Nintendo joins the next-gen console wars.
Originally Published on June 23, 2001
By now, anyone who owns a console system has heard about the new GameCube. This latest next-gen system from Nintendo will invade stores on November 5th (just 3 days prior to Microsoft’s big Xbox launch) and will try to secure its place in the highly competitive home console market.
When the N64 released the only competition Nintendo had to worry about was the Sony PlayStation. Since then we have seen the successful launch (and demise) of the SEGA Dreamcast as well as Sony’s second-generation console, the PS2. A lot has happened in the video game industry, and Nintendo has been lurking in the shadows watching and waiting, and now they are about to pounce.
Nintendo has its work cut out for them. Not only must they break into the heavy installed base of PS2 units, they will be going head to head with Microsoft’s “new toy” and their bottomless bank account to promote it. A 3-day head start may not be enough, but a good selection of launch titles with even more games on the schedule should certainly make them a worthy competitor.
The first thing Nintendo is doing is trying to change their “kid-friendly” image. They’ve already started to do this with some M-rated titles on their aging N64 system like Perfect Dark and of course the infamously naughty Conker’s Bad Fur Day. There will still be plenty of games for the junior members of the house, but Nintendo is going to offer a much better mix of titles this time around in hopes of capturing the older crowd – the people who actually have the money to spend on games. With developers like EA Sports onboard you can expect a lot of quality sports titles as well as some remakes of your favorite N64 games.
The first thing you will notice about the GameCube is its shape. The compact 4.3″(H) x 5.9″(W) x 6.3″(D) is very…well, cube-like and comes with a nifty tote handle so you can take it to your friends house or swing it around your head and smack your sister with it. The four controller ports are carried over from the N64 design and are a welcome feature considering that Sony still requires you to buy a multi-tap if you want to have more than two people playing on their new system. You also have a pair of slots for memory cards, as well as Digital and Analog AV outputs, a pair of serial ports, and a high-speed parallel port for future expansion.
The GameCube is powered by a custom IBM Power PC “Gekko” processor running at 485mhz with 32-bit Integer and 64-bit floating-point precision. A 2mb frame buffer and a 1mb texture cache will speed the 24-bit graphics along on this system, and with a memory bandwidth of 2.6gb/sec and a 10.4gb/sec texture read bandwidth you can expect some pretty impressive titles on this new system.
The games will come on a custom 3-inch mini-disc with a 1.5gb capacity. This is still smaller than the PS2 and Xbox full-size DVD storage capacity, but given the limited storage of the N64 carts this is a major leap forward. The GameCube also features advanced texture compression routines to maximize the available storage available. This will be Nintendo’s first attempt at a non-cartridge based gaming system, and the unique format should help to keep piracy as well as the games’ price tags minimized. The digital format will be able to deliver DVD-quality video and digital surround sound.
Speaking of price, the GameCube will launch at the unheard of low price of $199. With rumors of Sony losing $150 on each console they sold last year and similar anticipated losses for the upcoming Xbox you wonder just how much money Nintendo is losing to make sure you buy their new system. According to Peter Main, Executive Vice President of Sale and Marketing, “not that much”. You can be sure that once people have the system in their house the game purchases will be sure to follow, and that is where the money is to be made. Hardware sales are ranked in the millions while the game sales are ranked in the billions. Taking a small (or even significant) loss in the initial hardware purchase is easily justified when you look at the 3-5 year “big picture” of game sales projected over the life of the system.
But the success of any system always comes back to the games. Nintendo currently has about a half-dozen games slated for launch with the system in November with many more to follow in the upcoming months. Nintendo is notorious for a lack of third-party developers. Most developers found the cartridge-based N64 too primitive or restrictive to program for and for most of the life of the N64 we saw mainly first-party titles and a few third-party products thrown in from time to time.
The GameCube is going to change all that. Many third-party developers are already onboard, and despite Microsoft’s aggressive marketing tactics and attempts to snatch up all the developers, you will see many popular titles on the Xbox including hits from legends like EA Sports, LucasArts, Konami, Acclaim, and many more. Nintendo has also acquired several studios and is gearing up for some incredible first-party titles. About half of the initial GameCube library will be comprised of first-party titles, as opposed to Sony who only develops only about 20% of their own titles.
One thing the GameCube has going for it that the PS2 didn’t is the influx of capital Microsoft has dumped into the market. In their attempt to get as many developers on the Xbox bandwagon they have heavily financed many studios (sometimes paying for 100% of a game’s development). And with no exclusivity contract, these developers are then free to offer their games to Nintendo for material costs and royalty fees leaving them with a very high profit margin.
While this ultimately results in less system-exclusive titles, it does offer the advantage to the consumer that they don’t have to purchase every system to play their favorite game. Chances are, if you own any one of the next-gen systems your game will eventually be available. Of course there will always be some exclusive titles. After all, they have to taunt you into buying their hardware sooner or later, and the GameCube has many exclusive titles coming out at launch and shortly thereafter that will make it hard to resist Nintendo’s latest console.
Here are just some of the games that are scheduled to launch with the system. Look for extended coverage of these titles and more in our Nintendo review area as more information and playable copies are available.
SEGA wouldn’t launch a system without their famous hedgehog, Sonic, and Nintendo wouldn’t launch a system without Mario. This time Mario steps aside and lets his brother get his 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps one of the most stunning previews at this year’s E3 show, Luigi’s Mansion is really going to show off the new GameCube and will appeal to both kids and adults. Gameplay is loosely based on the Ghostbusters movie where Luigi enters a haunted house and must “suck up” all the ghosts into his high-powered vacuum cleaner. Real-time lighting and shading give the cartoon-graphics an eerily surreal look to them and the particle effects are amazing.
Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II
This is one of those games that justify purchasing the system even if you never buy another game. LucasArts is squeezing every ounce of processing and graphics power from the GameCube to bring you one of the most amazing space combat games and perhaps the best Star Wars title to date. The game features DVD-quality audio along with some of the most detailed models and textures ever seen in a Star Wars game. Real-time lighting, particle effects, digitized explosions, and custom light maps push the GameCube to the very limits.
Wave Race Blue Storm
Wave Race 64 was one of the main reasons I bought my N64 back in the mid-90’s and if it wasn’t for the aforementioned Star Wars game it would probably be my reason for getting the GameCube. The E3 demo only featured three playable courses and one was a direct port from the original game. There are eight planned courses that feature dynamic changing environments such as changing water levels that will force you to re-think your route on each lap. Blue Storm also features some of the most amazing water effects I have seen including realistic spray, reflections, and dynamic wakes generated by the watercraft. Water will even spray up and splash the game camera creating a distorted droplet effect.
Madden NFL 2002
EA Sports finally joins the Nintendo team of third-party developers and bring the infamous Madden franchise to the GameCube. Early versions of this title already exceed the graphics of the PS2 and surprisingly, even the upcoming Xbox version. Player graphics and animations have been greatly enhanced and the AI has been tweaked to near perfection. The addition of the long awaited “2-minute drill” just sweetens the deal. If this title stays on track it will easily be the best version of Madden you can buy for any home console system.
NBA Courtside 2002
With no announced plans for an EA version of NBA Live, Nintendo is filling their basketball niche with a stellar hoops sim from Left Field Productions. This title features some of the best player animation ever thanks to some amazing motion-capture using none other than Lakers’ star, Kobe Bryant performing all his moves plus recreating signature moves from several other famous players. While the body animations may be Kobe’s, the player faces are all unique and incredibly photo-realistic. Detail even extends down to players’ tattoos and unique hairstyles. Gameplay features such as adrenaline-boost and an innovative C-stick passing allow for amazing dunks and a much-needed no-look passing feature.
Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet
Our good buddies from Rare are back but not for a sequel to Bond or Perfect Dark or even Conker. Star Fox Adventure plays like any standard third-person adventure and comparisons to Zelda will no doubt be forthcoming. The levels are huge, colorful, and simply gorgeous. Gameplay combines Fox’s own combat moves and unique spell system along with the abilities of several of the dinosaurs he encounters on his journey. This game was originally being developed for the N64 so it has over a two-year head start over other GC games. While the graphics are being overhauled to GC-standards, the amazing game design has been successfully ported from the N64. This could be one of the largest and most “polished” games available at launch.
This is one of those titles designed to pull in the older crowd and then “scare the crap out of them”. Eternal Darkness is a game of epic proportions. The game has you assuming 12 unique roles that span 2,000 years of history allowing you to explore several adventurous eras. A single pass through the game can take up to 50 hours, and there is enough variety to warrant several replays. The unique nature of the story and design allow you to explore the plot from several perspectives with the full consequences of your actions not being realized until the very end. Another innovative feature is the “sanity meter” that can cause some very disturbing hallucinations that can really mess with a player’s head.
These are just a small sampling of the amazing titles coming to the GameCube when it launches in November. There are other excellent titles currently in development including several new designs as well as sequels and ports of existing titles. If you are still debating on whether to get a GameCube then check out this list of upcoming titles:
- 1080° Snowboarding 2
- All Star Baseball 2002
- Animal Forest
- Bomberman: Generations
- Car Combat
- Donkey Kong Racing
- Doshin The Giant
- Kameo: Elements of Power
- Legend of Zelda Cube
- Mario Sunshine
- Metroid Prime
- Meowth’s Party
- Mickey For GameCube
- Monkey Ball
- Perfect Dark 2
- Phantasy Star Online Version 2
- Raven Blade
- Sonic Adventure 2
- Soul Calibur 2
- SSX Tricky
- Super Smash Bros. 2: Melee
- Super Smash Bros. 2: Melee Trophy
- Too Human
- Universal Studios
- Virtua Striker 3
- X Isle
With an introductory price that is $100 cheaper than the Xbox and a significant yet admittedly small list of quality launch titles the question is not “if you should buy” a GameCube, but rather “how long do you wait” until you buy one.