Celebrating 20 Years of the Nintendo GameCube
We take a look back at Nintendo’s iconic little cube
The Nintendo GameCube is undoubtedly one of the most interesting game consoles ever made. It was a highly consequential product for Nintendo, marking several firsts and lasts. It was the first Nintendo home console to feature an optical-disc drive (which was notable given the company’s reluctance to adopt CD-ROM on the Nintendo 64). It was the last Nintendo console to directly compete in the console horsepower arms race (subsequent machines eschewed cutting-edge processing power in favour of innovative controllers and unique form factors).
Despite the fact that the GameCube was Nintendo’s second-worst selling home console (the Wii U sold just over half as many units as the GameCube), it is fondly remembered for a wide range of truly outstanding games. Nintendo pushed boundaries on the GameCube, expressing particular willingness to experiment with their own franchises in ways that even die-hard fans occasionally found controversial. And while third-party support was generally meagre, the GameCube played host to some truly remarkable third-party games that continue to influence today’s game industry.
At SUPERJUMP, we are all about celebration; in particular, celebrating the games we truly love. It seems fitting, then, to reflect on some of our favourite GameCube games, especially in the console’s 20th anniversary year. I have assembled some of our team’s most die-hard GameCube fans to join this special collaboration.
But before we dig into games, let’s start by exploring the hardware itself, courtesy of Karl Otty.
By Karl Otty
Like many of Nintendo’s consoles over the years, the GameCube was unabashedly quirky. While the Xbox and PlayStation 2 birthed the adolescent-friendly “black monolith” form factor (which is still so common), the GameCube wasn’t afraid to look different. To some, it was friendly. To others, it was Fisher-Price. Nintendo has always been unafraid to be unorthodox in its hardware design though, and it’s always fun to take a closer look at some of the GameCube’s more unusual design elements.
Perhaps the boldest technical decision Nintendo made was to finally shift from a cartridge-based media format to an optical-disc media. But unlike its competitors (who were embracing the then-new DVD standard, which also enabled movie playback), Nintendo adopted a proprietary version of the MiniDVD, which they dubbed GameCube Game Disc. These discs held up to 1.4GB of data (compared to the 4.7GB — or 8.5GB for dual-layered — on standard DVDs). The large difference in capacity might have been expected to hamper GameCube games in terms of scope and features, but only 26 of the console’s 653-strong game library shipped on more than one disc. But GameCube discs didn’t make life easier for developers, especially when they were porting games that heavily utilised full-motion video (which was highly memory-hungry).
It is generally accepted that Nintendo went with the MiniDVD-like format in order to avoid or deter piracy. This is one of the reasons Nintendo had been a cartridge hold out for so many years; the company had watched Sony battle with serious piracy issues on the original PlayStation (on which it was famously easy to play pirated games on copied CDs).
And to be fair, Nintendo’s strategy did bear fruit (I recommended watching MVG’s video on the topic if you’re interested in learning more). In retrospect, it appears that Nintendo were able to hold back pirates — at least for a while — and that, despite the development difficulties associated with smaller capacity, GameCube games themselves didn’t seem to suffer.
Nintendo has always been bold when it comes to controller design. The close integration of hardware and software teams has always meant that game designers have direct influence over the industrial design of controllers (which makes sense, given they are the method through which players interact with the games). And while the GameCube controller may not be as unconventional as the Nintendo 64’s three-prong design, it remains a bold and unique design that is still favoured in specific gaming communities (particularly when it comes to Super Smash Bros. players). Of course, Nintendo completely re-wrote the rule book when they introduced the Wii Remote, but that was an entirely new control method. In some respects, though, it was a more dramatic extension/exploration of what Nintendo was trying to do with the GameCube controller.
The GameCube controller could be seen as a direct link between the Nintendo 64 and the Wii. On the one hand, Nintendo were trying to cater to the complexity and finesse required for players to interact with modern 3D games. This resulted in — on the one hand — the introduction of a second analogue stick (which had become standardised, largely thanks to Sony’s DualShock controller), pressure-sensitive shoulder triggers, and the maintenance of a (de-prioritised) d-pad. On the other hand, Nintendo worked to simplify the most-used buttons so that players wouldn’t need to look down at them to know what they were pressing. This is why the GameCube has a large central A-button, kidney-shaped X-and-Y-buttons and a smaller circular B-button. The GameCube controller is an acknowledgement by Nintendo that game controls were rapidly becoming far more complex than ever before, and that this complexity was potentially deterring brand new players from ever getting started. For these reasons, Nintendo focused on designing a controller that could appeal to the widest-variety of gamers possible.
It’s interesting to see Nintendo’s evolving thoughts on the controller’s design via prototypes. Early prototypes didn’t include a d-pad at all (instead containing a pause button where the d-pad currently resides). Today, d-pads are often used in complex 3D games as hotkeys, but in the GameCube era that trend hadn’t yet become apparent, and it’s clear that Nintendo equivocated on whether or not it made sense to include one. Thankfully, the d-pad was spared an untimely death (even though its final form on the GameCube controller was less than ideal).
It’s also worth mentioning Nintendo leaning into completely new forms of interaction on the GameCube controller. The shoulder triggers were not only analogue (a feature Microsoft also included on the original Xbox controller), but they had a digital “floor” that provided additional functionality. As was often the case with features like this, the games that took full advantage of the triggers were primarily Nintendo-published titles.
Let’s talk about that handle. It’s easy to poke fun at it (some might say it transforms the cube into something more closely resembling a purse), but I think there’s a quiet genius to the design. It’s just that it was never truly put to good use.
Cast your mind back to 2001. Primitive online gaming existed then, but couch co-op and LAN parties were still highly popular. Hulking entire PCs to a single physical location just to play Counter-Strike was fairly common. And yet, when you think of console LAN parties of the time, your mind likely goes straight to the Xbox and Halo. Remember how heavy and unwieldy that original Xbox was, though? It wasn’t ideal for LAN parties. Even the controller was desperate to leap from your hand and leave a crater on your bedroom floor.
The GameCube, in comparison, was compact and light. Its handle was perfect for lugging the console around to friends’ places, but there was a catch: only three games ever used the system’s LAN mode and said mode required a hardware add-on anyway. So, the GameCube’s LAN potential was never realised; the handle was only useful if you were carting your GameCube to a friend’s place to play a split screen game of Mario Kart: Double Dash or Super Smash Bros. Melee. Nintendo, you were so close.
Speaking of split screen, it’s fair to say that the GameCube continued Nintendo’s strong support of couch co-op, thanks to its out-of-the-box support for up to four controllers. And thankfully, Nintendo produced many games that provided four player fun.
One final thing to note about the case design is that the not-quite-a-true-cube GameCube is famous for its colour. Although the console did ship in several colour variants (purple/indigo, orange/spice, black/jet, and silver/platinum), its indigo incarnation was the most famous — perhaps because much of Nintendo’s early marketing showcased the indigo version. The colour variants (and indeed, the overall industrial design of the machine) played a similar role to the odd controller, which is to say that Nintendo were very deliberately not trying to build a huge black box. They intended to design a machine that would be small, portable, and not look like an intimidating piece of high-end consumer electronics.
Introduction by James Burns
The GameCube fits within the second generation of 3D-based consoles. The prior generation (consisting of Sony’s PlayStation, Sega’s Saturn, and the Nintendo 64) were really the first mainstream home consoles that featured games primarily built in 3D. It was a period where game designers around the world were really learning — for the first time — how to build true 3D games (that is, games that featured 360 degree 3D movement, not just polygon-based graphics). The entire industry was going through a painful and expensive, yet utterly exciting, transition.
When the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox came along, the world had shifted. For one thing, a major console competitor dramatically exited the hardware race (Sega’s Dreamcast — a truly brilliant little machine — died very shortly after it was born). It was replaced by the 10,000 pound gorilla of the tech industry: Microsoft. Microsoft was one of the few companies in the world that had the know-how, connections, and resources to go toe-to-toe with Nintendo and Sony on their turf. And while the PlayStation 2 was only Sony’s second home console, the company had virtually conquered the home console space within a single generation.
Given the context, it’s no surprise that Nintendo wanted to differentiate its own console offering. In a similar way, the company pushed boundaries with software.
For one thing, Nintendo took major risks with some of their most prestigious franchises. Remember, the GameCube launched without a flagship Super Mario game. Instead, we got the bizarre (and utterly wonderful) Luigi’s Mansion. Oh, and remember The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker? While most people fondly look back on the game now, it might be all-too-easy to forget the absolute shitstorm the game’s reveal triggered within the Zelda fanbase. The game’s image only began to recover when enough fans actually got their hands on it, and recognised just how much innovation Nintendo had brought to the table (and that this went far deeper than graphics alone).
And while third-party support on GameCube wasn’t nearly as strong as we later saw on the Wii and the Switch, it’s fair to say that Nintendo took some steps to address one of the Nintendo 64’s biggest flaws. Rather than focusing on quantity, Nintendo emphasised quality and exclusivity with its third-party partners, which resulted in the legendary Capcom Five as the most prominent example.
Ultimately, GameCube played host to a wide range of outstanding games. Rather than trying to catalogue them all, I’ve asked the team to write about their favourite examples. Here we go!
Super Monkey Ball
By Karl Otty
Super Monkey Ball feels like one of those launch titles like Wii Sports, Mario 64 or F-Zero, as if it’s specifically built to take advantage of the hardware it released on. The gamecube’s analogue stick, with its octagonal rim, allows you to neatly slot the joystick into the corners of the octagon and precisely maneuver through the game’s many tightropes, obstacle courses and mazes with a level of accuracy other platforms simply couldn’t compete with. This is especially impressive when you realise that the game wasn’t built for the gamecube at all, it’s simply a port of an existing arcade game (with a giant banana for a joystick, naturally). Yet, to me, Super Monkey Ball will forever be at home on the Gamecube.
Besides the controls, it was an industry-defining game across the board. Monkey Ball was the first ever SEGA game to be published on a Nintendo console, a mere decade after Sonic The Hedgehog ignited the infamous SEGA/Nintendo console war in 1991. That SEGA would create a game so perfectly suited to Nintendo would have been completely unthinkable just a few years prior.
That said, the game still oozes with that signature SEGA arcadey charm. The checkerboard-patterned ground, the timer represented by the glowing fuse of a cartoon bomb, the over-enthusiastic announcer shouting ‘FALL OUT!’ It’s all classic SEGA, and a beautiful swansong for arcade’s twilight years as a dominant platform.
Super Mario Sunshine
By M. R. Clark
Super Mario Sunshine (2002) is the first game that I ever fully finished playing from start to end. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my dad and I sitting close to the TV with the GameCube plugged in, fighting Bowser on a roller coaster.
Super Mario Sunshine was only the second 3D platformer in the Super Mario series (Super Mario 64 was released in 1996). The graphics were brand new and well received by players in the early 2000s. Super Mario Sunshine takes place in Isle Delfino, where Mario, Princess Peach, and Toadsworth intend to vacation. However, upon arrival, they realize there may be some issues with their relaxation. There’s graffiti and disgusting slime everywhere, and Mario gets the blame. Mario is seemingly being impersonated by Shadow Mario. He’s ordered to clean up the entire island and restore peace and light to the Isle.
The plot of Super Mario Sunshine is unique to others in the Super Mario series because there is an element of mystery. Who is Shadow Mario? Why is he doing this? How do we stop him? The villain of the plot is a new character, who players definitely wouldn’t be expecting.
At the time, Super Mario Sunshine was critically acclaimed for its soundtrack and improved gameplay from previous games in the Super Mario series. The introduction of F.L.U.D.D (Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dousing Device) was a huge claim to fame too.
Super Mario Sunshine was especially critical to the continuation of the Super Mario series, as many of the characters that were introduced in the game are found in later parts of the series; Petey Piranha and Bowser Jr, to name a few. Not to mention the introduction of the Shine Sprites, which can be found in later games like Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door.
While the legacy of Super Mario Sunshine is part of what makes the game so great, it also includes an incredible amount of nostalgia for so many people (myself included). I love to play the Delfino Isle-inspired track in Mario Kart Wii because it reminds me of those fun play-throughs with my dad as a kid.
Super Mario Sunshine will always be a great game; the graphics, gameplay, and soundtrack hold up even nearly 20 years later.
What better way to talk about the GameCube than by mentioning one of its most important platform characters? Sonic!
At the turn of the 21st century, Sega was both a latecomer and early arriver in the video game space. 1998 saw the release of Sonic the Hedgehog’s first true 3D game, Sonic Adventure, for the Sega Dreamcast. Despite spawning a beloved sequel for the system, the Dreamcast would quickly falter, outpaced by the powerhouse PlayStation 2, Microsoft’s internet-ready Xbox, and Nintendo’s living room-friendly GameCube.
Though the GameCube would have no shortage of titles from Nintendo mascots, its Sonic offerings were among its greatest hits. In 2004, after extended editions of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were ported to the GameCube, Sonic Team would release Sonic Heroes for all of the sixth generation home consoles. Well, all except the Dreamcast.
Sonic Heroes marked the first time a main series game for Sega’s mascot character was not released on company hardware. Within a decade of the “Genesis does what Nintendont” and “Blast Processing” campaigns, Sega withdrew from the console market, all while handing its flagship character over to a formerly sworn enemy.
Though Sonic Heroes was also on the PS2 and Xbox, being playable on the GameCube was monumental. By effectively squashing the company beef, Sonic was almost folded into Nintendo’s ranks. He’d eventually feature in Nintendo exclusives, like the Game Boy Advance’s Sonic Battle, and even star alongside Mario in the Mario & Sonic at the Olympics series.
On the whole, Sonic Heroes re-established so much of what made Sonic succeed in the ‘90s. The act-based structure helped keep levels from overstaying their welcome, and the streamlined abilities across three character types was in line with the formula established by Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The game was as traditional as Sonic had been since 1994, which was a tall order following missteps like Sonic 3D Blast or the Sonic-adjacent Knuckles Chaotix.
Future collaborations aside, the GameCube version of Sonic Heroes impressed for its stability. Despite releasing for three platforms, the GameCube version was undoubtedly the most optimized version and marked yet another revelation: Sonic had finally found his home. It just happened to be with the competition.
Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
By Ben Shelley
Accelerating away from battle at the squeeze of a button easily replicated the experience of piloting an X-Wing across the trenches of the Death Star. Stay a little too long and the enemy was able to lock on and blow you out of the sky. If there was ever a battle simulation that called out to Star Wars fans across the world, then for me it was most definitely, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader.
Consisting of only one difficulty and three lives per level, you needed patience to progress, with each level consisting of multiple objectives. You would oftentimes scrape through to what you believed was the end of the level, only to be greeted with a shift in battle that would throw you back into the action, with no shield and no lives, destined to once more reload the game.
Throwing the controller on the ground and cursing the Star Wars lords above, I sometimes swore that I’d never be back, yet like an argument with an old friend, you knew that it would never last. Rogue Leader was the perfect blend of nostalgia and challenge.
Set up by a first level (if you ignore the training on Tatooine) that places you into the initial battle for the Death Star, you are responsible for targeting surface turrets, then Tie Fighters, before being thrown into the trenches yourself, hearing Darth Vader voice menacing you from the shadows. It is packed with nostalgia which drew you back to the action after the credits.
From the first Death Star, to leading the attack on a Star Destroyer, and all the way to the final Battle of Endor, the game looked amazing. It still does today. In the absence of high definition graphics, it created an absorbing gameplay experience and one that brought you back, time and time again.
Rogue Leader was the perfect nostalgic hit, with the requirements for bonus levels requiring you to accumulate a certain amount of points in order to unlock. Something that required pin point accuracy, little use of your targeting computer and one eye on the clock. You needed to be near perfect when oftentimes you were not, which required multiple reloads, yet at no point were you ever bored.
Captivated by the action, Rogue Leader was the perfect game for me. Something that has oftentimes been replicated but never eclipsed. It is one that I love going back home to play. It will forever be the launch game that made a system and injected new love in me for Nintendo.
Resident Evil (Remake)
By Ben Shelley
Nearly twenty years ago, horror was cubed and remade into a format that provided us with new nightmares. Resident Evil (2002) may have been overshadowed by the numerous clones that we have today, but back in 2002, it chilled me to the bone. It reached out and pulled you into the action through a combination of next-generation graphics, b-movie dialogue, loud weapons and monsters to send shivers down the spines of the hardiest of us.
Sitting on my own in the corner of my room, staring at the screen, unaware of what to expect as the first moan of a zombie echoed through my ears. The slow lurching ripping me out of my trance, forcing me to steady my pistol, swaying from side to side as half the shots missed the mark.
Halfway through the battle, a door to your right is torn from its hinges as another zombie announces its presence.
- The thought running through your head being, should I stay or should I go?
- If I go then the sparse bullets that I have used will be lost and the battle reset, with two fully healthy zombies waiting to munch my brains
- If I stay then I risk needing to restart the game, having not saved.
The collision of the practical and the terrifying was what resonated with me. The need to backtrack to the save rooms whilst dodging between monsters, and balancing a finite inventory, was the OCD equivalent of crack cocaine, complete with monster hallucinations. It was perfect.
Even today, nearly two decades on, the backdrops look great. The character designs pop from the screen and the monsters roam every corridor to keep you guessing. Do I despatch that zombie and burn the body or do I run the risk of leaving him behind and finding a Crimson Head next time I come calling?
Resident Evil, the first remake, was a game that brought the biggest of smiles to my teenage face. As the ridiculousness of the story evolves and the dialogue snaps you out of whatever tense state that your brain finds itself in, you grin.
‘You were nearly a Jill Sandwich’, being one of the best snippets of the dialogue and one that cements Resident Evil as one of the greatest remakes. Dialogue so bad it’s good, enemies that send shivers up your spine and weapons that despite the limited angles of fire, pack a punch.
Being remade multiple times since Resident Evil deserves a place in video game history. It’s an enduring story that has spawned more sequels than negative digits in my bank balance, but the GameCube variant will always be number one for me. The controller providing decent rumble feedback to help you feel each shot, soaking up the sweat as your hands firmly grip the controller, as each terror passes.
Resident Evil 4
By Ben Shelley
Not including all of the special editions, Resident Evil 4 has been released on twelve different consoles, with a virtual reality edition on the way soon.
Originally released on the GameCube more than 16 years ago, Resident Evil 4 is the pinnacle of the series. This is not to say that the latest entries are bad, it is to offer the opinion that Resident Evil 4 is perfect.
Dropping you into a seedy Spanish village, you take on the role of rescuer, surrogate father and warrior. This trinity pushes you further and further, from village to castle and later, island. Parallels to the latest Resident Evil: Village being evident here.
Often copied but never eclipsed, Resident Evil 4 is one of my favourite games. Easy to slip in and out of with its chapter breakdowns, making it perfect for sparing your eyes, it has received multiple game of the year awards and is easy to see why.
Rather than going over the top with action akin to its sequels, RE5 and 6, it is paced to perfection. At no point are you bored. Hop over a fence and find a sniper spot to pick off some Ganados before departing through the door and being faced with a puzzle. Complete this and a quick time event that you cannot learn appears. This is something that was removed from later entries and I wonder why?
The boss fight with Krauser (or at least one of them) begins with a knife fight. Something that you inevitably fail at the first time due to your nerves being on edge. You are so hyped up after the previous battle that it takes you by surprise. Much like the best stories, it offers suspense and intrigue, whereas RE6 offered tedium.
The knife fight requires you to jump through a few quick time prompts (a, b and X, followed by z, y and b, for example). If you die then you need to repeat but the sequence changes to a random series of events that does not simply require you to reload and eventually get right.
Resident Evil 4 was a game of skill. A game in which your inventory can one minute be bloated and look like you’ve just panicked and purchased everything, only to have it all used up after the boss fight. Featuring an adaptive difficulty that consistently changed the game, depending on how the player was getting on, it was a challenge from start to finish. Upgrades offered support but little more than that, never allowing yourself to feel like god, as you did in RE6.
The enemies were inventive, with the Regenerators standing heads and toes above the rest. From the noise that could be heard around the empty corridors, setting your nerves on edge, to the manner in which you finally learn how to kill them. Resident Evil 4 has and always will be perfect for me.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
I remember being mesmerized by that ocean.
It stretched out — forever, eternal — in every direction, waiting for me, and I was hungry for adventure.
Nothing had prepared me for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in 2003 — not previous Zelda titles, not other action games, not even the fantasy I so often and eagerly consumed. Wind Waker was different because of its scope, because of what it was allowed to be on the GameCube. It was an entire world at the fingertips of the player, a fully traversable ocean crawling with sudden monstrosities and surprise treasures. Every island that awaited me in Wind Waker heralded possibility, whether it was a simple chest and a few rupees or the next deep dungeon.
This journey for the Triforce, nearly twenty years later, still feels as though it was ahead of its time. While so many games have stagnated on their quest for open-world ingenuity, Wind Waker boasted purpose, granting us an entire sea. While the Great Sea still seems foreign to Zelda’s landscape of open fields, this variation of Hyrule scattered what was possible only to form a cohesion that was more at home within the works of Hayao Miyazaki. Wind Waker’s graphical style felt so right on the GameCube, and made this Zelda entry immediately recognizable for its charm, aesthetics, and direction. Wind Waker also granted us the most expressive Link we’ve ever seen, and a cast of characters so robust with charisma that each return to town and enclave from the open sea felt like coming home.
Wind Waker felt expansive while keeping true to the Zelda formula, and despite the deluge of early naysayers, it was released to overwhelming acclaim and remains one of the single best entries in the entire canon. A masterpiece of design and exploration, Wind Waker’s cute and cartoony art style fit into the degree of open whimsy that permeates the title so many years later. While I haven’t had a chance to revisit Wind Waker since the WiiU remaster, I have a fondness for what that title continues to be in a series anchored by its terrific entries.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker remains a special game, a component of the GameCube’s library that instantly identified it, setting pace for this era of games whose style is still being emulated today.
By James Burns
Poor Luigi, always struggling to emerge from his brother’s imposing shadow. I always had a soft spot for the little bloke (even his jittery, Great Dane-on-linoleum movement in Super Mario Bros. 2). Throughout the illustrious career of the brothers Mario, Luigi had few opportunities to play the lead role. Opportunities had run rather dry since his big splash in Mario is Missing for the SNES (an educational game that was very Carmen Sandiego-like). To not only star in his own game — but for that game to be the flagship launch title for a brand new Nintendo console — was (and remains) unprecedented.
The thing is, Luigi’s Mansion is a perfect example of how Nintendo use the familiar faces of beloved characters to introduce radical new gameplay concepts to the world. Yes, Luigi’s Mansion is a “Mario game”, but it’s also a bold experiment. It’s impossible to forget the initial Spaceworld tech demo from 2000. I can think of few games at the time that were so obviously next-gen. It’s become a cliché, but we were absolutely witnessing “a Pixar film brought to life”. As Luigi peeked through the crack in the mansion’s doors — his breath hovering in the torchlight, his eyes nervously scanning the dark room beyond — it was clear that we’d never seen a Nintendo character come to life so convincingly. I’d argue that Luigi’s Mansion featured the most impressive animation of any video game up to that point.
I know I’m harping on animation, but it was so centrally important to what made Luigi’s Mansion great. Unlike the Super Mario games that came before, this wasn’t about high-wire acrobatics. The environment didn’t speed by below you. Rather, Luigi’s Mansion required players to closely inspect every nook and cranny in every room in a huge dilapidated mansion. For this reason, the details mattered, and not just as a way of holding up under close scrutiny — the animation was itself central to gameplay. If you wanted to draw back a curtain to see what was behind it, you’d have to grab it in Luigi’s trusty Poltergust 3000 and pull it back. The fabric would ripple, stretch, and protest in a mini tug-of-war. The physical experience of interacting with each object in the world was as tactile and vital as Super Mario’s jump.
There are many great games on the GameCube, to be sure. But for me, Luigi’s Mansion is Nintendo’s landmark achievement on the platform. It remains a stunning audio visual experience, and makes brilliant use of the GameCube controller.
There are so many games that could have been mentioned here (Metroid Prime and Eternal Darkness come to mind for me). Still, I’m truly fascinated to see which games resonated most with the writers involved in this feature.
What is your favourite GameCube game of all time? I’d love to read about it in the comments.