Being cool means being comfortable in one’s own skin, ignoring peer pressure, and forging a unique path with undersized discs and a convenient handle. With its playfully purple exterior, quirky awesome controller, and a library of some of the most innovative and inventive games ever released on one platform, the GameCube may be the most Nintendo console the company has ever produced, and as a result, it’s also one of the most beloved.
Though its library may not have been as packed as some of its competitors, much of what the GameCube did have was destined to become classic, changing gamers’ expectations for even their most revered franchises in addition to being just plain fun. While it’s never an easy task to rank an abundance of greatness, the staff here at Goomba Stomp has determined the list of the 35 best games Nintendo’s little console had to offer. Enjoy!
35. Time Splitters 2
Combine the frantic, mission-based first-person shooter action of the N64’s Goldeneye with a few episodes of Quantum Leap, and what results is the very weird and very awesome Time Splitters 2. Fans of Rare’s Bond will feel right at home with the look and feel of this sequel to the PS2 exclusive, which sees players taking on the role of a space marine named Cortez, who must time-travel to various points in the past (and our current future) and assume the role of someone living there to stop an evil alien race from using magic crystals to alter history and take over the universe. It’s silly stuff from a plot perspective, but what other game allows the players to be an Old West bounty hunter in one stage, a Prohibition-Era Chicago detective in another, and a 24th-century robot in the next?
The amount of variety, coupled with slick, responsive controls and plenty of bizarre side content, like decapitating zombies or collecting bananas, makes the single-player experience a memorable one. Even better, Time Splitters 2 allows for split-screen co-op in its story mode, doubling the firepower (or brick power), so taking down those nasty ETs is, even more, fun. With a host of multiplayer options standard for the time and the cheesiness of a Syfy Channel movie, Time Splitters 2 is one of most purely entertaining titles the GameCube has to offer. (Patrick Murphy)
Treasure has a record of creating cult classic games. Sin and Punishment, Mischief Makers, and Gunstar Heroes are some of their more notable titles. Originally released in arcades and then ported to consoles like the Dreamcast and GameCube, Ikaruga stands out as one of the most polished shmups (shoot ’em ups) of the early 2000’s. Its hectic gameplay is focused less around dodging bullets and more on absorbing them. The game’s gimmick is polarity. Every enemy in the game shoots some combination of black or white bullets, and your ship can absorb bullets that match its polarity; however, getting hit by a bullet of the non-matching color will kill you. This gimmick works both ways and hitting enemies with their opposing color racks up more points for your score. You can also choose to do a “pacifist” run of sorts; all enemies and bosses will leave after a certain amount of time, and as long as you can keep absorbing bullets until then you can beat every stage without opening fire.
The work of 4 individuals, Ikaruga looks great for its time. The 3D models of the ships still fly, the two distinct bullet colors stand out, and it all meshes together nicely. Curiously, Ikaruga comes with a built-in rotate mode where you can have the game flip its axis 90°, lining it up with a classic vertical arcade cabinet. All console versions of the game can do this, but the GameCube version is the first one to also have a widescreen option. Ikaruga is frantic, fun, addictive, and is still one of the best shmups out there. (Taylor Smith)
33. Super Mario Strikers
There are two types of people in this world which we inhabit: those who like FIFA and those who don’t. Personally, I’ve always been part of the latter category. Like many others, I had no interest in sports, and the gameplay was too slow-paced for me. But when I come to think of it, I would probably have liked it if the stadiums and teams were smaller, the players were all from Mario games, and you could pick up power-ups, such as shells, banana peels, and special attacks. Luckily, a game that does exactly that was released for the GameCube, and it provided everyone who has no affinity for sports with a chance to finally enjoy a football game.
Super Mario Strikers is hectic, to say the least. There’s never a dull moment because there’ll always be a dozen shells bouncing rapidly from wall to wall while you try to maneuver yourself across the field, hoping to score a goal. Luckily, the game mechanics are simple, and almost anyone can have fun with this game and be good at it without thinking too much of tactics and different approaches to the sport.
The different game modes also provide you with a reason to keep going. Instead of including only quick matches and multiplayer, the game comes complete with a tournament mode, giving the player an ambition, erasing much of the repetitiveness. I could find myself playing this game for hours upon hours, and I still do.
Super Mario Strikers stands alone as the game that successfully melded soccer and Mario Kart together as a whole, a job it did surprisingly well, and the mechanics and game design are good enough to make this a staple for any GameCube aficionado out there. (Johnny Pedersen)
32. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Until Ubisoft decided to resurrect this popular puzzle platforming series, players had no idea how much fun running along walls could be, and what a shame it would have been to miss out. While the original Prince of Persia (which can be unlocked in this game) is mostly known for incredibly smooth animation that also could prove cumbersome when dealing with the many deadly dungeon devices the nameless protagonist faced, The Sands of Time turns its princely hero into a balletic maestro of movement, scaling heights and rounding corners of each booby-trapped room with the grace of a gravity-defying gazelle. Gone is the two-second wait after pushing the button for a jump to be completed, and in its place is satisfying responsiveness that makes navigating stages set against a Persia straight out of One Thousand and One Nights an absolute joy.
Though combat can still be a bit clunky, the pitfalls are the real star of the show, and there are enough devious ones that players will find themselves making good use of the titular grains via the Dagger of Time, a useful item that, among other things, allows for perilous mistakes to be corrected by rewinding time. The result is a free-flowing sense to platforming that holds a challenge without becoming overwhelming, an inspiration for future series like Assassin’s Creed, and one of the best games of all time. (Patrick Murphy)
31. Beyond Good & Evil
Originally meant “to pack a whole universe onto a single CD,” Beyond Good & Evil didn’t quite meet the lofty goal it set for freedom and exploration, but this tale of a young photographer/martial artist named Jade and her pig “uncle”/friend/whatever who uncover a human trafficking conspiracy involving a malicious alien race and a corrupt government has certainly left an impression with those who played it. Armed with a staff, a camera, and a sense of journalistic obligation, Jade sets out to uncover the truth about her strange world by solving puzzles and fighting foes, furthering her investigation as she documents evidence of the DomZ’s atrocities.
Simple Zelda-ish gameplay aside, it’s the world-building of Creator Michel Ancel and his team that deserves the bulk of the credit for this gem’s ever-growing reputation, and while he may not have been able to fully articulate his vision, the striking art direction, beautiful ambiance, and colorful cast of characters provide enough inspiration to get through any tedious stealth moments or clunky hovercraft races. Jade and Pey’j are nicely fleshed-out, the villains are truly despicable, and the mature themes are as compelling as ever. Sometimes an engrossing atmosphere is enough for a legacy, and because of that Beyond Good & Evil has lived on in the minds of those played it long after. (Patrick Murphy)
30. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
While Japan had been playing Fire Emblem games on home consoles since 1990, the West had only known of the series as a portable franchise. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was a big deal not only for being the series’ first worldwide console release, but also being the first game to use 3D models, fully animated cutscenes, and to feature voice acting. It was a huge step forward for the franchise in terms of visuals and set a high standard for later games to live up to.
Despite its overhaul in visuals, Path of Radiance plays it safe when it comes to gameplay. It sticks to its roots, combining several mechanics from across previous titles to help build a good experience. Combat is still dictated by a rock-paper-scissors mechanic, with a few outliers and oddballs thrown in the mix to keep players on their toes. Each member of Path of Radiance’s 40+ playable cast has their own unique story that can be expanded upon through pre-battle support conversations. There are plenty of other things to do in the pre-battle menu, though, such as crafting custom weapons and helping units level up with bonus experience acquired during missions.
It’s no mystery why Path of Radiance commands such a high price given its scarcity, overall positive reception, and a great amount of polish. The game’s positive feedback is what led Intelligent Systems to make the next Fire Emblem title, Radiant Dawn, a direct sequel. (Taylor Smith)
29. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Even though Triforce Heroes can be considered an upgraded version of it, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is still ridiculously fun to play. Teaming up with three other players to take on huge dungeons is not just a tagline. Puzzles are designed around four Links, and it’s great to slowly come to their conclusions with your friends. Every Link needs to do his share, or no progress can be made, so there’s always a cooperative vibe going on. You don’t mind working together because the entirety of the game is designed around teamwork. There’s also tons of variety here, from all kinds of different items and locations to unique enemies that need to be taken down using different strategies. Four Swords is not a very lengthy game, but so many options are available for puzzle solving, combat, and exploration that it has a Mario Party level of replayability.
However, Four Swords is more than just co-op game. Brilliantly, players can find, collect, and steal rupees from their fellow Links. These rupees are used to revive yourself once you’ve been downed, so if you steal rupees from your teammates, you get to survive longer. If you have the most rupees, you are enemy number one. It’s enough to cause an unending spiral of betrayal. The system is similar to Super Mario 3D World’s crown. It does almost nothing, but all of my friends would toss me into an endless abyss just to make sure I couldn’t have it.
Despite this, Four Swords Adventures is a pure-blooded co-op experience. You’ll have to work with your friends to make it to the goal, and that’s what makes it fun. A sense of comradery is constant; you’ll be crying over, fighting, working with, and hating your friends the entire time. (Ricardo Rodriguez)
Chibi-Robo! is an adventure platformer set in a 1960’s-style American household where you, a 10cm tall robot, assist with chores and various forms of problem-solving. Development for Chibi-Robo! was originally put on hold in its early stages, where it was meant to be a point-and-click style adventure. However, Shigeru Miyamoto saw some potential in this cute little robot and decided to overhaul the project. Miyamoto made the right call, making this quite an enjoyable title. Even washing dishes is cute and fun (never thought I’d say that). Chibi, although the smallest member of the house, easily has the biggest heart (especially when fully charged) and would do anything to make sure the family is happy, even if it is completely draining. Released early in 2006, Chibi-Robo! was met with mostly positive feedback for its clever use of music and sound cues, the enjoyable platforming, and multiple tasks laid at poor Chibi’s mechanical feet. Although it was not a commercial success, it did receive a Japan-only “New Play Control” re-release on the Nintendo Wii in 2009. Chibi-Robo! is an extremely charming gem for the GameCube that can be found for relatively cheap today. (Koru Taylor)
27. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
Long before Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X, Monolith Soft developed a cult classic GameCube-exclusive JRPG that few remember or even have heard of, despite being one of the best late entries in the Gamecube’s library. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, like many JRPGs, may not have the most original, clear narrative and, further falling into the stereotypes of the genre, is hampered by some poor voice acting and rough dialogue, but despite those shortcomings, the rest of the game shines through as brilliant, captivating, and one of the best RPGs of its time. Uniquely, the player doesn’t take on the role of the one-winged protagonist, Kalas, but instead operates as his guardian spirit, making suggestions to Kalas and guiding him in his journey across kingdoms of floating islands full of winged inhabitants. Chemistry with Kalas is rewarded with a bonus in combat, an enticing system that genuinely helps the player relate to the protagonist. The rest of the cast, while annoying in part, are all fairly relatable and will feel like old friends by the end of the game.
The game’s combat is also distinct, utilizing cards called Magnus to attack. While several games have used deck systems since, Baten Kaitos is the earliest I can remember to feature such a system, and does so with far greater success than it’s peers. What truly makes the game stand out is its phenomenal art direction, boasting captivating color combinations, character animations, and beautiful settings and vistas. Graphically, the game is a testament to what the GameCube is capable of. Perhaps even more beautiful is the striking soundtrack, which perfectly conveys the excitement of battle, leaving players feeling the heat of the fight and pulling on the player’s heartstrings when appropriate. For fans of RPGs, Baten Kaitos is a must-play and remains an enthralling, picturesque journey through the clouds. (Tim Maison)
26. Skies of Arcadia Legends
Released as an enhanced remake of an already critically-acclaimed Sega Dreamcast RPG, Skies of Arcadia Legends lets you go beyond the clouds in a world of airships, pirates and booty. You control the Air Pirate Vyse and his friend Aika who are part of the Blue Rogues (the good pirates) on a mission to stop an evil empire from destroying the world using extremely powerful ancient weapons. A turn-based RPG with a very welcoming learning curve for newcomers and unique airship battles that offer loads of strategic depth, there is something for all RPG skill levels here. You can equip moonstones to mix up battles, which will allow you to learn new skills and spells, and there is a spirit gauge for special attacks.
The story isn’t anything new, but it is quite charming and has plenty of humor and surprises, including loads of mysteries to solve. Legends adds nearly 25 new discoveries and more bonus missions for those that love gold quests, and the characters ooze personality. Vyse and friends sail around the skies recruiting new members of the crew, each with small amounts of voice acting and backstory. Arcadia itself is a world rich in its beauty, full of floating islands and many lands to uncover. Another new feature of the GameCube remake is the wanted list, which features difficult battles where the enemy levels up like the player, meaning you will always have a tough fight ahead of you. Other changes include faster load times over the Dreamcast version, a far less annoying random battle mechanic, new secrets and hidden fights, brand-new subplots and plenty of side missions to keep you busy. While not a very difficult game, it is of a decent length, easily 40-50 hours if you see all there is to see in the world of Arcadia. (Koru Taylor)
25. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
When Metal Gear Solid released back in 1998, it took the gaming world by storm. This was the most cinematic game to date, with fully realised cutscenes and voice acted lines that told a compelling and mature tale of betrayal, hope and political intrigue, complete with a healthy dose of giant robots. What could be better than that? How about a graphical overhaul, with the much-improved mechanics from the sequel, Sons of Liberty? Released in 2004 exclusively for the Nintendo GameCube, The Twin Snakes took all the best bits of Metal Gear Solid 2 and mashed them together with an updated version of the genius classic. The result was the best way to play one of the world’s best games, even if a little bit of the brilliance was lost in the process.
The game featured all the updated mechanics of the second game but combined them with the original level design of the first. This made some sections of the game far easier, especially with the introduction of first-person aiming, but while the AI was given a significant upgrade to help combat this, that disconnect between level design and mechanics reduced the difficulty of the game significantly. Many also felt that the new cutscenes were stylistically off-theme, feeling as though they missed the point of Snake’s relative vulnerability. Despite all that, the core of Twin Snakes is still one of the best games of all time made much more accessible (and certainly much prettier). If the updated graphics and mechanics weren’t enough of a sell, all of the voice work was redone (allegedly thanks to leading man David Hayter sacrificing a large portion of his own paycheck) in order to improve the quality of the original. (Rowan McDonald-Nyland)
24. Super Monkey Ball 2
Super Monkey Ball 2 is a brilliant sequel. It takes the bananas concept of the original – monkeys in hamster balls competing in remarkable ways – and rolls much farther with it than the original ever dreamed of. Central to the game is the challenging Story Mode, a series of courses that challenge the player to get their monkey from point A to point B. While simple in concept, the amount of coordination and mastery of controls required to complete the game is daunting but never frustrating, encouraging players to improve and try again. The game also features a difficult Challenge Mode, which features similar, progressively difficult stages to overcome.
While those are a fun diversion, the true strength of the game lies in it’s multiplayer, a crazy collection of party games that range from golf to boxing, all featuring the titular monkeys in their balls. Favorite mini-games from the original also make their return with immense improvements. Monkey Target, for example, a mode in which players launch their monkey off of a ramp and then proceed to use an open monkey ball as a glider, previously played by players taking turns with one controller, now allows all players to all take flight at the same time. A multitude of other mini-games are also progressively unlocked, including Monkey Baseball, Dogfight, Soccer, and Tennis, all fairly amusing, with some outshining the rest. Super Monkey Ball 2 is fun for all kinds of players and perfect for monkeying around with friends. (Tim Maison)
23. F-Zero GX
Sega and Nintendo teamed up and redefined the futuristic racing genre with F-Zero GX, a game which features difficult, high-speed racing styles and brilliant track designs while retaining the basic gameplay and control system from its Nintendo 64 predecessor. GX also introduces a story mode element where the player assumes the role of F-Zero pilot Captain Falcon through nine chapters while completing various missions. The game offers 20 different tracks and over 30 unique pilots, as well as a custom craft editor where players can create their own vehicle. It marked Sega’s first collaboration with Nintendo after having dropped out of the hardware market – and it’s the pinnacle of the series. After all these years, other racing games are still playing catch-up. (Ricky D)
The GameCube hosted more Star Wars games than any other Nintendo home console, but none (including the sequel) could come close to delivering the kind of magical moments that abound in Factor 5’s amazing launch title, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. Hardly a more whiz-bang introduction to what sensory feats the little purple box was capable of could be found at the time, and not many have bettered it since. From the very first stage players are bombarded with seemingly hundreds of enemies firing a chaotic swarm of lasers, from pesky TIEs to the lumbering AT-ATs, the action rushing by at an arcade speed to the spot-on John Williams themes and familiar sound effects.
Though the initial onslaught might overwhelm rookie pilots for a moment, tight controls make sure that dogfighting comes off fluid and natural; locking S-foils in attack position never felt so good. From the ubiquitous Hoth level to the epic fleet assault on the second Death Star, Rogue Leader covers all the classic moments from the first trilogy, but the plenty of new missions also retain that Star Wars feel, expanding the universe and giving players another look at how an insignificant rebellion tackled a mighty empire. By honing in on exactly what the N64 original did best – vehicular combat – then enveloping the gameplay in the rich trappings of a beloved universe, Star Wars Rogue Squadron: Rogue Leader did what no other had before on a Nintendo console: it transported fans to that galaxy far, far away. (Patrick Murphy)
21. Resident Evil: Zero
While co-op is common amongst modern Resident Evil titles, Resident Evil: Zero was unique for allowing players control over two characters at once. Players start the game is S.T.A.R.S member Rebecca Chambers – also present in the first game – and quickly encounter newcomer Billy Cohen, a former soldier accused of killing several people. From there and throughout the bulk of the game, players can choose to control either Billy or Rebecca at any given time, with the other one following closely behind. Each has their own health and inventory, meaning that players have to deal with twice as much (though of course, they have twice as much inventory space to do so).
Capcom also decided to do away with the series staple of “item boxes”, opting to let players drop items where ever they pleased and come back to grab them at any time. While this meant fairly lightweight management (players could just drop everything in a central room), it also meant more backtracking than ever. On top of that, this title also had what was probably the weakest story in the series. While it does fill in some of the blanks from Resident Evil, it does so with a villain straight out of a B-grade anime and dialogue that’s laughably bad for all the wrong reasons. Still, from the fantastic introduction sequence aboard a zombie-filled train to the gloomy and atmospheric mansion, Resident Evil: Zero managed to instill a great sense of tension and dread, even if we were battling as much with some design decisions as we were with hordes of the undead. (Rowan McDonald-Nyland)
20. Soul Calibur 2
Soul Calibur 2 is the culmination of everything that made its predecessors – Soul Edge and Soul Calibur – so great. Several unique characters and a combat system that is both relatively easy to learn and nearly impossible to master makes for one hell of a fighting game, and that’s without even mentioning all of the single-player offerings. There are all of the usual fighting game trappings, such as arcade mode, practice, versus and so on. However, Soul Calibur 2 also introduced a single-player mode called Weapon Master, which chronicles the player’s adventures as they travel the world to find the legendary sword, Soul Edge.
Each mission is given a fairly length text-based introduction before players find themselves battling under unique and varied conditions, such as constantly draining health or an opponent that can only be hurt with throws. This mode also lets players collect several different weapons for each character, which come with both visual and mechanical changes. Some weapons exchange defense for attack or come with a longer reach. Regardless of their effects, simply building a collection of weapons makes for hours lost as players jump into every mission they can find. The combat itself is the highlight. Players can swing vertically for more damage or horizontally for a better chance to hit, as well as move in eight directions. This is all on top of parries, guards, dodges and other special attacks that make for one of the most satisfying combat systems in gaming history. Of course, the GameCube version also introduced Link from The Legend of Zelda as a playable character. Here, Link is the complete package – bombs, arrows, a boomerang, you name it. While he was never considered a “top-tier” character (and all platform exclusive characters were banned from competitive play anyway), Link is constantly a blast to play. Plus, this was the game that introduced Raphael, who is objectively the best character in any Soul Calibur game (fight me). (Rowan McDonald-Nyland)
19. Star Fox Assault
For the kids that were born too late to experience the Nintendo 64 at the peak of its popularity, the GameCube provided them with their introduction to the world of Nintendo franchises, be it Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Super Smash Bros, or even Star Fox.
When it comes to the latter, the system provided us with two installations – Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault. And while Adventures was a shot at innovation and reinvention of the franchise, Assault stayed true to its predecessor by revolving around what was the norm for the series – spaceships, explosions, tanks, space, you name it.
Star Fox Assault made itself stand out from other games in the franchise.
While the games typically involved exclusively vehicular action, Assault made the player feel like he or she was part of a high-end strike team. Fox and associates were now able to take the gameplay to a whole other level, as they would often take the combat to ground level, as foot soldiers. This was not only incredibly cool to watch, but it also played like an entirely new game, adding a large amount of depth to an already awesome game.
This also provided us with a multiplayer feature we couldn’t stop adoring. Groups of friends would now gather at the nearest GameCube system, ready to take control of Fox, Falco, Skippy, and Peppy in a game that was nothing like anything else the system had to offer. One could battle on foot, hop in a tank, gather weaponry, take the battle to the skies by jumping in a ship; the opportunities were endless, and the levels we were provided with were varied and immersive, making the whole game an utter delight from start to finish. Star Fox Assault provided me and many other children with our first brush with Star Fox, and we were all loving it.
18. Tales of Symphonia
Tales of Symphonia was plenty of Nintendo fans first foray into the Tales series, and what a first game it was. It’s got a lot of character and charm to its visuals. Symphonia is the first Tales game to venture into the third dimension, and it’s where the series’ pastel-styled graphics started to take form. The charming cel-shaded models and environments looked great for 2003, and they still look pretty good today. It wasn’t just a precedence for graphics that Symphonia set for the series, though. Every 3D Tales game can trace its roots back to Symphonia‘s free-running arena-like combat system. An intricate library of spells and special moves can be assigned to shortcuts in skirmishes, moves can be canceled into one another, dodging is done in real-time rather than by just a random number generator, and spacing and blocking are key elements of battle in harder fights. When you’re in combat, Symphonia feels more like a fighting game than an RPG.
It’s not just graphics and combat that make Symphonia the gem it is; story and longevity play a huge role too. This is one of the few two-disc GameCube titles, and it lives up to that size with the main story almost 50 hours in length, and that’s not even touching on the myriad of side-quests and odd events you can encounter along the way. Lloyd and his band of friends are on a journey to restore harmony to their world, but they’re dragged into a conspiracy much bigger than any of them could have imagined. Allies and enemies come from all different kinds of backgrounds in a story that becomes much larger than the typical hero’s journey. Its charismatic cast of characters are all voiced in most cutscenes, adding an extra little layer of depth to who they are and creating a memorable RPG party. Overall, Tales of Symphonia is a staple any JRPG fan should try at least once, be it the GameCube original or the HD PlayStation 3 port. (Taylor Smith)
17. Viewtiful Joe
Viewtiful Joe represents everything that made the fourth generation of consoles so special. Its look is unique, taking advantage of the shell shaded art style to channel that iconic comic book aesthetic. And that comic style is spread to its story and even gameplay, both oozing with charm and polish. The dialogue between characters and areas you find yourself in are highly reminiscent of America in the 1990s, which was just a generally goofy time. Interactions are usually packed with “dudes,” “far outs,” and extremely elongated “whoas.”
A big chunk of Viewtiful Joe is not only based on the 90s as a whole, but specifically one of the 90s’ greatest pop culture sensations: The Power Rangers, and huge mechs and silly suits aren’t the half of it. The entirety of the gameplay is based off the show’s corny visual effects and genuinely cool fighting sequences. Joe can punch, kick, and dodge just like a Ranger, but he also gains the ability to control certain camera effects like slow motion, fast motion, and zooming in and out. These affect the platforming and puzzle solving as well, providing constant variety throughout the journey.
Don’t let Viewtiful Joe’s cartoony visuals and goofy attitude fool you, however; it’s seriously hard. I’m talking difficulty that aggravates you to controller-destroying, wall-headbutting, console-hurling-into-space levels. At first, only a few enemies will surround you at one time. Then, without notice, dozens of baddies will attack, while some shoot you with a rocket launcher from a distance, while two helicopters dive bomb towards the battlefield, while you uselessly flail in anguish. Though, it remains accessible. I still recommend it to any who enjoy awesome games, and who have absolute control over their temper. (Ricardo Rodriguez)
The original Pikmin is a charming little game that served as a grand tech demo for the GameCube, showing off a number of unique models it could handle, the system’s powerful graphical capabilities, and Nintendo’s ability to competently create a real-time strategy game on the console. That said, Pikmin 2 is the full realization of these ideas, removing the original game’s more frustrating elements and delving more into what makes the series interesting.
While Pikmin 2 is still a hybrid RTS/puzzle game, there’s a huge emphasis on exploration. The 30-day time limit from the first game is gone, but the day-to-night timer is still there. You still have to manage your time properly, but there’s no rush or punishment for not optimizing how you go about collecting treasure across the foreign planet. The game rewards curious players, hiding many of secrets well out of the way, and making maps so big you can’t possibly cover them in just one day. Pikmin 2 also introduced dungeons, micro levels within levels that don’t consume your timer, which is pretty good since they can sometimes take hours to complete (an average Pikmin “day” is about 13 minutes).
While making the game more accessible by removing the time limit is great, where Pikmin 2 really excels is in the variety of things it adds to give the game more strategy elements. Two new Pikmin types add layers to combat and puzzle solving. Large purple Pikmin can stun enemies they’re thrown at and lift the same amount as 10 Pikmin of any other color, and small white Pikmin can dig up various pieces of buried treasure and deal with enemies and traps that use poisonous gasses without harm. Pikmin 2‘s other big upgrade was adding a second captain in the form of Louie, allowing skilled multi-taskers to complete a variety of challenges and puzzles at the same time. It also led to an interesting VS mode, probably the game’s weakest element, but worth trying at least once.
Pikmin 2 is without a doubt the best games in the franchise. The amount of polish and in-series innovation it has makes it a must-own for any GameCube collector. Both it and the original are available on the Wii with “new control style” re-releases, with the first game having just been added to the Wii U’s line of digital download Wii titles. (Taylor Smith)
15. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem debuted in the summer of 2002 with a different take on the horror genre. Set in a Rhode Island mansion (shudders), you play as Alexandra Rovias, who is investigating the murder of her grandfather, Edward. Inside his mansion, you find a secret room full of strange treasures and keepsakes, including a strange book called The Tome of Eternal Darkness that is bound by human flesh. When Alexandra reads this book, she starts reliving the lives and histories of 12 others, including her grandfather. With each piece of the Tome scattered throughout the enormous mansion and multiple starting paths to take, there is plenty to experience within these walls. Eternal Darkness isn’t anything new from a combat standpoint, but it is a unique game mainly due to its timeline story and “Sanity Effects” that play several psychological tricks on the player. It further pushes the horror by making you question what is real. You’ll hear strange sounds, see things that aren’t really there, and witness the walls bleed. Your volume will turn itself down, your memory card will “delete” itself, or your character’s head might fall off without warning. These effects, combined with engaging story development and solid gameplay made Eternal Darkness lauded across the board, a must-play game-winning many awards, despite it’s modest sales. (Koru Taylor)
14. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
While the Metroid Prime trilogy is rightly touted as being home to some of the finest games in the franchise, Echoes is often cited as the weakest of the three, and not without reason.
The light and dark world mechanic had been used by Nintendo before, most notably in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. On top of the old hat concept, Echoes also deviated heavily from its progenitors by actually punishing exploration for large sections of the game, as any time spent in the dark reality damaged the player outside of safe zones.
Qualms aside, Echoes does still offer a lot to love. Its beam system was completely original, and it came up with more new gadgets and mechanics than either of its Prime siblings. It also introduced one of the franchise’s most popular antagonists in the form of Dark Samus. Though this was another riff on an idea that originated in the Zelda series, Dark Samus is still a great villain, and the encounters with her are tense and memorable.
Though not Metroid’s finest moment, Echoes is an astute reminder that even a subpar Metroid game is generally heads and tails above everything else on the market. (Mike Worby)
13. Resident Evil (REmake)
There was a lot of sour grapes for Nintendo fans during the reign of the N64. While Nintendo’s first-party products kept fans from starving completely, exciting new franchises like Resident Evil bypassed the console almost entirely.
Luckily, Capcom rectified this with a smorgasbord of Resident Evil titles on the GameCube, beginning with one of the best remakes in gaming history. Resident Evil, often called the REmake to distinguish it from the original, is a remake so successful that it actually renders the original nearly unplayable by comparison.
The REmake took everything that worked about Resident Evil and improved upon on it while excising all of the refuse along the way. With new additions to the plot, sharper graphics, tighter gameplay, and a notable lack of terrible dialogue, the REmake is rightly touted as one of the all-time great remakes in an industry that’s now full of them.
To boot, it still looks great today, even if certain gameplay elements don’t necessarily hold up so well. If you have PS Plus, then hopefully you grabbed the HD remaster last month for free, as it’s well worth a playthrough, both as a time capsule and as a genuinely great survival horror title. (Mike Worby)
12. Super Mario Sunshine
Following the worldwide success of Super Mario 64, developers at Nintendo were under a lot of pressure to follow it up with another 3D platformer set in the realm of the Mushroom Kingdom. The GameCube, with its improved graphics and processing power, provided the developer with an opportunity to explore entirely new designs and gameplay mechanics, which manifested itself in the form of Super Mario Sunshine.
The most crucial difference between Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine is, of course, the completely revamped mechanics, as seen in the introduction of the F.L.U.D.D device, which allows Mario to make use of water and velocity in order to transport himself across gaps in the vivid, unique environments of the game. This whole concept sounds like it would be amiss amongst gamers, but it proved itself to work perfectly, and once again Nintendo had proven themselves unrivaled in innovation.
While the F.L.U.D.D mechanic is probably the most prominent difference between Sunshine and other Mario titles, the fact of the matter is that nearly every component of the game differs from the norm of the franchise. Whether you look at the aesthetics, the characters, or even the setting of the game as a whole, Super Mario Sunshine was a fresh breath of life from the company and remains a staple title for the system. (Johnny Pedersen)
11. Animal Crossing
It’s tough to coherently convey why Animal Crossing is so fun. As a human who moves in to the midst of a village of friendly animals, you wander around, chat with animals, decorate your house, and try to pay off a mortgage. Contentedness with the size of your avatar’s home is an impossibility, and continually you’ll find yourself in the pitfall that is an expansion and a brand new mortgage. You can never have enough stuff, you want a new look, and you need more money for it all. In short, Animal Crossing is one of the most true-to-life, microcosmic experiences ever captured in a video game, all wrapped up in a charming, cute, animal-themed bow. Perhaps the true charm of Animal Crossing is in its clever characters, funny AI animals who act all on their own, share with the player, ask for help, advice, or a new catchphrase, and can even adopt a catchphrase from a neighbor. Perhaps those seemingly living animals feel even more real existing in a world that persists even when the player isn’t present.
The most fun might be seeing that persistent world change with the seasons, bringing new things to do and collect on top of shaping the look of the town. Perhaps it’s the variety of things to do, from fish to digging up fossils, to bug hunting, to redecorating that’s the most enjoyable. Hell, there are even classic NES games to play inside the game itself. Or maybe the variety of collectibles, including clothing, decorations, and furniture sets that make Animal Crossing so enticing. There’s certainly no end to the things achievable in game, like completing the museum’s collection, finishing a furniture set, or paying off that last mortgage, and whether in a period of ten minutes or ten hours, there is always something entertaining to do. Then again, perhaps Animal Crossing is so addictive and so amusing because it allows you to do virtually whatever you want within your tiny, life-like town, be that absent-mindedly chasing butterflies or conscientiously working toward that next payment. Animal Crossing can be whatever you want it to be. But I’m of course being facetious with all of this. The most fun thing to do is hit your neighbor with your net. (Tim Maison)
Whether a gentle allegory about environmentalism or a twisted tale of an elitist spaceman who subjugates an entire plant/animal hybrid species and sacrifices them for his own personal agenda without batting an eye, Nintendo’s Pikmin is irresistibly charming fun. The mix of puzzle-solving and exploration with some light real-time strategy proved the perfect fit for console gamers, accessible in its simple controls yet deep enough for experienced players to sink their teeth into. The pleasure of playing as the giant-headed Captain Olimar comes from, believe it or not, time management, as planning out moves to maximize the efficiency of a day’s work turns out to be immensely satisfying. Breeding Pikmin like the Matrix robots bred humans takes precious minutes away from important spaceship parts-hunting wall-breaking, so when the spirit one of those little guys floats up into the sky and dissipates into thin air with a painful squeak, the player really feels the hit his or her resources just took.
The solid gameplay is also supported by crisp visuals depicting the world as the ants in Miyamoto’s garden must see it, with giant forests formed from blades of grass, and mutant predatory bugs that rule the night. Though the 30-day time limit before Olimar suffers oxygen poisoning and a horrific death may turn some off who just want a relaxing adventure on a not-so-alien planet, this is still a Nintendo game after all, and most shouldn’t have a problem finding most of what they need for the spaceman to escape alive. A quirky little system deserves quirky little games, and that’s exactly what the GameCube got when Nintendo made one of their best with Pikmin. (Patrick Murphy)
9. Mario Kart: Double Dash
Since its inception on the SNES back in 1992, every Nintendo home console has had a Mario Kart, and Double Dash is definitely one of the cooler games in the series. On top of more than doubling the playable roster of characters, Double Dash is one of the few Gamecube games to make use of the GameCube Broadband Adapter, which lets you hook up multiple consoles. The game’s gimmick and namesake are being able to swap between two racers on one kart. With the adapter, you can have full 16-man races, a feature no other console Mario Kart title can do. The only true way to really experience Double Dash is with 7 friends, two consoles, and two TVs for an 8-man race.
There’s more to Double Dash than just its awesome LAN options, however. It’s the first game in the series to allow you to pick your racers and kart independently of each other, giving almost 200 different combinations of drivers and karts. The game also has a co-op race mode, something that hasn’t been done since. Co-op lets players swap between using items and driving and also gives access to new moves, such as allowing the player riding in the backseat to steal items off of other players and increase the amount of initial boost you can get at the start of the race.
Double Dash is an oddly innovative and experimental title on the GameCube that helped redefine Mario Kart. Freedom of kart choice has been a staple ever since, and the massive local races you can have on the DS and 3DS games, as well as the online races on the Wii and Wii U entries, all call back to Double Dash and its use of a LAN connection. A personal favorite of mine and many others, Mario Kart: Double Dash is a “must-own” for the GameCube. (Taylor Smith)
8. Luigi’s Mansion
After being Mario’s sidekick for more than a decade, Luigi was finally given the chance to once again star in his own game. Luigi’s Mansion was a launch title for the GameCube, and the second title in the Mario franchise where Luigi is the main character, (the first, being Mario is Missing!). The game features some refreshing ideas, a unique and atmospheric experience, an entire cast of new characters to populate the Nintendo universe, as well as one of the best examples of sound design found on the GameCube. It was an extreme departure from what Mario Bros. games are known to be, and a virtual textbook of video game special effects. (Ricky D)
7. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
No stickers, no cards, nothing; it turns out that the key to making a beloved Nintendo role-playing game and the best game in the Paper Mario franchise is simply to stick to the genre basics of progression and deliver a whimsical storybook adventure in a visually stunning world. The Thousand Year Door does exactly that, giving fans of the N64 original wittier and often hilarious dialogue, distinct and engaging characters, and that ever-satisfying timing-based combat system that the Mario RPGs are known for.
The plot, unfolding around the mystery of a seaside town called Rogueport and the predictable disappearance of one Princess Peach, probably won’t knock anyone’s socks off, but the compelling narrative or no, charm has always been at the heart of the appeal of Paper Mario, and The Thousand-Year Door is loaded with it. From the seven party members that join the heroic plumber to lend a hand, like the sassy Goombella or the grieving Admiral Bobbery, to the diverse cast of Mushroom Kingdom favorites populating the land, the astounding amount of personality on display can’t help but pull the player into this pop-up world come to life. Thankfully the gameplay doesn’t pull them out of it, so full attention can be given to grinning over the reams of clever puns and marveling at the amazing attention to detail on display. A couple of sequels later, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door still stands as the benchmark for the franchise, and one of the best GameCube games. (Patrick Murphy)
6. Resident Evil 4
Series creator Shinji Mikami reinvented the wheel with the fourth numbered entry in the Resident Evil franchise. Reinventing the series was a risky move, but fortunately, Capcom nailed it with a new over-the-shoulder third-person aiming system that reinvigorated the genre. There is a reason why this game is cited as one of the primary inspirations for many extremely successful third-person shooters such as Uncharted, Gears of War and Dead Space. Resident Evil 4 did for the action-horror genre what Super Mario 64 did for 3D platformers. By combining horror with genuinely clever, exhilarating survival combat and an oppressive atmosphere, Capcom created a near-perfect game and arguably one of the finest video games ever made – and its greatest achievement is how fresh and vital it remains after all these years! (Ricky D)
5. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
The first Tony Hawk game may have set the bar, but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 kick-jumped that bar of quality and landed a perfect 1080 manual. It was the final game to use the classic formula, and it perfectly nailed the template. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 took everything that was great about the first two games and refined them even further with dozens of new tricks, exciting stages, and plenty of goals to achieve not to mention more interactive environments and amazing visuals for its time. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 let players skate around everything from a cruise ship to a broken motorway overpass to Roswell, a fictional level located in New Mexico, and even Canada’s Olympic Park, located in Calgary. Better levels, more play modes, a better soundtrack, make this edition remain the definitive Tony Hawk game for many die-hard fans, like me. (Ricky D)
4. Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess is probably most remembered for being the introduction for many fans to the Wii, but it was also the swansong of the GameCube. And what a beautiful song it was. Coming off the also magnificent Wind Waker four years prior, Nintendo decided to take things in a darker direction. In fact, people have called Twilight Princess the darker version of Ocarina of Time, and those who are familiar with the N64 classic certainly see a few similarities…okay, a lot of similarities. Taken on its own merits, Twilight Princess is an outstanding game, period, in addition to being one of the best in the series. Its dungeons are some of the most well-designed in the franchise, including the roller coaster tracks of Arbiter’s Grounds and the mysteriously icy Snowpeak Ruins. It’s also noteworthy that, for a game that supposed to be dark, it tackles mature themes like loss and mortality without abandoning the series’ roots. With its refined mechanics taken from The Wind Waker, an art style inspired by the illustrations of Brian Froud, one of the best sidekicks in the series in the enigmatic Midna, and one of the best-told stories in video games, complete with a very poignant ending, Twilight Princess is a masterpiece. (Mark Sylvia)
3. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Director Eiji Aonuma’s swashbuckling adventure The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, set 100 years after the events in Ocarina of Time, stands as one of three best games released in the series thus far. Along with the N64 classic and A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker masterfully baits and hooks players in with its perfect blend of polished design, tightly crafted controls and beautiful presentation. Utilizing a completely new look with cel-shaded graphics, the game casts players in the role of a familiar young Link who sets out on a long voyage across troubled seas, into dark dangerous dungeons and against ruthless foes to save his kidnapped sister. At the time of its release, it was immediately evident that Wind Waker was going to be different from the previous Zelda titles, yet it’s surprising that the grandeur of The Wind Waker‘s bold, thick strokes, lusciously saturated palette, and the notably boyish protagonist with his humongous, expressive eyes ever caused so much controversy back in 2003 — because over a decade later, the game’s legacy remains defined by its visuals.
Players with keen eyes and an appreciation for art will know that Nintendo doesn’t just do things for the sake of pure experimentation. When developing The Wind Waker, Nintendo not only created a hugely stylistic world down to every last detail but also pushed the power of GameCube to do so. Upon closer inspection, cel-shading clearly was the right choice. This is a game that emphasizes the vastness of the open ocean and the open sky, and, with the application of cel-shading, every wave, every gust of wind is beautifully pronounced against a backdrop of colorful hillsides, small villages, and coastal locales. And like all previous titles in the series, the dungeons prove to be the most enjoyable aspect of this game, despite having so few. It is within these dungeons that Wind Waker shines. The true beauty of the visuals stands out, as each dungeon is brought to life with an astounding amount of detail. It’s ultimately not difficult to see why The Wind Waker has become something of a classic in the years since its release. Overall the Wind Waker is a huge achievement in every way, from the classic mix of sword-swinging action, perplexing puzzles, stirring storylines, vibrant art, evocative soundtrack, a cast of colorful characters, beautiful melodies and a fantastic battle system that propels the adventure and exploration. For many, the Zelda brand represents the pinnacle of gaming, and The Wind Waker stands tall, side by side with the very best. (Ricky D)
2. Super Smash Bros. Melee
The original Super Smash Bros. for the N64 is uncannily fun to play and is as entertaining now as it was when it released in 1999, yet two years after its release the game was outdone in almost every capacity by its successor, the ever-popular and still played Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee offers everything the original does (a clash of lovable Nintendo mascots) but significantly expanded. From the outset, there are fifteen playable characters in Melee, three more than the original, including the unlockable characters, with ten more to be unlocked with progression through the game. What’s more, those fighters are almost perfectly balanced. Consequently, Melee allows every player to truly play to their preference. On top of that, there are twenty more brilliantly crafted stages on which to play, adding a lot more variety in the locales than ever before.
Melee is also responsible for the series’ staple tournament mode, not to mention the increased number of items and modes to boot. It also introduced new single-player modes that would become staples of the franchise, Adventure mode, and All-Star mode, allowing players to push their skills to new and unexpected limits. Melee also debuted trophies, collectible statues that provide interesting bios for characters both in the game and non-playable characters, providing fun context for the larger wealth of material the game derives its characters and stages from. With graphics that truly demonstrated the strengths of the GameCube, fun single-player and multiplayer gameplay, well-designed stages, impeccable character design and control schemes, and beautiful balance, Super Smash Bros. Melee is correctly considered one of the best fighting games of all time. (Tim Maison)
1. Metroid Prime
When Metroid Prime was first announced, amid several reinventions of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, it was met with an understandable level of backlash and skepticism. The notion that one of the most beloved side-scrolling series of all time would be forcibly morphed into a first-person shooter was not a popular one.
Luckily for fans, they turned out to be dead wrong. With a little help from Texas-based Retro Studios, Nintendo was able to deliver arguably the best Metroidgame yet, while simultaneously changing the game on what people could expect from the FPS genre.
All of the key mechanics from the series made the jump from 2D to 3D without missing a beat, and new ideas like alternate visors and physics-based morph ball puzzles make the game a unique challenge, even for longtime fans.
Without a doubt the finest game on the GameCube, and one that still sits in my personal Top 10, Metroid Prime was the best reason to pick up a Nintendo’s little purple box and remains an undisputed classic that still holds up today. (Mike Worby)
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What Are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?
The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.
Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.
It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.
Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?
What Can We Expect?
Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.
Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.
Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.
Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.
What Can We Expect?
Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.
Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment
It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.
Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?
What Can We Expect?
A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.
Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.
What Can We Expect?
Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.
Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.
One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.
My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.
When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.
Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.
The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.
‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different
Video gaming as a medium has often been perceived as little more than a toy. Even with Nintendo pushing the NES as a part of the home and more than just a toy– a strategy they’d adopt again for the Wii– there are still many who see games as toys, rather than an expression of an art form. It makes perfect sense, though. If there’s one thing modern video game culture has pushed front and center this past decade, it’s instant satisfaction. As big-budget games embrace homogeneity, the medium’s priorities have shifted from capitalizing on its inherent interactivity to making sure gamers are never bored with their $60 toy. Reggie Fils-Aime famously said “If it’s not fun, why bother?” for a reason, but when every big-budget game is paced the same, structured the same, and plays the same, where’s the fun to be found?
About Death Stranding…
It’s far too early to even assume what kind of impact Death Stranding will have on the medium & industry (if any), but as one of the last big budgets games to release in 2019, Hideo Kojima’s first crack at the “strand game genre” is a nice note to cap the decade off on– one that serves as an almost necessary palette cleanser as the medium heads into the 2020s. Death Stranding offers audiences a chance to breathe, to look at themselves in the mirror, and to reconnect. Not just with the world and others, but with a medium built on interactivity.
Hideo Kojima is often criticized for his cutscene ratio, to the point where it’s not unusual to see critics suggest he just make a film, but the fact of the matter is that most games do need a story. Not just that, video games have the potential to present a story better than any other medium. Readers and viewers can place themselves in the shoes of their protagonists, but a game makes the player become the protagonist. How we control our characters, how we play, how we interact with a virtual world– all this is a reflection of ourselves, one that only the gaming medium can offer.
Not that it often does, at least not meaningfully. Modern developers are afraid to lose consumer interest, and the increasing shift towards the “games as a service” model has ensured that gameplay loops are simple to pick up, simple to get into, and simple to stay into. Games are something to be played with– toys. And there’s immense value in that. Video games can be a fantastic way to reduce stress & clear one’s thoughts regardless of how they’re designed, but such an approach means that the average gamer is going to be accustomed to gameplay loops that are structurally derivative of one another.
On the flip side, there are the games that prioritize narrative too much, or simply devalue their own gameplay with extraneous content. From Hideo Kojima’s own gameography, this is a mistake he clearly made with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Even from this decade, it can be argued that what little importance Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain placed on the story ended up hurting it in the long run because it distracted from the core gameplay loop. There’s a reason so many developers follow similar game structures and build off similar foundations: they’re reliable, they get the job done, and it does result in great games. Both The Last of Us and God of War (2018) are clear examples of how mechanically homogenous & predictable games have gradually become this past decade, but they’re still great games.
Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time.
Death Stranding is most comparable to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but really only on the most surface of levels. Death Stranding has AAA backing, but it has the creativity and ingenuity of a modern indie. While AAA developers have lined up for uniformity, the indie half of the medium has arguably never been better. Those who grew up alongside video games are now developing their own, calling back to and even evolving forgotten genres. All the while, AAA games only move closer to the Disneyfication of movie production– hit all the key demographics, make it “accessible” for everyone, and make sure there are no real ideals or beliefs. No need to upset potential consumers, right?
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Death Stranding was backed by Sony and developed by a massive development team, but Hideo Kojima’s direction is far more in-line with the modern indie scene than that of his AAA cohorts. Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time. It’s slow to start, slow to pick up, and even the core gameplay loop is slow. It takes hours before players get their first vehicle, and even longer before they finally get a weapon. Death Stranding saves its actual core gameplay loop for so late in the experience that it’s not unreasonable to suggest the game sees an entire genre shift halfway through. But that’s missing the point. Death Stranding’s “genre shift” is only going to feel so for those who don’t want to engage with the first half’s crawl– those who just want to play with a toy.
Of course, just wanting something simple and immediately engaging to play is fair enough. For working adults with limited time to play a game, in particular, but not every game is going to resonate with everyone, even if a game like Death Stranding is designed for anyone. Death Stranding seems inaccessible & foreign in a generation where every big genre release plays like the last, but between a myriad of difficulty options and an online system designed to make the player’s life easier– one that works & works well– Death Stranding takes the medium’s interactivity to its next logical step: connectivity. Real connectivity, though. A connection that goes beyond playing against or with someone for a few minutes.
In Death Stranding, players can leave a tangible mark on, and in, the world. Players can build structures for others, share with others, and just do something as simple as “liking” others. Those opening hours are incredibly valuable as– without the means to kill or fight back– players are forced to interact with the game world on a deeper level beyond combat. Death Stranding takes its time developing its gameplay loop, drip-feeding weapons, and concepts. Even the online component opens itself slowly, forcing players to understand what it means to be alone before they can forge real connections– with the world, others, or themselves.
This is what Hideo Kojima understands better than the majority of modern AAA developers: games can connect a feeling directly to the player. Death Stranding’s best moments (as any should be) stem from gameplay. Kojima’s storytelling is engaging as ever, but it exists to bolster the gameplay– as does the slow pacing, as does the aggressive enemy AI, as does locking out weapons for hours on end– everything in Death Stranding is ultimately in service of connecting players to Sam in a way that feels genuinely meaningful. Through Sam, audiences can observe an America that’s in ruins, but one that society is rebuilding.
As Sam reconnects America, opportunities arise to finish bridges for others, leave supplies in remote areas, or just warn of dangers ahead. It’s very Dark Souls-esque in nature, but with a gameplay loop that minimizes traditional action, Death Stranding is the rare AAA game that’s bold enough to embrace the medium and everything it represents, for better or worse. A video game interacts with an audience in a way that books and film can’t. Controlling an avatar is an intimate act and reflects us better than most might realize. Death Stranding recognizes this fact, turns its back on modern gaming mainstays, and attempts to reconnect the medium together.
Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity.
AAA gaming and the indie scene shouldn’t be divided. A gameplay loop doesn’t need instant satisfaction to be engaging. Story and gameplay shouldn’t feel disconnected. Standard online multiplayer can be more rewarding when PvP elements are tossed to the wayside or even just outright ignored. Death Stranding resembles the average AAA title in many respects, but it allows itself to be eclectic, off-putting, & sincerely unfiltered– in regards to politics, human nature, video games themselves. Only time will tell if “strand games” will take off, but keep in mind that the stealth genre didn’t exist when the hit “action” game Metal Gear released for the MSX2 in 1987. As Death Stranding makes abundantly clear, everything changes with time.
The 2010s have not been a bad decade for the medium, far from it. The past ten years have seen truly legendary consoles and games come out of the woodwork, but it’s impossible to deny the shift that occurred (and had been occurring) in AAA game development– one that’s driven the medium far away from meaningful interactivity, where flavor of the month games long to be played for all eternity, like Toy Story-esque monstrosities given form. Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity.
From Escape to Inspiration: How Video Games Promote Creativity
The stresses of everyday life are often enough to put heavy strain on even the sharpest and most durable of minds. No one is immune to the pressures of work, school, or even the personal struggles that weigh down on everyone. Now more than ever, with advancements in technology and the increased prominence of fantastical immersion, video games have become more of an escape for people of all ages.
No longer are video games considered the medium for children looking to “waste time.” Rather, these virtual worlds have transformed into an integral part of how a grand portion of the globe’s population interacts with each other. Moreover, video games offer a much-needed respite from one’s struggles, drawing people into a fictitious realm in which they journey with a hero on their adventures in a compelling fable, or compete with other players worldwide.
Whatever one’s reasons for playing, video games are an outlet through which gamers alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and a myriad of other emotions, giving rise to joy and relaxation alongside a sense of accomplishment. This escape provides users with an opportunity to not only temporarily get away from whatever troubles them, but also inspires them and promotes creativity.
The old ways of acquiring inspiration (books, role models, school, friends and colleagues, etc.) are still tried and true. However, just as humans have evolved over millennia, so, too, have the means of stimulus and influence. Alongside these traditional sources of encouragement comes video games—visual, interactive stories and competitions that stimulate one’s mind and get hearts pumping and adrenaline rushing.
From betrayal to romance, the most traditional storytelling tropes have been plucked from novels and cinema to create these immersive, interactive worlds. Video games offer lessons in commitment, dedication, persistence, and so much more. Repeatedly, fans see their favorite heroes get knocked down, and then those same fans take control of those heroes and take them through the journey of picking themselves back up.
Assassin’s Creed II has players take control of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, even after they witness half the character’s family murdered before their very eyes. They join Ezio on his journey to avenge his family and develop into someone who refuses to give up, who uses ingenuity to learn and expand his own horizons to accomplish his goals—a tale of hope for anyone struggling to bounce back after trauma and tragedy.
Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, the advancement of video games in terms of how much they have evolved over the years is enough to inspire any aspiring video game developer. Taking one look at the beautiful worlds companies like Ubisoft, Bethesda, Square Enix, 343 Industries, and so many more create does wonders to convincing a plethora of gamers to learn how to code or write a compelling story.
Despite previous misconceptions that video games only give people a space in which to waste time, this hobby (or often profession, if one considers the earnings of the top eSports competitors) has shifted opinions to a more curious perspective. It’s difficult to ignore something so popular that promotes so much creativity.
Initially, video games were a mere medium of entertainment. Simple games like Pong did little to foster the mental acuity of their users. However, since the 1980s, video games have surpassed their meager, albeit fun, precursors. Solving puzzles, exploring vast geographies, and overcoming challenging obstacles are just some of the facets of modern video games that force players to think a little deeper about the game’s objectives.
Sometimes, the direct path isn’t the answer, and video games teach players how to come up with alternative solutions to their problems. For example, titles like 2018’s Kingdom Come: Deliverance or 2001’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic give gamers the ability to choose how to complete certain missions, forcing them to deal with different consequences depending on the choices they make. Not all problems are easy, and video games can help equip players with the tools they will need to think about multiple possible solutions to a challenge.
Beyond ruminating about alternative solutions, the creativity avid gamers develop through video games will help them in other ways, such as their ability to think critically about certain concepts and form their own perspectives on complicated situations. Is the Dragonborn character gamers control in Skyrim defined only as the Dragonborn, or does that character bring more to the table than being a slayer who can communicate with mighty, scaly, winged lizards?
Video games keep fans’ minds churning with ideas for their own stories, whether those tales are reflections of their own lives or the inspiration for elements of their own literary or cinematic endeavors. Fans often draw courage from the heroes in their favorite titles, looking to them to help them out of a rut or learn how to deal with their own troubles.
Whether learning how to use a little more diplomacy to negotiate through a bad situation or finding the gumption to learn martial arts to stay in shape or for self-defense, much of gamers’ motivation can be traced back to the inspiration they garnered from the heroes they see in all forms of media, and video games are no exception.
Just as humans have to crawl before they walk, video games had to start small and gain traction before the world was ready to advance them to their current state. No longer are these virtual, interactive worlds a backdrop that people use to merely pass the time. Rather, they are the catalyst for courage, inspiration, creativity, and entertainment.
While video games have come a long way since the early days of Pong, they have still only progressed to a state of adolescence. Technology is advancing at a more rapid rate than ever before, and companies are no longer limiting themselves in terms of what they can achieve with one of the fastest-growing, financially prosperous, emotionally charged industries the world has ever seen.
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