline from Wind Waker completely and it still would have made my top 10.
Luckily I apparently wasn't the only one who felt this way. Wind Waker's sequel, Phantom Hourglass on the DS, mostly replicated the sailing experience. The next semi-sequel, Spirit Tracks, was disappointingly more confining.
Honorable Mention - Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition
This collection almost seems like a mistake. For the low price of free Nintendo gave away Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and the original Legend of Zelda. I suspect they hadn't yet thought up the virtual console when this was created because buying all four on it would set you back $30 now.
This isn't the end on the road for the GameCube. I still have a bunch of games in the queue waiting to be started:
So thank you for the memories GameCube and here's to the next 10 years.