Friday, February 24, 2017

Rediscovering the Nintendo GameCube

As far as inanimate objects go, there aren't many things I love more than video games. I'll never forget being woken up from a childhood nap early one afternoon by the bloops and bleeps of my father's Atari 2600. I knew as soon as I saw him taking out the colorful bricks of Breakout that I had found my thing. As the 2600 waned, I asked for a Nintendo, saved my money a few years later for a Super Nintendo, bought my cousin's recently released Nintendo 64 a few years after that. While I remained loyal to Nintendo, I vastly enjoyed Sega's output (I've got all their systems but the Saturn), and even enjoyed some Playstation. I waited in line on November 17th, 2001, til midnight at the Siegen Lane Wal-Mart, to buy the new Nintendo GameCube on release night (I also went on a ten-mile hike and saw Monsters, Inc. in the theater earlier that day--it was an all-time great one!).
However, something strange happened to me during the George W Bush administration--for a short time, I fell out of love with video games.
I don't know what it was. I can't blame getting married, or having a child (if anything, having a child is what brought me back to them!). It started with some kind of general malaise I picked up in in college. It started, unfortunately, during the tenure of the Nintendo GameCube.
I did have some genuinely great experiences with the GameCube, but compared to those experiences I had on previous systems, they were few and far between. During the GameCube's run (2001-2007), I only played through seven games, with short, incomplete runs on a handful of others. When GameCube was discontinued, I didn't even buy a Wii. I skipped that entire generation of systems. It was only about five years ago that my passion for video games reignited. I then gave much love to my Nintendo 64, the system I had the most games for. I also played the heck out of my Dreamcast. However, something soon became apparent to me:
The neglected stepchild of my video game consoles is the Nintendo GameCube. Of all the systems in my collection, I own the least amount of games and have the least amount of love for it.
But why?
By all accounts, the Nintendo GameCube's library features a handful of the most heralded games of all time, and many other great ones. Metacritic, a review aggregation website, has a chart ranking games by an average of every major review written since the site's inception. Of the top 19 critically acclaimed games released in the 21st century to date, three belong to GameCube, second most of any system games have been released for in that time period. This includes the PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSP, Nintendo 64, Wii, Wii U, XBox, XBox 360 (the only system with more top-ranked games), Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, and many more. That is ridiculously good.
And yet, my rejection of the GameCube isn't a unique experience. Its main competitor, the Playstation 2, sold 155 million units. Nintendo only sold 21 million GameCubes, DESPITE the fact that the PS2 is technically less powerful. Even the X-Box, Microsoft's first foray into console gaming, sold more. Why didn't the world love the Nintendo GameCube?
Why didn't I love it? When I look at my experiences with it, I should have an incredible fondness for that awkward little box.

1. Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader

I bought this title at launch, and played it as soon as I got home...which was very late. Of the twelve GameCube launch games, I only own, and in fact, have only played one other to this day, Super Monkey Ball, which was fun, but apparently not fun enough to get me more than halfway through it. This begins a trend: in earlier days, I took beating a game I purchased as a point of pride. I beat and 100 percented (yep, just made that a verb) almost every game I purchased before buying the GameCube. As you'll see here, as my passion petered out, I completed far less. But I did complete Rogue Leader in short order, taking away the impression that it was visually splendid, but offered little more in the gameplay department than its decent Nintendo 64 predecessor. A few weeks later, a friend showed up at my apartment with a gift: the previously mentioned Super Monkey Ball. Truth be told, it may not have been the fun-factor that drew me away from Super Monkey Ball early--it was most likely Smash Brothers.

2.Super Smash Bros. Melee

Shortly after it was released, Super Smash Bros. Melee took over my GameCube. My cousin essentially moved into my compartment and we unlocked every character and stage. However...something was lacking in the experience. Myself, that cousin, his younger brother, and my younger brother played the Nintendo 64 original against each other until our hands were bloody--and sometimes that blood wasn't our own. Our competitions were so fierce they sometimes ended in fistfights. The Nintendo 64 owned four-player multiplayer. Something about this GameCube version just didn't stoke the fires as hotly. Maybe it was just my life stage. Maybe the controls, and the more chaotic stages just didn't feel as right. Whatever the case, while I completed the game...it didn't complete me. It immediately got placed back on the shelf...and then my GameCube just sort of languished for a few months. It's not like I was playing anything else either...my slide away from video games had already begun (and arguably started when I quit Donkey Kong 64 on the final boss...a boss I've since annihilated). That fall, I purchased Super Mario Sunshine. I was offput by the strange new "water-sprayer" dynamics of the game. I just didn't feel like the Mario I loved. It also seemed to lack the polish of previous Mario games. I've never completed it. This could have been the end of my GameCube, but lo, on the horizon

3. Metroid Prime

Metroid Prime is one of the greatest video games of all time. tied for second on the Metacritic list I mentioned above. I wasn't the biggest Metroid fan before purchasing it, but the ridiculously high reviews piqued my curiosity, and I purchased it on release week--Metroid Prime then owned my 2002 Winter Break. My experience with Metroid Prime mirrors the one I had with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time just four years prior (in the fall of 1998): complete immersion. I quickly felt myself lost, submerged in Metroid Prime's depths, and I didn't resurface until the game was completed. That was, to this day, one of the most special and singular video game experiences I have ever had. This, if anything, should have made the GameCube a system I revered. I am pretty sure I hugged my Nintendo 64 after Ocarina...why the cold shoulder for GameCube?

4. Animal Crossing

If my time with the GameCube had a "golden period," I'd say it was the 2.5 years between Metroid Prime's release and the summer of 2005...if a golden period can be categorized as a time I played through 4 games in 30 months. Animal Crossing came for me at a moment I was really attempting to lie low and chill, and it's a great game to play for an hour a night for a few months...I bought Animal Crossing shortly after finishing Metroid Prime, paid my in-game loans off by spring, and then let my brother borrow the game indefinitely. I remember having a lovely time with the game, but then immediately moving on because a sort-of-big title was being released that March: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I love Zelda games so much, but I felt about Wind Waker the same as I did with Mario Sunshine: it just didn't feel like Zelda, and it didn't seem as polished as previous titles. To the shock of my close friends and relatives, I didn't even complete Wind Waker, stopping 3/4 of the way through, during a fetch quest I didn't feel like completing (Last year, I played through the Wii U Remaster and really enjoyed it). Truth be told, at that time, a good friend gave me a PS1. I'd had Chrono Cross, the sequel to my favorite game of all time, Chrono Trigger, in my possession for several years, with no method to play it. As soon as the PS1 was in my hands, my GameCube started accumulating dust. Chrono Cross took over my video gaming world...

5. Hunter: The Reckoning

...but not for too long, and there's a "literally" coming up in the next sentence. Literally two hours after I beat Chrono Cross, on a late summer 2003 afternoon, two of my best friends came over and a new tradition was born: Game Night. For some reason, the game of choice for this trio was Hunter: The Reckoning for the Nintendo GameCube, owned by Daniel, one of the two friends. I'll be the first to say that Hunter: The Reckoning is not a great game. However, for a game three friends can play together while eating pizza and chugging coffee and M&M's at 3 am, you can't do much better than Hunter: The Reckoning, for the Nintendo GameCube. The multiplayer cooperative zombie and monster-killing action might be sloppily executed, but that's almost half the fun. Those were some of the best nights of my life. Daniel's copy eventually bit the dust, but I bought a new one. All these years later, on the rare occasion that the three of us are in the same zipcode at the same time, Hunter still gets the job done. Over the rest of 2003, and throughout 2004, we played through the game many times. It seems, from my near outsider perspective, like this time period was the GameCube's heyday. During this 18-month era, I did buy some games, like F-Zero GX, Sonic Collection, and Beyond Good and Evil, but I didn't finish any of them. However, my video game life wasn't completely narcoleptic--I did play through Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the PS1 a few times, and wow, what a game!

6. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

During this period, I also bought several PS1 games that I didn't complete, either. I was also watching quite a bit of X-Play and other video game programs on the then new, now defunct G4 channel. I was certainly still interested in video games...just more as a passerby than a partaker. However, when Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was released, I knew that I had to complete it. I bought it, spent several sleepless night progressing through, then found myself dead-ended by a game-ending glitch. I contacted Nintendo, and was sent a memory card several weeks later with a file progressed just past the glitch. While I appreciated the gesture, the fire was gone. I mechanically finished the game, which is great, but not as great as its predecessor, and wondered if I was through with video games. Then came the GameCube's pièce de résistance

7. Resident Evil IV

Capcom shot themselves in the foot with Resident Evil IV. Every Resident Evil game they've released since has been negatively compared to it. It's also on the Metacritic list I mentioned above. It is one of the greatest video games every released. It is easily in my top five.
Imagine this: you are unemployed. You have no friends. You aren't sleeping. You have no prospects. Your only two friends are your cat and a video game. For me, in that exact situation, that video game was Resident Evil IV. Finding myself in the above situation seemingly without warning, I was forced to survive. Resident Evil IV is the greatest "Survival Horror" game ever made, perhaps because it focuses more on the former. That isn't to say it's not scary--those evil priests' chants still haunt my dreams. But suddenly left with seemingly nothing but Fats the cat and Resident Evil IV, I have never connected on a metaphysical level with a game like I have Resident Evil IV. I played through it over and over again, running for my life, conserving ammo, searching for sanctuary, struggling to find places to hide, and often, when I knew I had the resources, going berserk on my foes. Since the foes in my real life were intangible, it was incredibly cathartic to have evil hoards into which I could pour my aggression. In some ways, my 2005 was that damn guy holding up the chainsaw on the game cover. But as I do with Resident Evil IV, I now look back on that year fondly. You would think this would have endeared the GameCube to me forever. However, I gave all my love to the game, at the time a GameCube exclusive, instead of to the console itself.
And that was it. Despite another Zelda game on the horizon (also played that Wii U remaster last year, and enjoyed it, as well), and a huge back-catalogue to pull from, my GameCube went into storage for nearly a decade. All my video games did. I felt like I didn't need or have time for them anymore. But slowly, they started coming back into my life:
A few rounds of SNES here and there.
A full-fledged recommitment to my Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast.
A full-bore obsession with my Sega CD.
But my poor GameCube still collected dust.
I've been asking myself recently, why not show my GameCube some love? Hasn't it given me some of my most memorable gaming experiences? It has more than a 500-game library. It carried on Dreamcast's sunny, "it's a new millennium and everything is awesome" vibe, even as our nation looked back at the ashes of the twin towers, and forward into war.
The GameCube didn't do anything wrong, and yet I've neglected it its whole life.
It is time to finally love my GameCube.
Now, its time to go from the passerby who saw a lot of cool games from a distance, to the player.
And thus, I am launching yet another blog, this one dedicated to the much neglected Nintendo GameCube.  I'll be playing through and reviewing games I've never before given the time of day to, and even revisiting some old classics that I have.
Welcome to the GameCube Archives.

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