fourhman.com weblog feature: Farewell to the GameCube / 18 entries
|Farewell to the GameCube|
I'm a Nintendo fan. But I wasn't always one.
For a long time, my only Nintendo system was the original Game Boy, a workhorse of a machine that survived long past its prime. Console-wise, I considered myself more of a PlayStation kind of guy.
Then I latched onto the Pokemon fad in late 1999, first the card game, then the Game Boy game, and then I started thinking seriously about the N64 game Pokemon Snap. One bundle pack later, I was trying to figure out that ridiculously-shaped controller and hunting down the original Mario Party.
The N64 proved something to me: Nintendo makes kickass games that you can't get anywhere else. So I followed Smash Bros. and Mario and Link and Pikachu right into the GameCube when it launched in November 2001.
Nintendo takes a lot of crap from so-called "hardcore" gamers. But nobody else is out there with as many quality titles across multiple genres that do not all center around headshots and frag stats. You can dump on them for their unabated diluting of omnipresent mascot Mario, but I say that as long as they keep making terrific games, they can keep on re-visiting their beloved franchises. And the GameCube was far and away the best in-home multiplayer option out there for its generation.
Even aside from the Mario stuff, the GameCube brought the US entirely new franchises like Animal Crossing, Chibi Robo and Pikmin. They're a good team to get behind, even if they still don't quite get online play.
This is a look at the franchises that inspired me and the cash-ins that disappointed me, as I WaveBirded and eReadered and ground-pounded my way through over five years of great gaming.
entry index for Farewell to the GameCube
Super Luigi's Rogue Ball Leader|
Tuesday / 05.23.06 / 12:21AM / Joe
released November 2001, purchased November 2001
click here for my review written in September 2005!
This game is a lot nicer than people will tell you.
The biggest Nintendo marquee name to show up for the GameCube launch... and it was only Luigi. That right there pushed it into the realm of unnecessary oddity. Furthermore, most early reviews of the game described it as a tech demo, implying that it doesn't have the chops to stand against other games. There was also a camp that suggested Nintendo was simply trying to "mature up" their normal franchise game with a horror feel. Also recall that the PS2 was entering its second year about this time and had the expected infusion of mega-awesome: GTA3 and MGS2 had just showed up.
So a new Nintendo kiddie title wasn't going to break anybody's fingerbones, no matter how pretty it was.
And it is pretty, even compared to games five years later. Luigi, the translucent ghosts, the cartoony mansion architecture... it looks damn good. When you pulled up this game - and millions did, it was a launch title - you saw a vision of the Nintendo universe that was far and away above Super Mario 64. It looked next-gen.
It falls short in length... the game is called "Luigi's Mansion," not "Super Luigi World," after all. It also suffers from a desparate need to assign actions to every conceivable button just so we could all get used to the fancy new GameCube controller. But jump into that skin and this is a happy, fun little game.
Memory Score: Nintendo does Resident Evil. Brilliant.
released November 2001, purchased November 2001
|Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader|
This was the launch title that blew your doors off. When you saw that beautifully rendered X-Wing sail over that detailed Death Star, you knew that the GameCube was more powerful than the PS2. Comparing Rogue Leader to February's PS2 Star Wars: Starfighter... well, it was no comparison at all. Starfighter was a cheap Episode 1 cash-in. Rogue Leader was an immersive dogfighting adventure in the Star Wars universe.
It also wasn't afraid to kick your ass around a little bit, with piles of upgrades hidden in ridiculous locations, rewards that required absolute goal perfection, and intense endgame firefights. All of which made this the first GameCube title I could never beat.
Memory Score: The Launch Lust title.
released November 2001, purchased November 2001
You're not going to believe this, but there was a time when Super Monkey Ball was a GameCube exclusive that was just as weird of a concept game as Mr. Mosquito or Katamari Damacy. You rolled around balls filled with monkeys, man. It was bizarre.
Of course, it turned into another soulless console whore... but as a launch title, it was the strange Japanese niche title with stellar word-of-mouth.
And it was classically fun. Decent multiplayer modes, an old-time arcade feel, and bonus games that were worth playing. (We burned through a ton of Monkey Target.) If you were an average player, you had plenty of fun. If you were a gifted player, you had plenty more puzzles to unlock. The game worked for every skill level, and gave the GameCube its first party game.
It all seems so normal today, doesn't it?
Memory Score: Fall out!
Next time: Mario's age-old enemy visits under the new flag of peace, Spider-Man swings in for an early movie tie-in... and the game that has come to define every Nintendo console since the N64.
Super Sonic Spider Smash Melee Battle Adventure Movie|
Wednesday / 06.14.06 / 01:08AM / Joe
released December 2001, December 2001
click here for my review written in January 2002!
This is a GameCube essential.
And the first Cube game that truly felt "next gen." It looked amazing, had an absurd amount of unlockables, ridiculously anal stats-keeping, a full barrage of characters both recognizable and obscure... and gameplay that scaled to let both newbs and pros enjoy the hell out of it.
I think it's also a positive orgy for Nintendo obsessives, packed with company history and references. Melee validated many a fanboy's existence, and probably created just as many new hardcore fans. Whether your major muse was Pokemon, EarthBound, Game & Watch, Zelda, or whatever, this game had something especially for you. It even shone the spotlight on games that had yet to appear in the US, like Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing.
One of Nintendo's first-party signatures of the GameCube generation was games that you couldn't possibly finish to 100%, and Melee was the progenitor of that concept. Even today, you still occasionally hear about new hidden messages... like the one I just heard that pops up after you log 5000 matches: "That's one penny per match!" Insane.
It's tough to imagine how they'll top this one. But an army of Nintendo die-hards is waiting...
Memory Score: There is not a GameCube library on the planet that lacks Smash Bros.
released February 2002, February 2002
|Sonic Adventure 2: Battle|
Sonic on Nintendo.
It's like going to McDonald's and getting a Whopper. It's impossible. And yet, after Sega backstepped its way out of the hardware business, it happened. An ancient video game rivalry was put to rest.
I was a Genesis fan - and I distinctly recall my jaw hitting the floor when I saw the Sonic Adventure demo running on a Dreamcast kiosk at EB - so I was super-excited to get a "new" Sonic game.
Plus, check out the date. This was smack in the middle of the GameCube's post-launch drought, where just about nothing happened for six months. Nintendo lost a lot of momentum, expecting their time-suck games like Melee and Pikmin to absorb the shock.
So this Dreamcast port hit at a good time.
And it was a fun ride. Not especially substantial, a trifle unpolished, visually and conceptually dated... but easy and cute. I really liked the song "City Escape" from the first level; "Pumpkin Hill," not so much.
Memory Score: Sonic, I'll always remember you like this
released April 2002, April 2002
click here for my review written in June 2002!
This was a good game for its time. Particularly since the first-party drought was still in full effect. Like most movie tie-ins, this game was everywhere. The movie was huge news, and the game rode that wave.
It was definitely a step up from the borked controls of the PS1/N64 Spider-Man games, where the various web moves were more a result of luck than skillful button work. Given the linear structure, by-the-book mission variety, and the silly webswinging levels where a missed line means a fall to Spidey's death... this was little more than an updated, Hollywood edition of the previous generation's Spider-Man experience.
And it managed to be rendered completely obsolete once the sequel used GTA as a template.
Memory Score: Worst part: Spidey's fight against the Green Power Ranger, who attacks by hopping
Next time: We bust out of the lean first year with some extreme inline action, a visit to the outskirts of Raccoon City, and the GameCube's most unique (and overlooked) M-rated title.
Aggressive Eternal Evil|
Saturday / 07.01.06 / 10:57AM / Joe
released May 2002, purchased May 2002
This was a pretty big deal, getting a Resident Evil game on a Nintendo system, even if it was a fancy dancy remake. Plus, Nintendo got to fightin' with a little M-rated cred.
It did look great, but then, it damn well better... it's pre-rendered backgrounds. Unfortunately, by 2002, the world was pretty much bone-weary of the weird old RE tank control scheme. And, although the first Resident Evil is a museum-quality classic, it ain't because of the high-end plot. So combine a very familiar (albeit remixed) premise with Clinton-era controls, and you don't end up with a title that moves GameCubes.
I stopped playing when I got to the first Lisa fight... because you can't kill her, as I later found out online. Which ticked me off after spending hours trying to shotgun the monster down.
Memory Score: I probably didn't give this one a fair shake.
released June 2002, purchased June 2002
|Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem|
click here for my review written in August 2002!
This is the GameCube's Ico.
It's a great game, in a style all but un-represented on the console, with plenty of good buzz... and nobody bought it. The only difference between Ico's Q-rating and Eternal Darkness's Q-rating is that people actually continue to talk about Ico.
Eternal Darkness is a huge Lovecraftian ripoff%D homage with some exceptionally twisted gameplay. Although you start out thinking you're in for some kind of Tomb Raider Plus Melodrama (with the game's main character Alexandra Roivas), you're quickly sent back in time to control a Roman commander as he ventures into an ancient tomb in search of a trip of incredibly powerful artifacts. The game then follows a dozen characters throughout time, all somehow linked to these mysterious talismans.
And even though there's a great balance of physical attacks and magickal spells, the game's true speciality is the insanity system. Whenever you (in whatever character you're currently playing) sees a monster (typically zombie-type stuff), your sanity meter drops... and when that falls too far, the game starts screwing with you. Your character's head will pop off, the game will drop all audio, everything will turn upside down, you'll get a warning about the GameCube controller being unplugged, even the Windows Blue Screen of Death. It's an amazing experience that keeps you constantly engaged.
This game got it all right - story, characters, action, depth, replay, graphics - and nobody cared.
Memory Score: As soon as this masterpiece topped out at fifteen copies sold nationwide, we knew the Cube was never going to attract any more M-rated exclusives.
released August 2002, purchased August 2002
I had never played a Tony Hawk game, but I sort of wanted to try one out. So when I heard about Aggressive Inline I jumped that up to the top of the list, since I do in fact roller blade in real life.
As promised, this is the inline version of Tony Hawk. You skate around big interactive environments chaining tricks and whipping around like crazy. If I remember correctly, this was the first game in this genre to add a performance-based skill upgrade system... meaning that, if you wanted to be a better grinder, you just had to do more grind moves.
I never got good enough to unlock everything, but I did get good enough to have fun with it.
Memory Score: An early contender in this generation's vaunted "breast physics" fight.
Next time: To the beach! First we'll meet up with the girls, then strap on our water packs, and take a ferry ride with a rhyming turtle-man.
Super Animal Spikers Sunshine Crossing|
Sunday / 07.23.06 / 10:37PM / Joe
released August 2002, purchased August 2002
Banking that this would just be a tennis variant with bikini gals, Beach Spikers become one of the very few sports titles to grace my library.
This was about half a year before Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball came out for the Xbox, but this little GameCube exclusive did absolutely nothing to steal any heat from that game. The fact that Beach Spikers had no franchise tie-in (aside from a few Sega references) probably did not help.
Man, it is crazy to think of how games advance during each generation. If you dropped a volleyball game today with limited tournament options, a lackluster create-a-player mode, weird unplayable minigames, and a stilted CPU-controlled camera... at $50... it would be like printing a formal request for bankruptcy. During each cycle, we expect more - and we get more - from our games as time goes by. It almost makes you want to not buy anything until the midway point. Almost.
Anyway, Beach Spikers is a cozy, fun title... faithfully leaping into the Cube's early multiplayer must-haves list. Takes a round to get used to the timing on your button presses, and occasionally the camera will choose the wrong angle (so you get used to keeping an eye on the overhead player position radar map), but overall a worthy party game.
And it is far classier than the infamous DOA game, choosing to use realistic (if attractive) female volleyball player models, rather than over-the-top anime cheesecake. Which, in the end, didn't help sales.
Memory Score: Some of the worst voice over editing in this generation.
released August 2002, purchased August 2002
click here for my review written in September 2002!
Mario adventure titles are the high watermark of any Nintendo system. These are the games that receive the company's greatest efforts and, in turn, they maintain Nintendo's stellar reputation. Not counting all the sidebar Mario sub-franchises and re-releases, Nintendo usually only does one of these per console. So it's a patented Big Deal when they appear.
Unfortunately, in modern times Nintendo has found itself in the high-class problem of being the company that everybody loves to hate... so even their biggest games are relentlessly skewered by both the critics (who have decided that Nintendo needs to fail) and the fanboys (who have decided that Nintendo will never live up to the games of yore). When something like Mario Sunshine appears, there is always this brief bubble of gushing (it's beautiful, it's fun, it's innovative, it's a masterpiece) followed immediately by trendy bashing and nitpicking (it's derivative, it's boring, it's fundamentally flawed, and when you zoom the camera all the way in you can see jaggies).
Today, no one will speak warm words about Super Mario Sunshine. If you never saw a sales chart, you'd think this was a failure on par with Superman 64. People hate the water jetpack. People hate the minimalist story. People hate the lack of level theme variety. People hate the camera. People hate how it's not enough like Mario 64. People hate how it's too much like Mario 64.
I thought it was a great game, a GameCube necessity. A sumptuous, varied, scalable fiesta of a game, suitable for GTA-esque stretches of happy, shiny screwing around. Mario Sunshine may have challenged me, it may have frustrated me (damn those old school jumping levels!), but it never disappointed me.
I am now alone but happy on Isle Delfino.
Memory Score: Mario: the textbook example of a man victimized by his own success
released September 2002, purchased September 2002
I've been gripped by games before. I've immersed myself into game worlds for hours upon hours. But nothing to date compares to what Animal Crossing did to me.
This game took over my real life for over a year. When I looked at the clock, I always mentally computed how many hours I had left until Nook's closed. I took days off work so I wouldn't miss any afternoon holiday events. I started what became a rather famous online diary, which began as pure fan-fiction and then turned into a post-modern analysis of the game's potential. I fastidiously tracked missing items, and never missed a chance to find them (even if the game refused to give them up). I traded furniture with fellow players from all over the world. I scanned eCards by the bushelful, and made extra in-game money by plugging in my GBA. I autopsied this game, I examined it from every angle, I pushed it to the (non-cheating) limits.
All in about twenty minutes a day.
After playing all these trial-by-error, high pressure, stats-tracking, intense adventure, one-shot-kill, action games... it's just so nice to play a game that simply doesn't expect you to do anything. There's no arrow demanding you head in that direction. There's no locked door waiting for a hidden key. There's no timer counting down the seconds to a Game Over.
There's no Game Over.
There's not even a Game.
It is a zen koan in video game form.
And yet, Animal Crossing can drive you mad if you let it. Because so many other video game trappings have been excised, you start expecting perfection. Why is letter writing such a chore? Why is my inventory limited? Why do we keep having the same conversations? Why can't I influence the game's random methods of item distribution? Why did my most favorite villager of all just move out?
Animal Crossing is The Sims without micro-management, Harvest Moon without purpose, GTA without the missions, and a MMORPG without the MMO part. It is a relaxing, slow-drip game... made for casual players, yet maddeningly perfect for the hardcore types who have to collect every item and see every corner. It is Nintendo's most spectacularly innovative contribution to video gaming in the last decade.
Memory Score: There is no "extra life"... just your life
Next time: One of my favorite series makes a disappointing next-gen debut, a forgotten franchise gambles heavily and wins big, and a rare Nintendo pre-order bonus.
Metroid Party Quest 4|
Sunday / 08.27.06 / 08:00PM / Joe
released October 2002, purchased October 2002
After enjoying all three N64 Mario Party editions, I was psyched for the sub-franchise's next-gen debut. I was imagining the cheerful board game fun combined with visuals at Super Smash Bros. Melee quality.
And I really didn't get that.
The board game worlds - which formerly explored fantastical 3D terrain themed to birthday cakes and pirate ships - were flat and abstract, with SNES-style tiled backgrounds. The mini-games were what they were, but there simply was not enough of them... and the board game itself introduced this confusing "mini-mega system," where you had to shrink to take path A, and grow to take path B. Which meant I had to waste fifteen minutes of playtime explaining the concept to players who just wanted to roll the die and get to a mini-game match.
The only good thing about Mario Party 4 is that the end of single-layer mode faces you against Bowser in a private challenge that was quite a leap for the series.
Ya hear that? The only good thing about this *Mario Party* is a small portion of the *single player mode*.
That's worse than a Sonic game where you have to constantly stop running (which we'll get to in January of '04).
Memory Score: The worst Mario Party ever.
released November 2002, purchased November 2002
Man, there was such a stink about this when it was announced.
THERE MAKING TEH METROID 3D OH NOOOOOOES
The fear was that Nintendo has handed off the franchise to an unknown developer (Retro Studios) to be turned into a cookie-cutter FPS in a half-assed bid to generate more "mature" interest in the GameCube, which, in under a year since its debut, had already been dubbed kiddie-ghey by the Sony and Microsoft camps.
My first reaction to the news of Metroid Prime was "Holy shit, there are still Metroid fans out there?" Let's face it: it had been two console generations and eight years since the last Metroid game. Smash Bros. cameo aside, this was a dead franchise. There were people who got into and got out of video games without ever having seen the word "Metroid" on the racks.
And then there was the group, weaned on dual analog control, who were convinced that Nintendo could not pull off a decent FPS with the GameCube's gimped C-stick. (This group was then shouted down by the folks who still say that you can't do FPS games without a mouse/keyboard, period.)
So when the game was finally released, it was to broad suspicion.
Which was quickly turned into massive acclaim, because the game managed to hit on all fronts. It looked great, it played great, it controlled great... and it evoked that classic Metroid feel. What could have been the final nail in the coffin of a forgotten Nintendo property became the catalyst for re-launching Metroid as a modern, dramatic, current-gen marquee name.
For my part, I enjoyed it far more than expected... since, like everyone else, I figured it to be nothing more than yet another sci-fi shooter. That last boss fight was a bitch-and-a-half though.
Memory Score: This was a big gamble, but it paid off
released February 2003, received February 2003
|The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Master Quest|
Once Nintendo fanboys cooled off over Metroid Prime, the fight began over Wind Waker.
You know the story: a billion gamers betrayed after the famed SpaceWorld 2000 footage. Miyamoto shocked at the "Celda" taunts. Wind Waker placed under wraps until E3 2002.
So what to do to soothe the rage of fair-weather fans who leap at the chance to despise a game just because it looks "cartoony"?
You concoct the most incredible pre-order bonus scheme in video game history.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Master Quest is a re-release of the N64's Zelda game... with the added bonus of the only-in-Japan Master Quest, a kind of Ocarina remix. Nobody hated Ocarina. So give them Ocarina. Hilariously, most of the same people whining about Link's new look pointed to Ocarina - a low-poly N64 game - as being realistic-looking.
And although I was happy to snag a rare piece of Nintendo history on the pre-order, I never played either Ocarina adventure on the disc. I was still playing Vice City and Animal Crossing.
Memory Score: I'm sure it's great
Next time: Celda hits the waves, Wolverine hits the skids, and an Xbox "exclusive" hits the Cube.
Legend of Cell: Splinter's Revenge|
Thursday / 09.07.06 / 11:33PM / Joe
released February 2003, purchased February 2003
|The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker|
The thing about Wind Waker is that, no matter how great the game is, it will forever be labelled as the One That Let Everybody Down. Even though by the time everyone actually played it, most people got past the kneejerk whiny ex-fanboy reaction and decided the game was a worthy addition to the series.
Maybe it's because I was pretty late to the Zelda bandwagon (I was annoyed by Link to the Past and got-bored-and-left on Ocarina of Time), but I was more or less okay with the Wind Waker look sooner than most. Yes, I had seen the Spaceworld 2000 demo. Yes, I thought that looked cool. My only reservation to the cel-shaded reveal was one of irritation-by-proxy; I (rightly) figured that this would be assessed as a graphics downgrade and be yankee doodled as an example of how the GameCube is a weaker machine than the Xbox and the PS2. So it wasn't so much that I was ticked that Link didn't look like a cosplayer, but that it would add fuel to the Nintendo Haters party.
Wind Waker polarized the Nintendo audience: you had the half that felt disappointed that "their" franchise had been denied the opportunity to graduate into a fully realistic, modern experience... and you had the other half who began chanting "GAMEPLAY NOT GRAPHICS" at every opportunity.
And it sold like crazy, but that was too little of a press release too late... the street damage had already been done. Perception is reality, and the new reality was the same as the old N64 reality: Nintendo as kiddie friendly, Nintendo as unwilling to appeal to the core demographics, Nintendo surviving on tentpole first-party releases. This was the junction box, and Nintendo stayed on the road well-travelled.
It would be another two years before a game would come along with the anticipation and hype to rival Wind Waker.
Memory Score: Wind Waker sealed the GameCube's fate as the N64-2
released April 2003, purchased April 2003
click here for my review written in May 2003!
This game sucked.
Cleverly timed to release alongside the X2 movie but lacking anything to do with X2 (other than some stock photography of Hugh Jackman on the cover), this is a terrible game with some good ideas that fails at every turn. I'm sure you're surprised.
Bad camera, bad level design, bad enemy lock-on, bad kill combo triggers, bad save points, bad boss fights. And it borrows a bad idea from the unimpressive PS2 game The Getaway in that you have to stand still for half an hour to let Wolvie heal up. At least in the Marvel Comics world, that makes sense... but it still makes a tedious game all the more depressing.
Note to future Wolverine developers (I know you're out there): Sabretooth does not have the ability to leap into the air and create rings of fire when he lands.
The only interesting feature is the stealth mode that lets you see the world through Wolverine's enhanced senses, including the heat signatures of footprints and the lingering smell of generic enemy guards. Oh, and some of the kill animations are pretty cool.
But nothing is worth all the terrible this game puts out.
Memory Score: The cool kill moves are randomized. That's how awful this game is.
released April 2003, purchased April 2003
I have a huge chip on my shoulder about the Splinter Cell series.
It all goes back to when the first Splinter Cell was purposefully and maliciously marketed as an Xbox exclusive... remember all the commercials showing off the incredible lighting effects? It was the big holiday 2002 title for Microsoft - positioned against genuine console exclusives Metroid Prime and Vice City - so you can bet that the Xbox PR dicks figured that sales would cool considerably if anybody realized that the damn game was coming to Cube and PS2 in six months. So they fudged it and fooled a lot of people. You'll still find fanboys out there who consider Splinter Cell an "Xbox" kind of game, whatever that means.
And to add insult to malicious, intentional injury, the flacks then went about calling Splinter Cell the game that was like Metal Gear Solid without all the crap you hate about Metal Gear Solid (Anti-Raiden sentiment was still riding high.) Which is just plain fightin' words.
Now, they've developed the franchise since this first installment (chiefly into the realm of online play), but this one is an overly-linear, ridiculous dungeon crawl with a crappy story and lots of typically Clancy psuedo-realistic government mumbo-jumbo. I mean, come on, the dude crouches in a shadow and he turns fucking invisible? That's realism?
Memory Score: I got it for the GBA hookup, which I thought was great
Next time: an animated GTA clone, a satisfying Cube success story, and my first Player's Choice selection.
Soul Pik & Run|
Sunday / 09.17.06 / 03:57PM / Joe
released August 2003, purchased August 2003
I like some good hype once in a while. And I like a good fighting game once in a while.
I generally don't care much for fighters. Prior to SC2, all of my traditional fighting games were based on comic book licenses (can I get a HELL YEAH for Justice League Task Force!) My problem is that you don't usually get much with them. A roster of combatants, a handful of arenas... and that's it. If you lack the desire to master all of the impossible finger-crunching special moves, and if you're not all that interested in fielding match-up after match-up... well, it seems to explain to me why fighter fans tend to pick one fave and belittle all else. Because if you're hardcore, you've made a serious time investment. And if you're casual, you need exactly one of them. Ever. And it should probably be Smash Bros.
Two things sold me on Soul Calibur 2: the unlockable, collectible weapons... and Link. Which brings us to the hype portion.
There was mad hype about this release, because each console received a different exclusive character. The PS2 version borrowed Heihachi from Tekken (no one cared). The Xbox received Todd McFarlane's overplayed fan-service 1990s embarrassment, Spawn (no one cared).
And the little purple GameCube got Link, looking just like he did in the Spaceworld 2000 demo, before being turned into one of the Flintstone's neighbors. Of course, the Cube version then went to massively outsell the other two, in a slam dunk for Nintendo that ranks as one the GameCube's finest hours.
But back to me. I had a hell of a great time with this one, even though I thought Link's moves sucked. My girl is Talim. Mike and I will still pull this one out for some easy late night gaming.
Also: the single player "adventure" mode is a complete joke.
Memory Score: I refuse to spell it as one word
released September 2003, purchased September 2003
click here for my review, written in October 2003!
I gave it a shot. And it did not suck.
This is a de-violenced GTA riff, with a historically tragic video game license. It's hard to believe that it wasn't a complete failure. For years, we've tolerated Simpsons games that are Simpsons games only insofar as they feature renders of the Simpsons characters. Hit & Run went a long way toward redeeming a criminal legacy of bad platformers, curious sports adaptations, and that crappy Crazy Taxi clone.
It's short, the environments are repeated, the lip sync is nonexistant, but the core gameplay is solid enough to enjoy it for a couple weekends. I wonder why a sequel never showed up, because a game like this could have been blockbuster with twice as much content.
Memory Score: Giant robot wasps?!?
released December 2001, purchased September 2003
I sidestepped Pikmin when it was first released largely because I was busy with Smash Bros. I mean, come on.
But when Pikmin hit the $20 mark, I bit... and found one of those surprisingly chewy little games that nobody played. I'm sure it was the basic concept that threw people off: you control hordes of little flower men. And I recall Nintendo making huge press out of the game being an RTS, which it is (sort of), but conventional wisdom suggests that the real-time strategy genre is DOA on non-keyboarded consoles. So I bet that also led to some hasty judgements.
For me, the biggest problem was the damn clock on each level. Here's a game that you're going to want to explore for hours, and then Miyamoto puts a clock on it! The game is tough enough (to 100% completion, anyway) without it. Nintendo sold this game short by stapling such an aggressive and arbitrary timer to it. I suspect they would have pulled a lot more mileage out of it had they made this first edition (Pikmin 2 hit in '04) much more approachable.
Pikmin FTW: those damn plant dudes have become one of the most recognizable new IPs of this generation. Plus, Nintendo had an actual plant bred to look like the Pikmin blooms! Insane.
Memory Score: A great example of Nintendo-as-Innovator
Next time: a big license with a small hero, one of Nintendo's best selling and hugely anticipated franchise titles, and my first taste of the fabled Capcom Five
Double Joe Hobbit|
Saturday / 09.30.06 / 01:34AM / Joe
released October 2003, purchased October 2003
I was pretty excited for this one, because I liked what I saw of the funky art style and what I heard about the retro 2D gameplay. And I really wanted to know what the hell "viewtiful" meant.
But it turned into a disappointment. The kinetic Power Ranger visuals were great, until I found out that, under the mask, Joe is just a hydrocephalic, media-addicted Fred Durst. Add to that the fact that the bad guys repeat like crazy (including a far-too-hard duplicate boss sequence that sent me crawling to the corner in shame) and you have a title that took the old school homage a bit too seriously.
There were some fun quirks to the combat, namely a bunch of VCR-derived super-attacks that slowed down and/or sped up time... so it was totally playable. It just tried too hard to be a "HIT FRANCHISE" right out of the gate, instead of letting itself appear naturally cool.
And I still don't know what "viewtiful" means.
Memory Score: My young Joe...
released November 2003, purchased November 2003
|Mario Kart: Double Dash!!|
click here for my two-man review with Boris, written in December 2003!
A GameCube library must-have, and a terrific new take on one of the most abused genres of video games: the kart racer.
Aside from just plain looking great, aside from having a great (if short) series of unlockables, aside from being one of the most happily playable titles of the entire generation, the gonzo two-man kart concept is just incredible.
It's fun enough to manage two characters' item slots when playing by yourself, but it really shines when you're in multiplayer. You, the pro gamer, can play this one with your non-gamer pal, or your also-gamer pal, or your barely-gamer four-year-old son of your pal's wife's cousin. And all involved will enjoy it. It's a co-op or competitive multiplayer family friendly kart racer that scales up or down the ability chart. Astonishing.
The only thing you can say against Double Dash is that it could probably have done well with another one or two sets of tracks. Once you unlock the final batch, you are in no way satisfied.
Memory Score: HI I'M DAISY
released November 2003, purchased November 2003
click here for my review, written in February 2004!
Presenting a game-fied version of Tolkien's classic while riding the coattails of Peter Jackson's big movie epic, this was not a terrible game at all. It wasn't a great game, but you really wouldn't have expected that, would you?
The Hobbit is an adventure in the Zelda style, with plenty of item-fetching and easy combat and platform jumping. A pleasant enough diversion that stays true enough to the book while still cleaning out space for gigantic Tomb Raider-style puzzles inside the Lonely Mountain. It does nothing new whatsoever, but it does the usual quite capably.
Unfortunately, the game totally misses the chance to do something cool with Gollum, the ring-addicted little scene stealer of Jackson's movies. And the end boss fight is truly bizarre... but given that, in the book, Bilbo spends the final battle largely unconscious, I guess they had to come up with something.
Memory Score: I really appreciated Bilbo finding the black butterflies. Nice touch.
Next time: the Party is redeemed, the Legend is reissued, and the Pocket Monsters take a recess.
The Party Edition Channel|
Monday / 10.09.06 / 01:02AM / Joe
released November 2003, purchased November 2003
After the slapdash efforts of #4, the screenshots for #5 gave me some hope for this Party. Although, by this time, everyone I know is pretty much burned out on the whole concept... and I'm weary of picking up a new one every Thanksgiving. But I just had to see some real, next-gen board game renders. Whee.
Mario Party 5 introduced the capsule system for using and planting items... which, although it's easier to explain than #4's mini-mega system, it's still clunky and slow.
There are some absolutely crazy extras on this one, the too-cute action games of Beach Volleyball and Ice Hockey, and the strangely detailed Super Duel Mode, where you build custom go-karts for arena-style car-based deathmatches. Really? I'm serious.
Nintendo should combine all of the Mario Parties into one big massive uber-game for the Wii, complete with every single extra mode and bonus feature. With so many boards and mini-games available, you could play for weeks without a repeat, and you'd definitely feel like you got your $50 worth.
Memory Score: I'm a big fan, but at this point I'm, like, $300 in just on Mario Party games. Ugh.
released November 2003, received November 2003
|The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition|
The greatest thing about this disc is that you got it sent to you, free of charge, just for registering X GameCube purchases on Nintendo.com. In a world with Nintendo receding in the face of the other console's exclusive features, you'd think Nintendo would be doing this more often. This is one realm where no one can touch them: otaku nostalgia. They should have given away a different compilation set every holiday.
Wishes aside, this one features almost every pre-Cube console Zelda game, with the notable exception of Link to the Past, which was available on store shelves as a GBA release. So you can guess why they decided not to include it.
I vaguely recall booting up the NES originals, but only out of curiousity. After giving my all to NES Metroid (unlocked back in Metroid Prime), I've all but given up on the old school stuff. I'm not into drawing my own maps anymore.
Memory Score: I should probably check out Majora's Mask, an N64 game I somehow managed to skip
released December 2003, purchased December 2003
G4's weekly testosterone-fest rated this as one of the worst GameCube games ever, which is totally unfair, because this is, unashamedly and obviously, an actual kids game. I know G4 regularly has difficulty identifying a Nintendo kids games from a Nintendo all-ages game (hint: stop reviewing games just to appease pre-teen PS2 forum junkies), but this one is a solid little kiddie exploration title with hints of Animal Crossing-esque content.
What are all those PC edutainment games? Putt-putt? Reader Rabbit? This is like that, except that it's about Pokemon and hinges around watching television... so there's no way you'll get the edu-crowd to back it.
The deal is that you live with Pikachu - who is wonderfully animated - and you have to travel around a very limited world clicking on other pokemon. Your room holds all of the items you collect, including the centerpiece television set that lets you watch various Pokemon Universe channels. Like Slowpoke's Weather Channel, or Shop'n'Squirtle, or the Pokemon News Network, with Psyduck as the anchor and Meowth as the investigative reporter.
Order something from the shopping channel (using money that you win for answering trivia questions) and the item is delivered tomorrow. Real-world tomorrow. If you collect all of the "missing show disks" (which takes about a week for the diligent player), and you get an exclusive half-hour animated movie. There's even some bare eReader interaction.
It's meant for three-year-olds. And as a diehard, I was happy to check it out.
Memory Score: Finally, the GameCube tech demo "Meowth's Party" comes home!
Next time: A great overlooked new-IP title, a multiplayer giveaway that never fails to impress, and the game that killed Sonic dead.
I, Pac-Man Hero|
Monday / 10.23.06 / 01:11AM / Joe
released December 2003, purchased December 2003
One of the great cyclical debates in video gaming is Old Franchise vs. New Franchise. Everybody complains there is too much Mario, too many Final Fantasies, a crutch-like reliance on movie/TV cash-ins, and just nowhere near the number of wholly original intellectual properties appearing on the racks. Like in the 16-bit glory days of Aero the Acrobat, Bonk's Adventure and Bubsy, I suppose.
So Namco - no doubt still fighting against the urge to release a next-gen Mappy 3D mascot platformer - steps up with I-Ninja, a pure-fun 3D action title with combined elements of Mario64, Monkey Ball, Sonic and Legend of Zelda. And no one buys it.
I honestly don't remember how I heard of this one. I think there may have been a demo on one of the OPM PS2 discs. But however I found it, I was glad I did. It's good like first-Sly-Cooper good.
Yeah, baddie variety was nil and it's really only a thin veneer on lots of established gameplay types, but the departure mini-games, the fast/smooth action, and the convincingly cartoony art direction more than made up for it.
Memory Score: Somehow, classic gameplay plus unfamiliar characters equals refreshing. This time.
released December 2003, received December 2003
This was intended to be given out as a free bonus to people who bonus various Namco games during the Holiday '03 shopping season, such as I-Ninja.
Funny story: I was at one of the area gaming stores that I dislike, hunting up a second WaveBird controller. There was a stack of Pac-Man Vs. discs by the register and the amiable clerk gave me one for nothin'. I just asked.
Sad story: Toys R Us had no idea that I was supposed to get a free Pac-Man Vs. with my I-Ninja purchase. So either their shipment was sent to GameStop and no one cared, or else they still have a box of Pac-Man Vs. giveaways sitting in the back, Lost Ark-style.
Either way, I ended up karmically balanced: one copy of I-Ninja, one copy of Pac-Man Vs.
The long, boring saga behind Pac-Man Vs. is that it was dreamed up by Miyamoto himself one crazy day (probably at a How The Hell Are We Going To Push The Cube/GBA Connection meeting) and he called Namco to see if they were interested. So the end result is a cool-ass one-in-a-million mashup where up to four players play Pac-Man while Mario does color commentary.
Memory Score: I love trotting this out for multiplayer, because it shows off an impressive amount of gear
released January 2004, purchased January 2004
Whenever people start to get squirrelly about all the Mario games that hit every year, the educated gamer's response is "As long as they keep making good games, they can make as many Mario games as they want."
Sonic is what happens when you stop making good games.
Yes, in the great cosmic rivalry between Sega and Nintendo, Mario has not only won, he has lapped the blue blur. And not just because Sega's hardware went belly-up, but because somebody at Sonic decided to start making crap.
I think people were generally okay with the Sonic Adventure series, born to the Dreamcast and ported to whatever john would have them. Heroes, however, was an unlikable dud. The concept seemed sound: create various three-person dream teams, culled from the entirety of the Sonic Universe. Each team gets a runner, a fighter, and a flyer. During the typically Sonician levels, you have to switch between the three to clear various obstacles.
Only when playing it did you realize that this meant lots of stopping.
Yes, a Sonic game based on stopping.
That sound you hear is your innocence dying.
Memory Score: Thanks to years of mediocre efforts, Sonic the Hedgehog has become no more meaningful than latter day flash-in-the-pans like Spyro the Dragon or Crash Bandicoot.
Next time: a major franchise returns to Nintendo after years of staying Sony... but not in the way you expected; a major franchise appears on the Cube in exactly the way you expected... but not in the way you wanted; and a brand new title loses all hope of becoming a franchise thanks to awful sales and a transparent story... but not according to every reviewer I've ever read.
Beyond Fantasy & Pokemon|
Monday / 10.30.06 / 09:34PM / Joe
released December 2003, purchased February 2004
click here for my review written in February 2004!
This is the absolute most over-rated game this generation.
BG&E consistently pops up on every critic's "Overlooked Gems" list. It's held up as a triumph of story in video games. Guaranteed, when the dust finally settles on this generation, you'll find it on every single Most Awesome Games list out there.
And I do not get it at all. This is a half-hearted, transparent effort at best. The vaunted storyline is obnoxiously simple, with stock characters (hey look! the guy who looks like a jingoistic dope actually is a jingoistic dope!) and a plot that could have been ripped from an episode of Captain Planet. And here's a pro tip: it's all over in six hours.
The advance hype on this thing was intense... here was a new IP with a deep-thinking title that was going to change the way you thought about interactive media. Somehow, everybody bought into it. Still. When you can find genuinely complex storylines and richly layered characters in games like MGS2, Fatal Frame 2 and Eternal Darkness (to name a few) on this generation's racks, holding up Beyond Good & Evil as some kind of artistic pinnacle is just humiliating. Any critic who does so should have his or her license revoked.
Sales for BG&E were so poor that the price was dropped from $50 to $20 after only a month on sale. $20 is about right. The actual gameplay was okay (if you dig Zelda clones, which is fine), but the whole package was hugely oversold and falsely reviewed.
Memory Score: ALPHA SECTIONS MURDERERS! ALPHA SECTIONS MURDERERS!
released February 2004, purchased February 2004
|Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles|
click here for my review written in April 2004!
I know that this game's release on a Nintendo system was something of an historic moment, given the storied relationship between the Final Fantasy folks and console exclusivity. But seeing as how I've never played a Final Fantasy game, I didn't really care about such a momentous cessation of hostilities. All I was interested is was that this game required a pile of GBAs for multiplayer.
I'll bite on non-traditional control schemes every time, especially when they are born of top-tier developers. And in those pre-DS days, plugging in Game Boy Advances for additional screen space and game efficiency was just too compelling. When FF:CC came out, I had two GBAs - an original and an SP - and I bought a second SP not long afterward.
It's a strange hybrid of magic-based hack'n'slash and low-level role-playing. There's some fun multiplayer quirks... like a competitive angle to loot distribution (based on "secret goals" that are randomly chosen for each player and revealed only on the GBA screen.) And before you ask, yes, the GBA usage is worth it. Even more so today when you can get the game for $10.
The big fault is that, once you start a game, it becomes increasingly difficult for new players to jump in. Although initial reports swore it would be pick-up-and-play, the levelling-up of character skills and the scalable baddie strengths preclude this becoming the New Gen, tech-savvy Gauntlet. Once you start, you're better off to stick with your same party members if you want to see the game to conclusion. It's a big mis-step for a game that was already difficult enough to round up the proper allotment of gear and players.
Memory Score: The FF connection? There's moogles. That's enough for you, kupo.
released March 2004, purchased March 2004
Man, every poke-fan on the planet was beside themselves when Nintendo started dropping hints that the franchise's Huge Console Game would be a full-fledged RPG with stellar big-time visuals and gameplay straight out of the unbelievable depth of the Game Boy Pokemon games.
They got it about half right.
A physically draining, franchise-whoring, unappealing disappointment, Colosseum evoked bad memories of the N64 Stadium games at their very worst. You walk into a town and you battle. Then you battle. And again, more battling. That's it. No breeding, no berry-planting, no contests, no fishing, no catching, not even bike riding. It is painful... and that's coming from a self-proclaimed Pokemon fan.
Nintendo is dead-set against letting the franchise expand onto their home consoles; I assume because they don't want to threaten the marketplace power of the ten-year Pokemon handheld juggernaut. As long as they keep pumping out half-assed tedium like this, they'll have nothing to worry about.
Memory Score: I actually fell asleep playing this game. Several times.
Next time: The GameCube pretends it's both a PlayStation and a GBA! Plus, the Zelda multiplayer mashup nobody wanted!
Four Mega Twin Party Snakes|
Tuesday / 11.07.06 / 11:59PM / Joe
released March 2004, purchased March 2004
|Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes|
Years ago, I had a demo of Metal Gear Solid for the PS1. I didn't like it. I couldn't even get out of the first room without being spotted and whacked by the ! guards. But when MGS2 showed up as one of the first truly "next gen" offerings for the PS2, I took the chance on it and found it one of the most compelling and original games I had ever played. And I decided that I probably missed out on something cool by passing on the original MGS.
Against all odds, Nintendo got Silicon Knights (the Eternal Darkness team) to do a Metal Gear Solid remake for the GameCube, but with the look and feel of the PS2's MGS2. There is so much wrong with that sentence. It boggles the mind.
It seemed like a win-win: Silicon Knights gets to work with a gaming legend, Nintendo gets a new "mature" title that is kinda sorta exclusive. But I don't think many people bit. Despite early hopeful rumors, this obviously did not lead to a GameCube port of Sons of Liberty... and Silicon Knights now works for Microsoft. So, uh, I think we can chalk this up to the Nintendo M-rated curse.
For my part, I thought the game was great. Seeing Snake's Alaskan adventure, with the classically silly bad guys and the first encounter with Otacon... it underscored the "virtual mission" theme to Sons of Liberty. Seemed kinda short, though.
Memory Score: The WaveBird kinda took some of the fun out of the Psycho Mantis scene
released April 2004, purchased April 2004
|WarioWare, Inc: Mega Party Game$|
This is that most bizarre of console games, the lateral port from a handheld. You don't see this all that often.
GBA WarioWare came out of nowhere (it was made largely in secret over a very short period of time) but became a monster hit in '03. A GameCube port was fast-tracked, but plussed up with plenty of multiplayer-centric game modes.
This is a fun party title, but it suffers from an unexpected New Player vs Old Player syndrome. WarioWare masters will rock the face of any newbies at the table, and the very nature of WarioWare's fast-paced, obtuse minigames will mean ugly frustration for those without prior exposure.
We actually ended up playing this one far less than anticipated, just because it felt like playing the GBA game all over again. It could have used a lot more new games, rather than relying so much on the bitmappy GBA offerings. I've enjoyed it more recently, two years later, after losing some of my finely honed WarioWare touch.
Memory Score: ...while ...saying ...something ...nice ...about ...Joe!
released June 2004, purchased June 2004
|The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures|
Speaking of bizarre GBA-inspired multiplayer GameCube games...
This, the lowest-selling Zelda game of all time, was the final and finest effort from Nintendo's panned-and-devoured GBA/GameCube connectivity push. It was a crappy time for the Big N. They were getting slammed over the eReader. They were getting slammed over the lack of online play. And they were getting slammed over the GBA/Cube connection. By the time Four Swords Adventures was released, everyone had officially given up on the concept of plugging your Game Boys into the Cube. Which is a shame, because this was a great game... and, come on, admit it, you already own a damn GBA anyway.
Like Mega Party Game$, FSA owes its creation to a handheld game: the Four Swords multiplayer add-on to the 2002 GBA re-release of A Link to the Past. There, Four Swords was a randomly generated dungeon crawl, stylized in homage to LttP. On the GameCube, it became more of a linear adventure (no random dungeons), with equal visual parentage to LttP and The Wind Waker. So, think a 2D game with sharp graphics and clean special effects. And four Links in different colored tunics.
The gimmick here is that levels will shift your character from the TV screen to the GBA screen. This never fails to impress me. The boss fights and level designs all relied on some amazing cooperation between players... but a fun competitive angle was introduced by collecting rupees for the "win."
FSA was a clever and intricate game, and it sucks that nobody bought it. You could even play it single-player, although we certainly didn't.
And I don't care what popular opinion says: I love that art style.
Memory Score: Who was the most helpful? Who was the most annoying?
Next time: Spidey does GTA! Pikmin does multiplayer! Pokemon does box!?!
Thursday / 12.07.06 / 07:36PM / Joe
released June 2004, purchased July 2004
click here for my review written in July 2004!
Spider-Man spends 90% of his time retrieving lost balloons for kids.
Although this was a huge improvement over the previous Spider-Man movie game, it still has some weird angles to it that you can either spin as "unfinished" or "ahead of its time."
The true-to-scale New York City that never you can roam at will, top to bottom, without hitting a loading screen is wild... but it looks like total crap and has too few landmarks to help you navigate. Web-swinging is almost perfect, a zen experience that makes you feel like you're actually the -Man... but street-level brawling is a mess of impossible combo moves against burly no-name thugs who consistently dodge your super-heroic attacks. There's plenty of GTA-esque side missions and item hunts to keep you occupied... but they repeat to infinity, it just looks weird to have Spidey constantly standing on the sidewalk talking to pedestrians, and the boss fights are all terrible. (One of which, the Mysterio battle, is enough to make you swear off video games forever.)
You have to play it for the web-swinging. Seriously.
Memory Score: Just because humankind has invented ragdoll physics does not mean they must be employed every time.
released July 2004, purchased July 2004
|Pokemon Box: Ruby & Sapphire|
What an odd little thing: this is a utility that allows you to save your extra Pokemon overflow to a GameCube memory card.
You could only get it through Nintendo (online store or NYC store) and it came packaged with a GBA/GameCube Link Cable and a custom original-flavor memory card. Priced to move at $20, which is not bad, considering the cable alone sold for $7 or $8. Probably rather collectible.
Of course, the ability to page through your GBA Pokemon save files and transfer excess characters to the Cube for safekeeping should have been built in to the dull-as-dishwater Pokemon Colosseum. Pokemon Box additionally lets you play Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire on your TV without the need for the Game Boy Player, which is also something that Colosseum could have and should have handled.
If you needed an extra Link Cable and had some pokemon to stash, this was an interesting add-on. Even if it mainly served to remind you how awful Colosseum was.
Memory Score: The collection display mode was horrible and hopefully resulted in somebody getting fired.
released August 2004, purchased August 2004
The big complaint about the first Pikmin is that the day/night cycle introduced an obnoxious timer to each level that actually inhibited you from exploring the game. Note that: People bitched because they wanted to play the game more. That's a high-class problem.
So one of the sequel's hype points was that you could play without the timer. Which is kind of a lie.
The only time that you're not under the ticking clock is when you explore one of the claustrophobic underground levels... but the game screws you by giving you a finite number of pikmin that can go underground. Let all of them die and you lose your treasures and have to start the dungeon over.
Which is a fine challenge for the advanced player, but it still avoids the issue that you can't take your time and leisurely enjoy Miyamoto's underappreciated masterpiece in the pastoral, relaxing way the game world seems to demand.
This is a great, clever, unique game. I want to play it without some arbitrary difficulty-meter putting my balls in a vice.
In other news, the game's multiplayer modes are surprisingly beefy, and the game proper ends with only half of the buried items discovered... so it has plenty of playing value. This one definitely needs to make the leap to the Wii.
Memory Score: Plus you can kill hours throwing carrots at beasties in the interactive zoo exhibit mode.
Next time: the thousand-year door, the million-Morlock march, and one bad Fred Schneider impersonation
Paper Konga Legends|
Thursday / 01.11.07 / 12:07AM / Joe
released September 2004, purchased September 2004
This is a classic example of Nintendo releasing something silly and fun that nobody cares about.
I mean, come on. We all knew that the DK Bongos would not be used for f-all else but this one line of rhythm games (We got two of them; I think Japan got three.) Nintendo managed to squeak out the innovative Jungle Beat in a surprise move, but, like the eReader before it, the Bongos' future strength was decided by the lack of present sales.
The Konga project was actually done by Namco, not Nintendo, who would later sideline a PS2 version (Taiko Drum Master) without any pretense of ever using the drum peripheral again. Donkey Konga and Taiko Drum Master are therefore bizarrely identical games, with Taiko just edging out with a better song list. Both games, however, include a terrible version of Love Shack.
Donkey Konga's biggest failing - apart from killing your arms in 20 minutes - is the decidedly low-fi presentation. The backgrounds are filled with Donkey Kong Country renders that amount to animated gifs, and the menu structure is obnoxious thanks to the Bongos' lack of a d-pad. Nintendo could have gotten a lot more mileage out of this one had they just worked with Namco to amp up the look to something more than SNES levels. (Perhaps not ironically, Taiko Drum Master arrived with a stylized, cartoony look far superior to DK's 3D renders of dancing banana chickens.)
Memory Score: Be fair... that "konga" pun was pitch-perfect.
released October 2004, purchased October 2004
|Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door|
It's one of the strongest Mario sub-brands, but the Paper Mario series doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves. I don't know anybody who played either game, on N64 or the Cube. And I almost never see anybody talking about it. Both games probably arrived too late in their respective console's life cycle to create much impact.
Whereas on the N64, where the case could be made that everything is made of flat "paper" because the cartridge could more easily handle the 2D graphics, the Cube sequel took the flat look and OWNED it. Mario was given abilities befitting a two dimensional character - rolling into a tube, folding into an airplane - and bosses showed up as complex origami-esque constructions. Paper Mario 2 also took advantage of the GameCube's power to spotlight sequences featuring hundreds of flowing and thronging sprites.
All around, it's a terribly clever game. The turn-based combat never gets boring; the RPG stat elements are streamlined and intuitive; the adventure offers a linear path but plenty of free-roaming sidequests. And for some reason, Nintendo allows this franchise of the Mushroom Kingdom to have a self-deprecating, inwardly sarcastic vibe... resulting in gags like Luigi fabricating his own amazing adventure because he usually never has anything to do.
Memory Score: I love the character designs on this series!
released September 2004, purchased October 2004
click here for my review written in May 2005!
A letdown saved only by virtue of the easy-access multiplayer.
We're getting closer to the mythical Great Super-Hero Game, but X-Men: Legends is too similar to all of those awful arcade games where you fought endless streams of palette-swapped bad guys. Except now it has a worse camera angle.
The hook here is that you can CREATE YOUR OWN X-MEN TEAM from A ROSTER OF YOUR FAVORITE COMIC GREATS. But they're mostly the same, functionally. Wolverine punching with claws equals Colossus punching with fists. There's a half-assed RPG mode where you can push powers and stats by increments, but by the end of the game everybody is going to be maxxed anyway, so why bother. There's even an Auto toggle that pluses the skills for you, so that should reveal just how important it is.
The coolest feature is using the shoulder button as a shift to access a second set of attacks - your MUTANT POWERS - but even those are all samey. Toss in the usual nonsensical labyrinth level designs and typical boned camera motions (including dragging other players to their death), and you've got a nicely mediocre multiplayer game.
But when you're scrabbling for multiplayer co-op, you'll take what you can get. Why is that still so rare? Are we still beholden to the unfair characterization that video gamers are solitary beasts? I would have thought that online play and, you know, marriage would have killed that by now.
Memory Score: It just takes a few Morlocks to kill off every X-Men. Remember that.
Next time: another N64 sequel (not so great this time), a party you can talk to (a good attempt at innovating), and the GameCube's final trump card (you know what I'm talking about)
Evil Power Party 46|
Friday / 02.23.07 / 12:51AM / Joe
released November 2004, purchased November 2004
We played the crap out of Mario Tennis on the N64. It was always a reliably fun evening. So I was pretty psyched for the sequel.
And then I was pretty disappointed. Because it's not a sequel. At least, not in the respect of offering anything new. It's the same game, except kicked in the junk a couple times. This is the kind of forgettable fare that hurts Nintendo's "the sequels are worth it" image and unleashes the anti-fanboys.
What went wrong? Those flashy new power shots, for starters. I'm sure they were intended to "Mario-ify" the experience in the same way that Mario Kart does racing games, but they just assassinated the game of tennis, wrecking the sport's flow with repetitive, over-long animations. And since these cartoonish plays always return any shot, no matter how far across the court, you can forget about your strategy and settle in for some painful endurance volleys. The best feature about the power shots is that you can turn them off. And we did.
Then there's the mini-games (and bonus court environments), which run from unplayable to maddening. Half of these games take place on fields so colorful that you can't see the ball. And the other half require the kind of tennis skill that the core game won't let you develop if power shots are turned on. If you've ever played multiplayer on that Paint The Wall game, well, you probably only played it once. It will kill your friends and then it will kill you.
Ok, sure, it looks great. Having new character choices is always a Good Sequel Thing (Wiggler!) To give the game proper due, there's not much you need to do to make a great tennis game, if that's all you plan to accomplish. Mario Tennis was a great tennis game. Mario Power Tennis was also a great tennis game, once you sidestepped the lousy add-ons. Just one that you largely didn't need if you still had the N64 version around.
Memory Score: "Yours."
released December 2004, purchased December 2004
This is the one that debuted the microphone games. That's why I got it.
The notion of voice-controlled games pushed me past my Party Ennui, and it was cute enough for a couple go-rounds. It was also nice to see the series step outside of the collect-coins-buy-stars paradigm and offer up some different goals on certain boards. Honestly, why *did* we have to have six boards with the exact same structure in the previous games?
Nevertheless, the interest level for Mario Party is on life-support these days. The games simply suck up too much time, and there's too much waiting around for your turn. We officially skipped on Mario Party 7 after this one. And Mario Party 8 is going to need to show some serious rationale before I'll pick it up on the Wii.
I've been argued with on this topic, but I remain steadfast in my opinion that this franchise needs to go online... not so you can play strangers and watch them disconnect once you're ahead, but so you can play against friends and take your turns simultaneously. Apply some of the community elements that online games have enjoyed for years - custom avatars, rankings, team variants - and you've got the Mario Universe game that can finally get the Nintendo brand online.
Memory Score: The game show thing is a good idea... perfect for a Wii appearance.
released January 2005, purchased January 2005
click here for my review written in February 2005!
How bizarre that Resident Evil's grand resurrection - a game some say was the high point for this entire generation - was on the Nintendo Friggin' GameCube?
There's just no reason why this played out the way it did. My theory is that we all live inside the mindscape of a disillusioned Nintendo fan in the real world who wished so hard for the PS2's Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube that he created a pocket reality.
After such a convoluted development history, the even bigger shock was that the game was damn good. In that pre 01/05 world, Resident Evil was a bloody joke, most commonly known for overextending itself into ports and a truly awful online version. Core Game Number Four (No Subtitle) turned it all around.
The risks paid off. Some of the series' staple elements were scuttled, but no one mourned them. They made some pundit hay with the notion of "No Zombies In This One!" but come on; the Ganados are fucking zombies in every aspect that counts.
This game proved that you can turn around a dying franchise, giving hope to all the Bandicoots, Tomb Raiders, Spyros and Sonics of the world. You just have to aim for blisteringly awesome and end up topping it.
Because gamers are now sweating a new RE game like never before. You can count it once again among the Modern Greats like Metal Gear Solid and Legend of Zelda.
Memory Score: "What're ye selling?"
Next time: dust off your pistol, your beam cannon, and your bongos!
Donkey Gun Beat Echoes|
Wednesday / 05.09.07 / 07:00PM / Joe
released March 2005, purchased March 2005
I'm all for unusual games and uniquely appropriate control schemes, but it would be nice if said games didn't try to kill you.
Although I enjoyed the first half of Jungle Beat (read: the easy half), I never mustered the internal fortitude to finish the game. Eventually, the complicated bongo-banging necessary to maneuver DK through the trickier bits just outpaced me. And it doesn't take too many failed attempts before you completely lose interest in abusing your arms any further.
I think Nintendo learned some lessons on the nature of the human body with Jungle Beat, lessons that were applied directly to Wii development. IE, repeated violent movements are superbad. If you can play Jungle Beat for more than an hour, you're either a superhuman or a subhuman, I don't know which.
Maybe there's the big problem... Nintendo combined intense physical activity with long, unforgiving level design. Jungle Beat was really nothing more than a Thank You to all the fans who bought the bongos and were (rightfully) tired of Donkey Konga. Plus, geez, if they hadn't released this, what would they have done in 2005?
Beautiful game, though. And most of the boss fights make really clever use of the bongo controls. I'm just not sure that full-length platforming challenges were the right venue for the bongo control scheme.
Memory Score: And why the duplicate DK closeup in the bottom corner?
released November 2005, purchased November 2005
click here for my review written in January 2006!
There's always a Wild West game in development. Yet they never sell.
Gun was definitely ambitious... so ambitious that it was referred to as "GTA in the Old West." Which is more or less true, just it's a GTA without much to do. I guess that's in theme. You definitely get the impression that the American West was vast and empty.
Not a bad effort, but the linear storyline is not well-suited for a sandbox game. You finish a mission, you watch a perilously important cutscene... and then you are dropped back into the game world with no direction. And like Red Dead Revolver before it (which was better), Gun lifts characters and plot points from movie after movie without shame. (Gun even stirred up some minor flack over the game's portrayal of "savage" Native Americans during the first portion of the storyline.)
The controls had some weird bits, like using the same button for "holster" and "scope zoom," WTF.
More unforgivable is the pointless Texas Hold 'Em competitions where you're allowed to enter and win dough without wagering any of your in-game cash.
Someday somebody will do a compelling Western game. I hear there's a new one in dev.
Memory Score: She's dead! Guess I'll go play poker for an hour...
released November 2004, purchased December 2005
Metroid Prime 2 went head-to-head with San Andreas and Halo 2... and lost. Then, to make matters worse, even the Nintendo fans didn't buy it.
I liked the original Prime. It was different. It was dramatic. I probably would have been there for MP2 had I not been really busy with San Andreas at the time.
So I waited a year and picked it up on the cheap, and now I see why it floundered.
Back when Mystery Science Theater was this garage band thing that nobody but me liked, they did a zeroxed fan newsletter and one of those had the then-unknown Mike Nelson reviewing Doom 2 (of all things.) He described Doom 2 has being "more of Doom 1." And that's exactly what Metroid Prime 2 is... more of Metroid Prime 1.
Generally speaking, I think we all expected more than that. I have read that the game takes a major switch-up deep into it, but the first part was very tedious, lots of backtracking, with the usual no-help mapping system. So I never finished it. It sat in my "will get to" pile for years. I think it's still there, actually. On the bottom.
Memory Score: Just give me a map with goal points cleanly and clearly marked.
Next time: the GameCube blowout for 2006! Two new releases, two missed classics! The penultimate farewell!
Sunday / 06.03.07 / 11:57PM / Joe
released February 2006, purchased February 2006
And another brand new Nintendo IP slips out to absolutely no acclaim while jackholes everywhere bitch and whine about Nintendo never doing any new IP! ANOTHER MARIO GAME DURRRRRR.
This is a fantastic little game, a sandbox world set entirely within one family's household chiefly seen from the perspective of toys. Cheebo himself is only about six inches tall, so if you need to get to the kitchen sink it involves climbing up drawer handles and whatnot. This viewpoint has been done before, from Micro Machines to Army Men, but Chibi-Robo's open world environment, task-based storyline and bizarre cast of characters give it the needed charm and luster. This is a very Nintendo GTA.
Of course, by February '06, the GameCube was already on life support, so poor Cheebo didn't get the marketing respect nor the sales he deserved.
Plus, that dude needs merch, pronto.
Memory Score: You found all ten Frog Rings! Now find all ten again!
released March 2006, purchased March 2006
This game had been around since, what, E3 2004? Nobody quite knew what to make of it then, and when it finally showed up, it sucked just enough that even those who would have sold its praises up and down were annoyed by it.
It's definitely unique: a pinball game with RTS elements set in a fictionalized feudal Japan with the occasional giant headed spider monk. Typical pinball controls apply, but you control your armies with voice commands... and those commands are usually you screaming at them to get the hell out of the way of your smashy iron wreckin' ball.
Unfortunately, it's damn near unplayable. The voice control is sketchy, the last half of the game is frustratingly obtuse, and goal-oriented pinball remains just as obnoxious as goal-oriented pinball has always been. To make matters worse - and I'm talking eating-your-grandmother worse - the game demands you play each level in sequence without the possibility of re-playing older levels (until the very end.) If you do decide to jump back and re-play one (because, maybe, you, you know, enjoyed it), the game erases all of your progress beyond that level. WTF.
Memory Score: A good-bad idea gone horribly bad-bad.
released July 2005, purchased July 2006
I was following this one for quite some time, simply because it was an M-rated GameCube exclusive (another arm of the doomed Capcom Five), but the tepid early reviews bumped it off of my watch list. So I picked it up a year later for $15.
I can see why nobody got it. Killer 7 has weird-ass controls for no good reason other than to have weird-ass controls. Unless you dedicate some serious adjustment time to the first few levels, the control scheme just gets in the way. When a game puts "walk" on the A button instead of the analog stick, you know it's just messing with you.
If you can make it past all of that, Killer 7 is slick and satisfying. The storyline gives Sons of Liberty a run for its money in the head-scratching-logic department. The primary conceit - you control a team of assassins who all seem to share the same body - is darkly clever.
A recommended game. Just know what you're in for.
Memory Score: Master, we're in a tight spot!
released November 2004, purchased March 2007
Although I usually don't care much for backwards compatibility, it can be nice to use the previous generation's cream to get you through the new generation's lean first year. I went from the Wii's Twilight Princess and WarioWare right into Baten Kaitos, a three year old B-grade GameCube-exclusive RPG.
I gave it a try because of A) the price, B) the card-based combat system and C) it's from Namco. Easily the best $5.50 I ever spent. I ended up with 50+ hours in on this one.
Baten Kaitos starts out with a really dull plot, but if you slog through the cliche parts, some cool stuff starts to happen... including a completely unexpected homage to the little-known Namco game Tower of Druaga. The middle of this game is pretty cool, but it's bookended with by-the-numbers RPG junk. The worst part is that even the boring bits could have been passable had Namco bothered to fashion proper cinematic cutscenes instead of using the game engine for the entire thing.
Oh, and as far as the card-based stuff... it's really just a more interesting (to me, anyway) way to level up your characters' skills. Each of the six playable characters gets their own deck and of course you keep mixing in the best cards you find (or buy). Aside from your personal desire for pure variety, there's not any reason to even care about half of the team, since only three go into combat at a time. Each battle, your attacks are determined by the cards you draw and the complexity is neatly layered by enemies' strengths and weakness to various types, your ability to pull off any of the game's mysterious combos, and an intense poker hand system that makes you identify matching card values to form pairs and full houses before the timer runs out on your attack. It's pretty amazing, actually.
Memory Score: I loved how they kept talking to me.
Next time: the stats.
Final GameCube Stats Roundup!|
Saturday / 07.21.07 / 12:31AM / Joe
And now, the bare facts about my GameCube collection. First, THE GRAPH.
This charts the number of games I bought each month, from November 2001 to March 2007. There are 52 games total, with '03 and '04 tied for most number of purchases. For the first three full years, my GameCube buys were pretty much steady, with the only obvious "drought" in summer of '03... which was then evened out by the '03 holiday release blitz. (Of course, by mid-2005, things were unapologetically grim.) On average, that's about one new game every five weeks!
A dot with a gray center indicates a month where I picked up a game that was several months (if not years) old at the time... so you can see that the majority of my purchases were full-price, first-week-of-release buys.
IGN gives my collection an average rating of 8.3, which is no doubt a reflection of the modern reviewing system of giving every game a B+ unless it totally obviously totally stinks. I have 56 GameCube games there because my IGN list includes four bonus disks - the GameCube Preview (Viewiful Joe, Billy Hatcher, etc), the Mario Kart Double Dash Bonus, the Metroid Prime 2 Bonus, and the Pokemon Colosseum Bonus.
All of the following rankings refer to MY collection of games, not the entire GameCube library.
Brand New IPs: Super Monkey Ball, Eternal Darkness*, Animal Crossing*, Splinter Cell, Pikmin*, Viewtiful Joe, I-Ninja, Beyond Good & Evil, Gun, Chibi-Robo*, Odama*, Killer 7, Baten Kaitos* (* = exclusive to GameCube)
Number of games with "Mario" in the title: 7 (but 6 more either have Mario in them or could be considered Mario Universe games)
Number of GameCube-exclusive games (as of this posting): 33
Number of memory cards: 6... one 59, two 251s, one 1019, the Animal Crossing 59, and the Pokemon Box 59.
Number of controllers: 7... five regular, two WaveBirds. I had to have four for Smash Bros (adoy), then picked up the WaveBirds when they came out, and then got another controller with my second GameCube.
Peripherals: DK Bongos, Game Boy Player, Broadband Adapter (never used!), two Microphones (one with Odama and one with Mario Party 6), several third-party controller cable extenders, five or six GBA-to-GameCube cables.
Soundtrack albums I grabbed: Smash Bros Melee, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, Soul Calibur 2, Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, Animal Crossing, Wind Waker, The Hobbit, Crystal Chronicles, Baten Kaitos.
|BEST BOX ART
||WORST BOX ART|
The Wind Waker Link taken into anime territory, with beautiful dramatic color and lighting.
Huh? Jill getting strangled near a pointlessly-emphasized glowy window makes the cover?
I was expecting something boring and it turned out nicely weird.
Promised a full RPG experience and delivered more endless battles, just now with mindless walking inbetween.
|BEST CONCEPTS: standout features that will found future games|
1. The real time clock with built-in holiday events. This was a life-altering feature.
2. Insanity effects. Ranging from absurd to disturbing, the insanity meter became this game's raison d'etre.
3. GBA screen. An ahead-of-its-time idea.
4. Web-swinging. NYC was boring and drab, but getting around town was the closest I've felt to flying.
|WORST CONCEPTS: classically dopey design mistakes|
1. The unbeatable boss. "Exclusive content," my ass!
2. Foreign embassies with no interior lighting. Come on now.
3. The whole fucking control scheme. Walk on A? Get out of here.
4. Giant robot wasps. Even given the twist ending this makes no sense.
|RECOMMENDED GAMES YOU PROBABLY OVERLOOKED: what, are you cheap, stupid or both?|
1. Eternal Darkness. The poster child for undeservedly underplayed GameCube games.
2. Pikmin 2. Bigger and better than the first one, which also rocked.
3. Chibi-Robo. Fantastic low-impact sandbox, in a Toy Story-meets-Wonderland setting.
4. I-Ninja. Just plain fun. Deserves a sequel.
|SO BAD THEY'RE GOOD: games that you have to see to believe||UNJUSTLY ACCUSED: games that were beat up for no good reason|
1. Odama. Wonderful concept, but terrible execution. Almost unplayable at points, but confidently bizarre.
2. Beach Spikers. Cheesy (but not sleazy) all-women volleyball.
1. Wind Waker. "Celda" comments were so, so short-sighted.
2. Mario Sunshine. I hated what people liked about this one, and liked what people hated.
|BEST MULTIPLAYER: for the best in game nights|
1. Soul Calibur 2. My requests for the new one: Talim, Talim, Talim and Talim.
2. Super Smash Bros Melee. This game makes fans out of everyone.
3. Double Dash. Having two players in one kart was brilliant... I'm sad that it doesn't even seem to be an option in the upcoming Wii edition.
4. Four Swords Adventures. Think different: 2D gameplay plus GBA controls plus player voting plus gorgeous Wind Waker styling.
A winning experiment in delayed gratification, sprinkled with secrets and run by furries.
Buggy and ugly, the best thing about this game is that it smells.
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