Nintendo Gamecube 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Gamecube 101

Presented by Flake, Opethfan, Beak, and Racketboy
Check out other Guides in the Retro Gaming 101 Series

After Sony helped finish off Sega’s career in the hardware business, Nintendo knew it needed to come up with some solid hardware to follow up the N64 (and finally make the jump into optical media).   The Gamecube hardware was actually quite impressive when compared to the Dreamcast and PS2, but it also came out at the same time as the beefy Microsoft XBox.   The XBox eventually captured the market of gamers that wanted the most power from their consoles leaving Nintendo to depend on its own franchises to build a legacy for its Cube.

The Gamecube may have been Nintendo’s least successful console to date, but it is still an excellent console to add to a retro gamer’s collection.  Looking back it has a lot of charming features on both the hardware and software fronts and can be found easily on the cheap.

Background Information

  • Following the rise of Sony in the game industry with the PlayStation, Nintendo’s dominance was placed  into question.  By using cartridges instead of CD-ROMs, the Nintendo 64 was limited in storage capacity – which Sony famously took advantage of in marketing Final Fantasy VII from Square, a former Nintendo-exclusive publisher.
  • Although coming in a distant second place to the PlayStation in most territories, the N64 was outsold by the Sega Saturn in its native Japan, showing that Nintendo needed to make major changes in their next console.  After various failed attempts to develop a disc-based add on or console (one of which ultimately became the PlayStation) the Gamecube was the first console from Nintendo to use optical media for game storage.
  • The console launched in Japan on September 14, 2001, in North America on November 18, 2001, Europe on May 3, 2002, and in Australia and New Zealand, May 17th.

Historical Impact

  • The Nintendo Gamecube was Nintendo’s fourth home console, available for retail from 2001 until it was discontinued in 2007
  • Nintendo’s first home console to use a modern format – DVD
  • Codenamed project ‘Dolphin’, the Gamecube’s name comes from its distinctive boxy appearance. When combined with the Gameboy Advance Player, the Gamecube becomes an actual cube.
  • Nintendo actively sought to correct the mistakes of the N64 and previous eras, by using more spacious storage media and allowing more open relationships with game developers, rather than the exclusivity agreements of the past.
  • The Gamecube lagged in sales compared to the PlayStation 2 and newcomer Microsoft’s Xbox, coming third place in sales worldwide, but took the second place position in Japanese sales.
  • The system was lauded for its improvements over previous Nintendo consoles, as well as a simple, powerful architecture and a strong library of first party titles.
  • The hardware of the Wii is based almost entirely from the Gamecube’s, making the Wii the only current generation console which can provide near perfect backwards compatibility.
  • Despite being outsold by the PS2 and Xbox, the Gamecube has a wide library of cross platform and exclusive titles, including many superb Nintendo developed ones.

Strengths

  • Strong Hardware: The Gamecube’s graphical prowess compares favorably to the PlayStation 2’s and is competitive to the Xbox’s.
  • Amazing First-Party Titles: Some of Nintendo’s first party titles are among the best they have ever produced, including the Metroid Prime series and the original franchise Pikmin.  Other 1st party franchises that received multiple titles include Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong are, on their own, almost enough to warrant ownership of the system
  • Several new Nintendo franchises either debut or see their first releases outside of Japan: Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, Custom Robo, and Pikmin among many others.
  • Ergonomic controller: Some deem the Gamecube’s controller to be one of the best ever designed, with a very comfortable grip, innovative button layout and multi-use shoulder triggers.
  • Inexpensive: Because it was released at a very low price and demand was lower than for the popular PS2 and modifiable Xbox, the Gamecube is still very inexpensive today.
  • Low load times: Load times on the Gamecube are quite low, due to the small media and newer laser technology compared to previous generation consoles.
  • Four controller ports: Unlike the PlayStation 2, the Gamecube  supports four controllers without the need for additional accessories.
  • Great accessories: Several excellent and unique accessories, such as the Game Boy player and excellent WaveBird controller were released in both North American and Japanese markets.
  • Strong Nintendo hardware: Like almost all Nintendo hardware (other than the delicate NES), the Gamecube is well built and extremely reliable and durable.
  • Durable Discs: Mini-DVD’s tend to be more resistant to damage due to reduced surface area.
  • Decent 3rd Party Support: Renewed 3rd Party support after the N64 era, especially from former rivals Sega. The GCN library enjoys numerous exclusives.
  • Sweet Silence: A very quiet game system.

Weaknesses

  • Not the Strongest Library: A limited library when compared to Sony’s Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox
  • Reduced third-party support:  The strength of Nintendo’s first party titles alienated several third party developers, and many titles were available for only the PS2 and Xbox. Although the Gamecube received numerous 3rd party exclusives, it missed out on quite a few 3rd party main stream releases: Final Fantasy, Capcom-Fighters, Mega Man, and Metal Gear are among many key franchises where the Gamecube seemed to get ‘the left overs’.
  • No hard drive option, further limiting online gaming options for players.
  • Controller, while comfortable, is entirely unsuited to 2D fighters or 2D platformers due to reduced size and awkward placement of D-Pad.
  • Kiddy Reputation: System suffered from being perceived as ‘kiddy’ despite having more Resident Evil titles than any console before or after. Nintendo’s own mature title, Eternal Darkness, though well received still did little to shake this stigma. Players seeking a ‘hardcore’ experience gravitated to the PS2 and Xbox as a result.
  • Low capacity discs: Compared to the DVD storage of the PS2 and Xbox, the 8cm discs are limited in capacity and as a result many Gamecube games are spread across two discs.
  • Poor online options: Online play was less developed than that of the Xbox or even the PS2, with only four online enabled titles. Whereas the Xbox, Dreamcast and slim PS2 included built in connectivity options, an add-on modem or Ethernet adapter is needed for the Gamecube.
  • Issues with component video: Only older models supported component video output, and only using a rare and expensive official cable (often found on eBay for ~$100).  S-Video connection is the best many models can do
  • Disc read issues: Some issues were reported regarding disc read errors, although how prevalent disc issues were compared to other consoles using optical media is unknown. All devices with moving discs are prone to failure at some point.

Game Library

Even though it was overshadowed by the Playstation 2, the Gamecube had a respectable game library — especially by the end of its lifespan.  Here are a few guides that will give you a good idea of games to be on the lookout for when building your GCN library.

Importing

  • The Gamecube is relatively easy to alter to play import games. Both hard and soft options exist, though the cost may vary from affordable to quite expensive depending on the means used.
  • Imported original titles can be played using a region switch or modifications to the jumpers inside the system, as detailed in this guide.
  • Booting backups recorded onto standard 12cm DVDs requires a replacement of the Gamecube’s upper shell in order to fit the larger discs. A mod chip is also required.
  • The Japanese GCN library is not significantly different than its NA counter-part and almost all key titles saw releases in NA. PAL gamers will be more concerned with importing.
  • Because few GCN games were RPG’s, there are few barriers to importing the few notable titles that were not localized for english speaking markets.
  • Japan embraced the Gamecube, and several exclusive colors and models were only released there, such as the DVD capable Panasonic Q.

Add-Ons & Accessories

Broadband Adapter Broadband Adapter / GCN Modem
Fits into a cavity on the bottom of the GCN, these allow the Gamecube to get online for the handful of titles supporting online play. However, as of this writing, no Gamecube titles are officially supported for online play. There are work arounds for popular games (such as Phantasy Star Online) that may still give the adapters value.
Shop For Gamecube Broadband Adapter at eBay
Shop For Gamecube Broadband Adapter / Modem at Amazon.com
Game Boy Advance Player Game Boy Player
An add on / disc combo that turns the Gamecube into an actual cube. An adapter that allows the play of Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance titles on the Gamecube itself, greatly expanding the consoles library.  You can also use it for cool hacks like a 5-Gamecube/TV Zelda Multiplay Party.
Shop For Game Boy Player at eBay
Shop For Game Boy Player at Amazon.com
Gamecube Controller Standard Controllers
Gamecube, like the N64 before it, supported 4 player multiplay straight out of the box. The controllers were agreed to be a superior 3D gameplay interface, especially in terms of comfort. However, strictly 2D games (to include Gameboy Advance) titles were difficult to play as the controller had a severely undersized D-pad.  Official Nintendo Gamecube controllers came in Indigo (Purple), Platinum, Black, and White
Shop For Standard Gamecube Controller at eBay
Shop For Standard Gamecube Controller at Amazon.com
Wavebirds Wavebird Controllers
If you are like most modern gamers and like the freedom of sitting back on your couch without being tethered to the console, the official Nintendo Wavebird controllers are a must.  While they weren’t standard issue for the Cube, they set the standard high for first-party wireless controllers.  One thing worth noting is that the Wavebirds lack the rumble function of their wired counterparts.
Wavewbird Controllers were availible in Platinum and Grey
Shop For Wavebird Controller at eBay
Shop For Wavebird Controller at Amazon.com
Hori Gamecube Gamepad Hori Gamepad
Nintendo licensed Hori to make controllers strictly designed to be played with 2D games and Gameboy titles. These controllers were released in limited quantities and fetch a very high price to this day.   Were availible in Indigo and Black.
Shop For Hori Gamepad at eBay
Shop For Hori Gamepad at Amazon.com
Gamecube Memory Card Memory Card
Following the standard that Sony set with the PSX, Nintendo finally adopted a flash memory format inserted into the face of the game console as opposed to the controller itself, reducing the price of controller manufacturing significantly. 3rd party options, especially those by Mad Catz, tend to offer more capacity than Nintendo’s own memory cards.

Shop For Gamecube Memory Card at eBay
Shop For Gamecube Memory Card at Amazon.com

GBA Link Cable Gameboy Advance Link Cable
For many key titles, the gameboy advance could be connected to the Gamecube to function as either an extra screen (in a manner not too different from the Dreamcast’s VMU) or as an extra controller, especially useful for GBA player games where the Gamecube’s controller was difficult to use. In many instances, added functionality was unlocked when specific GCN and GBA titles were matched up, such as Metroid: Fusion and Metroid Prime. You can also use it for cool hacks like a 5-Gamecube/TV Zelda Multiplay Party.
Shop For GBA Link Cable at eBay
Shop For GBA Link Cable at Amazon.com
Gamecube Soul Calibur II Arcade Stick Arcade Sticks
Although Nintendo did not provide a proprietary option, Hori, Pelican and others created excellent 3rd party options for games such as Soul Calibur II and Capcom vs SNK 2.

 

Emulation

  • The Gamecube is well emulated and in many instances emulation outstrips the original platform in terms of visuals.
  • Dolphin is far and away the most complete and compatible Gamecube (and Wii) emulator available today.
  • Thanks to the similar architecture between the GCN and the Nintendo Wii, most Gamecube emulators will also support Wii titles.
  • Due to the unusual lay out of the face buttons on the Gamecube controller, it may take some trial and error to adapt a standard PC controller to play for Gamecube titles.
  • The Nintendo Wii supports nearly the entire Gamecube library with some caveats: namely that the Nintendo Wii cannot recognize any Gamecube add ons such as the internet adapters or the gameboy player. The Nintendo Wii will automatically boot GCN games in progressive scan mode when the Wii is connected to a TV via component cable, making it a great alternative to a GCN component cable.
  • Very few PC optical drives will read Gamecube discs, so disc image files will be needed to play.

Affordability

  • The Gamecube is among the most affordable of retro consoles, costing in most instances less than $30 at a brick and mortar store.
  • Some games cost significantly more than the system itself, especially some 1st Party titles such as Pikmin 2. The ability of the Nintendo Wii to play GCN titles has kept the games more valuable than the hardware they were originally designed to play on.
  • Outside of Japan, very few special editions were released and of these few none are terribly expensive to collect. However, in Japan some varieties of the GCN were released in quantities as small as only 200 units.
  • With the Wii being almost completely compatible with Gamecube software and accessories, combined with the low price of the system at retail, Gamecube systems are available for very low prices.
  • Some accessories, such as the WaveBird wireless controller, are still highly sought after and can fetch a slight premium.
  • Many Gamecube titles are available within a low budget. Check out the best Gamecube games under $10 for more info

18 Comments

  1. Jamisonia says:

    It should also be mentioned there is a second type of wired Gamecube controller Nintendo produces for Japan that matches the Wii. However; it can be purchased in North America through Amazon.

    The biggest difference, and the reason I feel it should be mentioned in the regular controller portion is it has a significantly longer cord than the standard issue. This can be a good alternative to using a Wavebird if rumble is desired.

  2. Hazerd says:

    “Not the Strongest Library: A limited library when compared to Sony’s Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox”

    is a pretty fail statement, the GameCube has a much better library than the Xbox, 1st and 3rd party.

  3. racketboy says:

    With my tastes, I would agree. But if you’re looking at mainstream games, it isn’t quite as strong there.

  4. Metal Jesus says:

    Excellent article as usual. I didn’t own a GC when they were “new”, as I preferred the massive PS2 library and the power of the XBOX… but now that I own one, it’s a surprisingly great console! It’s worth owning alone just for Eternal Darkness!

  5. Boringsupreez says:

    I also didn’t own a GCN back when they were current, opting for both the Xbox and PS2 instead. Now that I have a GCN, I enjoy it, but I still think Xbox and PS2 were better. Good article.

  6. Carlos says:

    Nice article! You sum up everything quite well =)

    For me, Nintendo will always mean two things: “Kiddy stuff” and “past”. Although I recognize enormous amount of talent, I think they lack some importante blockbusters titles. But for those who like the way the world played 10/20 years ago, it’s the right console!!

  7. Eddie says:

    I bought my GCN in 2005 and got two controllers and Mario Party 7 for $100 new. Can’t beat that deal. All of my friends that owned PS2’s had issues so I stuck with the reputation Nintendo earned with me. All of my Nintendo consoles still work today with some being over 20 years old.

    I was just discussing with some friends how we love the GCN. Many of the games still hold up today and you can get them for dirt cheap.

  8. MetalSonic says:

    “Several new Nintendo franchises either debut or see their first releases outside of Japan: Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, Custom Robo, and Pikmin among many others.”

    The two Fire Emblem games on the Gameboy Advance were released outside of Japan before the Gamecube one.

  9. Gooseberry Soda says:

    I was under the impression that the playstation came out of the canned “SNES CD” project along with the CDi.

  10. RBT says:

    Excellent guide, I really should get myself a purple lunch box.

  11. Betagam7 says:

    Gamecube’s are so cheap that I actually found one while dropping off my recycling. It was just sitting on top of the can bank looking princely and yet forlorn. The hinge had come loose precenting the lid from closing. Took it home, popped it back into place and it still works to this day! It’s now my third cube and Best videogame free find ever! 🙂

  12. metaleggman says:

    This article just reeks of the bullshit real gamers had to deal with during the 6th generation of gaming. You’re reporting on something racketboy, you should be tad more objective. For example, don’t talk about the kiddy reputation as if it was real. It was just something that children (including adult children) said because they somehow equated violence or the color of a console with some sort of masculinity. So include the kiddy reputation crap in its history, not as a some sort of factual aspect of the console. The console is a console aimed at everyone. This isn’t a sesame street speak and spell.

    1) You should note in the beginning that people were drawn to the XBOX through some sort of illusion of power, or the reputation of perceived power. Considering the Gamecube and XBOX had very different architecture, and no actual metric exists for comparing the power of consoles, you can’t actually say the one was more powerful than the other. You can’t even compare games, considering the games that really pushed the consoles to the limits, such as Half Life 2 and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, weren’t cross platform. And you can’t compare the multiparty games, such as the football games, because they were manhandled by big-name corporations who aren’t trying to get every ounce of power out of a system (think of a dev like Factor 5). (heck, you even state that it was competitive to the XBOX, so why practically contradict yourself?)

    2) The XBOX didn’t really outsell the Gamecube. Sure, it is true that the XBOX, overall sold around 3 million more consoles. However, it’s necessary to remind people of this figure, making the gamecube a close third. But it’s also necessary to address the fact that both consoles were murdered by the PS2, selling over 150 million units. By showing this, you’re really showing how close in interest the XBOX and GCN were in reality. They were gamer consoles. The PS2 was a monster that EVERYONE wanted.

    3) How is the library limited when compared the XBOX? It had maybe 300 extra games. Once again, both consoles are extremely limited compared to the PS2.

    4) What does the lack of harddrive have to do with anything? The only console that really had a harddrive was the XBOX. Sure, the PS2 could have one, but it was only necessary for what, FF11? You didn’t need a HDD last generation. The complete lack of online play would have been more of a concerning factor. But, even then, none of the 6th generation consoles have any real online anymore, so it doesn’t even matter. The only way to get online are through unofficial means.

    5) While I agree that the controller is not suited to fighters and has an awkward D-pad, you should a) note that the Hori gamepad solves this issue wonderfully, and b) that the gamecube’s fighting games can be counted with your fingers. In fact, the only true 2D fighting game I’m aware of is SvC 2 EO. Most of the other fighting games are suited to an analog stick, or can’t even use the analog stick, like Smash Bros Melee and Soul Caliber 2. Heck, fighting games came out in the arcades, so you could even argue playing them with a D-pad as opposed to an analog stick or arcade stick is a bit silly and is merely an outdated handicap of controllers left over from the 4th and 5th generations. Heck, with the way the gamecube controller’s mold is designed, the analog controller mimics a similarly gated arcade stick to some extent.

    6) After rereading, I actually love the way you phrased the kiddy reputation. If the “power thing” was written similarly, it would be much more accurate to the reality of the situation. My only question is why this is in the weaknesses. It’s not inherent to the console. I’d say it’s more something of historical impact, causing Nintendo to be further considered a kiddy company, which has definitely affected the reputation of the Wii as well (again, despite mature titles like resident evil and suda 51’s no more heroes titles).

    7) There are only 23 games that require the use of 2 discs. That’s ~3.5% of the games. I hardly consider that many. Heck, out of those games, only a few are really worth playing today, such as Killer 7, MGS: Twin Snakes, the baiten kaitos games, tales of symphonia, and the Resident Evil games.

    8) Once again, I applaud the way you discussed the online play, comparing all 3 systems. If you wrote about online play like you did sales or games, you would have made the PS2 out to be similar to the XBOX when it decidedly was not.

    9) The comment on component video with the Wii should be added to the component video aspect. It really has nothing to do with emulation and is less helpful where it is.

    10) The DRE issues once again should be complemented with the fact that the Wii has nigh 100% compatability, meaning you can avoid this issue (despite how small it is) by simply owning a Wii.

    11) You should note that officially modified versions of the Panasonic Q were released that allow Region 1 DVDs and NTSC GCN games to be played on the console.

    12) In the broadband adapter you failed to mention that the broadband adapter can be used for Mario Kart Double Dash, 1080 Snow Boarding, and Kirby’s Air Ride (I think a game or two in Japan also used it, but, meh) for LAN gaming. The latter two games may not be all that important in such a way, but being able to hook up a number of consoles for Double Dash is one of the reasons why the adapters are still sought, and are still expensive.

    13) The most any of the gamecube memory cards hold from my experience is 1019 blocks, which is one of Nintendo’s memory card capacities. I only say this because nintendo’s accessories are rock solid, even with age, while madcatz are…questionable at best.

    Besides that, good article! I’m always impressed when I stumble back to your site man (Haha Google loves to take me here 🙂 )

  13. metaleggman says:

    The first two sentences in my last post are rude, excuse them. I apologize. 🙁

  14. Patrick says:

    Hori Gamepad…oh I so want you!

  15. Opethfan says:

    @metaleggman – thank you for the criticism, although you may be taking the article as slightly more than it is: a 101 introduction to the console and what it represented to gamers.

    Of course, there are due to be a few slight mistakes / inaccuracies / differences due to oversights, faulty sources, age or geographic differences (I’m Canadian, Racket is in the US, and I can’t say for the other authors) but for the most part the data should be good.

    “The Xbox didn’t really outsell the Gamecube” is a purely false statement that discredits a lot of your argument – it simply did. Numbers are numbers, 1 to 1 comparisons are simply as is. You are free to add in extra variables such as differences in region and demographics when comparing, but pure sales figures are concrete.

    The “kiddy” line isn’t one of mine, but it is a reflection of how much of the public saw the console. I may be wrong in stating this, but I’ve never seen this site as being a purely objective one; it’s subjective articles such as the Hidden Gems and Best under $10 sections that are some of my favourites on the site. For objectivity, I go to Wikipedia or another encyclopedia.

    Comparing the Xbox and GC’s specs is possible, if not hard(er) for those without a strong background in computer science or engineering (myself included). However, comparing specs online leads me to the following data comparing the GeForce3 based Xbox GPU and the Flipper chip in the GC:
    Megapixel / sec – Xbox: 932, GC: 648
    Megatextels / sec – Xbox 1864, GC: 648
    Texture units – Xbox: 2 per pipeline, GC: 1 per pipeline
    Frequency – Xbox: 233MHz, GC: 162MHz

    And CPUs:
    Frequency – Xbox: 733MHz, GC: 485MHz
    Die size – Xbox: 90mm^2, GC: 43mm^2

    Now, comparing apples to oranges is never easy, and the CPUs especially so (PPC chips were notoriously superior clock for clock to Intel chips at the time) but the numbers suggest that graphically at least, the Xbox was the superior system.

    A few titles did use multiple discs, however it is admittedly a small figure. I compared this mentally, however, to the number of Xbox or PS2 titles on several discs, of which I could think of none. Listening to PS3 owners harp on about 360 versions of LA Noire and FFXIII being on several discs implies that at least hardcore fanboys care, and typing a few words costs me no money.

    I made the conscious decision to mention the Wii as little as possible because this article is about the Gamecube and not the Wii. Although I don’t deny the Wii’s existence, I know that many of those reading these articles are collectors, bargain hunters or enthusiasts more interested in the nostalgia, hardware and “culture” of a system than anything else. Also, an article about the Gamecube that mentions the Wii liberally would be pretty short. The Gamecube as a unique console with unique accessories, facets and ultimately issues that is fun to collect for – and introducing that is the aim of the article.

    I know it’s been a while since your comments, but I always like an excuse to write and to defend myself and the other fine contributors to the site. Take care.

  16. Axel'sVirtue says:

    There should be a section for the Gamecube Component Cable.

  17. Aaron Charron says:

    The GC and the Dreamcast to me represent the golden age of gaming. And i can say this without the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia (for the GC) since I did not own one until well after I had a 360 and had an XBOX during that generation (which now sits in storage).

    Funny, I recently bought a first run Wii simply because it cost half of what a set of GC component cables cost. And really, to play Wind Waker and FZero in progressive scan…wow.

    The GC console right now, it sits in front of my TV cabinet. I’m trying to bring myself to give it away. I won’t trash it as I really do want to find a good home for it, but can’t. I simply can’t, it will become roomates with my Dreamcast (which i need to replace as it doesn’t turn on right now).

  18. Isanova says:

    Um, it’s not DVD but a proprietary format to cut down on piracy, and the Virtual Boy was by far the worst selling nintendo console