It's doing well, then. More than 50,000 units sold in Germany, more than 75,000 units sold in the United Kingdom, and it seems to be virtually sold out everywhere to boot. But then, who cares if that's more than the you-know-what sold, and if you-know-who's press release extolling the virtues of third place in a harsh market read like an obituary? I'm just amazed by the attach rate. What I want to know is, what the hell were you chaps buying?
Rogue Leading From The Front
After years of first party domination on the N64 (not to mention Nintendo's silly and frustrating policy towards the PAL region), is it not refreshing to see a third party exclusive at the top of the Cube's debut sales chart? It's a signal that somebody threw money at the right person. But beyond Rogue Leader (which we will just assume everybody bought), what else has been selling?
Of course, you never get third party games on a Nintendo console. We all know this, because it's all we ever hear. But the plain and simple fact of it seems to be that whoever said that was postulating from their posterior. Some twenty games form the Cube's launch line-up (it was probably 19, but Nintendo won't talk to us about that - they're probably too busy smacking EA round the head with last minute cancellation NBA Street), and they seem to be selling. ELSPA's All Formats Top 40 console games chart includes Cube games in four of the top five positions, with 2002 FIFA World Cup the odd one out occupying second place. Hang on; can't you get that on the Cube too?
Having been released a week early, the 'not actually exclusive but marketed that way to boost sales' Sonic Adventure 2 : Battle has enjoyed surprising success, finding itself perched atop the rest of the third party titles and even outselling NST's Wave Race : Blue Storm. Oh, so you will buy this but not the Dreamcast version? You heartless bastards. I hope you all rot. Perhaps the clue is in Sonic Advance's continued success, as the link mode has made a big impression.
Nintendo's own Luigi's Mansion basks in the lack of Mario Sunshine. Apparently you wanted to join the quirky plumber's taller and greener brother on his trip to the haunted mansion, because he's up there with Rogue Leader at the sharp end of the charts. Following the petrified plumber into the top five is Sega's Super Monkey Ball, which certainly deserves its success. Although the bizarre simian antics of the four main 'characters' may seem rather childish, and it may not be the deepest of the Cube games, shallow can be good now and then, and if you were looking for a multiplayer game this is the only one to buy.
It's interesting to see that Crazy Taxi and Bloody Roar : Primal Fury both enjoy chart space this month as well, despite being (respectively) decrepit and simplistic. Neither game exactly stretches the Cube's capabilities, and neither is especially good. In the absence of real killer applications, gamers have clearly been chancing their arm at something slightly less than phenomenal.
In terms of peripheral sales, none of the manufacturers we spoke to would comment on the S-Video cable situation specifically, but a couple who wished to remain anonymous said they would not be backing Nintendo in a hurry next time out. The dissemination of information from the gaming giant has apparently been somewhat lacklustre. And speaking of cables, just like the recent Xbox launch, RGB cables are gold dust. Not even the press have them.
The launch has gone very well by all accounts - even Microsoft grudgingly admits that, although the 'marathon' analogy raises its ugly head again. I think we're actually in transatlantic flight territory now, chaps. Whatever the situation though, Cube fans have spoken, and now it's time to peek beyond the launch at what Cube owners have to look forward to.
This month's Cube releases fall into two categories - Nintendo, and fodder. Perhaps harsh, but when you consider that everything bar Nintendo's NBA Courtside 2002 and Super Smash Brothers Melee is a port of a PlayStation 2 game, you get the general idea. Naturally we've been playing Courtside and SSBM for weeks, and reviews of both will be written very soon. Courtside, developed by former Nintendo stalwart Leftfield, is deceptively big. To the casual gamer it may look like a fairly realistic basketball game with a wacky control system and some missing animations, but dig a little deeper and you will find an arcade mode to rival NBA Street, a simulation mode with an extraordinary depth of customisation and statistics, and some ingenious controls. I wouldn't exactly call it 'instantly accessible' though, and for some that will count against it.
Super Smash Brothers Melee on the other hand is as simple as they come, but it's the way Nintendo wields the concept that matters. The game is a beat 'em up of about four moves, featuring characters from every one of Nintendo's major (and many less than major) franchises, but strategy and tactics make more of a difference to the result of your average bout than a 36-hit combo. Unlike the Virtua Fighters and Tekkens of this world, you don't need to play for hours to start enjoying it, and I can already hold my own against grizzled veterans of the NTSC versions, even if I do need to handicap the opposition. And that's the fascinating, and frankly the most enjoyable, thing about it.
Buy Buy Buy
Elsewhere in May you can await the likes of NHL Hitz and Red Card Soccer from Midway, and there's nothing wrong with either of those if you haven't tried them already on the PS2. Then there's THQ's appalling Dark Summit, having the cheek to appear on the same day as Courtside and Super Smash. And whatever you may have read, Virtua Striker 3, also appearing on the same day, is not shaping up to expel Pro Evolution from the genre's top spot. Or even ISS2 from its right hand side.
Cube fans will really start to understand the meaning of loneliness by the end of June. Although Pikmin is being held back to the 14th to pad out Nintendo's spartan summer release schedule, it's a surprisingly short game. You can enjoy it a couple of times through, as I did, but once again it's a single player Miyamoto adventure without much of a lifespan. Elsewhere the disreputable likes of Fred Flintstone, Soul Fighter and Hidden Invasion sprout up.
A sad display, but .. aha! What's this I spy? Stone the crows, it's a role-playing game! Although we can't find any reviews of it yet (not even in the traditionally fast single format mags), Lost Kingdoms, another of Activision's handy scoops, is due out at the end of June. And if you don't already have the PlayStation 2 original, EA's indispensable SSX Tricky also arrives in time for the summer.
Ultimately, the reason people buy Nintendo consoles is for Mario, and people want to know when the portly plumber will be displacing his wimpy sibling and gracing the platform for the first time in Europe. The good news is that with July and August dates planned for the Japanese and American launches respectively, we can look forward to Mario Sunshine at Christmas. Why not September, or even August? The usual excuses - localisation, that sort of thing. We weren't really listening.
Fright fest fans will obviously want to know when and how BioHazard is going to make an appearance as well. Resident Evil, as it will obviously be called over here, is due out in Europe this September. That's a few months away still, but the game is going to blow you away, and fans of the series will be mesmerized. Plus it has Jill Valentine in it. Sliding up and down the walls is still the order of the day, which messes with the stunningly well-directed narrative, but before long only the task of killing zombies, tyrants, hunters and so forth will be occupying your thoughts. Not the technical merits of the game. It's a testament to Shinji Mikami and his team that the game is believable. And we understand the PAL conversion is also very good. But we promised not to say precisely how and why.
And what else? Well, there's Zelda, Metroid Prime, Star Fox Adventures and Eternal Darkness on the horizon. We don't know exactly when those games will actually arrive in Europe, but some of them are threatening to appear on store shelves somewhere at some point during the next year. Furthermore, Namco's backing of the Cube includes a new Ridge Racer game and a version of Soul Calibur 2, and we understand Konami will be upping its level of support as well. And we're not just talking about their Disney extreme sports game. The only thing missing now is a Street Fighter game from Capcom. Expect to hear something about that soon, mind, because Capcom and Nintendo are best buddies these days.
It's not all doom and gloom, as you can see. The Cube has sold well at launch, people have bought lots of software so far, and there are a number of interesting prospects for fledgling owners to look forward to in the long run. It may not be packed with ports or overflowing with controversy, and it may well yet slow to a halt during the summer months, but the enormous game drought endured by US Cube owners for several of the console's early months could be avoided here. Although it may have angered fans, strategically positioning Courtside, Smash Brothers and Pikmin over the next couple of months could have been the sort of genius missing from the US launch.
And finally, for those of you still craving more Cube juice, here are five things you might not have known about the Cube. 1. In most games, if you hold down B, X and Start/Pause for a couple of seconds the machine will reset. Useful for lazy people, or those whose front room resembles a Tomb Raider level. 2. If you hold down the Z button while booting the GameCube, instead of the catchy diddly-diddly-dum tune, the music will be replaced with the sound of monkeys and babies giggling and howling. Interesting. 3. Nintendo hasn't ruled out supplementing the Cube's capabilities with extra memory, as they once did with the N64, but Flipper's designer Greg Buchner has so far denied the possibility. 4. Apart from loading in a flash and looking rather swish, the 1.5Gb discs created by Panasonic for the Cube also feature a tiny ring of microscopic notches as an anti-piracy measure. If the Cube doesn't find this on any given disc, it won't boot it. 5. Memory Card 59 is good enough for about 8-10 games' worth of save storage, but larger third party cards are available. Unfortunately, the Cube only allows 127 saves per card, so many of these don't work as advertised. D'oh! Nintendo's own Memory Card 251 will get round this.