GameCube, special to celebrate 20 years of the Dolphin!

GameCube, special to celebrate 20 years of the Dolphin!


Nintendo GameCube was released in Japan on September 14, 2001, exactly twenty years ago. It was the last Nintendo home console - this phrase will be recurring during the piece - to have been launched, globally, in rather distant time windows: in the United States on November 18, 2001, in Europe even on May 3, 2002. .

It had been announced a few years earlier under its code name, Project Dolphin. In the ideas of Nintendo fans, and those of its employees and creatives, it should have marked the redemption on the home console market: in the previous generation, PlayStation had clearly beaten - in terms of sales - the Nintendo 64. GameCube was the transition system between the long presidency of Hiroshi Yamauchi (here is his biography) and that of the late Satoru Iwata, who managed his life but not his gestation.

GameCube was presented at Space World 2000, one of the latest editions of the Nintendo fair which, annually, was held in Japan. That day the new generation in its entirety was shown: Game Boy Advance and GameCube. For the home console were presented videos related to Metroid Prime, Luigi's Mansion, Pikmin, The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario 128. Regarding the last two names, there are two curiosities. That video of The Legend of Zelda was not made by the team of the series, but by that of Koizumi, and was in effect a tech demo: it perpetuated the graphic style of Ocarina of Time, and also because of this video in many they would have been shocked, twelve months later, by the presentation of the cartoon The Wind Waker. As for Super Mario 128, it too had little to do with what would become Super Mario Sunshine; that same engine would have originated Pikmin, and would have left traces, seven years later, within Super Mario Galaxy.

What surprised at the time, more than movies and games, was the shape of the console. Cubic, indigo shade, with a handle on the back, so it can be easily transported from one house to another. The pad abandoned the Nintendo 64 tricorn, to embrace a more canonical shape, albeit with different uniqueness: the long-running backbones, the bean-shaped keys, the physical and design predominance of the A button. The two Control Sticks, one of the few innovations Sony which, over the years, has fully embraced Nintendo. And also the proprietary format: GameCube did not use DVDs like the rivals, but a mini DVD (Nintendo Optical Disc) of 8 millimeters, and of 1.5 GB of capacity. A unique appearance, and radically different from its competitors, with a fine logo that recalled the cubic shape of the machine.

Shigeru Miyamoto at E3, holding GameCube: in the background, the well-known slogan of the time: " the Nintendo difference ". Anyone who bought it imported at the time will not be able to forget the discomfort of those days. As enthusiasts, we spent a summer waiting for the system to be released: the launch games would be Super Monkey Ball, Luigi's Mansion and Wave Race: Blue Storm. A few days before the publication, when the consoles were already leaving on the plane, other planes had marked the story, the one with a capital "S". For anyone who has experienced it, the launch of GameCube cannot be separated from the tragedy of September 11th. With customs problems, with the guilt of taking an interest in a relatively frivolous thing at such a dramatic and significant moment for the entire planet.

In this special we will not go into the whole story of GameCube in detail; however we will try to explain why, from that console onwards, Nintendo would never be the same.


Pikmin: one of the games that symbolized the launch of the console. GameCube has never been able to fight commercially with PlayStation 2. Yet the launch was crackling, and Nintendo was a direct rival of the Minato-based company: not that it isn't now, it certainly is, but at the time we were fighting on the same pitch. GameCube was less powerful than Xbox, but more than PlayStation 2: at the time, on Nintendo consoles, many third-party games were released simultaneously with competitors. And there was the feeling, which turned out to be totally wrong, that the clash could actually be head to head.

A great difficulty of GameCube, perhaps not very evident at the time, is that it was realized - as already mentioned - in a period of transition for Nintendo: not only at the executive level, but also creatively. The old project directors were moving to production roles, leaving room for the new generation of game designers: all with the need to publish as soon as possible, so as to avoid the gaps that had marked certain phases of the life of the Nintendo 64. One decision unique in the history of the company, which fortunately would not be repeated.

Star Wars: Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II: At the time of release, visually it was something literally stunning. GameCube had a notable launch. It was not accompanied by an epochal game like Super Mario 64, and for a long time it would not have even a masterpiece: however, the first months were characterized by constant and very high quality releases, as well as by new high-budget IPs (a rarity, like you know, for Nintendo). We are talking about Luigi's Mansion and Wave Race: Blue Storm, followed by Pikmin and Super Smash Bros: Melee, accompanied by the impressive Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader from Factor 5 and, in Japan, by Animal Crossing.

Glory and Fall

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: One of the GameCube masterpieces, here in the Wii U remake. Things continued to go well throughout the following year, 2002, absolutely the best for the console. Overall, one of the most memorable in the entire Nintendo history, second - in recent times - to 2017 alone. Twelve months of Super Mario Sunshine, Star Fox Adventures, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem and, last but not least, the incredible Metroid Prime. Both Super Mario Sunshine and The Wind Waker would have needed more time to perfect, but Nintendo needed its heavyweights to hit the market. In November there was also a heavy announcement: an agreement with Capcom for five exclusives, including Resident Evil, which in the previous generation had been a significant factor in decreeing Sony's dominance. It seemed that things could really turn around for Nintendo.

Despite the enormous efforts made, by the end of 2003 it became clear that Nintendo would not only have any chance of catching up with Sony, but would also struggle to stay ahead of Sony. Microsoft (in fact, at the end of the generation, Xbox would have sold more). The life of GameCube, from mid-2003 onwards, would still be long: however, the best was already behind us. Nintendo was already focusing elsewhere, and the public would soon understand. Mario Kart: Double Dash !! , the least-selling home console title in the brand's history, probably marked the turning point. Games developed in Japan became more and more rare: among the major releases we remember Pikmin 2, in 2004.

Metroid Prime: probably the best game for GameCube. Releases generally thinned out, because - with rare exceptions - third-party games sold more elsewhere. Also, GameCube was lacking on sports titles, which is no small defect. The machine managed to host still many other valid games, in particular Metroid Prime 2 and the exclusive (temporary, but still exclusive) of the magnificent Resident Evil 4 (but also Viewtiful Joe and Killer 7). But the presentation of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which took place in 2004, left hopes that would not materialize: the following year the game was still far from publication, and Nintendo decided - well before announcing it - that it would be launched on GameCube only for fairness to the fans.

Because, as we said before, Nintendo had been concentrating on another project for some time. A radically different project that would change its identity for a long time, and in part forever, its identity: Nintendo Wii, of which Twilight Princess would be a launch game.


Satoru Iwata: Managed GameCube's life, but not its genesis. Despite the efforts made, despite the many valid titles, for Nintendo the GameCube system was a failure. After that generation it became clear to Satoru Iwata that he could no longer compete directly with his rivals, for identity and structural issues. Nintendo no longer had the tentacles or the skills, nor the image or the prestige, to clash on an equal footing, in the round, with Sony and Microsoft.

This realization would not be temporary, but definitive. In the successes or failures that would follow, Nintendo would no longer attempt to fight on the open field with rivals: it would rather focus on its uniqueness, developing traditional games more calmly, always trying innovative and often alternative approaches in terms of hardware. . Many regret the old days, but it is important to remember that it was not Nintendo that abandoned the red ocean, but the red ocean that rejected Nintendo.

Resident Evil 4: another masterpiece for GameCube, at the time in exclusive. In essence, GameCube represented the tipping point. From then on, in Kyoto they understood that they needed to change. In commercial terms, according to Yamauchi, two "GameCubes" in a row would not have been sustainable. And in fact, nothing would have been the same again: Nintendo has no longer published a home console technologically at the level of the others, and has no longer tried (except at the beginning it was Wii U, and even there it went wrong) to challenge rivals on relations with third parties.

In addition to the new direction taken by internal development, in addition to the abandonment of the race for the best hardware, there is precisely this third consequence of GameCube that should not be underestimated: with the initial exception of Wii U , Nintendo understood that it should have done it on its own. That the success of its platform would depend solely on internal work, and that third parties would only count later, once it had a successful launch. Not only that: the same link with external software houses would have changed radically. No longer competitive to the others, but declined according to your needs: better than exclusive games, and developed taking into account your own abilities and users, than adaptations reduced by other systems.

F-Zero GX: l last great episode of the series. GameCube also marked the abandonment, from a certain point of view, of the strong creative ties with the West; a choice that would have become evident on the Wii, but which began on this very system. Nintendo 64 had been characterized by huge Rare games, and by many FPS, a genre in which it was dominant compared to PlayStation: in the GameCube era, Rare was let go, and Microsoft has imposed itself in terms of shooter. When the generation was ending, Iwata made a deal with Monolith Soft: a more important deal than was perceived at the time, which brought the company's center of gravity back firmly to Japan.

This is, in short, the story by GameCube: the latest Nintendo console with which the company tried to compete directly with Sony and Microsoft. It has that romantic aura that cloaks every "defeated console" and, like every other defeated console, such as DreamCast and Wii U, it tends to be remembered biased, leaving out the flaws and over-emphasizing the merits. Despite this, it is undeniable that he gave us some beautiful games, including the latest glorious F-Zero. And at least three absolute masterpieces: Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4 and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

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