The Game Cube wasn’t the preferred console of its time. They made quite a few mistakes when it came to developing and marketing the console. Still, looking back, it far outshined the competition. Unlike the competition, it still holds value today.
There have been some great consoles in our lifetime. If you were to ask someone’s favorite, they’d give you one of two answers: the first console they ever played, or the newest one where they spend most of their time.
For most people in their 20’s and early 30’s, the greatest of all time will likely be the Nintendo 64. This console revolutionized the gaming experience and dominated the market of its time. Most gaming households had a Nintendo 64, and it far outperformed the original PlayStation.
When the next generation hit in the early 2000’s, most people gravitated towards the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox, leaving the GameCube to a niche market of Nintendo fanboys. Looking back, though, the GameCube might be the most underrated console in the history of gaming.
Why Did it Fail?
Before we cover what makes the GameCube so special, we’re going to go over why it was a commercial failure when compared to other consoles of its generation. All of these points were negatives for the time, but in no way affect the longevity of the console as it relates to replayability and overall quality.
Although the Nintendo sold its fair share of consoles with the GameCube, it didn’t come close to the consoles in the same generation. If it’s one of the best consoles to go back and play, why did it fail in its time? There are several reasons for that, including how Microsoft and Sony marketed their consoles to consumers.
Made For Gaming
Objectively, the GameCube is a better gaming console than either the original Xbox or the PlayStation 2. It had better graphics and superior hardware. It was a gaming console that was truly meant for gaming, which is what makes it so fantastic today.
Unfortunately, when it was released, this was not what the mass market wanted. GameCube discs were small and strange, while Xbox and PlayStation discs looked much more normal to the average consumer. They looked like DVDs, and the systems actually played DVDs as well.
PlayStation – and to a lesser degree Xbox – knew what the market wanted more than Nintendo. Nintendo has always been focused on giving the consumer the best gaming experience they could ask for, which proved to be their downfall when it came to the GameCube.
Microsoft and Sony marketed their consoles as a DVD player first, gaming console second. They reached the mass market by saying, “If you pay a little more, you can also play games on here.” This strategy lead to many people buying their consoles instead of DVD players, then playing one or two games on them because they could.
With no DVD player, the GameCube was at a massive disadvantage at the time. At around the same price point, there was hardly any competition when it came to casual gamers. They wanted a console that played DVDs, and Nintendo didn’t have it for them.
One of the most damning of Nintendo’s mistakes, when it came to the Game Cube, was the introduction of the mini disc. Not only could the GameCube not play DVDs, but it hamstrung developers by making them design for a mini disc instead of the regular disc that the other two consoles used at the time.
Nintendo made this move to combat piracy. Pirating games was rampant at the time, and Nintendo wanted to make it more difficult by creating their games on mini discs. It might have been a decent idea if Sony and Microsoft had done the same, but they didn’t.
This left developers in a spot where they either couldn’t develop their games for GameCube or didn’t want to. When developers didn’t make games for them, it meant that major titles were moving to Xbox and PS exclusively, limiting the catalog for Nintendo in this generation.
It’s still hard to develop for Nintendo, which is why so many developers don’t even try. The Switch is finally fixing this issue, but the fact that so many big-name AAA games weren’t on the GameCube severely hurt their sales.
A Move Toward Universal Controls
Nintendo is always trying to do things differently, and that usually starts with the controller. They constantly push boundaries, but that doesn’t always work in their favor.
The generation in which the GameCube existed was the generation that started the move toward uniformity when it came to the controls of gaming. Xbox and PlayStation made controllers that were very different to hold in your hand but generally had the same layout as one another. Sure, the sticks were a bit different, and the buttons were angled on the Xbox controller, but these were minor differences. You could pick up the other console without much question as to the translation of the controls.
The GameCube controller, on the other hand, looked like a piece of alien technology when compared to its competition. Where a user could wrap their head around a PS or Xbox controller, they felt lost when it came to gaming on a GameCube. The translation wasn’t intuitive, which meant that many gamers had a hard time wrapping their heads around this strange controller.
Not understanding the controller usually means they’re going to have a bad time in the game. Losing means, they won’t want to play anymore, and won’t want to pick up a console of their own.
Xbox Live launched in 2002, and it was a revolution in gaming. PlayStation lagged behind on this as well, but Nintendo still can’t get their act together when it comes to gaming online.
Xbox Live wasn’t a massive part of the reason the Game Cube failed, but it was part of it. Gamers could now play with their friends online, which prompted more people to buy this console over others. When combined with all of the other failings on Nintendo’s part, it was just another nail in the coffin.
Why Was It The Best?
If you notice, not one of the above points references the gameplay of the GameCube. That’s because gaming on one of these consoles was spectacular. There’s a reason why so many people still play GameCube, and nobody plays their old PS and Xbox games. Nintendo consoles have the longevity that other consoles don’t seem to value.
The Unique Design
Although the design served as another reason the GameCube didn’t enjoy the best sales, it’s also one of the reasons it’s great. While the Xbox and PlayStation were big, clunky machines, the GameCube was small, compact, and fit its name. You could even pick it up with a built-in handle, making bringing it to your friend’s house that much easier.
While Nintendo controllers are traditionally at the bottom of everyone’s list, most people agree the controller for the GameCube was one of the best they’ve made. It’s not as intuitive as Xbox and PlayStation were, but it was a substantial improvement on the Nintendo 64 controller.
While Microsoft owned the most powerful console of the generation, Nintendo made games that fully-optimized the GameCube’s capabilities. It’s hard to go back to old Xbox games today, knowing the graphical capabilities available on the current generation.
That’s not the case when it comes to GameCube. These cartoony graphics seem right at home in today’s gaming environment. The worlds Nintendo created are still beautiful and immersive. By far, the GameCube had the best visuals of any console in its generation.
Game Boy Compatibility
If you owned a GameCube and a Game Boy Advance, you know that the GameCube adapter for the GBA was one of the most interesting additions to the console. You could connect the GBA to the GameCube and unlock exclusive content. You could also save progress on the GameBoy memory card in case you lost your handheld console.
This wasn’t the biggest selling point for Nintendo – but it was an added feature that no other competitor could come close to matching.
The biggest reason GameCube was the best console of its generation was the games. These were some of the best games of the time, and not many people got to experience them. Mario Strikers, Super Smash Brothers Melee, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and countless other titles offer replayability that we didn’t see in AAA games for the other consoles.
Looking back, these were some of the best games in their series. Melee, for instance, drastically improved on the N64 version of Super Smash Brothers without going over the top like games of the same titles today. These games are favorites for many players, and they’re the primary reason so many people still have the old blue box in their living room.
Hindsight is 20-20
Looking back, the GameCube was the best console of its generation. You wouldn’t go back to play the original Xbox with your friends, but local GameCube parties are still relatively common. They provide a certain type of nostalgia – a throwback to the days when you still had to be in the same room as your friends to play video games with them.
It’s a shame that the Game Cube wasn’t more popular. The GameCube games are still phenomenal, and they’re worth playing for any gamer who wants a recent history lesson.
The console had multiple surface flaws that lead to its failure at the time. In retrospect, though, it was better than anything else on the market.