As many of you are no doubt aware, Nintendo recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Nintendo GameCube by continuing to not acknowledge it much at all regarding rereleases and the like, and this period of retrospection has me considering its legacy and place in the Nintendo console canon. I certainly wouldn't call it a failure by any stretch, even before I did any digging into its overall sales figures or Metacritic aggregates to back up that assertion, but at the same time it feels perhaps... the least essential? (After the Wii U and a good half of those mid-gen portables with affixes like "New" and "XL" anyway.)
With its relative portability - is it still the only console with a handle? - and inherent sense of fun and frivolity, and almost a complete lack of forward momentum or innovation, it feels the most like the Nintendo progeny that partied their way through college and never amounted to much of anything. Perhaps that's an unfair assessment, but I'd imagine being nestled between its overachieving and paradigm-shifting siblings the N64 and Wii probably gave it the worst case of middle-child syndrome imaginable. (And this strange anthropomorphization is actually endearing the console to me a little bit more, have to say.)
Because I have the brain problems, this train of thought then led to figuring out which of the many (though not as many as I'd like) GameCube exclusives would best epitomize the system's place in video game history and its mix of strengths (optical media! Finally!) and drawbacks (the infamous kidney bean buttons) as a platform. Which of its games best embodied that combination of being small, cute, fun, and wanting to take life easy breezy, to the possible detriment of treading water for a whole generation?
So... which game is the most GameCube? Hypothetically?
+ It was a launch game and first impressions count for a lot.
+ Luigi's usually seen as an underdog and underachiever, much like the GameCube.
+ Off-beat game that doesn't scream "launch window killer app" but might've had a moment to shine with less pressure.
+ Pikmin are also small and cute much like the system. Endearing little workhorses all.
+ Most successful new Nintendo IP during this era (if we don't include intra-franchise spin-offs like Luigi's Mansion or Metroid Prime).
+ The advanced tech of the GameCube allowed for dozens of the little guys to be active at once and performing different tasks, so it also works as a tech demonstration of what hardware could do at that moment in history.
Super Smash Bros. Melee(2001-11-21)
+ The GameCube game to have endured the longest, still seen in FGC tournaments today to the chagrin of Sakurai and the many Super Smash Bros. successors he's since helped create.
+ Expanding on the first point, Melee is usually the GameCube game that comes to mind when seeing the system in the wild. If anyone's at a convention toting a GameCube around or holding a bunch of component cables, it's probably to squeeze in some quick Melee.
Super Mario Sunshine(2002-07-19)
+ The big Mario platformer for the system. Decried as much as adored for its new F.L.U.D.D. mechanics and tropical island setting. The Jimmy Buffett of Mario games.
+ Technically no longer exclusive, as it was recently rereleased in a Switch compilation. However, that compilation is now no longer for sale, so I'm counting it here.
+ This, plus the five dozen Mario Partys that were released for the GameCube, makes me realize how much the system was responsible for a lot of suffering among the Giant Bomb staff (that became our enjoyment).
Star Fox Adventures(2002-09-22)
+ In most of the above cases of "the GameCube entry in this franchise is one of the weakest" I feel there's some counter argument to be had, especially regarding Metroid Prime, Super Mario Sunshine, and for sure The Wind Waker. Not the case here. If you really wanted to bang the "GameCube dropped the ball" drum loudest you'd do so with this game and its weird last-minute substitution of Star Fox into an unrelated dinosaur-based action-adventure title. Fox McCloud spends 90% of the game outside his Arwing, hitting raptors with a stick!
+ If you were a GameCube detractor, this might be the game you'd use to make your case as to why it was a disappointment in much the same way Paper Mario 2 or Pikmin 2 could be used as a defense by the system's proponents.
+ It's still actually a pretty decent game all told, though far from the system's best. I think more recent Star Fox failures (Star Fox Zero, Star Fox Guard) may also put Adventures in a better light. It certainly would've been better received - if mostly forgotten - without the Star Fox connection.
+ A 3D revival of a Nintendo franchise that never gets enough love. Metroid itself could represent the GameCube if it wasn't so sleek, serious, and spooky.
+ Like others on this list, there's a split with those who love this series and those who feel it strays too far from the 2D format that made Metroid and Super Metroid so effective. There's a similar sentiment about the 3D Castlevanias, which would make sense given the connection between the two franchises. Another example of how the appeal of the GameCube and its library can be divisive.
The Legend of Zelda; The Wind Waker(2002-12-13)
+ Best represents the dichotomy of hate it/love it that the GameCube faces: The Wind Waker should be rightly regarded as a classic, but many couldn't get past its cute appearance.
+ Also spends a lot of time treading water, though in a literal sense. The first Zelda in a while that was more about exploring the world and soaking in the island vibes than it was about making constant forward progress through dungeons.
+ Sure, this got rereleased too. But not recently, am I right?
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles(2003-08-08)
+ While it has since been re-released, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was one of the few games to take advantage of the GameCube's Game Boy Advance Link-up capability. In fact, you needed all your friends to have a GBA and link-up cable too if you wanted to play together.
+ Along with Odama, was an early indication that Nintendo intended to go full steam ahead with the obnoxious hardware gimmicks - best typified later by the DS and Wii and how all games for a time were adapted to use their stylus/motion control features.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door(2004-07-22)
+ Like its N64 predecessor (and Legend of the Seven Stars before it) but to a greater extent, Paper Mario 2 parodizes Mario lore as much as it deepens it and emphasizes a understated trait of the Mario franchise: that Mario and his friends are and always have been performing for an audience. That feels true to the spirit of the GameCube also: the most playful and irreverent of Nintendo's systems.
+ Probably the highest-rated game for the system by those that remember its library fondly. Would be a game a fan of the GameCube might choose to represent what the platform contributed.
+ Small, cute, and mostly overlooked - much like the system.
+ Began (or perhaps bolstered) the era of Nintendo exclusives from second- and third-parties that were deliberately strange and unconventional with their gameplay and formats; a phenomenon that would become much more pronounced on the Wii with Elebits, Little King's Story, Opoona, et al.
Runners-Up and Disqualifieds
Here's another, shorter list of major GameCube exclusives that, while they had their qualities as games, don't really represent the system the same way as the above do. Feel free to argue if there's a strong case to be made:
- Animal Crossing(2001-12-14): Actually an N64 game, and it's hard to divorce it from that fact despite starting one of Nintendo's currently most important franchises. Otherwise it'd have that "cute and small and kind of pointless" comparison point on lock.
- Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (2002-06-24): This has to be the strangest, conceptually and existentially, of all the big GameCube exclusives. Just what about this subversive horror game caught Nintendo's eye? Did they think it would be their Silent Hill? I really like the game, more recent Dyack troubles aside, but it's the one I'd struggle to connect to the GameCube's personality the most.
- Pikmin 2 (2004-04-29): It's a bigger and more confident sequel, but wouldn't exist without the first. It also didn't need to make a strong case for itself the way the first did and the struggle to find its place in the wider Nintendo universe is something Pikmin 1 and the GameCube had in common.
- Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004-11-15): Same argument as Pikmin 2, albeit Echoes was slightly worse than its predecessor rather than better. Maybe its status as an underappreciated underdog (and a middling middle-child) makes for a more suitable GameCube comparison than the first Metroid Prime though.
- Baten Kaitos Origins (2006-02-23): I like Baten Kaitos a lot, and it certainly is a weird-ass game from top to bottom that one could argue as a Nintendo-only curio in the same vein as Chibi-Robo!, but it never felt very "GameCube" to me. Ditto Tales of Symphonia, Lost Kingdoms, Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution, and the Skies of Arcadia remaster. They all feel like PS2 JRPGs that got lost on the way to Albuquerque.
- Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest (2002-02-21), P.N.03 (2003-03-27), Giftpia (2003-04-25): I'd love to hear a case for any of these exclusives being a perfect metaphor for the GameCube. I sadly never got around to playing them.
- Mario Party 4 (2002-10-21), Mario Party 5 (2003-11-10), Mario Party 6 (2004-11-18), Mario Party 7 (2005-11-07): (Just insert that "Corporate needs you to find the differences between these two pictures" meme from The Office.)
- To a similar if lesser extent, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!(2003-11-07), Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (2003-07-29), and F-Zero GX (2003-07-25) are all fine games that felt a little too iterative to work for this exercise.
I now open the floor to the rest of you: Which GameCube game best exemplifies what the GameCube meant to the world, if not necessarily your favorite? Was the GameCube a system you loved or one that just kinda came and went without much fanfare? Maybe it was your first Nintendo console, and introduced all those new and long-running Nintendo franchises one after the other. Maybe you skipped it entirely to focus on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and/or the Dreamcast and couldn't find a spot in your heart (or around your TV) for Nintendo's purple cuboid buddy. Twenty years later, I'm curious what kind of legacy it left behind and I've only really my own experiences to draw from.