Nintendo GameCube 20th: Top 5 Games

It's not the size that matters...

I’ll never forget it. It was 2002 and I was in Year 8, mid-term holidays were approaching and Nintendo were set to release their highly acclaimed successor to their fifth generation home console. Mum pulled me out of school 3 days early, and asked me if I was looking to get anything from the shops. I wasn’t looking for a new console, as I was content with my Sony PlayStation and Nintendo64 – but in the same vein, I wasn’t opposed to getting one. Just as excited to be diving into brand new Nintendo hardware, Mum and I were fortunate enough to purchase a Nintendo Gamecube 2 weeks early; I mean we’re talking 2002 here when sales embargoes meant nothing. It was without question that people were picking up the unit with one title in mind, Luigi’s Mansion. For myself, I was deep into Pro-Wrestling and had salivated over the thought of getting my mitts on WWE Wrestlemania X8, yet the game was delayed until September that year so I settled on the horror-adventure game.

Not knowing what the tiny, grape-contoured hexahedron even resembled, my Mum and I were completely awe-struck by the size of the console and its encased media. Mini-Discs? Since when? I heard rumours of the unconventional format being produced outside of the west, but had never seen pictures or been in the presence of one physically so this was an absolute treat. Breaking the seal, tearing open the box, getting a feel of the Dolphin-esque sculpted controller, snapping in the last of its kind memory card and zipping through its sleek boot menu, we were in love with Nintendo’s newest piece of kit. However, was it revolutionary? Sort of. For it’s time, the GameCube presented insurmountable hope for a generation still in its infancy after the massive success Sony saw in the launch of the PlayStation 2. The only problem here is the establishment being toppled by their direct competitor in sales and exclusives.

It’s an ongoing saga that has caused a ripple effect, in which Nintendo still are affected by today. A promising outlook on the Big N’s branding and some incomparable smash hits – no pun intended – placed the GameCube on a pedestal, but only within a league of its own. It’s common knowledge how the generation played out, with Sony blitzing the competition in both Nintendo and Microsoft, but there was enough original content to keep the Cube afloat. Twenty years on from its initial launch in Japan, the polarising platform holds a legacy near and to many devout that continue to tout the unit as one of Nintendo’s most underrated presentations. The “DOL-003” continues to live on, manufactured over multiple generations, with Smash Bros. fanatics refusing to adapt to any other form of controller; a testament to how accessible it truly is. While exclusives may not be as extensive as other platforms, the GameCube had some awesome games to keep its fanbase satisfied as they patiently awaited the Nintendo Wii’s impending release in 2006. So let’s celebrate the little purple box of power, with our not-so definitive Top 5 Games.

#5 - Luigi's Mansion

It would be an injustice not to include the game that inaugurated the GameCube’s tumultuous journey. While it was elementary for the younger brother of Mario to co-star as the hero’s sidekick, this was not Luigi’s first foray as our lead protagonist, but it certainly the most memorable. Luigi’s Mansion was an imperative demonstration in the Nintendo GameCube’s hardware capabilities, showing the power the small box harnessed. While limited in gameplay loop, it was a technical marvel in Nintendo’s next step towards perfecting their intended/envisioned design of their beloved Super Mario franchise. A first seeing our characters sculpted to in-game perfection without the unease of polygonal restriction. While not the perfect launch title, many still hold it in high regard for setting a precipice in what was to come during the GameCube’s questionable journey.

The quasi-platformer see’s the younger Mario brother receive a mysterious invite to a Mansion out in the wilderness, in which the notice says Luigi was to claim. Entering the hallowed halls of the dark and dusty interior, he navigates towards the dining room upstairs where he is confronted by two ghosts being dust-busted by Professor E.Gadd, a mad scientist living on the outskirts of the mansion, looking to rid the area of the demonic deities once and for all. He reveals that the Boo’s of the mansion had kidnapped his older brother Mario, and it was now up to Luigi in rescuing him, essentially flipping the script. The ghostbusters-like gameplay pushed the persona of our unlikely hero into a panic-stricken protagonist whose personality has now been cemented in a legacy defining chapter thanks to this very title.

#4 - The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

A generational shift meant a promising outlook on many featured franchises for Nintendo and its illustrious history. The Legend of Zelda was a given, after its successful 3D relaunch in The Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Looking to deviate from the dark and obscure aesthetic that made the action-adventure a global phenomenon, The Wind Waker looked to appeal towards a multitude of gamers, spanning from the devout to newcomers, young adults to a family orientated presentation all round. The vibrant villas of the Great Sea were a complete contrast to the lush valleys of Hyrule Fields, yet seemed oddly apropos considering the nature of which the Zelda franchise had been heading toward. The cell-shaded chibi vibes that were unconventional for something that had been a serious trademark in Nintendo’s landscape for three generations was about to test the waters – no pun intended – and risk it all. Aonuma himself admitted that he grew tired of delivering a repeated nuance in the Zelda series and wanted to try something out of the box, teaming with designer Yoshiki Haruhana in drafting new character models that looked completely different to anything seen in the Zelda series prior.

Re-imagining Zelda was set to be a tricky task, regardless of its campaign meeting mixed expectations from its fanbase. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker came out the other end as an oddity, but a series staple that garnered massive acclaim from fans and critics delivering a curveball, which saw it land a homerun in the long game. Yes there were issues within its gameplay loop, but these were ideas that were well ahead of its time. Link’s voyage across deep blue upon the mystical sea craft saw the curious chapter within Nintendo’s lofty lore rebound excellence through a widespread appeal in aesthetic, adventure and overhauling a design that was only marginalised by Ocarina of Time’s foundations. While minor facets were carried over, many features introduced remain cornerstone attractions to gamers that return to the GameCube classic. The title saw a HD Remaster on the Wii U, with upgraded textures, resolution and performance enhancements improving its quality of life, yet the title’s ongoing appeal leaves an everlasting impression on die-hards and even the not-so invested casual gamer. The Wind Waker is a magical journey, and one fans will not soon forget.

#3 - Super Mario Sunshine

In what was possibly the most unusual idea, from strapping a vacuum cleaner to the back of his brother, Mario’s pressurised cleaning apparatus had most definitely been met with some polarising reviews over the years, but quite possibly one of his more memorable adventures, with out-of-the-box ideas that Nintendo had hoped would restructure, or repave an existing or conventional framework seen in its direct prequel. Nonetheless, Super Mario Sunshine was released in the Winter (AU) of 2002, having faithful salivating over the thought of leaping back into another 3D Mario platformer. While its premise was creatively stifled by forced plot, essentially coercing our hero into working while on holiday, the formula of Super Mario 64 was evident with our hero landing on a tropical paradise in turmoil. The sunny seaside of Isle Delfino had been turned into a polluted wasteland packed with paint-spouting piranha’s, and other familiar foes that pointed towards the return of the only antagonist capable of such anguish, Bowser.

But before anything, Mario is put to trial after being framed as the main culprit behind island’s attacks. Our silent protagonist sits idly by with Princess Peach pledging his innocence only for the Judge to commit to her guilty verdict. Mario is sentenced to a “community service”, tasked with cleaning the island of coloured gunk that had been graffitied on the town’s walls and floors. Without hesitance, Mario straps-in for a wet and wild fun ride with his new friend F.L.U.D.D., the talking Karcher, that aids our hero across Delfino’s perils and pitfalls as they discover the truth behind our hero’s sudden escapade. To this day, the title carries a split mindset between its fanbase, yet continues to outshine its negative response with quirky achievements and additions made. I mean, it was the first time we heard Bowser speak with completely legible dialogue instead of continuous growls – although has become a meme in itself after Nintendo wisely reverted to the King’s incomprehensible speeches in the Galaxy franchise. Still, a refreshing ride through the sandy shores that fans can now experience on the Nintendo Switch, via the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection.

#2 - Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

Now, this title could very well have an argument for the Number 1 spot in this list. However, the only reason it sits second to our top choice is solely popularity, but make no bones about it; Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door may be the GameCube’s tour de ‘force when it comes to exemplary story telling and action-role playing. While it’s predecessor was perceived to be Nintendo’s best intellectually owned JRPG since Enix’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Paper Mario N64 pushed the envelope by diverting its premise and all-round appeal from an inconceivable format thought to be unattainable. In somewhat the same vein, Paper Mario reversed the psychology and repurposed 2D Mario in a 3D realm. To this day, Paper Mario continues to be one of the Nintendo64’s most sought games within retro collectors, a sentiment shared with its sequel.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door’s had an ambitious task ahead living up to legacy left by its direct prequel, but not only was the role-player able to build off its solid groundwork laid by series director Ryota Kawade, Miyamoto’s guidance aided its smaller team to acclaim, alongside newcomer Chie Kawabe who worked closely with initial designer and project leader at Intelligent Systems, Naohiko Aoyama on the original title until they were appointed lead artist. The Thousand-Year Door improved on Paper Mario’s existing gameplay loop with the addition of collectables such as Crystal Stars, the inclusion of mini-games and Badge points which can be tallied with each Badge purchased. Subtle call-backs are made from NES and SNES classics throughout our adventure, with the inclusion of baddies, and unlikely cohorts that place the Mushroom Kingdom into a divide.

#1 - Super Smash Bros. Melee

It’s the gaming’s hopeful, most ambitious cross-over experience, but only in its infancy. Coming off the back of its prequels all-out insanity, Super Smash Bros. Melee was set to turn the ampage to uncontainable. One of gaming’s greatest brawlers was born on GameCube and has carried an insatiable dispensary over multiple chapters in its franchise, but none have left a legacy that Melee has carved in its 20 year history. The inclusion of an adventure mode, the blueprint of what would be amiibo, and an expanded cast of characters made Melee a must have for every GameCube owner, without question. Masahiro Sakurai’s intention to develop an accessible fighter for all ages challenged the genre for its touted adult-centric appeal, but to pit Mario against Bowser in fisticuffs was only a pipedream – no pun intended. Melee’s eccentric enhancements breathed new life into many leading characters in Nintendo’s universe, presenting more personality from each hero and villain than ever before. 

With levels based primarily on past titles, many bases took inspiration from their respective N64 titles such as Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Donkey Kong 64, Yoshi’s Story however managed to unclude some legacy levels like Super Mario Bros. and past inclusions from its predecessor. The title itself carried the GameCube’s legacy into following generations with fans continued support of the Dolphin Controller. To this day, no other video game publisher, developer or manufacturer has managed to celebrate its roots by allowing existing owners, or newfound fans to appreciate one of Nintendo’s crowning accolades in accessible hardware capabilities. Super Smash Bros. Melee’s improved AI was heralded, to the point where homebrewers researched its code and ported it to Super Smash Bros. Brawl with fan made patches that allowed the title to play similarly on the Wii’s software. Melee continues to be played globally in officially licensed tournaments and eSports events, showing its widespread love amongst the FGC. Super Smash Bros. Melee was a one-of-a-kind, mindless brawler that bought nothing but fun and smiles to many gamers, and continues to do so, to this day.

Honourable Mentions:

Metroid Prime (Retro Studio, 2002)

Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo, 2006)

F-Zero GX (Amusement Vision, 2003)

Eternal Darkness (Silicon Knights, 2002)

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (Konami, 2004)

Resident Evil 4 (Capcom, 2005)

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