I do love Nintendo so. The first time I played Mario on the NES over at a mate's house way back when, was really that moment when I realised that gaming was for me. I didn't even know what the heck a console was at the time, as I clumsily pawed at it while asking, "What's this grey thing?". After crushing evil turtles to death under the immense weight of their own shells then popping my first magic mushroom though, that was it...love at first sight.
This was all nothing compared to the deep, obsessive relationship I went on to form with the Super NES a few years later. We'd play with each other well into the night, whispering sweet nothings into one another's ears as it took me to places I never even knew existed. Heck, I even shared her with my friends. That's true love.
I even got on well with the GameBoy, sexy little minx as she was. The same year I bought one I remember taking expensively long trips around France and Italy, yet all I can remember when I think back to either outing were the endless hours ploughed into Choplifter II and link-up Tetris. Sorry mum.
It's Not You, It's Me
How bizarre then, that when the N64 eventually rolled around, I kind of ignored her. I was slowly moving away from gaming at the time, and thus sort of abandoned Nintendo. They were the jilted lover I left at the alter.
But much like a washed-up Casanova who comes crawling back to the love of his life after ditching her many moons ago, I've returned to Nintendo seeking forgiveness this year. The reason? Metroid Prime 2. I heard nothing but brilliant things about the GameCube's biggest release of 2004, and with that in mind decided it was about time I returned to my old high school sweetheart and saw what all the fuss was about.
It's Christmas though, and money's tight, leaving only one solution; eBay. After numerous price comparisons and many late night auction sniper duels, I land myself a sweet little deal. GameCube's are going for as cheap as £30 on eBay, but I settle on £60 for one bundled with a whole bunch of games.
Seeing as I tend to use this column as a gaming diary as much as anything else, I thought I'd run through my experiences as a newcomer to the system, detailing my thoughts on each game one by one, thus forming some overarching opinions on the GameCube itself in the process. Is this Nintendo's greatest hour...or is it their Sega Saturn?
First Up: Metroid Prime
|Metroid pulls of the old Event Horizon style empty space station feel nicely|
Despite the fact I'm really only here to play the sequel, I thought it best to work my way through the first Metroid before I consider splashing out another £30 for Metroid Prime 2. Booting it up for the first time, my thoughts immediately drift to the controls; why why why
haven't they opted for the more traditional first person shooter style config? Instead it appears to use a controller layout that's both new and alien. For instance there's no strafe function unless you hold down a trigger, my main bitch, nor is there a freelook via the right analogue stick (which on the GameCube, actually looks like a nipple) and for these reasons Prime was a wee bit of a chore on its first play.
But the more I got to grips with it, scanning, exploring and soaking in the eerie, glorious ambience, the more it all started to make sense...until suddenly it clicked; it doesn't handle like an FPS because, well, it really isn't
one. Sure, you shoot stuff on occasion, but Metroid Prime is really so much more than that. I thought this game was gonna be the GameCube's answer to Halo, but it's obvious now that it's not even in the same genre - this is more of an adventure game that just so happens to be played out from the first person perspective. An explore 'em up, you could call it.
|Combat is rare and simplistic...well, apart from the massive fucking boss fights|
The next thing you notice is that it's stunningly well designed. After the initial hurdle of figuring out the control scheme, the game starts heaping love upon the player in massive, constant doses. By taking the time to scan the world around you, you're rewarded with a regular stream of interesting info and back-story, yet alternatively you can just ignore all that and simply blast through it like a maniac. There's a feeling of an epic, well realised universe to explore in Metroid, and one that you can delve into as little or as much as you like. For those that take the time to do so though, there's endless rewards tucked away in each and every crevice just waiting to be discovered.
Exploring, studying your maps, backtracking and finally figuring out how to reach that impossibly high platform above you, that's what Metroid is all about. Then there's your equipment and abilities, of which as the hours pass, you unlock more and more of, each one sprucing up and enlivening the experience that little bit more. There's the relentless need to push on to see what exciting new trick or toy you can track down next, and it's pretty damn addictive in that regard.
There's no better example of that than the legendary morph ball, which spherifies the player and lets you go pelting around maps like a bowling ball. Once I had this sucker under my belt, I began using it at every single opportunity, and the game turned into some kinda twisted sci-fi version of Marble Madness. It's just flat-out brilliant
|Samus' helmet adds hugely to the ultra cool look and feel of Prime|
Also worthy of mention is the sound, with stunning electronic ditties that suit the ominous dark vibe perfectly. Graphics are nice enough too, about on par with a top of the range PC running Quake III, and in fact the game as a whole reminds me a little of the old semi-classic Elite Force.
One feature that boosts the look of Prime considerably, and really makes it stand out though is the visor cam. By seeing the entire world partially obscured from behind Samus' helmet, it really absorbs on a whole other visual level that no other first person title ever really has. The upcoming Republic Commando looks to be shamelessly ripping this feature off, but having already played that, in my opinion it works better here. The way steam and other environmental effects cloud and disrupt your vision is truly inspired.
All in all Metroid Prime is the best first person adventure game-meets pinball simulator I've ever played, and the kinda exclusive Nintendo can be proud of. It takes some getting used to, and is absolutely nothing like any other FPS out there, but it's a solid good adventure game, and based on the quality of this title I won't be disappointed with the sequel when I get around to picking it up shortly. No doubt you can expect a review of that down the line.
Initial verdict: Jizz-o-rama! I'm in love once again.
Super Smash Brothers Melee
This one on the other hand, really isn't for me. I like my fighters realistic and brutal, but most of all I need them to be tactical. I want to be a finely tuned kung-fu killing machine with immense power, only hone-able through months and months of intense practice and never ending bruises. I simply can't stand button bashing.
|Ever wondered who'd win if Donkey Kong went up against StarFox? Neither have I|
As a beat 'em up, Smash Brothers pretty much fails in every single one of these areas. It's a nice looking game, stunningly presented, but it's also complete and utter random nonsense. It's the kind of thing you play multiplayer, loaded on beer, while constantly laughing out loud at the ridiculous sights on offer, such as Mario dragon punching Yoshi, or three Donkey Kong's gangbanging Link.
The idea of tossing every single major Nintendo character from the past 20 years into a beat 'em up arena is somewhat interesting on paper. I love the look of the characters, and in particular, the implementation of the levels. Hearing brand new remixes of the old F-Zero and Super Mario theme tunes even brought a small smile to my face, I admit.
But at the end of the day it's pretty much just everything I hate about fighters, with the single saving grace of being played out in quasi-2D rather than the more over-rated 3D of the norm. Maybe things'll improve once I get "into it" as the kids say, but I'm in no hurry. This is one big old noisy headache of a game.
Initial verdict: On the outside it's one sexy little bitch, but the second you take them panties off you're bombarded with puss-filled arse sores.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Ahh, good old Zelda - one of those titles everyone loves. Except this latest console expedition that is; a title that appears to have divided its audience a lot more than previous outings.
The primary reason being the look of it more than anything else. Zelda titles of the past have always been somewhat fantastical, sure, but they still remained serious adventure games never the less. The new cell-shaded look on offer in the Wind Waker however, strays furthest yet into cutesy territory.
My first impressions went from digging the new look, to then being mildly disappointed in its simplicity, back again to being impressed, then finally settling on being hugely fucking blown away. Wind Waker feels less like you're playing a game at times, and more like you're directing a DVD quality cartoon, with such a bold brilliance that you simply have to admire. The characters are just so well animated that it really helps sell this as a credible graphical style, and I wish more games had gone on to use it since.
Playability wise, the beginning felt a bit silly and immature compared to previous Zelda games, but I'm oddly addicted never the less. After many an hour of chatting to villagers, chopping down hedges and lobbing pigs over cliffs, I eventually got hold of a ship and set off on my quest, the entire time hovering somewhere between child-like captivation and unimpressed maturity.
The Wind Waker does seem like a nice little game, but a small step back from previous Zelda adventures. Or did I simply grow up somewhere along the line?
Initial verdict: Beautiful but simplistic. She's a looker, no doubts there, but my god is she dumb.
Medal of Honor: Rising Sun
|Pearl Harbor's a good effort, but it's all down hill from then onwards|
Rising Sun is an all-time low for Medal of Honor. It truly feels like a complete cash-in no brainer for EA, lacking any soul or passion whatsoevever.
It starts out nice enough, with a brief recreation of the Pearl Harbor attack, but it's over all too quickly, making way for the very worst console FPS action that you'll ever see. The graphics are truly disgusting, and just about rival the Atari Lynx for quality, and yet the frame-rate is all over the place for some reason too. Worst of all, it just isn't any fun at all to play, wreaking of EA's inability to realise just what it is people like and dislike about FPS games.
For all its flaws and ultimate mediocrity, the more recent PC title Pacific Assault was a game that I feel EA put a lot of real time and effort into. Rising Sun on the other hand isn't. It's PA's wheelchair-ridden dribbling little retarded brother. I just praise to the God's that they learn their lessons and make the upcoming Dogs of War a lot more impressive than this rectal polyp. That said, this is a cross-platform title, and thus reflects in no way badly on the Cube itself.
Initial verdict: An ugly old toothless crackwhore of a game. I'd rather get dragged into an alleyway, beaten to near death, then forced to nibble on dick at gun point than ever play it again.
Super Mario Sunshine
I'm loving this one! As mentioned, Mario games are really where console gaming began for me, and although this is a little different to the old side scrollers of the early days, it still retains that same look and sound of the Mario universe that instantly transports me back to my childhood.
I managed to spend a fair bit of time with Mario 64 over the years, and this one feels pleasingly similar but with some added tricks up its sleeve. The new water cannon that's strapped to Mario's back comes completely out of leftfield, in that ridiculous nonsensical manner than only the Japanese can pull off, yet it works. Hosing down psycho mutant plant bosses and their ugly evil minions, as down-right stupid as it is, is just hella fun.
I'm not a big fan of bizarre Japanese cartoon weirdness, but Mario is the series that will forever get away with it in my book. It's just a great, crazy, fun platform game, seeping with beauty and originality. Although I'm sure it's about as different as you could possibly get in terms of playability, the fun I had with this game has spurred me on to seek out Paper Mario 2 at some point down the line.
Initial verdict: I'm 8 years old again! The video gaming equivalent of jail-bait.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter
|BH is a third person shooter where you play the bad guy, but TIE Fighter, it isn't|
Bounty Hunter is one of the bastard Star Wars titles everyone seems to hate. It clearly uses the same engine as the much-maligned Xbox game Obi-Wan, but in terms of content, this is really the anti-Obi-Wan.
Instead of fighting for the survival of the Republic, you're a bad guy this time, none other than Boba's "daddy" Jango Fett. This means charging around in third person with blasters and rifles, along with the odd bit of jumping, dodging and jetpacking thrown in for good measure. It's smooth, polished, playable stuff, and although it has no real problems, it also has nothing particularly amazing going for it either.
I was having fun leaping around on platforms like in Prince of Persia, lassoing bounties up for phatty bucks while blowing away helpless civilians...that is up until it crashed on level's end causing me to lose all my damn progress. The most telling thing about the whole game was that I really didn't care that much though, promptly switching it off and not returning to it ever since.
Those who want to explore the seedier side of the Star Wars universe may want to seek this one out on the cheap, it goes for well under a tenner these days after all, but there's not a huge amount else to say about Bounty Hunter other than that. It's a phoned in franchise title, despite not being the complete travesty many would have you believe.
Initial verdict: I'm going back to Mario.
Wow, the peeps sure seem to dig this one. Whoever you speak to, GameCube owner or not, you're often met with wild howls and major leg humping at the mere mention of Eternal Darkness. Apparently it's not only one of the Cube's all-time greats, but one of the very finest gaming experiences ever made.
However I seem to be playing a different game, as to me it all feels a little mundane. In fact, on first glance I can't help but feel that the more recent title Obscure was a much more impressive take on the survival horror genre.
Tip-toeing around a haunted house, trying to gather clues and piece together what happened to my recently murdered grandfather was nice enough, if a little dull, but when it suddenly switched to flashback mode and had me controlling a Roman Centurion out of nowhere, I seriously wondered if this thing was having a laugh.
You can't ignore the praise Eternal Darkness has received over the years though, and I'm sure this'll all resolve itself and turn into a deeply interwoven tale of sheer brilliance if I give it more time. I hope.
Initial verdict: I wasn't impressed by the first date, but there's something about this girl. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II & III
|The amount of ships that appear on screen at once is damn impressive|
These are actually two seperate games, but even by the developer's own admission they together form one complete experience.
It's an arcadey Star Wars shoot 'em up with X-Wings, lasers, explosions, the fucking Empire...you know the drill. It's all good, harmless fun, and taking on the very best of the Imperial war machine with Luke's voice blurting out from all speakers never gets old. That said, despite the much improved visuals, there's no real advance in quality since the first Rogue Squadron game which I'd nailed on PC many years back.
|Rebel Strike offers split-screen co-op which is really the only way to play|
The more recent of the two, subtitled Rebel Strike, introduces land based missions to spice things up, which include charging around in an AT-ST and whizzing off on a speeder bike, which make it a slightly more original and interesting game however. What really impresses though is the co-op mode, which is an absolute blast, as well as the inclusion of the original Star Wars arcade game. Many a memory do I have as a young sapling, nailing TIE fighters in that old Star Wars arcade cabinet on Brighton Peer, complete with all its low quality movie samples and polygonal brilliance. To experience that again here in 2005 was somewhat magical for me.
On the whole, the Rogue Squadron titles are worth grabbing, especially if you're a Star Wars fan. Storming the Death Star trench with a buddy in split screen mode is some of the best fun I've had on the Cube yet in fact. It just all feels a little simple and 2 dimensional after burying myself in the immaculately produced Jump to Lightspeed recently is all.
Initial verdict: Take her out on a double date. The Force is strong with this one...as long as you bring a buddy with you. Co-op games continue to rock Dig's world.
Leaving the games aside, I have mixed feelings on the unit itself. It's so gloriously small and pretty (providing you don't get a purple model), and I especially worship the tiny little discs it plays, but it's not without its faults.
For one, it can't double up as a DVD player like its peers. Two, it lacks any official online play whatsoever, and although you can overcome that with some PC hook-up trickery such as X-Link Kai
, the selection of online titles is pitifully small.
Third and finally though, the controller isn't the best I've used. Buttons are shaped and positioned a little oddly, and the triggers are too soft and deep. Worst of all, the cables are really damn short, and wouldn't even reach my sofa, necessitating the purchase of controller extension cables for each of my pads. I really
fucking hate buying a console then finding you need to splash out on a truck load of additional accessories in order to get it working properly.
As I've hinted at throughout, there's one or two other titles I'm keen on grabbing for the Cube as soon as possible (Resident Evil 4, come to daddy), but on the whole I think the system's strength lies in quality over quantity.
It has the exclusive first party franchises to its name that no other system will ever get - your Marios and your Zeldas - and it can be incredibly proud of those to be sure. In terms of third party games produced by companies other than Nintendo though, there's very little on offer here that isn't on the other systems. It also handles such cross-platform titles averagely; better than the PS2 in some cases, but not up to the quality of the Xbox.
Technically it surprised me though, with less jaggies and frame-rate problems than Sony's aging monster. It lacks true 5.1 sound, but Pro Logic II support gives games a solid good kick in the arse never the less.
Nintendo's days as console developers may well be numbered judging by their continually dwindling success in recent years (especially with the Sony PSP now biting at their heels). Until the day comes when Nintendo go the way of Sega though, and we start to see Mario appear on the Xbox, the GameCube remains the only way to play the classic Nintendo franchises on the big screen, ones that really made gaming popular in the first place. With that in mind, it's worth owning a GameCube for those alone. A good thing too, considering there's no other real reason to do so.
And with that, me and my former lover have been reunited after all this time. It's great to see her again, but I don't know, something's oddly different about her. All those men she's no doubt shacked up with over the years have left her looking a lot less shiny. Dirty whore.