With Microsoft's Xbox targeting a mature audience and Sony's Playstation 2 dominating the mainstream, Nintendo's GameCube seemed content on appealing to its traditional fan base and the younger demographic. Lightweight and compact, this cube-shaped console looks like a Fisher Price toy with its indigo color scheme and large plastic handle.
Under the hood however the Gamecube was nearly as powerful as the Xbox, and may have had a technical edge over the PS2. One design quirk was its use of small, proprietary disks instead of DVDs. While this helped curb piracy and allowed for a more compact design, the system's lack of DVD movie playback was considered a drawback at the time.
Much like the Nintendo 64 that came before it, the GameCube boasted many superb first-party (Nintendo) titles, but lagged behind Sony and Microsoft in terms of third-party support. One could argue that the GameCube library favors quality over quantity, with smash hits like Mario Sunshine, Zelda the Wind Waker, Donkey Konga, Wave Race Blue Storm, and Metroid Prime. Most of these titles were ideal for multi-player action and family-oriented fun.
Although many third-party software developers ignored the GameCube, there were a few big-name exceptions. Sega put its full weight behind the Cube, publishing a series of quality Sonic titles. LucasArts provided several Star Wars exclusives. The system may have lacked mature titles, but Eternal Darkness and Resident Evil 4 were notable exceptions.
Due to its compact, lightweight design, Nintendo was able to undercut its competitors in terms of price. Unlike Sony and Microsoft which were taking a loss on each machine sold (made up quickly in software sales, of course), Nintendo actually made money on each console. In the end however, Nintendo settled into third place in the competitive console wars, close behind Microsoft.
Console design: A-. Often described as "cute", the diminutive GameCube offers four controller ports, two memory card slots, and a pop-top lid. The top of the unit features power, open, and reset buttons. A large black handle protrudes from the back of the unit, but I always questioned its usefulness. Who is toting their console all over the place?
Unlike the PS2 and Xbox, a component video cable for the system was not available in North America, although it could be imported. The GameCube saves its game data via tiny memory cards. Initially, the capacity of these was ridiculously small, but thankfully third-party companies stepped in to provide cards with higher capacities. I own a single third-party memory card which has been sufficient to handle my entire GameCube collection.
Console durability: A-. The GameCube tends to be more durable than the PS2 and Xbox. For certain games, I've encountered issues with intermittent "clicking" noises, but these have been rare occurrences.
Graphics: A-. The GameCube's graphics are slightly better than the PS2, and virtually indistinguishable from the Xbox. The GameCube does not run its games in progressive scan mode, although certain games do support it.
Its main buttons are the big, easy-to-press A and B, but its bean-shaped X and Y are counter-intuitive. Triggers on the back of the controller exhibit a lot of range, but this feature is rarely put to good use. Finally, the ill-conceived Z button, located on the back-right of the controller, is both hard to reach and easy to forget.
Overall, the controller is fair but far from optimal. On a positive note, Nintendo was the only console maker to release a first-party wireless controller, and this well-constructed "Wavebird" is a must-have for any serious GameCube player. Its only flaw is the lack of force-feedback.
Media: B. The small GameCube disks are more interesting and probably more durable than DVDs. One drawback is the fact that they have less capacity, necessitating some games (like Resident Evil 4) to come with two disks.
Packaging: B. While similar in shape and size to normal DVD cases, the proprietary GameCube cases use less plastic and don't feel quite as sturdy.
Pack-in Game: None.
Launch titles:: B. There were only 12 titles at launch, but enough to churn up some excitement. I recall being pretty happy with Wave Race: Blue Storm, Super Monkey Ball, and Luigi's Mansion. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II was a solid license.
Library: B. Due to a lack of third-party support, the Gamecube was often left out in the cold as hit titles like Silent Hill 2 and Grand Theft Auto 3 appeared on the PS2 and Xbox. What the GameCube did possess was its reliable stable of hit franchises including Zelda, Mario, Metroid, F-Zero, Wave Race, and Donkey Kong. The Cube also boasted the best selection of games suitable for young players, including Mario Kart Double Dash, Mario Party, Super Smash Brothers Melee, and Super Monkey Ball. Genres the console was considered lacking in include RPGs and fighting games.
Collectability: A. Compared to the Xbox and PS2, the Cube has a modest library but many enjoyable first-party exclusives. The GameCube consoles are extremely cheap and durable. Outstanding titles like Mario Kart Double Dash, Zelda the Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, and Star Wars Rogue Squadron more than justify owning this system.
Innovations: Mini-disk format, wireless controller
Pros and Cons:
+ Quality exclusive Nintendo titles
+ Kid and family-friendly game selection
+ Four controller ports
+ Excellent wireless controller
- Smallish game library
- Odd controller design