The GameCube is a console that was seemingly destined to fail. Suffering from extremely poor advertising, a divisive exterior design and a lack of third party support, it sold dreadfully in comparison with Nintendo's previous systems, and was even labeled an "unmitigated disaster" by TIME in its assessment of the system. In spite of all of this, though, it managed to gain some enthusiastic supporters both at launch and across the years since – myself included.
Fans of the GameCube will tell any non-believer who'll listen that the system, far from being the flop they read about but never played on, actually represented Nintendo's finest proverbial hour. While the odds were undeniably stacked against it, the console was ultimately home to consistently excellent first-party experiences, and outsold SEGA's Dreamcast – posthumously celebrated as an ahead-of-its-time system that deserved better.
The GameCube was my first console, so it already has a special place in my heart even before any considered reflection. Growing up in a house full of brothers, I had access to some older systems, but my time with them was always restricted. I had, however, been poring over every games magazine I could find that featured Nintendo's latest little box of tricks, and couldn't own my own quickly enough. The GameCube would finally allow me to play without constraints, devoting hours at a time to smashing swarms of bad guys and exploring brave new worlds.
I feel a great gratitude towards the GameCube, as it got me hooked on a medium that has given me so much in return in the years since. And no doubt this goes a long way to explaining why I feel so passionate about defending it from the negative opinions of some peers.
The GameCube's blocky design did have it looking as much like something you'd find in the toy aisles, alongside "baby's first laptop" or whatever, as it did a piece of technology you'd be able to experience Resident Evil on. That did nothing to put people, friends indeed, off from calling it a plaything for children. Was that ever a sore spot. Advertising around the system's launch was as fixated on its shape as it was successful in actually telling the public what was available on it – but while Nintendo's family friendly reputation was something the company was keen to maintain, the GameCube went well beyond mere teenage titillation, as a dig beneath its catalogue's surface reveals.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, the Resident Evil remake (and Resident Evil 4, of course, which was original produced exclusively for the console) and Metroid Prime were claustrophobic and often disturbing affairs, splattered with gore and horrific obstacles to overcome. They showed that the GameCube could reach away from the Mario crowd and towards the M-for-Mature market – but the console was also home to some excellent games that truly transcended demographics. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Luigi's Mansion and Super Smash Bros. Melee were exceptional, indispensable additions to any collection, whatever your age or prior gaming experience.
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I think it's time for a short story. Sitting my best friend down one day after school, I passed him the reins to Wind Waker, relinquishing command of the King of Red Lions. I was curious to hear his real thoughts on the GameCube, separated from our social group and the peer pressure that permeates throughout teenage conversation. Could he really hate it as much as he'd let on in class? As it turned out: no.
Only a few minutes into his turn, he began throwing out compliments about the controls, its visuals, and the fact that he could torture swine by throwing them off a cliff. Any pretense of hatred vanished, replaced by gleeful enthusiasm. It was at that moment that I knew I had succeeded. I had managed to recruit an ally to help me defend the "stupid, little purple box" from the classroom affronts. Overjoyed, I repeated this experiment with others, and again the results were positive. Clearly, the GameCube had something to offer that wasn't being supplied by its competitors.
Although the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox were the more popular contemporary systems – shifting 157.68 million and 24.65 million units respectively in contrast to the GameCube's 21.74 million – they were ultimately missing the first- and second-party support that Nintendo as a company was well known for. After all, Nintendo's sixth-generation system gave players a huge number of exclusives, including brand new entries in the Metroid, Zelda and Super Mario franchises. These presented players with the opportunity to experience Metroid in 3D for the first time, as well to play cooperatively in Mario Kart with Double Dash. Nintendo's experimenting with existing properties, altering perspectives and gameplay elements, was a masterstroke on the company's part, and also one that arguably couldn't be replicated by its younger competitors without such an illustrious history to draw from.
What lessons can be learned from the GameCube as it celebrates its 15th birthday in September 2016? Advertising matters, for one thing, and third-party support sure helps to sell consoles (not that Nintendo didn't again experience this with the Wii U). But then, unique experiences, whatever their background, will always tempt newcomers to check out a product, and perhaps even invest in it. The system that followed the GameCube, the Wii, was definitely, defiantly unique when assessed against its rivals. Nintendo learned. And they thrashed the competition in gaming's seventh console generation.
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The Wii also launched with some spectacular television advertising that established its target market and key selling point: this was gaming for anyone and everyone. It received some solid third-party titles ranging from FIFA entries to Call of Duty, and the whole thing was "sold" with so much more confidence than the GameCube had ever benefited from. The motion controls might have seemed like a gimmick at launch, but weren't Sony and Microsoft quick to try their own takes on play without a traditional pad.
The GameCube was a significant turning point in Nintendo's history, then – not their biggest console, but one that both guaranteed itself a legacy through some excellent software and paved the way for its makers to go further into the (as it transpired, highly profitable) left field than ever before. It still holds pride of place in my home, a decade and a half later, sandwiched between today's consoles, machines that dwarf it in both power and size. I'll never be attached to a console as much as I am this one, and I'll never love another in quite the same way.