The GameCube games we still love, 20 years later


2001 was quite a memorable time in gaming. Standout titles include Grand Theft Auto III, Metal Gear Solid 2 and Final Fantasy X. It was also the year Xbox made its debut, while the Sega Dreamcast bowed out. But while all that was going on Nintendo was still going strong, releasing the Game Boy Advance in March of that year and a new home system in September. The GameCube was quite a console, an adorable box with a great wireless controller and fun add-ons like the Game Boy Player

Unfortunately, the system was plagued by a thin library, especially compared to the PlayStation’s combined roster of PS1 and PS2 games. But what titles they were — it gave us Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Monkey Ball and the original Animal Crossing. On the GameCube’s 20th anniversary in Japan the Engadget staff looks back at their favorite titles from that era which, once again, doesn’t include some of the obvious candidates. — Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide Editor

Donkey Konga

I’ll be honest; I was late to the GameCube and the only reason I bought one was for Donkey Konga. I first played this rhythm title at a Toys ‘R’ Us and fell in love with those stupid bongos. A year before Guitar Hero this was the party game du jour, and I took my cube and controllers everywhere. I quickly unlocked every song, and became an absolute master at “Oye Como Va.” It was followed by a sequel and the bongos were even the default control scheme for Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, but nothing matched the sheer joy of playing that first installment and the sore palms that ensued. — KN

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Call it the anti-Resident Evil. Eternal Darkness puts you in the shoes of Alexandra Roivas, a young woman trying to solve the mystery of her grandfather’s horrific death. Its century-spanning story covered a dozen characters, all connected to an ancient Lovecraftian god. While there’s combat, it was more about psychological trauma than the survival horror of Resident Evil. Most notably, it had a sanity meter that would change the gameplay and environment and even throw simulated system errors to freak out players. Take that, Metal Gear Solid.

Like many GameCube titles, Eternal Darkness was clearly an attempt to attract an older audience. It was the first M-rated game published by Nintendo, and the company kept the trademark alive for a decade. But it was never re-released outside of the GameCube, and hope for a direct sequel was squashed when developer Silicon Knights filed for bankruptcy in 2014. There was an attempt at a spiritual successor, Shadow of the Eternals, that fell apart after failing to raise enough money via crowdfunding. It’s almost fitting that a game about millennia-old evil may end up being lost to the sands of time. — Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

After the runaway success of Awakening and Three Houses, it’s hard to see what made Path of Radiance, Fire Emblem’s only GameCube release, so special back in 2005. Nearly two decades later its presentation looks stiff and dated, and the game is missing the relationship mechanics beloved by newcomers. But in Path of Radiance you’ll still find many of the elements that came to define later Fire Emblem games.

They exist in a sort of prototypical form since this was the first game in the series to make the jump to 3D. We take a lot of it for granted now, but back then series developer Intelligent Systems had to figure out the mechanics for the first time. And it did, making for a game that’s still fun to play to this day. It has one of the best stories in the series, with an English script that captures a lot of the nuances of the Japanese original.

It’s that story that made me fall in love with Path of Radiance when I first played it more than 15 years ago. Even when the game was at its most punishing, I wanted to see what would happen to Ike and his band of mercenaries. Path of Radiance was my first Fire Emblem game, but it’s the one I keep coming back to because of just how much I enjoyed my first playthrough as a teen. — Igor Bonifacic, Contributing Editor

F-Zero GX

The original F-Zero for the Super NES is one of those games I wore out as a teenager. While the futuristic space racer only had 15 courses, they were beautiful and challenging, and even when I did well, I always felt like I could do a little better. A decade later, F-Zero GX hit the GameCube and showed just how far racing had come.

The basic concept is the same: high-speed futuristic hovercraft battling it out in wild, creative courses where one mistake can lead to disaster. The GameCube’s horsepower meant the courses were longer, more complicated and visually stunning. The sense of speed was probably the biggest change, though: even now, 20 years later, this game feels incredibly fast. That speed makes it positively unforgiving, and I never progressed that far through the game’s many challenges. Driver AI was also significantly improved. In the first game, you mostly only had to worry about the three main rivals. But in GX, it’s easy to end up in 15th or 20th place in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful.

Despite that, I still remember the game fondly, in large part because it’s the last real entry in the F-Zero franchise. I didn’t play the Nintendo 64 entry in the series, so the jump from the SNES to the GameCube was pretty mind-blowing at the time. It’s a shame that Nintendo has let the series languish since then, because I’d love an updated version of GX for the Switch. — Nate Ingraham, Deputy Managing Editor

Mario Kart: Double Dash

I have fond memories of Mario Kart: Double Dash for a not-unique reason. In the early 2000s, my friends and I had frequent co-op video game nights, and Double Dash was a mainstay in our lineup. Mario Kart games have always been amazing in local multiplayer, and Double Dash was no exception. After Mario Kart 64, it was disappointing that all four players couldn’t compete directly against each other, but we quickly got used to the game’s unusual mechanic that let one player drive and another throw weapons. Having two teams of two players was an interesting wrinkle to the gameplay, and it makes Double Dash one of the more unusual games in the series.

As with most GameCube games, it looks wonderful. Mario Kart 64, like a lot of N64 games, hasn’t aged as well visually, but Double Dash is still gorgeous, and Nintendo took a major step forward in terms of creativity and variety in the game’s levels. There are more hidden routes and ways to approach each level than ever before, and the scope of boards like Wario Colosseum and the game’s take on the ubiquitous Rainbow Road were unmatched at the time. It’s no coincidence that almost every course in this game has appeared in subsequent versions of Mario Kart — so even if you never played Double Dash, you’ve likely come across some of its iconic tracks. — NI

Metroid Prime

In the 80s and 90s, the Metroid franchise was defined by three classic titles: the original Metroid for the NES, Metroid II: Return of Samus on the Game Boy, and Super Metroid on the Super NES. They cemented Metroid gameplay as a side-scrolling action / exploration game, with a non-linear set of levels. Players would come across areas that you couldn’t fully explore before beating bosses and finding items in other parts of the game.

Metroid Prime, however, completely turned the series around, putting it in 3D for the first time. While the style resembled a first-person shooter, the gameplay still put exploration at the forefront, rather than fast-paced gun fights. That said, the game is plenty challenging, even punishing at times in its difficulty: its massive bosses and twisting tunnels full of enemies were unforgiving.

But for me, the most memorable part of Metroid Prime is the incredible atmosphere of Tallon IV, and the wonder of finding new sections of the deserted planet to explore. Prime also did a great job at expanding the story and lore of the Metroid series, with loads of scannable items that explain what happened to the ruined world. The sequels to Metroid Prime are great, but this first game is arguably the best in the series and a huge part of why we’re all so excited about someday getting our hands on Metroid Prime 4. NI

Odama

It’s such a strange concept that it sounds like some developer’s fever dream — a combination pinball strategy game with voice control. But Odama was quite real, and it was glorious. Like any tactical wargame, you controlled an army of men (though via voice commands) who needed to overtake the enemy gate at the top side of the display. Complicating things was a giant ball that destroyed all in its path, but fortunately, you could exert some control over it with a pair of flippers at the bottom of the screen. There was a lot going on and it was utterly bonkers, but if you managed to beat Odama you were rewarded with the best ending theme to a video game ever. — KN

Pokémon Colosseum

Though the Pokémon series is, at its heart, a role-playing game series from Japan, it’s not very typical of the JRPG genre we’ve become accustomed to through franchises like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But way back in 2003 second-party developer Genus Sonority tried its hand as a more “traditional” story-based RPG, placing the player in the shoes of a reformed criminal trying to rescue Pokémon from his former organization. Pokémon Colosseum took place in the cyberpunk-flavored Orre region, as opposed to the more pastoral settings of the handheld RPGs. The “snagging” mechanic for collecting Pokémon was interesting, and the storyline had more of an edge to it. It was followed by a sequel in 2005, Pokémon XD, but I’d love to see this spinoff series continued on the Switch. — KN

Resident Evil 4

It’s easy to forget that Resident Evil 4 was initially a GameCube exclusive. It’s been re-released on practically every platform, including the Oculus Quest 2 later this year. But it all started on Nintendo’s purple box, a platform not known for having many action titles. The game’s staying power makes sense though. It’s the first Resident Evil game rendered completely in 3D, and it featured a slick over-the-shoulder camera that made shooting infected baddies feel genuinely kinetic.

Resident Evil 4‘s gameplay would go on to influence not just the entire series, but most action games moving forward. It was also a great example of the GameCube’s unheralded horsepower, which could deliver smoother and crisper graphics than the PlayStation 2. Even today, the original GameCube RE4 still looks fantastic, with high-quality character models and environments teeming with detail. In comparison, the PS2 version look like a muddy mess. — DH

Skies of Arcadia Legends

It may not be fair to call Skies of Arcadia Legends a GameCube game, since it’s just a port of a classic Dreamcast title. But I’m giving it a shout because it’s still one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, and perhaps reminiscing about it will finally spur on a digital re-release. The GameCube port fixes some of the frame rate and stability issues from the Dreamcast, and adds new characters to boot, making it the definitive version of the game.

Set in a world of floating continents, Skies of Arcadia Legends focuses on sky pirates who embark on a world-saving journey, naturally. You can explore a 3D world map with your airship, which gets into large-scale turn-based battles with other vessels and giant enemies. Much like Chrono Trigger, you can tell that Skies of Arcadia comes from a dream team of developers. In this case, the staff previously worked on Phantasy Star, Panzer Dragoon and Sakura Wars.

While Sega originally planned to bring Skies of Arcadia to the PlayStation 2, it ended up focusing on the GameCube port instead. Perhaps Nintendo has a stake in that port and we just don’t know. Still, it’d be nice to play such a well-crafted game once again. I can’t be the only person who still regularly listens to its epic soundtrack. — DH

Gallery: Nintendo GameCube 20th anniversary | 8 Photos


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