It's often tough to say goodbye. But when only eight games come out for a system in a whole year, it's probably time to bid our farewells. The last GameCube release - the last one ever, I think it's safe to say - was Ratatouille, and God knows where the shops put that. Hidden amongst the three pre-owned copies of Luigi's Mansion at the back of the shelf, probably.
It's a super little thing, though, the GameCube; oddly schizophrenic, it's a console that breaches the gap between the strict, inflexible, Yamauchi-led Nintendo of old and the friendly, progressive, casually successful Nintendo of today. And thanks to the Wii's backwards-compatibility (which, unlike either the PS3's or the 360's, is hardware-based, and works perfectly), its classics need not sit in the back of the cupboard like that enormous pile of Megadrive, N64 and SNES cartridges, ignored until you can be arsed to go through the tangle of old cables to find that peculiar N64 power supply.
It has a lot of fans, the Cube, and pioneered a few really interesting things like Game Boy Advance connectivity, the WaveBird and the Game Boy Player. You often see it painted as a poor, underachieving wee soul, but the reality was always far from that image. It was an experimental console despite its conservative business model, and even though it ended up about five million-odd sales behind its nearest competition and more than 90 million behind the market leader, it turned a good profit (the original Xbox, meanwhile, lost Microsoft around four billion dollars). It never challenged the PlayStation 2, eeither in terms of sales nor in the breadth and variety of its games, but it had an awful lot worth playing, including some of the best games ever made, and quite a few mad and brilliant titles that never made it over to Europe.
It's these that we celebrate here - the lesser-known Cube titles, many of which were impossible to find in shops even back when they were released; those that are interesting for one reason or another even if they were never blockbusters, those intriguing curiosities that you thought about buying in 2003 before balking at the price. These days, a good search of eBay should yield numerous obscure treasures for pennies. The good old Freeloader will still serve you well on the Wii.
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release: 2001 (2004 in Europe)
This, in hindsight, is definitely an historical artifact. Animal Crossing is the new Nintendo philosophy in its formative stages - inclusiveness, family-orientated play, accessibility, connectivity, all that jazz - and like Nintendogs, Brain Training and many of the other things that are currently making Nintendo rich, it was criticised for not actually being a game (and tormented reviewers). To people who don't like Animal Crossing, the hold it commands over its players seems like terrifying Nintendo voodoo.
Actually, though, Animal Crossing is all game. It's about incremental improvement, input and reward, and the accumulation of vast, vast numbers of things - all classic, traditional gaming values. It has a vast amount of content, but its genius is that it never overwhelms. Instead it keeps you playing for literally years with its steady drip of new, exciting items and developments in your own little town and its charmingly bonkers characters. I'll never forget sneaking away from my own family celebrations on the Christmas of 2001 to share a celebration at the town fountain with my virtual neighbours. Dolly the sheep gave me a green scarf.
The astounding thing about Animal Crossing is its endurance, really, as a concept. First released in 1999 on the N64, then again on the GameCube in 2001 (and again in 2004 in Europe, after three ridiculous years), then yet again on the DS, and due for release again on the Wii, it's gone from a great idea marred by cumbersome technology - like trading memory cards to visit other towns, hooking up your Game Boy Advance to download NES games and designs and scanning GBA E-Cards for new stuff - to something hugely successful and universally appealing, just as it was originally intended to be. To track the history of Miyamoto's very first 'communication game' is to track many of the developments that have changed Nintendo and its audience over the past decade, and it's a very interesting exercise.
What we said: "It's charming and childish, yet has that layer of humour sophistication that rescues it from being labelled as a mere curiosity cult."
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean and Baten Kaitos Origins
- Developer: Monolith Soft
- Release: 2004/2006
Goodness, look at all those words about Animal Crossing! Baten Kaitos is less significant, but it makes the list because it's interesting. You play a guardian spirit guiding - yes - a blue-haired teenager through stupendously complicated and intricate card battles in a bewilderingly involved, two-part operatic fairy tale. The appeal here, apart from the offbeat style, is the elaborate card system, which ties in with some very hardcore stat-tracking and leveling-up. If you love your card games, this is a great example of the genre, wrapped up in a gorgeous and involving fantasy world. Lovely music, too.
What we said: "The quirky style of the whole thing feels more at home on the Cube than it would be on either of the other consoles."
- Developer: Kuju
- Release: 2005
Super little game, this, although the new Wii one is a bit better. Apart from its sequel, it's still alone in attempting to blend Advance Wars strategy with old-school action-shooting on the fly. Something about it recalls early PlayStation and N64 third-person shooters, with its bright, clear colours and explosions, but being able to switch between troops and command others whilst diving into battle yourself gave it a new twist, and was definitely ambitious. It got the action/strategy balance very slightly wrong, but this is definitely a worthwhile game - interestingly, it's really quite rare now, especially in Europe.
What we said: "It stands out an unpretentious and largely unique example of how to blend strategy and action in a relentlessly entertaining way."
Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg
- Developer: Sonic Team
- Release: 2003
Billy Hatcher is a surprisingly old-school SEGA platformer, with all the primary colours, odd-looking characters and obscene frustration that description entails. It can be amazingly annoying to play and the cheery bright music starts to eat away at your brain after about an hour - and despite all of that, it's nearly the best platformer on the Cube. It's like nothing else, except perhaps Glover, and even that's only a passing resemblance. Look at Billy's silly happy face, rolling those eggs about. Look at his stark astonishment every single time something hatches out of them. Look at the BLUE SKIES. Billy Hatcher is a bit of a nineties throwback, but you might well find it a welcome one.
What we said: "A fairly meaningless but devilishly addictive platform game that isn't afraid of hatching a few new ideas." [I should have my hands cut off - Ed]
- Developer: Skip
- Release: 2006
Unfortunately, this came out at a time when most shops had already relegated their GameCube displays to one shelf at the back, or indeed gotten rid of them altogether. Chibi-Robo is a beautiful game about a mute, four-inch-tall robot whose life is dedicated to improving that of others. He was bought as a birthday present for the weird daughter of a fraught family, and through his miniscule, touching efforts in cleaning the house, the lovely little robot helps to heal the family whilst exploring their immense home, discovering exciting new things. By night, he helps the toys that come to life in the Sanderson household, looking eagerly and wordlessly on as mini-dramas play out and relationships develop, helping wherever he can. Some didn't understand Chibi-Robo because much of the game's substance consists in cleaning and running about. But those are the same people who can't see the value of Harvest Moon's honest graft or paying off your mortgage in Animal Crossing, people who don't understand how simple hard work can fit into the atmosphere and ethos of a game. Chibi-Robo is one of the loveliest things I've ever played, and I'm quite sure you'll love it.
What we said: "Chibi-Robo doesn't deserve to be relegated to being a mere cult hit." Oh well.
Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest
- Developer: Saru Brunei
- Release: 2002 (Never in Europe)
This is the very definition of a cult classic - a completely bizarre, conceptual, mildly unsettling nonsense of a game whose conceptual strangeness gives it value far, far beyond that of its actual gameplay mechanics. It's the closest thing the GameCube has to Spacestation Silicon Valley - a completely weird, cheerily violent game about evolution and the concept of survival of the fittest, in which you eat, mate and die over and over in a constant quest for self-improvement. It's like a cubist Spore, stripping games (life, even) down to a bare, minimalist graphical and gameplay template. You're constantly working towards betterment, eating colour-coded limbs from other defeated animals in order to mutate, all to a backdrop of equally minimalist, occasionally discordant piano music. It's one of the best things on the GameCube from a cult collector's point of view, peppered with flares of creativity, like the odd poetry that makes up most of the game's text and the 150 different slithering, crawling, striding, scuttling animal mutations with their imaginatively descriptive names ('Mullet', 'Squirtgun', 'Pillowless'), all of them made from nothing more than cubes and tiles. Thanks to a weird publishing agreement with Atlus, Nintendo never allowed Cubivore to be released in Europe, but that's no bother now. Find it on eBay, and be glad you did - as games go, this is probably a surrealist masterpiece.
What we said: Nope, never reviewed. Death to us.
Doshin the Giant
- Developer: Param
- Release: 2002 (Never in the US)
And where the Americans got Cubivore, we got Doshin the Giant - another niche game resurrected from the 64DD, and another with more value as a curiosity piece than as a gaming classic. But that's what we're here for. 'Be a giant, do what you want' was Doshin's slogan, and it did rather well at that, in its own little way. Pottering around an island, helping out tiny human cultures whilst making mountains, adjusting sea levels and stomping down ground to make a pretty valley is really very relaxing - although it is a bit unfortunate that most landscaping activities make Doshin look like he's humping the earth with his belly-button. Doshin is a lovely little game about freedom and scenery. It feels very tactile, very personal; it's a quiet and calming experience, something to play on a Sunday morning. It's an easily exploitable game, full of little errors, but it can still be lovely to play.
Eurogamer said: Nothing! Nothing at all. We were probably too busy reviewing ICO over and over again. Idiots.
Donkey Kongas 1, 2 and 3
- Developer: Namco
- Release: 2004, 2005 and 2005 respectively (the latter Japan-only - originally we put "1005", impressively)
A silly, ridiculous peripheral! Terrible, un-licensed cheesy cover versions of well-known pop hits! Techno remixes of classical music! An appalling tropical brass-band remix of the Zelda theme! Donkey Konga had it all, and though it was hugely successful in Japan, the West never really cottoned on to its charm. Proper rhythm-action aficionados won't have any problems at all with this game, as even the hardest of its settings can be mastered within a weekend, but Donkey Konga isn't for aficionados - it's for anyone with a stroke of silly in them, anyone who wants to feel like a great big monkey clapping and drumming along to Chumbawamba on a set of ludicrous plastic bongos. It's pretty good in multiplayer, too. Everyone loves a bit of cheesy nonsense now and again.
What we said: "We appreciate the simplicity of the idea, but in the absence of the hidden depths we normally expect from this sort of game it ultimately wears thin far too quickly."
Look out for part 2 of our Cube Cult Classics roundup, in which Keza loses it completely and starts advocating frog golf, cows and psychedelic ostracism simulators.