GameCube Turns 20, Still One of Nintendo’s Most Underrated Consoles

2021 may have seen the N64 turn 25, one of Nintendo’s most memorable consoles, but it also saw its eventual successor, the Nintendo GameCube, turn 20. Known mostly for it’s goofy controller that seemed to somehow outdo it’s predecessor in outright wackiness, the GameCube is a powerhouse system that was the last of the Nintendo consoles to compete directly with both Sony and Xbox and their console releases at the time.

Released in September 2001 in Japan before hitting North America the following November, the GameCube originally saw development begin a few years earlier in 1998. Featuring a handle (because everybody wanted to carry an entire console around with them apparently) and a controller that was both more curved and also featured two different joysticks that moved independently instead of the four C-buttons that the N64 saw before.

The GameCube spawned some of the largest games of the console generation, including outstanding entries for their core characters Mario and Link, with Super Mario Sunshine and Wind Waker respectively. The games weren’t just limited to mainline Nintendo characters though; Resident Evil 4, the game that defined not only the series but possibly the shooting genre for the next ten years, was released originally for the GameCube alone. Eternal Darkness was another creepy yet super weird horror game that saw the software pretend to turn the volume down on your TV while also DELETING YOUR SAVE FILE if you lost enough sanity in game. The game also held the distinction of being the first M-rated game published by Nintendo.

While the game library was impressive in itself, the system also featured something that was the natural conclusion of RAM expansions in the N64; the ability to connect your Nintendo Gameboy systems to the GameCube, and bring your entire collection of handheld games to life on the TV screen. The Game Boy Player let you play all of your GameBoy, GameBoy Color, and GameBoy Advance games through a wire connector that hooked the two consoles up, and more than just being a pass through, also allowed some multiplayer action on specific games that would have been impossible without the introduction of the new technology. 

Another interesting change that the GameCube made was being the first Nintendo cartridge to feature discs instead of cartridges. Nintendo wouldn’t have been Nintendo if they also did not produce the GameCube discs as miniDVD discs, making them not only considerably smaller than regular CD sized games that the Xbox and Sony Playstation systems were employing, but these Nintendo proprietary discs were cheaper to produce, leading to an ASTOUNDING number of third-party games compared to what the N64 featured. Super Monkey Ball, the aforementioned Resident Evil game plus two more sequels, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, Soul Calibur: II, and even Tales of Symphonia making an appearance.

Nintendo may have had plenty going for it when it came to releasing the GameCube, but unfortunately, the system overall was a weak entry in the pantheon of Nintendo consoles. Originally anticipated to sell over 50 million units during its lifetime, the console eventually shipped just under half (around 21.7 million units) before it was discontinued. By numbers alone, that placed it behind the N64 by about 11 million units, not to mention the failure of the console to be competitive with either the contemporary PS2 or original Xbox systems. 

The console faced other failures as well, including a delay of over 6 and a half months before the console ever hit the shores of Europe after both North America and Japan had already gotten their hands on it. Plus, the size of the storage allowed on the much smaller miniDVD only came out to around 1.5GB, forcing some larger games to have to be delivered on multiple discs which was a production nightmare for the company. 

Despite facing an uphill battle against consoles from other companies that were starting to far outpace and outstrip the Nintendo effort in the power and hardware departments, the GameCube delivered plenty of titles that are still fondly remembered today. Sonic Adventures 2 is still considered one of the best 3D versions of Sonic to date, Mario Kart: Double Dash was the best selling Mario Kart game until Mario Kart 8 came along and took that seat (and hasn’t left since), Twilight Princess is an underrated Zelda game that marked the end of the experimentation Nintendo would do with the brand until Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild took the scene by storm, and of course, who could forget Mario’s younger brother making his debut on the big stage with his first game to call his own, Luigi’s Mansion.

It’s only a matter of time until the biggest and best of these games make their way to the Nintendo Switch Online service sometime in the near future (especially after N64 and Sega Genesis games were announced to be coming and the rumors of GameBoy and GameBoy Color games still swirling), and the amount of people who loved these games will get a chance to shine in the spotlight once again. Although it turned 20 this year, the Nintendo GameCube is a console that saw Nintendo in the ring with the other big boy companies, and until the Switch came along, many wondered whether that would be the last golden age of Nintendo games in general.

Feature Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

About The Author

Robbie Landis Host of the CheckpointXP National Show, Other Identity comic book podcast and a Dungeon Master. Robbie Landis has been playing games since Yoshi's Cookie Factory was released on the NES. He enjoys RPGs, APEX Legends and World of Warcraft.

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