Editorial: My Favorite Lunchbox

However, the triggers don't make for a great FPS experience, I actually prefer the Xbox 360 controller for that. Oh well.
My favorite controller of all time. Others may be good, but this one damn fine.

This week I would like to take a quick look back at that third wheel of the sixth console generation: the Nintendo GameCube. As Nintendo’s last traditional home console, the GameCube stands in contrast to its successors the Wii and Wii U. Not relying on any particular gimmick to draw in attention or to set it apart, the GameCube nevertheless still had some distinguishing features that shaped its performance throughout its lifespan. Perhaps the most prominent of them was the proprietary mini discs that also required a special laser to read the data stored on them. More noticeable was the GameCube’s controller that featured a layout both reminiscent and new. The general layout of the face buttons, shoulder triggers, and analogue sticks were all quite similar to contemporary designs, but the size and exact positioning eschewed the more traditional diamond layout made popular by the Super Nintendo. The system would also go on to produce the first worthwhile wireless controller, the Wavebird, which untethered gamers from their systems by offering an incredible functional range of operation at the expense of the rumble feature. In terms of hardware, the GameCube stood toe to toe with the Microsoft’s original Xbox and towered over the otherwise dominant PlayStation 2. Indeed, this system came out of a Nintendo that held relatively true to console design fundamentals as opposed to the, to put it unflatteringly, gimmick oriented Nintendo that would produce the DS series of consoles and pioneer the rise of motion controls. And the reasons for this shift in design were thanks in no small part to the change in leadership, from Yamauchi to Iwata in 2002, as well as the general lacking performance of the GameCube in an environment where it struggled to differentiate itself from its competitors in any meaningful way.

To write at length about any console would also be to mention some of its more prominent software as well. I had mentioned a few times in the past that Capcom’s Resident Evil series being fully ported over to the system was one of the bigger software accomplishments of the GameCube. Perhaps that speaks to the general level of accomplishment the system achieved, however those games did prove to make the GameCube the single best machine on which to experience the entire Resident Evil series. The deal for that series would also come around the same time Nintendo was working with then-second-party Silicon Knights as they produced the decidedly mature Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. The release of these games in close proximity would go a small way in shaking up Nintendo’s kid friendly image, though of course it would not sway overall public opinion on the matter. In all likelihood, these were decisions being brought about by a Nintendo that was still questioning some of its practices and examining its position in the industry. The same Nintendo that allowed Majora’s Mask to hit store shelves. Very much not the Nintendo of today, which still rolls in the money it made hand over fist during the height of the Wii’s popularity. Though as the GameCube matured and the change in management took hold, as well as with the launch of the DS and the appointment of Reggie Fils-Aime as NOA president, Nintendo would once again take a step back into the more kid friendly realm, leaving some of the darker exploits of the Nintendo 64 and early GameCube days behind.

Sadly, the GameCube can sometimes be notable for what it did not have, as much as for what it actually offered. The greatest lacking aspect of the console, the singular thing that made me finally stop being a Nintendo-only console owner and purchase a PlayStation 2, was the system’s critical lack of RPGs. Though some noteworthy examples do exist on the system, it was nothing compared to the veritable deluge of RPG content waiting to be played on Sony’s competing console. Back in the days of game rentals, I would always notice enticing RPGs sitting, practically lining, the PlayStation section of the shelves. Not only was the GameCube section much smaller overall, but its games were updated far less. Eventually, despite being a fairly devout fanboy at the time, I broke out of my loyalty and became a two console gamer for the first time. I believe some of my first purchases for the PlayStation 2 included Xenosaga and Final Fantasy X. And yet, for those who might know me well, my favorite RPG does reside on the GameCube. Yes I am giving mention once again to Sega’s Skies of Arcadia Legends. Without getting into the details for why I love it so, I will simply say that this game went a long way in holding me over before I finally felt I needed more out of my RPG experience. A sprinkling of other RPGs did grace the console, such as the first console Fire Emblem title, and a few other offerings I had little interest in. But overall, the GameCube was not a good friend to the avid RPG fan.

No, really. It's in my contract. I'm not allowed.
Hah, I couldn’t skip an opportunity for a Skies of Arcadia mention in this article!

Finally, I would like to give a mention to one game that still marks the highlight of my GameCube experience. A game made great from equal parts genius on the part of the developer and dedication on the part of the community. Super Smash Bros. Melee, a launch window release title, still stands in my mind as the single best game for the system. It was the greatest reason to get the system at launch and would remain the only reason I would tote the system around to friend’s houses or leave it plugged in at home well after the release of the Wii. The game, a unique mascot fighting game first introduced on the Nintendo 64, is the epitome of the Nintendo design ideal of “easy to pick up, difficult to master”. Unlike other popular fighting games, Melee does not ask the player to memorize unique button inputs for each character as they all share the same move sets. The ring-out style of victory also places great emphasis on the stage being played on, introducing some light platforming elements to the game. However, skill unquestionably separates the good players from the bad, even with the game’s more random elements turned on, like items. A great many techniques were designed into the game that required precise timing and foreknowledge of how they work and when to use them. L-Canceling, Directional Influence, sweetspotting, aerial buffering, these all sound like glitchy exploits dredged up by hardcore players, but they are actually all designed into the game. Which is not to say some exploits were not found, several of which would go a long way in changing the fundamentals of high level tournament play. And that, perhaps, is the GameCube’s legacy. A singular title, still being played to this day at professional tournaments, most recently EVO 2013, that is equally capable of being both a casual party game and among the fastest fighting games ever made. It is a balance in game design that any game making company would do well to strive for.

And so my look back at the purple lunch box is over. I have a sneaking suspicion that most of you readers were GameCube owners, and chances are that you loved the system too. Despite its shortcomings, the system still endears me to it. It is still plugged in at my house! So, what memories, if any, do you guys have? What great games did I miss (I know I missed several) that made the GameCube special? And do not be afraid to speak ill of the system, for there is much ill to speak of. The important thing is that you make your comment!

25 comments

  1. I will always keep my GameCube for Wind Waker and Metroid Prime, two of the top games in both series. The graphics and everything were a dream come true. Nothing else really caught my attention on the system, however (though I was taking mostly a break from games at the time). The controller isn’t one of my favorites, but it suited the games well for its time. Mostly I prefer the flat SNES controller to one with handles (so I’d rather use that style Wii Classic Controller these days, and if it were possible to use it for PlayStation games I would). Moreso, I bought the GameCube late, as a discount (with Metroid Prime included, which was just wonderful. My PS2 broke and I stopped using it, never owned an XBox (or its descendents), so GC was my one and only new console with just the few games (and few rentals) that I really needed. Good times.

  2. Ah yeah. The Metroid Prime games are a fine example. I actually just picked up the Wii triple pack version, and I’m liking it more than I thought. Perhaps more for the Prime games being so good than the motion controls being that amazing, but hey. It’s still good.

    And I feel like I would want to replay Wind Waker, but with the HD version around I’d want to keep my experience as fresh as possible for when I eventually do play that game and get a Wii U.

  3. Skies of arcadia was a tremendous game, actually been thinking about replaying it on my dc lately.

    I never owned a gamecube, but my roomate at the time did, so I got to play eternal darkness (a game that didn’t get the attention it deserved if my memory is correct) and tales of symphonia, and enjoyed both immensely. He also had odama. My recollection of that being that shoving broken glass into my dick would be more fun.

    At the end of the day, RPGs are my main genre of choice too, so the gamecube never had that much appeal for me, although I am glad I got to live in a house with one long enough to play the few games for it that did intrigue me.

  4. Sorry, don’t mean to double post, but I just remembered the viewtiful joe games, and recall having a lot of fun with those as well.

    Also Killer 7, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who liked that game (I love the SaGa games too, I have a taste for the quirky and odd I suppose)

  5. No rules against double posting here, good man!

    And I greatly enjoyed Killer 7, as well. You mention some other interesting examples. Though I would say Eternal Darkness was better for what it wanted to do than for what it actually accomplished. It was a very rushed games and felt as such in many places. And I’ve never been keen on the Tales games, though I gave Symphonia a good try. Couldn’t find it in me to keep going.

    And of course I would recommend you play SoA again, especially if it’s been a long time. Though if you have a Wii and can manage to track down the Gamecube version, that would be ideal. It has worse sound quality but literally better *everything else*.

  6. I’d be much more inclined to play it on DC since that + VGA cable = better IQ than anything the GC/Wii can do. The only downside to the original version is the higher encounter rate.

    Also, I’m not much of a fan of the GC controller.

  7. There is some extra content on the GC version, too. And I think they did a minor visual update to it as well.

  8. Don’t have a wii either, so the dreamcast version will have to suffice. It has probably been almost 10 years (god that makes me feel old) since I’ve played it so another playthrough seems to be in order, especially since I was already thinking about it before this article even went up. It’s almost like you were in my brain.

    Also cool to see there is another person besides myself who appreciated Killer 7. As for the tales series, I know they can be divisive, but they have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Besides Legendia, which despite a promising premise was complete garbage.

  9. Killer 7 is a really wacked out game and its story is sort of amazing and sort of a mess. Sometimes both at the same time. The gameplay got a lot of shit, but I liked it. It didn’t need to be a regular shooter like every other game out there. And it was not an easy game, either. It also had some cool puzzle elements.

  10. But you have to hold down a button to run, man…

    It seems like we liked it for the same reason. I enjoyed the story as incoherent as it could be at times, really dug the art style, and have always been a sucker for the switching characters to complete different puzzles device (wild arms 1 springs to mind).

    Definitely was hard at times, but I’m not averse to a little masochism in my games (the aforementioned SaGa love) as long as there is enough that I am enjoying about a game.

  11. SoAL has a little bit of new content on the Cube due to the fact that they had to remove a bunch of content on account of it not supporting VMUs.

    Visuals look more or less untouched to me, but that is immaterial when image quality is so much better on the Dreamcast.

  12. I’d say the content they added to Legends was more than the VMU stuff they removed. You had some Cupil amd Discovery notifications and a collection quest from Pinta that got replaced with the more robust moonfish quest. And then there’s the Paistol boss fights, several new Discoveries, and all the Bounty missions which offer some pretty cool and challenging fights that level with you.

    And finally there’s the secret post-game boss unlocked by getting the “three secrets”, which are easily missed.

    It’s perhaps visually not a real upgrade, but content-wise it’s got more on offer. It’s a solid improvement, I’d say.

  13. Personally, I’m of the mind that it’s not worth the visual/audio downgrade, but you do make a solid case for the content upgrade.

    The only thing that really has me questioning the DC version is the higher encounter rate.

  14. The encounter rate in the GC version isn’t THAT much lower, but yeah in a game with an already high encounter rate it can be annoying. Items like the White Map help this, though. Not to mention, later in the game you can simply avoid all encounters in the overworld, if you wish, when you can fly in Upper or Lower Sky. And if I recall, I read a long time ago that there’s a weird exploit of the DC hardware where if you pop the disc tray right before an encounter triggers (apparently encounters can cause the disc to audibly spin up) it cancels out the encounter. lol, probably not a great fix to the problem. Wonder if it actually works.

    And sound quality IS noticeably compressed in the GC version, and this is coming from someone who typically doesn’t notice that too much. Shame. If only we could mash the to two together. Perhaps Sega should make with the sequel already.

  15. A proper SOA sequel would be glorious. Too bad it’s about as likely as an actual Phantasy Star sequel (read: not online), which I’ve been pining for since my childhood. Granted IV tied up the story arc of the original series, but those along with the Shining Force I + II were the games that cemented my love RPGs.

    What Sega has done to both those franchises breaks my heart to this very day.

  16. **but those along with Shining Force I + II were the games that cemented my love of RPG’s**

    Just finished an overnight shift, please excuse the english fail.

  17. Every once in a good while some glimmer of hope shines down that Sega hasn’t forgotten the SoA series. Either a rumor makes mention of it, or the characters make a cameo in some game (like Valkyria Chronicals, which is another abused Sega property), or more recently where Sega announces that they’re interested in looking back at their older properties for remakes and sequels and want to know what the fans are interested in. But I, too, wouldn’t hold out much hope. Until I see the whites of this game’s eyes, I’m not going to get very excited. Cynicism, ho!

  18. I wouldn’t hold out hope for any of Sega’s properties.

  19. I had noticed this before. It’s nice to know that’s an option, since I’m not a fan of either the classic or classic pro controller. The placement on them seems really off to me. Everything, including the shoulder buttons and analogue sticks just don’t sit well in my hands. Not horrible, but I much prefer the GC, 360 or PS3 controllers.

  20. Yeah, I no longer dwell on the possibility of a SoA sequel, despite my fondness for the original. Even if it did happen – which is incredibly unlikely – I do not have faith that it would be any good at this point.

  21. IMO we’d be lucky to even get a HD rerelease like Jet Grind Radio.

  22. For myself, Windwaker was the highlight of the GameCube. Great article, Mel.

  23. Another fine example. I think the Zelda series could use something as fresh and new as the creation of “Toon Link”, which Nintendo has been riding the coattails of since… well, 2002. See: Wind Waker HD.

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