On Nov. 18, 2001, just three days after the release of the Xbox, Nintendo unleashed their entry to the sixth generation of home video game consoles: the GameCube. Appropriately named, the GameCube was a little purple cube that packed quite a punch technologically. Taking a page from the other system developers, Nintendo finally ditched the cartridge as a storage medium and instead opted to use miniDVDs as opposed to normal DVDs as a method of anti-piracy. Unlike the Xbox, the GameCube shied away from the prospect of online play, with only three games being released in the US that took advantage of the optional broadband and modem adapters to play online. Instead, emphasis was put on local multiplayer and connectivity between Nintendo’s contemporary handheld at the time, the Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately for Nintendo, the GameCube’s software library suffered from a lack of third-party support. On top of that, the GameCube gained a negative reputation for being family-friendly, losing much of its now grown-up audience to the PS2 and Xbox. Although it ended up last in sales, the GameCube happens to be my favorite of the last generation, so let’s get down to business and check out my top five.
5. Super Smash Bros. Melee
Easily the most popular game on the system and the first GameCube game I ever owned, “Super Smash Bros. Melee” (to be abbreviated as “SSBM” from here on out) was the sequel to the hit fighting game on the N64, “Super Smash Bros.” For those unfamiliar, the “Super Smash Bros.” series pits all of Nintendo’s most well-known characters against each other on a 2D plane, borrowing elements from all the featured characters’ series to create a frantic fighting experience. Contrasting from most fighting games where players have a static amount of health, the object of “SSBM” is to defeat your opponents by sending them off the playing field. Taking damage is represented by a rising percentage value, and the higher your percentage is, the easier it is to get launched too far off the stage to recover. “SSBM” is the kind of game that’s easy to get into but tough to master, which may explain why the game is such a hit in the competitive scene. That, along with its unorthodox yet addicting gameplay, highly varied character and stage selection, and sheer nostalgia value are what made “Super Smash Bros. Melee” the fighting game that Nintendo fans kept going back to.
4. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
If you look at any video game system, chances are that you’ll find, at some point in its lifetime, some sort of odd plastic peripheral that intends to enhance your gaming experience. The NES Zapper, the Power Glove, R.O.B. the Robot, the Super Scope, and even the plastic instruments used to play today’s modern rhythm games. The GameCube’s big peripheral was the Donkey Kong Bongo Controller – two barrel-shaped plastic bongos with rubber tops. Underneath the rubber were two buttons per bongo and in between them were a ‘start’ button and a microphone. The original use for this oddly simple controller was “Donkey Konga,” a rhythm game that involved hitting the bongo buttons and clapping to the beat. While I wouldn’t say that the game did the peripheral justice, another game surfaced that did: “Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.” In “Donkey Kong Jungle Beat,” a platformer, you play as none other than Donkey Kong on a mission to become king of the jungle. Worlds are divided into two platforming stages and then a boss stage. Instead of focusing on getting to the end of the stage, “Donkey Kong Jungle Beat” instead puts an emphasis on collecting as many bananas, or ‘beats’, as you can, awarding you different medals based on how high your beat count is. Herein lies the true fun of the game; to get most of the game’s high-rank medals, you must figure out ways to chain together actions to add to your combo multiplier and get more beats in the end. Backflipping, jumping off the tops of enemies, swinging off vines, shooting off a trampoline, bouncing from wall to wall – these actions all add to your multiplier and make earning the big points possible. The simplistic controls of the bongo peripheral really shine in this game, as they allow you to leave all your attention to chaining together massive combos. Add on top “Donkey Kong Jungle Beat’s” flawless gameplay a wild and upbeat soundtrack and some of the best graphics on the GameCube, and you’ve got yourself one amazing game. Bottom line: this game is fun.
3. Pikmin 2
From the brilliant mind that brought the gaming world Mario and Zelda came “Pikmin,” a simplified real-time strategy game that managed to carve its own little niche into the genre. The original game revolved around Captain Olimar, an astronaut from the planet Hocotate. After his space ship is hit by a comet, Olimar crash-lands onto a mysterious planet. His ship in ruins, Olimar is forced to scavenge for the missing pieces on this planet and put them all back together in 30 days, the amount of time left before his oxygen reserves are depleted. On the planet, Olimar befriends a seemingly subservient species known as pikmin, plant-like creatures with bulbs on their head. The second game has Olimar returning to his home planet only to discover that the company he works for is in serious debt. His boss sends him back to the mysterious planet to collect as much stuff as possible so they may sell it all and dig their ways out of debt. Critically acclaimed, “Pikmin 2” takes pretty much all of the faults of the first game and corrects them. The tight 30-day limit is gone, allowing players to breathe easy as they explore the game’s world. The game also introduces two new types of pikmin, both of which have very useful characteristics. Lastly, “Pikmin 2” introduces underground caves, differently themed areas chock-full of enemies, puzzles, and treasure. What’s cool is that these areas are randomly generated, meaning each cave will be like a new challenge every time you enter it. The original “Pikmin” had a winning formula marred by a few big flaws, but “Pikmin 2”’s resolutions make the game pretty much perfect.
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
In 2000, Nintendo held an event called Space World, where it showcased a technical demonstration of the GameCube’s abilities. This demonstration was in the form of a video depicting a highly detailed, dark, realistic battle between Link and Ganondorf, the respective protagonist and antagonist of the “Legend of Zelda” series. Fans clamored for the video, excited for the future of the series. When Nintendo debuted the first footage of “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” a year later, the reaction was the complete opposite. Replacing the realistic graphics of the video seen a year prior, “Wind Waker” featured cel-shaded graphics, making the game look more like a cartoon. Though the game’s reception got off on the wrong foot, “Wind Waker” proved to be a proper entry to the series in the end. Putting the technical demonstration in the past, gamers were eventually able to appreciate the game’s art style for its vivid colors and expressive characters. Gameplay-wise, “Wind Waker” managed to establish itself as a “Zelda” game proper, building on the mechanics of old and successfully refining them. The game’s story also proved to be as epic as any other game in the series while putting an interesting spin on the series’ villain. And with its fully orchestrated soundtrack that’s both whimsical and adventurous – oh yeah, this is how a “Zelda” game should be.
1. Metroid Prime
After the resounding success of “Super Metroid” on the SNES, fans were left to wonder why the series skipped over making an entry on the N64. In the end, their patience was rewarded with “Metroid Prime,” a three-dimensional take on the originally 2-D side-scrolling adventure. Though many a game has fallen in the transition from 2-D to 3-D, Retro Studios managed to perfectly capture the essence of the “Metroid” series in “Metroid Prime” by retaining the elements it’s best known for: its sense of exploration, its astounding attention to detail, and its totally immersive atmosphere. As deadly bounty hunter Samus Aran, you’re sent to investigate a distress signal from a nearby spaceship. Finding the crew of space pirates slaughtered by their own genetic experiments, you escape and follow the ship as it crash lands onto the planet Tallon IV. Landing on the planet’s surface, you must then explore it, slowly unraveling the planet’s secrets and uncovering a mysterious radioactive substance that could be a potential threat to the entire universe. “Metroid Prime” is different from most first-person shooters since shooting takes a backseat to exploration, the true appeal to the series. “Metroid Prime” features brilliant level design, amazing art direction, and an audio score that fits the eerie and mysterious tone of the game perfectly. Though the story contains no dialogue whatsoever, the game supplements the plot with a logbook full of reading material, obtained by scanning objects with a special visor. This logbook covers practically every aspect of the game, from your special power suit to the creatures inhabiting the planet to the space pirates’ nefarious experimentations. If you’re looking for a game that’ll suck you in with atmosphere and detail, “Metroid Prime” comes second to none.
I think I may have gone a little overboard this time around, but that’s just because I’m so passionate about these games. Though its sales numbers don’t show it, I firmly believe that the GameCube had a library that highly exceeded its reputation.
And with that, we say goodbye to the sixth generation of consoles. Next week, we’ll dive right into the current generation, starting with the first one out of the gate, the Xbox 360!