For gamers, there's always that one console that defines their initial foray into the world of gaming. For many, that console is the Nintendo GameCube. The console arrived 15 years ago, and its unique titles managed to set a high water mark for several franchises to this day.
Today, we're going to celebrate the little cube's birthday and its impressive lineup by going through the top 10 games that really made the system what it was and definitely defined a lot of our childhoods.
Let's start from the top, shall we?
10. Mario Kart: Double Dash
Nintendo consoles have had their fair share of great racing games. From Diddy Kong Racing to Kirby Air Ride all the way to Beetle Adventure Racing (which for some reason I couldn't get enough of as a child), there have been no shortage of Nintendo titles for racing lovers. But, none of them have had the success and consistency of the Mario Kart franchise.
It almost feels hard to introduce a Mario Kart game that isn't successful. While it may not be the best in the series full of absolute gold, Double Dash!! is still a hit and added some incredible courses to the series at large. Even if you never played Double Dash!!, you've no doubt played a Double Dash!! course in one of the more recent Mario Kart titles — Peach Beach, DK Mountain, Dry Dry Desert, and several others make frequent reappearances.
The "double dash" portion of the game was fresh and new for the time and it never took too much away from the actual racing itself. In fact, in the right conditions*, the swapping would make things fantastically hectic, which I'm pretty sure is a trademark of Nintendo "party" games by now.
(To be clear: The "right conditions" are a party full of rambunctious children and kart co-op pairings no parent would ever willingly make.)
9. NHL Hitz 2002
Okay, I fully admit to a personal bias on this overlooked gem. NHL Hitz 2002 launched alongside the GameCube and was so unexpectedly fun that I found myself buying a copy not long after seeing the game in action at my cousin's house. Hitz is not a traditional sports game, and that's part of what makes it so damn fun.
You can play with a team of skating horses, big-eyed aliens, Trojan warriors, and so much more. Plus, each team gets its own special hockey rink. Yeah, you can play on the moon with a meteorite for a puck, or in a shark tank with a fishing-bobber puck. Think that's all? Nope!
If you continually body check other players, you'll form a grudge between them that can turn into an actual fist fight. Win the arcade-style punch-and-dodge mini game and the other player is taken out of the match. Yes, you're rewarded for KOing the other team. Not enough for you? Getting enough shots in a row puts your team (or individual character) on fire, offering a boost to help you do what you've already been doing, but better. It's like the Burnout of hockey.
If you never played Hitz, it might be a hard sell on this alone, but trust me, it's still worth checking out to this day. Not long ago, an old friend and I met up over the holidays and busted Hitz out. I can't remember how many years it had been since we played, but it didn't matter. Muscle memory took over. We found ourselves instinctively entering all the old combos we'd use — B four times, Y twice, X three times, then hit right — and using our old one-time tricks to score the same goals we had way back when. It was just as fun then as it had been all those years before.
8. Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing is an engrossing experience. On paper, the game might sound dull: You buy a home and make it nicer by taking out/paying off increasingly larger debts, you fish, catch bugs, and dig up fossils to put on your museum, and you run errands for neighboring animal-villagers. But good lord, it has been one of the most fun and addicting gaming experiences I'd ever had.
For me, Animal Crossing was my first real game that didn't end just because you played it a lot. The game had season-specific items, monthly Nintendo Power codes to be redeemed, and even old-school NES games within the game itself. Heck, I remember putting a good dent into the original Legend of Zelda game inside Animal Crossing.
It became a joke — and sometimes a noticeable point of exhaustion — for my parents that I'd start most sentences with, "In Animal Crossing..." because of how often I found little things in the game I was amazed existed in the first place.
"In Animal Crossing, you can fish up real-life fish that only appear during certain seasons! In Animal Crossing, you can see a ghost if you're out past midnight! In Animal Crossing..." You get the idea.
And if that's not enough for you, well, the game gave us some commercials that, really, could only have ever come from Nintendo.
While Pikmin wasn't a launch title for GameCube, it feels pretty close to one. It came out not long after the console's release and — like Luigi's Mansion before it — felt very definitively "Nintendo." Back then, it seemed like an odd choice and a franchise that might not take off.
Now, Pikmin are all over Nintendo's games and Captain Olimar has made his way onto my "most hated" list as a Smash Bros. opponent every time Kevin visits and insists on playing as the annoying little... er, ahem, I digress...
Pikmin proved that Nintendo could manage to create colorful, fun, and challenging puzzle games in a new way and not make it feel like a re-skin of another game. It was met with commercial and critical success and now has two sequels, which each have introduced even more types of Pikmin. Thankfully, they still don't appear to mind being used as fodder by an alien.
6. Super Mario Sunshine
Mario Sunshine is another one that came out when I was too young to care about the general critical response. I remember thinking the release day would be one of the best days of the year and honestly could not wait to play it. (No, seriously, I was typing in AIM chat rooms with my friends that it was going to be the best day of the year. I knew how to impress, let me tell you.)
Sure, it helped that Mario 64 was (and still is) one of my favorite games of all time, but it was still a brand new 3D Mario title and I couldn't help but be excited for it. I want to say that it came out on the first day of school for me, and the second I was home, I made sure someone knew exactly where we were going before any of that homework jazz happened: Toys R Us, baby.
And truthfully, it ended up having quite a positive response despite being looked back on as a silly, environment-focused entry in the Mario series. The game introduced many future staples of the Mario franchise, laid the groundwork for Mario Galaxy, and was set in a thematic location that actually felt alive and populated in a way other Mario games had never felt before.
From the main area of Delfino Square, you could see most of the levels in the background, as though traveling to them meant actually traveling to a location on an island resort instead of just teleporting to a one-off zone with no connections to the others. I remember being really blown away the first time I put it all together, realizing the world existed both in and outside of levels.
If you can get past the minor gimmick that is FLUDD, Sunshine is a pretty unforgettable 3D Mario experience.
5. Luigi's Mansion
Luigi's Mansion was another GameCube launch title that showed Nintendo wasn't afraid to experiment with its franchises. The first game starring only Luigi in almost 10 years, the title isn't just any old Mario game with a Luigi skin over it. No, Luigi's Mansion was a whole new genre that took Boo levels and turned them into a whole game, and also introduced players to Professor E. Gadd and his ghost-sucking vacuum.
For eager kids waiting to test out their new console, Luigi's Mansion seemed like a must — and it didn't disappoint. The game was a perfect mix of scary-but-not-too-scary and puzzle-solving so often present in Nintendo titles. Plus, the way Luigi would show anxiety while nervously whistling the game's music mirrored gamers' own anxieties about opening a door or turning off a light.
As an added bonus, you got to see how big "your" mansion would be at the end of the game based on how much wealth you'd accrued through playing. While I didn't quite manage to nail the biggest size on my first playthrough, I absolutely made sure to get the mansion the next time. Not bragging, but I was a pretty big deal.
4. Resident Evil 4
Before Resident Evil 4, the franchise was already notorious for being successful in the survival-horror genre. But the games were also notoriously hard to pick up, featuring a position-locked camera and a lack of action. Resident Evil 4 gave the franchise a complete makeover, and the response was phenomenal.
Back when X-Play and TechTV were the go-to sources for gaming news and reviews, Resident Evil 4 could have filled its own show with all the coverage it received. It was mind-blowing (no pun intended) to see a game see such universal praise. More than that, a game that was the fourth in its series and no one was expecting a shakeup. No one expected the RE4 that we got. I just had to play it.
And so play it I did. Resident Evil 4 was action-packed, scary, and fun. It introduced quick-time events to the series, which were pretty uncommon around the time of release and helped keep players on their toes during every cutscene. And if you weren't on your toes, well... you may remember reliving Krauser's painful dagger plunge through the chest over and over and over as well as I do. Actually, it might be safe to say that RE4's successful use of quick time events is why the mechanic took off in the late 2000s.
Oh, and Resident Evil 4 also has the meme-worthy "What're ya buyin'?" vendor that no one could possibly forget.
3. Metroid Prime
This list wouldn't be complete without Metroid Prime, a game that many consider one of the best games of all time and also happens to be one of the best-selling games for the GameCube. Prime brought in all the classic mechanics from the original Metroid games while introducing players to several new ones as well. And it did that while completely shifting gameplay from 2D side-scroller to a fully fleshed out three-dimensional first-person shooter.
Rolling around as a tiny ball, hopping up and down just to see what would happen, it was all so much fun. Even as a non-player of the original titles, Prime managed to pull me in...well, until I had to return it to the local Blockbuster for the nth time.
While the game was part of a trilogy of games which all managed to receive high praise, nothing had quite the impact that the first Prime did. Metroid Prime is the dream Metroid fans always hope to return to.
2. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
There were a couple different Zelda games for the GameCube, and they all made for fantastic playthroughs and some of the best gaming experiences ever. But even Ocarina of Time: Master Quest, the Collector's Edition game with Majora's Mask, and honorable mention Twilight Princess can't beat the flagship GameCube Zelda game: Wind Waker.
I remember when Wind Waker was being previewed, a lot of the talk focused on how the cel shading gave the game a cartoony look and that it appeared to be too childish a shift from the previous installments. Personally, I was well before my "cares about video game critiques" phase and planned to play it no matter what. But even if that weren't the case, I'd have been surprised.
The Wind Waker is listed as many people's favorite Zelda title, and for good reason. It builds upon every amazing precedent set forth by previous titles — puzzle solving, dungeon crawling, and even musical elements — and puts it all in a world unlike any other Zelda game. Plus, hidden beneath Wind Waker's cartoony cel shading is a surprisingly dark story, a direct contrast to the stylization that many feared would make the game kid-ish.
Wind Waker was so popular that it even got an HD remake for the Wii U recently that streamlines some of the (at times tedious) quest to collect the Triforce fragments and also gives players a way to upgrade the boat to sail faster. Fun fact: The original boat was so slow because the game could not load the world any faster and a more quick boat would have meant driving off the edge of the world.
Oh, and I should mention, the remake is gorgeous.
1. Super Smash Bros. Melee
You're probably not too surprised at this point to see Melee earn the top spot. For anyone who grew up with a GameCube, this game was the source of get-togethers, arguments, and trolling friends about unlocking Sonic. It was the perfect group game and could be played for hours on end.
Heck, it can still be played now and you'll have as much fun as ever. In fact, Melee became a staple of winter breaks during college, when the ol' gang was back in town. We'd fight as the same characters, make the same jokes, and annoy each other in the same, perfect ways.
Oh, and the GameCube was practically made for Smash, as the system's controller is one most players still prefer to use on the more recent iterations — to the point where Nintendo actually sells GameCube controllers and an adapter for the Wii U just so people can play Smash with them.
It's hard to overstate just how much fun this game was. Sure, it's a sequel to the N64 original, but Melee leaped the series forward in terms of extra characters, maps, game modes, and fighting with everyone you know over a video game. It was, and is, perfect.