It shouldn't have worked. In fact, if one takes statistics into account and appraises the situation from a purely numerical perspective, it didn't. But somehow Nintendo's little purple box of wonders has left an indelible mark on hearts across the globe. It was the little console that, in the end, sadly couldn't. But for the faithful, for those who took the rather inexplicable plunge and sampled it's delights, there was nothing else we'd rather have been playing on.
Looking at Nintendo's practices now - with their last two consoles built and sold on hardware gimmicks and promises rather than stacks of excellent software - the GameCube defies all logic. Indeed, it seemed to defy logic back in May 2002 as well, launching without the ability to play audio CDs or DVDs (instead plumping for the laughably cute mini optical discs), abandoning the N64's trident controller in favour of a dual-analogue approach, there was no backwards compatibility, and it looked ridiculous. It even had a carry-handle!
But it also had some of the best games of its generation.
To start with, there was the launch lineup. There was a big name missing - Mario - but the plumber's brother had stepped up in his stead, and Luigi's Mansion was an absolute cracker, notable for also being the only game on the entire system to incorporate stereoscopic 3D. There was Rogue Squadron II, finally allowing console owners to take on the Death Star Trench Run. Super Monkey Ball proved not only to be a fiendishly addictive singleplayer romp, but a fantastic party game too. Wave Race: Blue Storm dazzled day one buyers with its glorious water effects and pointed the way forward for a shinier generation of Nintendo staples.
We saw third-party exclusives too, and multi-platform games welcomed onto Nintendo's bulky brick with open arms. This was the generation in which Nintendo desperately tried to hang on to their partnerships with third-parties.They had to - Sony's rapid rise thanks to the PS1, and the bulging wallet of the new kid on the block - Microsoft - meant that Nintendo were no longer leaders of the pack. Sadly, though, the blacker, sleeker, "cooler" looking consoles prevailed. In fact the GameCube would go on to sell only 21.74 million units worldwide, with the Xbox passing 24 million units, and the PS2 nearly 154 million. Even the N64 had sold in greater numbers, with lifetime sales nearing 33 million.
Part of this was the misconception that the GameCube was a console built for kids. Tell that to Capcom, who proceeded to drop P.N.03, Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil 4, and Suda51's ridiculously violent Killer7 on the system. Tell that Silicon Knights who, before they became a studio that released ambitious-yet-fundamentally-flawed bargain bin fodder, were taking names with games like Eternal Darkness. And what of MGS: The Twin Snakes? True, there was no Halo on this machine, no flagship FPS title to point to in the same way that GoldenEye had offered focus to the N64, but to write off the GameCube based on it's cutesy exterior was to deny oneself some utterly spellbinding experiences.
Retro's Metroid Prime was perhaps the most surprising of the lot: a fantastic fresh take on an existing franchise. This was a progressive move from Nintendo, giving a developer under their umbrella the chance to impress. Unlike the Wii's Other M, Retro's series was one that utterly embraced the elements at the core of the Metroid experience: exploration, isolation, innovative platforming, variable weaponry. But now we got to see these far-flung worlds through Samus' eyes, and the results were dazzling.
But Nintendo also managed to just have fun in 3D too. Take Super Mario Sunshine, for example. It wasn't particularly groudbreaking, but neither did it look backwards and rest on old laurels. Instead, Nintendo set about trying to make the best platformer of the generation. And they probably succeeded. Mario Kart: Double Dash was flawed, with Nintendo perhaps trying to do a little too much to refresh an already near-perfect template, but it provided my friends and I with endless hours of entertainment, most tellingly perhaps on Baby Park - a single oval circuit with central partition. A simple track that displayed a purity of intention. Green shells everywhere, giant bananas on either straight, a constant back and forth between competitors, winners declared by a whisker, a track where a blue shell could take out every single racer.
It was The Wind Waker that sealed the deal for many, and alienated many others. It was a game that proved hugely divisive, with one generally applicable rule: you could almost guarantee that the game's detractors hadn't actually played it. I was hugely sceptical at first. For me, Ocarina of Time had been the pinnacle of gaming - a grand sweeping epic that looked, felt, and played as an epic should. I bought into the fiction of it all, that the land of Hyrule was in danger, that I was the only one who could save the day. But Wind Waker looked like a Saturday morning cartoon, and a bad one at that.
And then I played it...and suffered the largest turnaround of opinion I've ever had regarding a game.
There were some brilliantly brave titles that made it onto the GameCube. Titles like Cubivore, the aforementioned Capcom Five, Chibi-Robo!, Pikmin, and Animal Crossing all came out of left-field. Nintendo kicked things off with Mario's criminally underappreciated brother, and consolidated their position with a batch of Donkey Kong titles that had you bashing plastic bongos.
The controller was pretty brave too and, as with most things to do with the GameCube, managed to be both brilliant and infuriating. An ergonomic delight, it's triggers were clickable, the A button huge, it felt robust. But the B button was a tiny red nub on the controller's face, and the Z-trigger was something of a joke. But then the Wavebird arrived and blew us away by removing wires from the living room in typically stylish fashion. It's no coincidence that the Xbox 360 controller today feels slightly like a Wavebird - partly because the original Xbox pad was an angular nightmare, partly because Nintendo's wireless beauty fitted the hand to perfection.
The GameCube can't be considered to come anywhere near the top of a Best Consoles list, but it's certainly the console for the curious. It paints the picture of platform holder opening themselves up to increasingly weird and wonderful things. It's a quirky little box of tricks, to be sure, with some incredibly quirky titles on its roster. But a console for kids? All of the games mentioned above are far too good to be wasted only on kids.