Four games you have to play: Gamecube
A commercial flop, the Nintendo Gamecube sold only 21m units around the world, leading many to write Nintendo off to the history books. While it bounced back in 2005 with the DS, and 2006 with the Wii, the Gamecube is sadly often skipped as a sixth generation console in favour of the PS2. It absolutely should not be, and here are some fantastic games which graced it during its five year lifespan.
Marvel of Game Design: Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
I've spoken before about Paper Mario, but I feel that I must do so again (partly because our archive is currently not working properly), because it simply is one of the best gaming experiences you can have on the Gamecube. While ostensibly it's a turn-based RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, the humour brought to the game by its characters and setting put it in an entirely different league. For example, rather than battles taking place in a random "arena", they take place on a theatre stage, placing a good deal of emphasis on audience reaction.
While the overarching plot (locate sacred gems to defeat evil big baddie) is fairly standard RPG stuff, the way in which the game goes about it really sets it apart. Levels vary from a fantasy-inspired dragon's castle to a mysterious floating fighting tournament or a haunted shipwreck/island. It also ranks as one of the few Mario games in which you get to play as Bowser, who enjoys short segments after each chapter of the game, often playing through classic Super Mario Bros. levels, but with infinite lives and the ability to breathe fire and smash through walls. There's a lot of subversion in this game, and its genre-savvyness really shows.
- Animal Crossing - This gentle town-sim was technically a port of the N64 game Animal Forest, but it was still damned addictive, and spawned a franchise in which very little has actually changed from the original. A letter-writing campaign helped secure its release in the UK.
- Metroid Prime - Metroid games had traditionally been side-scrolling (giving rise to the term "Metroidvania", playing on the Castlevania similarities), but Prime moved them into the FPS genre. An interesting and solitary affair, widely regarded as one of the best in the series, and one of the best FPSs on the Gamecube.
Genre Defining: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
I often rag on at Nathan for "obscure" titles, but I'm starting to think I'm just as guilty in my being a sucker for Zelda games. Wind Waker was the series' third 3D entry, and the Gamecube's first, and received a lot of flak for its cell-shaded visuals. A side-effect of those, however, is that even in 2012, the game doesn't look dated - they hide the polygons well.
What's impressive in Wind Waker is how well it manages to do an open-world adventure game, however. While another criticism levelled at the game was its large ocean (this being the game's main setting), I personally feel that this leant well to the game's exploratory feelings, as well as providing nice, self-contained environments on each island, every one with a little something different to add. The plot is standard Zelda fair, but as with Paper Mario, the dungeons are inspired, and despite its relatively short length, highly enjoyable.
Aesthetic Wonder: Baten Kaitos
While the Gamecube was competitve in the graphical stakes for its generation, very few games used it to its full potential. It doesn't just take graphical processing heft to make a game look good; some care in art direction is also needed; and Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean definitely delivers on that front.
The fantastical concept allows for some really great imagery - a race of winged people, many of whom are adept practicioners of magic, live across 5 realms separated by a void only traversable by magestic airships. It's given the developers Tri-ace ample room to make each location detailed and filled with alien wildlife; and then juxtapose it with imperialistic battle fleets and immaculate castles. It's a refreshing take on High Fantasy wheh the genre is so saturated with variations on Tolkein.
- Killer 7: One of the earlier projects by bizarre gaming auteur Sude 51, Killer 7's not the the best demonstration of graphical processing, but its style bleeds cool... somewhat literally (Video has swearing, violence). Scenery and characters are desaturated and washed-out, but the blood of your enemies is the brightest red. It goes well with the intense yet incredibly confusing story.
Best Multiplayer: Super Monkey Ball 2
In a return to classic game design - the most charming set-ups are the ones with the least sensible explanations. Super Monkey Ball has monkeys trapped inside translucent balls. They must roll across maze-like stages to get to an exit within a time limit, picking up bananas along the way. Why? It doesn't matter - you'll have fun regardless.
Super Monkey Ball 2 expands on its predecessor with a larger number of stages and an actual story (and it's suitably insane); along with 6 extra minigames. The minigames are all well-made time wasters; the best one of which is Monkey Target - the ball opens up into wings, and you glide your monkey onto point-scoring islands. That said, the best Monkey Ball experience is in the main maze-solving mode, which still supports multiplayer. Later games in the series don't do this, and it's a real shame.
- Super Smash Bros. Melee: While the Gamecube offered multiple Mario Party titles, none of them were as popular or held attention as well as the Super Smash Bros. Sequel. Offering 25 characters over the previous game's 12, there was a lot of content to work through, and it became a solid hit with the tournament scene.