The GameCube is a weird little console. Its small size sometimes makes modern gamers look back on it and conclude it was underpowered when compared to its competitors, but it was actually a surprisingly mighty little machine. It was somewhat limited by its mini-DVD media discs, but it was, by all accounts, a worthy competitor to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
Nintendo’s adorable purple game console didn’t sell very well, though. It had an unusual controller, a “kid-friendly” reputation, and those pesky mini-DVDs made it tough for third-party developers to port multiplatform games to the system. That being said, it was also home to some of the coolest games ever made. Let’s count down the best GameCube titles of all time.
At launch, the GameCube strangely didn’t have a Mario title. Instead, it had a Luigi game, the ghost-themed Luigi’s Mansion. This slower-paced adventure game traded out the usual running and jumping of a Mario title for a more measured, puzzle-solving approach.
In the game, Luigi wins a mansion in a contest only to find out it’s full of ghosts. These ghosts abduct his brother Mario, and the green-clad younger bro is forced to spring into action. It’s a very different look for the series, but one that won fans over immediately and spawned its own side-series.
Capcom and Nintendo had a great working relationship back in the early 2000s. In fact, Capcom was one of the small handful of third-party developers that actually sank serious resources into making GameCube games. One excellent example of this partnership is Viewtiful Joe, a side-scrolling beat-em-up from the delightful Capcom team known as Clover Studios.
In Viewtiful Joe, players control the title character as he battles through movie-themed levels. Joe is a cinephile and is equipped with superpowers like slow-mo, fast-forward, and even rewinding abilities that help players solve puzzles and pummel bad guys. Fans of modern action games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry V will notice the similarities between them and Joe, down to the medal-based grading system employed at the end of each level.
Nintendo loves to put its gonzo spin on every genre in the gaming sphere. It’s got Metroid Prime for first-person shooters, F-Zero for racing games, and Star Fox for flight-based games. But what about real-time strategy? Enter Pikmin. Pikmin is an adorable but brutal strategy game that tasks the player with repairing the protagonist’s ship by commanding armies of the titular plant-based creatures.
Players have to tactically swap out their Pikmin pals between gameplay segments to match the environment and enemies they’ll encounter. Red Pikmin are immune to fire, for instance, so you’ll bring them against fire-breathing monsters. However, yellow Pikmin can withstand lightning abilities, so you’ll need to use them to cross over electrified grates to solve some puzzles. It’s a downright delightful game and serves as one of GameCube’s best strategy titles.
Speaking of storied strategy games on the GameCube, let’s talk about Fire Emblem. The turn-based tactical RPG franchise struggled to gain traction in the West for years, and that was still true when Path of Radiance landed on the GameCube in 2005. This made it something of an underperforming title, commercially, but it’s grown in popularity over the years thanks to the explosion in interest in Fire Emblem since the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening in 2013.
Path of Radiance tells the story of Ike and his band of mercenaries as they navigate a complicated kingdom full of political intrigue. The group gets pulled into some world-shaking conflicts and must survive against crushing odds–which makes it very easy to root for these plucky underdogs. The gameplay highlights this “against the world” narrative by making your small number of playable units face off against hordes of NPCs in satisfying turn-based combat.
While the GameCube didn’t get a mainline Mario title on launch, it wouldn’t have to wait long. Super Mario Sunshine splashed down on the console a year after it launched, in 2002. It serves as a sequel to one of the greatest games of all time, Super Mario 64, and it does a pretty great job of it.
In Sunshine, Mario has a new tool at his disposal. He gets FLUDD, a backpack that sprays water. You can use this to clean up the paint that you find all over the gorgeous Isle Delfino, or you can turn FLUDD into a water-based jetpack to help with platforming. Sunshine is one of the best 3D platformers ever made, and one of the best examples of GameCube’s surprisingly great graphical capabilities.
The fighting game that just keeps going, Super Smash Bros Melee, hit the GameCube in 2001. It’s a crossover fighter that pits the likes of Mario, Link, and Samus against each other in chaotic 4-player free-for-all battles.
The competitive scene of Smash Bros is still going strong, too. If you’re a fan of eSports, you’ve probably seen a few Melee tournaments going on! It’s a fast-paced and twitch-based fighting game when played at a high level, which makes it very entertaining to spectate.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was somewhat divisive upon release due to its cartoony graphics. However, the game has stood the test of time thanks to its cell-shaded and gorgeous graphics. The striking water-based open-world and the engrossing exploration made the game a smash hit with fans after they gave it a chance.
The game remains one of the most distinctive entries in the Zelda series. If you haven’t tried it yet, you need to check it out–it’s a genuinely moving journey that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
Modern Paper Mario fans might not realize this, but the series was originally a straightforward turn-based RPG franchise. The high-water mark of the series came in 2004 with the unparalleled Thousand-Year Door.
The stunning storybook aesthetic, the laugh-out-loud script, and the tight, well-balanced turn-based combat all work together to make Thousand-Year Door the best Mario RPG ever made. In fact, it’s just flat-out one of the most excellent RPGs you can find. The only downside to this game is that its sequels never even got close to how good it is.
Metroid Prime was a weird game. It came out a decade after Super Metroid and reinvented the entire series. Where Super Metroid was a 2D platformer with tough-as-nails combat, Prime was a first-person shooter with an emphasis on exploration and backtracking. And, as it turns out, it ruled.
Prime isn’t just the best GameCube game ever made (and it is certainly that,) but it’s also on the very short list of “unmitigated masterpiece games that couldn’t be improved upon in any meaningful way”. If you enjoy atmospheric, gripping shooters or just love games that reward exploration, check out Metroid Prime. You won’t regret it.