Released in May 2002, the GameCube has arguably underachieved all its life. Right from the off, games like Wave Race: Blue Storm and Super Monkey Ball were struggling to find their feet - despite widespread acclaim from the likes of us. While many of them limped up towards respectable figures by the end of the year, few if any enjoyed the sort of success that console launch titles - and particularly Nintendo titles - traditionally had.
Disappointingly, the story hasn't changed much in the intervening two years or so. Top titles, even in key franchises, have often turned up too late to excite or under-performed following an apparently impressive start, and along the way we've seen plenty of oh-so-close-to-fantastic titles from first and third party developers suffer an even more ignominious fate and fail to even top the GameCube's platform chart.
No surprise then, that when asked for recommendations for a Cube Bluffer's Guide, one of our sharper friends jokingly responded: "Surely just about everything on the GameCube is a cult title?" Fair enough, we said. Poke it if you must. But don't pretend that the humble and unfairly maligned Cube hasn't been home to some of the very best games released in the past few years. Or have we all forgotten the likes of Metroid Prime already?
Frankly, though, it's not really a case of forgetfulness. Judging by our research into underachieving titles on the machine we're fond of calling our little purple joybox [we are? -Ed], in many cases you haven't even discovered some of the best titles on the system to date, let alone had the chance to forget them. It's with some measure of sadness then, that we present our latest Bluffer's Guide - a list of some of the best games we've played that barely managed to trouble the charts. And games that, in many cases, you owe it to yourself to try and track down at their now super-discount prices.
Spend, spend, spend!
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Eternal Darkness may have been respectable enough in Nintendo's eyes to form the backbone of its Christmas 2002 line-up, but it could hardly carry the format single-handed - and having sold to only just about one in fifteen Cube owners at the time of writing, it's little wonder that Nintendo's wider festive offering that year is remembered as a total failure within the industry. Which is a pity, because the last thing Silicon Knights' relentlessly inventive and gripping adventure deserves is to be remembered that way. In a genre that makes its money by jumping out at you and stabbing you in the eye with grisly sights and sounds, Eternal Darkness' decision to try and genuinely frighten you - and the effectiveness of the developer's methods - shone brighter than virtually everything else before or since.
This was a game that didn't just batter you and leave you struggling to survive until the next save point; it actually made you think you'd lost when you hadn't, and pretended to strip you of items when it hadn't, and generally lied and laughed at you - without ever seeming contrived or unfair. Where other survival horror titles had been jumpy, Eternal Darkness was unnerving, and the fact that it managed this whilst spinning an engaging yarn and working in plenty of the staple elements of exploration, puzzling and hackandslash combat (complete with limb-specific targeting) made it all the more memorable. If you bought it, pat yourself on the back. If you didn't, it's cheap enough now that not owning it is virtually inexcusable.
Resident Evil 0
In comparison, Resident Evil 0 is certainly destined to come off worse than Eternal Darkness. But then, as many of the series' fans would point out, that doesn't mean it's not a heck of a lot of fun and tension splattered gorily across a pair of tiny Cube discs. And although it did manage to sell more than most of the other titles in this roundup, we still feel the need to point it out to most of you, because the vast majority have never played it - and, without prompting, probably never will.
Perhaps the idea of directing the fates of two characters concurrently (the game's big trick) proved off-putting for some, or perhaps the thought of yet more Resident Evil with the same inherent control and camera issues was the sticking point. Whatever: Zero didn't enjoy the sales it arguably deserved. It wasn't anything especially new for fans of the series, but it was as sharply tuned and well-realised as any of the others, and it also fleshed out a lot of the series' back-story for anybody still searching for answers, and wasn't exclusively aimed at them either. In short, it covered virtually every base, and yet still it barely managed to coax £40 out of one in seventeen of your wallets. Well, now it doesn't have to - it seems to be going for a near-pittance on eBay, and whatever your argument against buying it at full whack, it's more than a worthy purchase at the current price.
Resident Evil 2, 3 and Code: Veronica
Ah, the 'REmakes'. They were overpriced, they were unchanged, and they weren't the best the series had to offer in any case. And yet here they are on the pages of our Bluffer's Guide. What gives? Well, simple economics. They may have aged rather badly in graphical terms, but at the sort of price they're going for these days, anybody who hopped on the Resident Evil bandwagon on the GameCube will eke countless hours out of these three. Our preference is Resident Evil 2 - digestibly brief, viciously sharp, and thoroughly enjoyable - but the other two (including the oft-slagged but generally engaging Code Veronica) represent equally good value at less-than-ten-quid. Besides, what kind of cultist doesn't have a full library of Evil?
That Ikaruga failed to capture anybody's attention at launch wasn't too big a surprise. Atari was very brave to publish it, but it clearly didn't know how to sell it especially, and in the end Treasure's Dreamcast-to-Cube port sold so badly that mathematically we could probably get away with saying that none of you bought it. We'd still pass the exam. But, of course, we'd prefer to focus on the fact that it was - and remains - the finest 2D shoot-'em-up on the GameCube.
It's devastatingly simple to play, although we always seem to struggle to describe it. You fly up the screen and shoot things. (Actually that wasn't so hard.) Some of those things spit black projectiles, and some of them white. (With you so far.) By pressing a button, you can alternate your ship between the two colours and spit black and white projectiles of your own. (Uhuh.) Black inflicts more damage on white, and white on black. (Riiight.) And in your case, you can absorb projectiles of the same colour. (Okay. So, if a boss is saturating the screen with streams of white and black, you want to be black when you're hovering in the black, but you need to switch over to white to be more effective in targeting his black bits?) Yes!
Granted, it was tougher than a Greek weightlifter, but it was a marvellous piece of entertainment, and one of the only titles we can remember that encouraged you to turn your television up on its side. It won't be to everyone's taste, but if you look back on games like Gradius and R-Type fondly and wish you had some sort of modern equivalent, then Ikaruga is undoubtedly the answer - and, at the price you can expect to pay for it now, it's worth taking a gamble on even if you're not sure. It's as black and white as that.
Doshin the Giant
Speaking of Black & White [nice link -Ed], there were those who marked the release of Doshin the Giant by pointing out that it was rather like Black & White on the surface. However, we're not blaming them for the game's dismal retail performance - it sold about a third as many copies as Ikaruga, believe it or not. Instead, we're going to blame Doshin himself. He looks like some sort of crazed offshoot of a Tango advert, and frankly his efforts always looked unconvincing in screenshots and movies; even his evil incarnation, who you could also control, looked more like a goomba from the Super Mario Bros. movie than anything else. Oh how that movie tainted modern culture so.
In practice though, Doshin's game was surprisingly absorbing - for most. What really turned the critics off, and subsequently the punters, though, was the one-dimensional nature of it all. There really just wasn't much to it at the end of the day. If you didn't get on with it early on, you really weren't going to in the long run. Which is why it's ideally suited for the two or three quid you can expect to spend picking it up second-hand - if you do take to it, it'll swallow whole evenings without a prayer; and if you don't, you can have one less pint on the way home next Friday. Heck, even your better half wins that way, right?
Of all the developers and publishers who have suffered due to under-performing GameCube product, surely none have felt the pain as much as Capcom, whose efforts - however well-received critically - often went commercially unrewarded. P.N.03 is a perfect example - it may not be the best or most intuitive third-person shooter ever conceived, but had it come out on the PlayStation 2 it would in all likelihood have sold 20 times the number of units it did on the GameCube. As it stands, virtually none of you own this, and that's a shame, because it's actually one of the most interesting third-person shooters we've played recently.
Designed as one of the original "Capcom Five" (now the Capcom Four following the cancellation of Dead Phoenix), P.N.03 is a third-person shooter with a scrolling shoot-'em-up mentality. You and your enemies move in very specific ways, with very specific fire and cover mechanics, and you clear each level room by room, buying upgrades and new weapon-suits midway through and in-between levels. It's like a real-time sliding puzzle of a shooter. It's far from flawless - even fans of the concept will find the occasional ignored button press grates, and its initially glossy design becomes rather repetitive after a while - but if you're a fan of inventive little gaming concepts, then it's more than worth tracking down. And certainly won't break the bank at this point.
Another Capcom title that sold poorly and probably won't unbalance your chequebook at this point is Viewtiful Joe. We've nothing but good things to say about this. Visually it's an awe-inspiring mixture of 2D and 3D pastel-ish cartoonery, wonderfully imaginative with rarely a dull moment; its consistently amusing and well-voiced; and in terms of gameplay it's probably the best 2D scrolling fighter that Capcom's put its name to since the original Final Fight. The combat system is ornate, intelligent and progressive, and fans of hardcore fighting games will find its clever mixture of platforming, puzzling, combos and superpowers arresting in a manner that no other game can really lay claim to.
It's played host to some of our most cherished gaming achievements in recent years, not to mention some of the most amusing boss encounters, and whatever your audience, you can always guarantee that somebody will want a go as soon as the first level is more than half a minute old. That it sold to less than one in forty of you is more of a sign of the times than of ignorance, but if you can stomach the difficulty, there's every reason to try and track it down second hand and give yourself over to it. Our only reservation would be for PS2 owners, who may find that the ported version due out in October - with Devil May Cry's Dante thrust into the mix - is a much more attractive option. It's up to you though: cheap or demonic.
Lost Kingdoms 1 and 2
If you were to point out that we didn't exactly fall over ourselves to recommend either Lost Kingdoms game in the first place, you'd be right, but in truth there are still very few card-battling titles that handle the subject with a similar degree of grown-up RPG sensibility about them. Neither game is without its flaws - they're very repetitive, for a start, and a bit mechanically dispiriting - but it's still very easy to fall in love with the genius of the card combat system in both cases. And if you can find somebody prepared to play along with you, the two-player arena mode can be a real deal-clincher.
Indeed, if you're prepared to spend as much time battling with the camera as you do with the monstrous inhabitants of Katia and Tara Grimface's respective worlds, then this could wind up one of the most surprising revelations in your Cube collection. And given that both seem to go for less than a tenner second hand, they're probably worth keeping an eye out for if you're the sort of person who likes laying down cards instead of swinging swords.
Billy Hatcher and The Giant Egg
For Sega, Billy Hatcher represented the birth of a new Sonic Team franchise. But at the end of the day, it didn't live up to its billing commercially, and we reckon more than 90 per cent of Cube owners haven't even played it. That's a shame though, because it's actually one of the most enjoyable original platform games released on the format - and a darn sight better than Sega's Sonic Heroes title.
Don't let the cutesy and quirky presentation put you off - there's a lot of mileage in this one. The idea of rolling around eggs and building them up by clattering them into enemies, then hatching them to gain power-ups and other collectibles, was handled with a lot of skill, and although it suffers from a few niggling problems that stopped us short of completely recommending it (the camera, as ever, was problematic, and Billy was sometimes a little squirrelly to control in tight spaces and on narrow ledges), it's definitely worth picking up at the price you'll probably pay to do so.
Another GameCube platformer that deserved better than it got, Wario World was a typically Treasure-y attempt to breathe some life into the platform genre - by giving the whole thing the feel of a 2D platformer again. And, in actual fact, this confinement of staple 3D platform ideas led to a game that boasted some terrifically inventive and labyrinthine levels, which imbued the player with that same must-scour feeling that so many of its rivals aimed for but never quite hit.
Once again though, it wasn't without fault. Or, as we said at the time, "It's a good, spirited bout of intense platforming for fans of the genre, and neat little, magical touches all over it, like ratings for the height of your piledriver and strength of your spin-throw, but it's not a patch on Mario Sunshine in terms of depth and variety of gameplay and longevity. Treasure may be an excellent, clinically precise developer with a hard-coded adherence to clever structure and gameplay, but it feels like they're not sure who this game is aimed at." Well, given that it now seems to go for less then ten quid, perhaps it's worth a punt to find out if yours are the hands it fits? Platform loving Cube owners uncertain where to plough their cash are bound to find some love in either Billy Hatcher or this, and since you could have both for half the cost of a Player's Choice copy of Mario Sunshine, perhaps it's a thought worth pondering?
Skies of Arcadia Legends
Rob loves this. Loves it so much, in fact, that he was almost violently upset when we told him that 99 out of 100 UK GameCube owners didn't bother to part with their cash to get their hands on Skies of Arcadia Legends. Loves it so much, that when it came time to tell you why it's worth ten or possibly fifteen pounds of your hard earned, he elbowed us off the keyboard and penned the following:
"One of Sega's best ever forays into the RPG genre, Skies of Arcadia appeared first on the Dreamcast - where, let's face it, it was never going to be bought by more than about four people. So we were delighted when an improved and upgraded version arrived on the Cube, with loads of additional content and a far more polished feel - especially in terms of fixing the often-frustrating difficulty level. However, most people seemed to be less delighted. The stunning game - which places you in the role of an Air Pirate in a world composed entirely of floating islands - sold only a few thousand copies in the UK, despite great reviews and being undoubtedly one of the best RPGs ever made. Persistent rumours of a sequel abound - but in the meanwhile, locking yourself away for a weekend with a copy of Skies of Arcadia Legends should make its way onto your to-do list right away." Argue with him at your peril.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicle
And, not content with bruising our ribs to make way for his pro-Skies views, Rob further thwarted our attempts to return to the control seat when we revealed that we were about to try and convince you all to buy Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - a game that he actually bred people specifically to play...
"Nintendo fans rejoiced when Square Enix revealed that it was bringing the Final Fantasy series back to a Ninty console; then they moaned and complained when it emerged that Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle was going to rely on the GBA link capability for its four-player mode. That's their loss (well, it's Nintendo's loss too, but that's not the point); those who avoided the game on this basis missed out on one of the most engrossing, enjoyable and beautifully crafted multiplayer games ever. It's not a lot of cop in single-player, but unless you really are Billy No-Mates, there's really no reason not to own this game."
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life
Although Harvest Moon's GameCube debut certainly under-performed, we have a feeling this owed more in some cases to distributor Ubisoft's uncertainty over demand. We certainly heard more than a few sorry tales from gamers unable to get their hands on it despite love and money, and we continue to curse the names of those nefarious auctioneers attempting to spin a few quid out of this undervalued gem by sitting on it for a few months. You're not welcome on our farm.
That said, if you can get hold of a copy, Harvest Moon is - in our view - comparable only to Animal Crossing in terms of its scope and our lascivious urge for it. Which isn't to say that we actually wanted to bonk the delicate flower on the farm next door, or the bossy barmaid, but rather that it stirred in us some sort of paternal instinct. (Or, more likely, we just wanted an excuse to use the word 'lascivious' in a write-up.) In a nutshell though, Harvest Moon is what it openly proclaims: a wonderful life. You take control of a young farmer as he struggles to turn a patch of grass and some earth into a thriving farming concern and raise a family of his own in the meantime. It is without question a vast undertaking for any budding farmer, but the slow pace belies a game that absorbs you almost completely. Forget your own strife; track down a copy of Harvest Moon and live a wonderful life. And, besides, it's the only game we've played that ever made us want to breed cattle - on that basis alone, it's hard not to recommend.
Initially, we left this off the list. Then one of us found its sales figures, and sat looking glum for a few minutes while we went over the rest of the games. "What about F-Zero GX?" we were asked. Um, surely that sold enough? "You'd think." Yeah, we would, and it bloody well should have. It may be viciously difficult from time to time, but Amusement Vision's, er, vision of a next-gen F-Zero title was as close to brilliance as the series has come since its days on the Super Nintendo.
Lightning fast, gorgeous in every respect, and maddeningly addictive - even in the face of mounting frustration - it's the only futuristic racing game we turn to after the North Circular gets the better of us on the drive home. The multiplayer is bound to capture everyone in the room's attention, and the wealth of single-player events besides a regular championship mode more than justify the outlay - and a pretty meagre outlay at that, particularly given how recent the game actually is. Perhaps you were put off by tales of excessive difficulty or you were just disillusioned with futuristic racers when it first came out. Whatever. We're not judging you. We're just telling you that F-Zero GX really is worth your money, and you probably won't see a better example of the genre on the GameCube for the rest of its lifespan.
Super Monkey Ball 2
Creating a game to live up to the memory of the original Super Monkey Ball was never going to be an easy task, and at the end of the day Amusement Vision couldn't quite manage it. The Cube sequel compromised in an effort to tempt more players - as well as the expected hardcore difficulty levels, a new single-player mode broke the game up into chunks of ten levels, which made it a lot easier to see everything very quickly. Meanwhile, the multiplayer mini-games sacrificed simplicity for wackiness, and the sequel's additions never struck home as entertainingly as the first game's.
That said, Super Monkey Ball 2 remains one of the most engaging multiplayer games on the format, and you can always strip out the silliness to break games like Bowling and Target down to their base elements. And Golf was better anyway, we seem to remember. Although we'd still put the original - which sold fairly well - higher up our shopping lists, there's not really anywhere else to turn if you've burnt that out by now, which you should have, and despite a handful of niggles SMB2 is definitely worth the stupidly insignificant pile of coins you'll have to cough up in order to take it home these days. Just don't throw the disc out of the window when you get to the moronically ill-considered "hundred switches" level. Hit GameFAQs and move on...
Although SSX - and, to a lesser extent, Amped - has built up a huge fanbase in the time since 1080: Snowboarding reigned supreme, we certainly expected the GameCube update to do a bit better than it did. As it is, so few of you bought it that it was actually outsold by the Resi REmakrs, Ikaruga, P.N.03, and even Skies of Arcadia Legends. Which was a harsh fate for an altogether rather enjoyable game.
All we could fault about it was its longevity. You may have had enough by the time you've experienced everything, but up to that point it's definitely the best snowboard racing game that we've played. Given just how many times we've been sat in bars or stood around at trade shows talking to people about SSX and heard the same old "I enjoyed the first one, but only the racing," line, there must be an audience out there for this, so let's clarify: racing around in 1080: Avalanche is more fun than racing around in the original SSX! Honestly! If you're one of the many people we've met who liked SSX up to that point, and just happen to have a Cube gathering dust in the corner, the less-than-ten-quid you'll have to spend to secure a few hours of 1080's company are surely more than worth a punt? Go on.
Now then. Granted, the GameCube isn't exactly known for its sporting simulations. Winning Eleven 6: Final Evolution took a bow in Japan at one point, but other than that there isn't a great deal to talk about that doesn't have an EA badge on the front and online play on other formats, or isn't fronted by Mario or one of his cohorts. Beach Spikers, however, is more than worthy of your time. Developed by Sega's AM2 division (you know, the OutRun/Virtua guys), it's a well thought out arcade-ish beach volleyball game that defecates so violently over Tecmo's rightly maligned Dead or Alive offering that Kasumi is now scarred for life.
Control and timing is initially a bit hard to manage, but there's depth to the gameplay that makes up for this. The visuals are simple, but the animation and the sand behaviour is distinctly memorable. And while the camera and subtleties of the mechanics may take a little getting used to, once you do it quickly emerges as one of the most enjoyable Sega-penned multiplayer offerings since the likes of Virtua Tennis. Accessibility isn't one of the bullet points we'd put on the back of the box, then, but lasting value for multiple players certainly is - and given that it's one of the worst selling titles on the format, it's an ideal and oft-undervalued target for eBaying types.
We can't actually remember very many Bomberman games outside the Super Nintendo versions that we'd claim to like that much. Heck, we even had our reservations about the Nintendo DS version when we played that at E3. But, generally speaking, the series' debateable slump is down to deviation from what made the originals brilliant - finely tuned, cleverly balanced and addictively simple multiplayer - and not because Hudson's lost it completely. That's why, much as we tend to poke the developer whenever it half-heartedly attempts to do something different with the series, we do at least appreciate its propensity to whack in the old school version as a safeguard. At least it gives us another excuse to play an old classic.
Bomberman Generations probably isn't an exception to the rule. (That certainly seems to be what you lot think; maybe one in 200 of you actually bought it.) It's fairly unsurprising, particularly if you've played any of the other spin-offs - you wander around bombing things, this time in mostly-3D, and trying to avoid being bombed yourself, and along the way you collect power-ups, battle bosses and more besides. What makes it quite attractive these days is that it's a pretty cheap way to get hold of the multiplayer game - much as the derided but now virtually worthless Bomberman Kart PS2 game is on that platform. Nobody seems to be selling it even on eBay, but we'd encourage you to scour bargain bins for it, and if it comes in at less than a tenner or so, give it a go. There's still no other multiplayer game quite like it, and everybody should experience it at some point in their life. And hey, you might even like the single-player mode - some people did.
Sega Soccer Slam
Released to critical and commercial indifference a couple of years ago, Sega Soccer Slam is actually one of this writer's - and only this writer's - most cherished multiplayer Cube games. At a casual estimate, around one in 500 of you actually bought into the idea, and judging by the not-exactly-roaring trade on eBay, not many of you were that thrilled anyway, but for us, it was genius. Simple gameplay, a total lack of rules ('tackles' generally involved hospitalisation), quirky visuals (significantly, for this perfectionist, untarnished by the woes of poor collision detection like so many others) and stupid scorelines. It was emphatic stupidity, really.
It dominated the lounge for a good few weeks when we first got hold of it, and although in retrospect it was a bit limited, and a bit unremarkable in some respects, if you take to it it's the sort of arcade game that manages to keep you coming back and back and back until you've got every last shark tooth shin-guard and nail-studded boot there is. And it's a darn sight better than Red Card, whatever that other guy tells you [put 'em up -Ed] - and well worth your two or three quid. Okay, so we're in a minority on this one - but then isn't that what a cult classic ought to be about?
The publishers of The Bluffer's Guides have granted permission for our use of the trade mark 'bluffer's guide' and would encourage readers to visit their site: http://www.ovalbooks.com
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