There is nothing quite like the Nintendo GameCube. Introduced off the relatively limited success of the Nintendo 64, this unique console is known for its quirky style, classic library of some of the finest games in Nintendo’s stable, and a pair of must have accessories…and, it had a carrying handle. While a distant third to the contemporary PlayStation 2 and Xbox, the GameCube nonetheless holds a special place in video game console history, and its games are still sought after to this day.
As presented in my earlier article on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo originally began life as a manufacturer of playing cards in 1889, venturing into toys by the 1960’s and light gun games in the 1970s. Their introduction to the video games industry was as the Japanese distributer of Magnavox’s Odyssey video game console. They eventually moved on to their own early consoles (the Color TV-Game and the portable Game & Watch series), and then into software development for many of the popular consoles of the late 1970’s and early 1980s after the development of the wildly successful Donkey Kong arcade game. The name Nintendo roughly translates to “leave luck to heaven” from Japanese. The Nintendo Entertainment System was the company’s first console, followed by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990-91 and the Nintendo 64 in 1996.
The GameCube began development in 1998, as part of a graphics processor dubbed ‘Flipper’ from hardware design firm ArtX, which was eventually acquired by ATI. Nintendo partnered with both ArtX/ATI for the graphics processor and IBM for the CPU of the soon to be codenamed “Project Dolphin” as the successor for the Nintendo 64. Announced in May of 1999, the Dolphin was Nintendo’s foray into the 128-bit generation of consoles. Development shared time with Nintendo’s handheld Gameboy Advance, and from this an interesting connectivity developed to be discussed later in this article. With the Dolphin, Nintendo finally elected to use optical discs as opposed to cartridges. The optical discs selected, however, were proprietary miniDVD based discs created by Panasonic. They were small, contained only 1.5GB of data, and ere selected to reduce piracy as well as contain cost (by not having to pay licensing fees tot he DVD Forum). Due to the smaller data size, some games required multiple discs or had to have content cut altogether, although loading times were better than a standard DVD, which the GameCube could not play. This did hurt the GameCube’s marketability, as both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox played DVDs. DVD movies were relatively new at the time and standalone DVD players were still quite expensive.
An interesting side note to development was the inclusion of conceptual motion controls, as well as the development support for stereoscopic 3D. While these were never implemented, they did become features used later in the Wii and 3Ds platforms respectively.
Project Dolphin was changed to GameCube during a press announcement in 2000. The console was abbreviated as NGC in Japan, however in North America this had to be changed to GCN as NGC was trademarked to the Nation Geographic Channel. Marketing flourished at the E3 convention in 2001, with the GameCube eventually being released in the fall of that year. Japan received the first units in September, followed by North America a couple months later and Europe the following year.
All together the GameCube sold nearly 22 million units before being discontinued in 2007, with approximately 1.2 million units being available for the Japanese and North American launch. Available in Indigo (a purple) as well as Jet Black, the launch consoles featured a new controller shape for Nintendo, with staggered analog sticks and a variety of differently shaped and sized buttons, as well as a D-pad. Rumble is featured in the center of the controller, and pressure sensitive triggers are located on top. Priced at $200, the launch titles include All-Star Baseball 2002, Batman Vengeance, Crazy Taxi, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2, Disney’s Tarzan Untamed, Luigi’s Mansion, Madden NFL 2002, NHL Hitz 20-02, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, Super Monkey Ball, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, and Wave Race: Blue Storm. Of note was the fact that Mario, Nintendo’s long time mascot, was not featured in the launch lineup and was instead replaced by his brother Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion, a non-platforming title unusual for the series. The GameCube required the use of memory cards for saving, which had to be purchased separately. Nintendo elected to forego first party online support, unlike its competitors. While the GameCube featured dial up and broadband modem adapters, third party developers were responsible for hosting the infrastructure of their online games. Only eight games supported online or LAN connectivity. This is an omission that negatively affected the GameCube’s sales during the burgeoning development of online console gaming in the mid 2000’s.
The GameCube enjoyed relatively favorable initial reception, but as technical limitations became apparent compared to its competitors, it developed a public perception as a kid-centric system, and online services appeared scant, sales began to sag. A price drop to $99 in the fall of 2003 led to some sales rebound. It was discontinued altogether after the launch of the Nintendo Wii in 2007.
The GameCube never received any significant design or shape variations in general outside of a later model removing the digital AV port in the back of the console, but it did get released in a number of different colors, including Platinum Silver (worldwide), Spice Orange (Japan), and Pearl White (Europe). Multiple special editions with differing disc faceplates were made in various regions, and a number of rare console colors/art design were released for various contests and as a gift to ATI employees who assisted with development. A very unique design change came in the form of the Panasonic Q, a Japan-only GameCube console release in partnership with Panasonic that featured unique buttons on the front with a digital information screen, a shiny chrome color, as well as full DVD playback capability.
The GameCube featured a few accessories, two of which are significant additions to the console’s usability. In 2002 the WaveBird wireless controller was released. Being the first wireless controller release by a first-party console manufacturer, this device foreshadowed the wireless controllers to come in the next generation of gaming. It connected to the GameCube console via a dongle that plugged into the controller port on the front of the GameCube. It was standard AA battery-powered, and unfortunately lacked rumble functionality. A couple colors were available. An essential accessory produced by Nintendo for the GameCube is the Game Boy Player. This device attaches to the bottom of the GameCube, and features a cartridge slot for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games. A special disc is inserted in the GameCube, from which the Game Boy games are able to run via the Player. This disc is now sometimes hard to find, and the Player is sold second hand often without it, despite the Player not being able to actually work in its absence. I was fortunate enough to find my disc for $3.00 at a Goodwill, and simply purchased the Game Boy Player afterwards. Another accessory geared towards the Game Boy was the GameCube-Game Boy Advance cable, which permitted interactivity functions (like a second screen) with the Game Boy Advance.
Additional accessories include the DK Bongos, used for beat controls in a handful of games, a keyboard-shaped controller used for Phantasy Star Online Episode I and II, a fighting stick and a Game Boy Player controller by Hori, a racing wheel by Logitech, and a microphone. Various cheat devices and even an LCD screen were also available for the GameCube, as well as a ridiculously expensive component video cable compatible only with the initial model containing the digital AV port. Some games supported 480p progressive scan, and there is a noticeable difference in graphical quality when the component cable is used. Unfortunately, Nintendo used a special chip in the cable, with the result being third party manufactures could not replicate the cable. Prices on eBay are well over $200 at the time of this writing in early 2017. It should be said that early models of the Wii will play GameCube games and output in progressive scan via component cables, bypassing the need for this expensive accessory.
The GameCube hosted a number of now-classic games at the pinnacle of their series, as well as some more unique titles. Below one can find a few standouts from both Nintendo as well as third party developers.
Super Mario Sunshine
Maio Kart Double Dash
Super Smash Bros Melee
Kirby Air Ride
Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Resident Evil 4
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Super Monkey Ball 2
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Soul Caliber 2
Skies of Arcadia Legends
I never purchased a GameCube during its original run, but I did pick one up on clearance after it had been discontinued in order to play a casual golf game (Swingerz Golf) and volleyball game (Beach Spikers) I found for next to nothing at GameStop one year. From there, I have gradually expanded my library but still have a number of games to go before I feel it is ‘complete’ enough. While I did have experience playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 or 2004 at a relative’s house a few years earlier to my purchase, my GameCube experience did not come until well after the Wii succeeded it. While I found the controllers less comfortable compared to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox controllers, it is still a great console to collect for, with a number of great games that are still very playable to this day.
Was the GameCube your console of choice for its generation? Did the lack of a proper Mario platforming game bother you? Did you like or dislike the stark cartoon style adopted in the Wind Waker? Did the couch multiplayer battles in super Smash Bros Melee and Mario Kart Double Dash ruin or forge a friendship? Or, did the controller and screen effects in Eternal Darkness cause you to question your sanity just a bit? Let me know in the comments below, and share your time with this unique console.