Twenty years ago today, the Nintendo GameCube was released in Japan. The system only had a small lineup of launch titles, though, and some of them weren’t exactly classics. The three games were Luigi’s Mansion, Wave Race: Blue Storm, and the original Super Monkey Ball.
By the time the system was released in the US, its launch lineup expanded to include many more games. These included Crazy Taxi, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, and Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. The GameCube would go on to see the release of numerous games that contend for the title of “greatest game of all time,” and defined an entire generation of gaming for the first half of the 2000s.
The Mario Series on GameCube
Luigi’s Mansion is one of the greatest launch titles in the history of gaming. Nintendo took a big swing by making their main Mario game for the GameCube’s launch barely feature Mario. But it worked!
In this spooky adventure game, players take control of Mario’s cowardly brother, Luigi, as he attempts to deal with a ghost infestation in the mansion that he recently won in a contest.
Mario is in the game (sort of), but he’s never playable. Mario wouldn’t be the main character of a GameCube game until 2003’s Super Mario Sunshine, but the game was well worth the wait. Sunshine is a delightful 3D platformer that sees Mario taking his new water-spewing backpack (who is also a character named FLUDD) all over the Caribbean-inspired Delfino Isles. The game remains a fan favorite to this very day.
Zelda on GameCube
The Legend of Zelda series put two entries on the GameCube, and they’re each all-timers. The Wind Waker received harsh backlash when it was revealed for its cartoony, cel-shaded visuals. However, the game remains gorgeous to this very day, and the visuals turned out to be a perfect fit for the seafaring-themed title. The game’s final moments and ultimate battle with Ganondorf cement it as one of the best video games of all time.
In 2006, Twilight Princess was released simultaneously on Wii and GameCube. The GameCube version is the definitive package, however, as the Wii version is actually mirrored to make Link appear right-handed. This was done so that most audiences could feel more at home using the Wiimote’s motion controls to swing Link’s sword. Purists, however, decried the move, saying that Link should be left-handed!
Twilight Princess returned to the aesthetic first seen in Ocarina of Time and was met with rave reviews. The dark, moody atmosphere and extremely engrossing dungeons made the game a favorite title of newcomers and longtime fans alike.
No one touches Nintendo when it comes to party games. The GameCube excelled in this arena, sporting four controller ports for tons of multiplayer action. The Mario Party series, of course, had several entries on the GameCube.
Perhaps the best-remembered party game on the console is Super Smash Bros: Melee, a fighting game that has remained extremely popular to this very day. The game still sees organized tournaments, even twenty years after its initial release!
Dreamcast Ports and Sega Exclusives
One of the interesting things about the early 2000s is that you see a lot of Dreamcast games popping up as exclusives for other systems, namely the Xbox and GameCube. The GameCube, in particular, felt in many ways like the Dreamcast’s spiritual successor. Some of the best launch titles for the GameCube (Super Monkey Ball and Crazy Taxi) were Sega titles developed for the Dreamcast.
The excellent Sonic Adventure 2 was ported to the GameCube as well, where it introduced a new generation of fans to Sega’s speedy blue mascot. Eventually, the popularity of Adventure 2 on GameCube would lead to the first Sonic Adventure receiving a proper port on the system.
Racing Games Reach their Peak
The GameCube is also remembered for its incredible lineup of racing games. Chief among these is the perennial party-game favorite, the unparalleled Mario Kart: Double Dash. For the first time in the series, players would choose a duo of racers to take on the zany courses.
Another all-time favorite racing title on the system is F-Zero GX, which incidentally is also the most recent entry in the series. F-Zero is beloved by fans for its sci-fi aesthetic, unbelievable high-speed racing, and an extremely strong sense of place. Fans have been clamoring for a new entry in the series for nearly 20 years.
New Series on GameCube
The GameCube wasn’t just home to sequels and ports, however. The system is perhaps best remembered among fans for the new series that graced the console. Foremost among these is Pikmin, Nintendo’s riff on the real-time strategy genre. In Pikmin, players control a tiny alien spaceship captain named Olimar.
Olimar crash-lands on a mysterious planet (ours) and encounters a strange race of plant-like creatures, the titular Pikmin. He realizes he can recruit these little guys to work and fight for him as he attempts to secure artifacts from the deserted alien world. The resulting RTS mayhem is truly unique in the world of gaming.
Another series first introduced on the GameCube was Metroid: Prime, a subseries of the main Metroid franchise. Prime is a first-person shooter, unlike the side-scrolling platformers that inspired it. The original Metroid: Prime is remembered as one of the greatest video games of all time, with fans lauding the game’s exploration, combat, and eerie atmosphere.
An honorable mention in this section goes to Animal Crossing, which technically got its start on the Nintendo 64 in Japan, but was first seen in the US on the GameCube. The cute animal villagers and social-based gameplay drove modest sales for the first title, and the series gradually grew in popularity in the West over the intervening 20 years. The most recent entry, New Horizons on the Switch, was one of the most popular games of 2020.
A Lasting Legacy
Between its unique controller, an excellent lineup of games, and odd size and shape, the GameCube left a real mark on the industry. Perplexingly, the system sold relatively poorly compared to other Nintendo systems. However, in spite of its commercial performance, the system is fondly remembered by gamers for being one of the most innovative and interesting consoles of the early 2000s, and one of the best party-game machines ever made.