Today is Nintendo GameCube 20th Anniversary, a system with a complex legacy. Despite a lot of it on paper, it was up against stiff competition in the early 2000s. Sony and Microsoft were both pushing the industry forward with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox respectively. Games like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Halo feels more mature next to Nintendo’s usual colorful fare. The sales numbers ultimately told the story, with the GameCube hitting 21.74 million units compared to the PS2’s 155 million.
Although the cube console is among Nintendo’s few financially successful, it still holds a cherished place in the hearts of many players. And for good reason: The Nintendo GameCube still has the best library of exclusive games of any console, period.
Sure, it’s a controversial statement. After all, the GameCube’s toughest competitor in that department is Nintendo itself. Consoles like the Super Nintendo have historically been hailed as touting the best game library of all time. Nintendo Switch is also starting strong track record at that title thanks to games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Outside of Nintendo, both the PS2 and PS4 have incredible exclusive listings. It was a tight race all around.
Even so, GameCube’s library still shines. When it comes to celebrity heavyweights, some of the best entries in Nintendo’s biggest franchises are on the GameCube. Wind Waker is a defining moment for Zelda, Metroid Prime completely reinvented the first-person shooter genre and Super Smash Bros. Super Smash Bros. turned the fighting series from a gimmick into a competitive institution.
The GameCube era was a space where Nintendo eagerly experimented with game design. During polarization, Super Mario Sunshine didn’t mind throwing the Mario rulebook out the window with interesting results. Mario Kart: Double DashCo-op racing remains the series’ most innovative moment. And how can we forget Donkey Konga, a great rhythm game that uses a pair of plastic bubbles as a controller? For a company known for its creativity, Nintendo shot all cylinders in the early 2000s.
That’s especially true when you look at the original franchises that came out of the GameCube. Luigi’s Mansion finally gave Mario’s little brother something to do, creating an unlikely launch title. Pikmin is another strong original GameCube game that found Shigeru Miyamoto at his weirdest and greatest. GameCube is also the home for Mule, had its breakthrough moment after its overseas launch on the Nintendo 64.
The GameCube was probably the last time Nintendo really invested in supporting all of its various franchises. It’s more than just a console full of major Mario and Zelda titles. F-Zero, StarFox, Paper Mario, Fire Emblem, etc all have strong moments on the system. This is also the final hurdle of the Mario sports series, with powerful entries like Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour and Super Mario Strikers. Few Mario sports titles have peaked in the decades that followed.
It’s not just first-party support that elevates the GameCube. Nintendo received some serious third-party support, a feat it has since struggled to achieve. Capcom leads the way, offering five-star classics like Resident Evil 4 and Joe has a vision as exclusivity initially (although both were later moved elsewhere). However, that is only the tip of the iceberg. GameCube is full of really daring titles like Killer7, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Odama, and Ikaruga, all of which were initially launched with the “Nintendo GameCube only” stamp. It’s an amazingly rich library of deep cuts that hasn’t really been replicated since.
For those who have never grown up with the GameCube, it’s hard to explain how powerful the console’s running speed is. Each month brings several must-play games for which no collection is complete. While Sony and Microsoft each churned out their fair share of top-level classics, the innovation present in the GameCube’s lineup is astounding. That was Nintendo at its peak, both as a game maker and as a prestigious company that could entice other companies to offer them their biggest games as exclusives.
Now, if only Nintendo had given us a way to play those games on the Switch.