The Problematic History of GameCube Rereleases

by Daniel Pinheiro

Every video game console dies at some point. The same is true of the Nintendo GameCube, the 2001 console that was released to mediocre sales but high praise from fans. In light of the significant following the console has garnered over the years, it’s only natural that fans want Nintendo to rerelease the console’s extensive first-party catalog to preserve it for future generations. Unfortunately, the efforts Nintendo has made thus far to preserve the GameCube’s library have been shoddy at best. A significant number of the system’s first-party titles have not seen a rerelease, and the ones that have tend to feature changes or additions that tamper with their original vision. The impacts are already being felt in the gaming market, and Nintendo has only shown small signs of reversing course as of now.

How Nintendo Handled Legacy Content

Nintendo’s approach to GameCube preservation is an anomaly, as the company has rereleased a number of its other titles in many forms. In earlier years, Nintendo’s rereleases mainly came in the form of full-on remakes, such as the Super Mario All-Stars collection, and one-off ports. Starting with the Wii, however, Nintendo introduced the Virtual Console, an online service that offered several games from the NES, SNES, and Nintendo 64 libraries to download, as well as a few titles from third-party consoles. Upon the Wii U’s release, Nintendo expanded the Virtual Console’s first-party offerings considerably to include Game Boy Advance and DS titles. Although the Virtual Console was technically discontinued with the arrival of the Switch, the system does currently provide a selection of NES and SNES titles for those with online memberships. Outside of online services, Nintendo also distributed miniature versions of the NES and SNES to stores for a limited time, both of which contained several pre-installed legacy titles. Nintendo also continues to port and remake its older titles, particularly the ones that came out on the Wii U.

Although Nintendo has found numerous opportunities to rerelease its legacy catalog, the first-party GameCube lineup has always curiously remained on the backburner. Neither the Wii nor the Wii U’s virtual consoles feature any GameCube titles, and while this was perfectly understandable in the Wii’s case thanks to its backwards compatibility with the GameCube, the Wii U’s lack of GameCube support was much more puzzling. It’s worth noting that, by the time the Wii came out in 2006, the Nintendo 64 was over a decade old, and the Virtual Console already offered a few N64 games for download. The same was the case with the GameCube when the Wii U first launched, and yet the console’s library has not been revisited since. What’s even weirder is that the Wii U even included a few Wii titles in its online store despite being backwards compatible with that system, so the lack of GameCube titles created a glaring gap in Nintendo’s legacy offerings. As the Switch currently only offers NES and SNES titles, the system evidently still needs to provide N64 titles before it can even touch the GameCube’s lineup, and the same goes with the “mini” console releases. While it’s theoretically possible that the Switch could offer GameCube titles to its online users sometime in the future, the alarmingly glacial pace at which the Switch’s retro gaming services are updating means that these games likely will not be made available within the system’s lifespan.

How GameCube Rereleases Have Fared

Nintendo has rereleased some of its first-party GameCube titles over the years, but the results have been mixed. Some of the earliest GameCube rereleases were the New Play Control! series and the Metroid Prime Trilogy collection. All of these rereleases served to gussy up classic GameCube titles with the Wii’s motion control functionality. The issue with these rereleases is that the usage of motion controls was entirely mandatory; players were unable to use the original GameCube controls in these versions, even though the Wii included built-in GameCube controller ports. In the case of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, this ended up drastically changing the experience, as the original version relied heavily on the DK Bongo peripheral in its design.

The removal of the peripheral as an option led to a number of mechanical and level design changes, which makes the rerelease a rather inauthentic take on the original game. The motion controls were much better implemented in the Pikmin and Metroid Prime series of ports, to the point where they could arguably be seen as superior to their original GameCube control schemes. That being said, it’s not unreasonable to expect that some players will want to opt for the original controls anyway. The games were designed around the GameCube controller after all, and the motion controls affect the games’ intended challenge to a significant degree. In addition, no control scheme works for everyone, as there are many players who find more traditional controls much more comfortable than motion controls. With this in mind, it’s difficult to see these rereleases as ideal ways to preserve the GameCube’s library.

The rereleases following the Wii’s lifecycle did not fare much better. Remakes of Luigi’s Mansion and The Wind Waker were released on the 3DS and Wii U respectively, and both titles feature fairly drastic changes to their original counterparts. Along with a number of mechanical changes, both titles feature changes in art style that detract from the experience overall. In Luigi’s Mansion’s case, some of the more eye-catching effects, such as the vibrant, eerie glowing effect on the ghosts, were noticeably toned down. In The Wind Waker’s case, the clean, purposeful cel-shaded style was replaced with overwhelming bloom effects and inconsistent lighting. Other rereleases, such as the Twilight Princess Wii U port and the Super Mario Sunshine remaster included in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, are noticeably more faithful, yet they suffer from their own issues. Twilight Princess’s port added immersion-breaking Miiverse stamps as collectibles, and the Mario Sunshine remaster features some sloppy emulation issues, such as a glitch allowing one level to be completed earlier than intended. Many of these issues may be small, but since they did not exist originally, they make for unideal ways to experience these games.

What Was Left Behind

The problems with the remakes and ports may be disappointing, but they are nothing compared to the myriad titles that have yet to see a rerelease in any form. Many of these titles are considered true classics by many—Super Smash Bros. Melee, F-Zero GX, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, among others. Some of these titles will probably see some kind of remaster or port sooner or later, but considering how relatively obscure and forgotten titles like Wario World and Star Fox: Assault have become, it’s not guaranteed that Nintendo will even bother to rerelease them all. As these titles have been gathering dust for nearly two decades at this point, many copies are being sold for some truly obscene prices on the Internet. Copies of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance can cost upwards of $300, and other, more obscure titles, such as Cubivore, can cost a fair bit more. A number of factors could have led to the prices becoming as high as they are now, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what those factors are. But it’s safe to say that as Nintendo continues to neglect its first-party GameCube titles, many of them will likely remain inaccessible for the vast majority of consumers, and that is not a fate that these games deserve.

A Possible Justification

One plausible reason why Nintendo has avoided offering GameCube games through its online stores for so long could be related to the unique design of the GameCube controller. Unlike other Nintendo controllers, the GameCube controller featured analog shoulder buttons, and players could affect the degree of certain in-game actions depending on how far the button was pressed. A number of GameCube titles took advantage of this feature, but since modern Nintendo controllers feature exclusively digital shoulder buttons, they are incompatible with those games. Although the issue makes sense on the surface, Nintendo ultimately has made a solution with the GameCube adapters they made for the Wii U and Switch.

Bizarrely, however, Nintendo made these adapters with the sole intention of giving players of the latest Super Smash Bros. games the option to use a GameCube controller, and although people have demonstrated the adapter’s utility in other situations, Nintendo has mostly ignored this. It took significant fan outcry for Nintendo to patch GameCube controller support into Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and while it’s fortunate that Switch owners now have the option to play Mario Sunshine the way it was intended, the patch demonstrates Nintendo’s arbitrary gatekeeping of the GameCube’s hardware and software. Nintendo has all the resources it needs to make a GameCube online service a reality, and it’s difficult to imagine why it hasn’t when both Sony and Microsoft offer ways to experience their sixth generation software lineups on modern consoles.

The Future of GameCube Preservation

It is fair to mention that Nintendo has hinted at providing more legacy titles in the future, and GameCube games are likely included among them, although there is no indication that they will arrive within the Switch’s lifespan. Some have speculated that Super Mario Sunshine’s recent inclusion in Super Mario 3D All-Stars is Nintendo’s way of testing the waters for future GameCube ports, but given how sloppily the Mario Sunshine port was handled, Nintendo isn’t inspiring much confidence. That being said, there is hope that a time will come when Nintendo will take a much more faithful approach to their GameCube rereleases than it is currently. Those original games, imperfections and all, have touched many players around the world, and it would be incredibly beneficial if future generations of players could experience those titles almost exactly how they were when they came out without having to resort to emulation. GameCube titles are far from dead, but efforts to preserve them must be considered as the clock gradually ticks toward the inevitable disc rot of these games.

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