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How The GameCube Became Gaming’s Most Beloved Underdog

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How The GameCube Became Gaming’s Most Beloved Underdog

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day I excitedly booted up my Nintendo GameCube to show my friends Metroid Prime, only to be told, in no uncertain terms, that it was a cheap Halo ripoff. Growing up as a Nintendo fanboy in 2002 hit different. 

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It’s not like Nintendo stopped being a household name. The Game Boy Advance was a hugely popular machine, continuing Nintendo’s long-running and barely contested domination of the handheld market - but it was a different story entirely on the home console front. The GameCube simply couldn’t compete with the sleeker and (on the face of it) more “mature” PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles. 

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This was the beginning of the games industry and wider public collectively deciding, for some reason, that video game consoles shouldn’t look or feel like toys. It didn’t matter that that’s exactly what they were - and continue to be! The people wanted their consoles to be sexy and cool. The GameCube, with its bright colours and chunky controller, looked like what it was: a toy. That meant it was no match for the new, cooler kids on the block. 

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Despite boasting an incredible library of exclusives that ran the gamut from The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker to Resident Evil 4, and offering up intense four-player party game fun with the likes of Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Party 5, and Mario Kart Double Dash!!, the GameCube could never quite muster up the strength to catch up with its rivals. The Nintendo console ultimately came in third behind PS2 and Xbox, shifting just 22 million units. 

There are all sorts of reasons the GameCube failed. Some argue Nintendo shouldn’t have marketed to the same crowd as Sony and Microsoft, and fully embraced its status as a family-friendly console. Others suggest it just lacked that little extra something - the added touch that makes a Nintendo console what it is. The DS had a touch screen, the Wii had motion controls, and the Switch is a home console/handheld hybrid. The GameCube was… just another console - one that made the cardinal mistake of not trying to be anything more than that. 

Nintendo GameCube / Credit: Nintendo
Nintendo GameCube / Credit: Nintendo
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And so it was that the GameCube became the least popular of the big three, trailing behind in relative obscurity. While I could always coax my friends into the occasional game of Super Smash Bros. Melee, most conversations were dominated by games like Halo 2, Jak & Daxter, and GTA: Vice City. These games are all bangers, of course, but it could be hard knowing that I’d hitched my wagon to the “wrong” console as a kid. Even back then, I knew the GameCube was something of a failure.

But history has been kind to the poor little bastard. These days, the amount of adoration that gets heaped upon Nintendo’s early 00’s console is such that you’d never think it was one of the company’s biggest flops. 

Nostalgia is obviously one of the major factors in our unwavering allegiance to the GameCube. I’m just about old enough to remember playing and enjoying games on the original PlayStation and Game Boy Color, but it wasn’t until the GameCube era that I really started to appreciate games. It’s where I first discovered Ocarina Of Time and Majora’s Mask, and where I lost untold hours to Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and Pokémon Colosseum

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But where nostalgia can be a tricky thing, causing some to misremember things like the Star Wars prequels as actually good and not utter dogshit, the GameCube deserves to be fondly recalled. 

Super Smash Bros. Melee / Credit: Nintendo
Super Smash Bros. Melee / Credit: Nintendo

To put it all down to nostalgia is to sell the GameCube short, not least because most of its exclusives have aged beautifully. Super Smash Bros. Melee still has a thriving competitive scene, for one thing, and is still regarded by many as the best in the series. I know people who still have a GameCube plugged in and ready to go for this one game. 

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Similarly, Metroid Prime’s moody open world is a timeless testament to Retro Studio’s masterful level design, and often hailed as one of the finest games ever made. The Wind Waker’s cel-shaded graphics, so hated at the time, have ensured it looks better than a lot of modern releases. The GameCube also gave birth to the likes of Pikmin and Luigi’s Mansion, and perfected the now-juggernaut Animal Crossing. And there’s a damn good reason Capcom continues to port Resident Evil 4, essentially unchanged from its original version, to every new console going. 

These games are bangers, and being able to play them on the Nintendo Wii thanks to backwards compatibility undoubtedly helped enormously in them finding slightly wider audiences, further cementing the GameCube’s reputation for top-tier games (Super Mario Sunshine aside). 

Ultimately, people don’t remember getting a console because it looked cool. They remember the fun they had, and the people they played with. The GameCube is a console that put fun and great above everything else. That’s why people will never forget it, and why it’s still managing to find new fans every day. If you ask me, that’s not a bad legacy at all. 

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Nintendo

Ewan Moore
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