Ahh, the GameCube… little… purple… different… better

Nintendo GameCube (2002)

I try to make these pieces as relatable as I can, you know, and that really is the key word. Let’s face it, if I told you all about how I was the most popular kid at school, a jocknerd if you like, you wouldn’t find any relevance in what I had to say, would you? But if I tell you I was a loser socially, but the brainy stand-out in an ocean of intellectual pygmies around me, you’d find yourself nodding along in agreement, wouldn’t you?

Perhaps not, but I’ll try to strike as many chords with you as possible. After all, in a world of trends and memes, the biggest crime is to be different. And it seems we’re all used to putting on different faces, moulding ourselves into entirely different personalities, in order to play well with whoever we happen to be speaking to. How else can I be a working professional, while still laughing at farts and giving it the usual locker room talk with the lads?

Split personality syndrome, we have a feeling it exists in all of us. But certainly the worst thing you can do in life is to act different. I had a taste of this in school, well more than a taste really, moreso a smashed fist into the face, when I’d try all manner of bizarre fashion choices in school that I wasn’t quite good looking enough to pull off. There was the unfortunate phase I had of wearing a beret to school – even the French have long since surrendered that type of chic.

On another fashionable occasion, I adopted my brother’s massive duffle coat and designated it as my exam coat, because I believe one has to have a coat for many different occasions. The duffle was a fabulous choice for the Christmas exams, but come the first day of the summer exams, one of the hottest days of the year, I knew I couldn’t back out.

Did all the wags at my all-boys school dare to laugh at my tradition? Of course they did, and that may surprise you, to hear boys berating other people’s fashion. But you should see what happens when you wear the wrong sneakers into school, by God.

Yes, those early 2000s were a strange, different era for me. Even my home entertainment choices were bonkers. For the sixth generation of gaming, I plumped for the Nintendo GameCube, me and seemingly 5 others. I’m serious though, in Ireland you either got a PlayStation 2, or what were you doing with your life?

If I’m not mistaken, Ireland and the USA frequently changed places as the most profitable market per capita for the PS2 worldwide – everyone and their mothers had them here. Except old Burkey, he didn’t have one, and in fact he wasn’t really altogether interested in any kind of console, until he played a little purple box in a friend’s house, and decided he had to have one.

You probably wouldn’t have expected Sonic Adventure 2 Battle and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger to be the two games that convinced me.to pick one up, but I can’t lie to you, can I? Also, even as a divvy 11-year-old child who wore duffle coats on summer days, I felet slightly concerned about the size of the machine. I imagined a console as supposedly powerful as this could only be an enormous, noisy box.

Of course it was the Xbox, clue’s in the name, that fulfilled both of these criteria, but even fewer people in Ireland owned that – perhaps we frequently traded places with Japan on that one. In actual fact, the GameCube was small, somewhat quiet, trendy. And curiously it wasn’t a cube at all, but Gamecuboid would have sounded like a nasty rheumatoid disease. So what the hey, I gave Santa Claus a ring and next thing you know, I had a GameCube with Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Oh boy, talk about an introduction to the next generation. There hadn’t been a game on Nintendo 64 worth talking about for at least a year, and even at that the system was knackered, not up to the demands of DVD-based gaming. Even I could tell the N64 graphics were a bit of a lark as well. But just seeing the denim on Mario’s dungarees in Smash Bros. was mind-blowing.

Probably not as mind-blowing as watching Analyse That on the PS2’s DVD player, or running around the open world in GTA3 for the first time. But who cared? This was a gaming machine from Nintendo that was both for the purist and for those folks who were a little off the wall. It was far away from anything Nintendo had done before, so much so that I forgot that it’d need a memory card, so I had to hastily buy one a couple of days later.

And if the graphics of Smash Bros. Melee wowed me, then Metroid Prime’s world and atmosphere floored me harder than those beret inspired punches. I would have to call Prime a conventional game – something brand new in that it was Samus in 3D, and in first-person at that. But still it was a grounded game, somewhat normal.

That definitely wasn’t the theme on the GameCube though, where experimental was too small a word. A Mario game where you clean up dirt? A Star Fox game that plays like Zelda? An actual Zelda game that looked like a cartoon, triggering all that ‘Celda’ stuff? A Mario Kart game with two to a Kart? Mad shit was happening everywhere you looked with the GameCube.

It didn’t even launch with a Mario game, completely unprecedented for the time. If you wanted a Nintendo first party offering, you had to completely throw caution to the wind and try Luigi’s Mansion or Pikmin instead, two brand new franchises and, to our virgin eyes, completely and utterly insane.

Even the controller looked bizarre. But all of this stuff was only nutty at the surface level, a bit like a weird fat kid wearing a beret to school. Underneath that bonkers veneer, this was a gamer’s machine. That controller felt beautiful to hold, especially its squishy shoulder buttons. And the Marios, the Zeldas, the Fire Emblems, they were some of the best of their series.

In fact, some would argue that many GameCube games and instalments haven’t been bettered to this day. There ain’t many people to argue with though, because this console unfortunately didn’t move a huge amount of units, and you can forget about playing re-released GameCube games, fully remastered by Nintendo. You’ve been able to buy Virtual Console versions of games right up to the Wii and DS, but GameCube? Forget it, not a bit of it.

I wonder. Could it be some proprietary issue? Companies demanding royalties for the work they did on the GameCube graphics card? Maybe, but unless you want to have a go on Dolphin, the admittedly top class GameCube emulator, you’ll have to shell out money on the physical copies.

And I’ll give you a Burkey tip (not a tip of a hat, mind, I don’t wear those anymore) those games ain’t getting any cheaper, so I’d buy some up right now if you can. Consider it a golden investment. It’s good for collectors too, because finally we’re talking about Nintendo games that don’t come in cardboard boxes, hence they’re much more collectible and easy to keep in good nick. You’ll still balk at paying mega money for the likes of Chibi-Robo, but at least it’s not getting re-released a thousand times.

But how about those other Nintendo franchises, a bit of Metroid Prime 2, Animal Crossing for goodness sake, Wario World, Pokémon Colosseum, F -Zero GX, Star Fox Assault? Or go third party, for some multiplayer magic in 007 Nightfire, or a two disc sweeping RPG in Tales of Symphonia, one of my favourite ever games, one of those games that you just happen to play at the perfectly right time in your life. There’s probably no point in me mentioning that erstwhile GameCube “exclusive” Resident Evil 4 anymore, but this is where that game got its start, and what an experience we all had with it back in 2005.

Alright, so the GameCube didn’t have DVD playback, nor did it have much of a GUI, and you might as well say it had no online. But this was a purist’s machine. You may have heard of a driver’s car; this was a gamer’s console. Above all, this brave little cube wasn’t afraid to be different, and that itself made all the difference.

Any old fool can play something casual these days, and call themselves a gamer. But being part of the GameCube cadre tells everyone you’re a bit of class, that you’ve got something about you. It might also advertise to others that you wore a beret to school though, so do be mindful of that.

4 October 2022

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