×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The best GameCube games of all time

Nintendo's GameCube holds such a strange place in the annals of gaming history. It was basically the middle child in every aspect it could've been. In terms of Nintendo's legacy, it's sandwiched between the game-changing N64, and the outsized, asterisked success of the Wii. In terms of the console war of the time, it was just sort of there at a time when Microsoft had come for Sony's blood. When Sony went sleek and cool with the design of the PS2, and Microsoft went bulky and intimidating, the GameCube went compact and playful. Even in terms of horsepower, it was more powerful than the PS2, less powerful than the Xbox, and accompanying neither extreme, most of its positives went underappreciated. 

That's a special kind of disservice, since quite a few of the best games of that gen were GameCube exclusives, caught in limbo between warring gods, which is probably the exact reason why everything from the Wii onward has seen Nintendo operating on their own terms. But there's absolute gold on the old cube that deserved better. Here are the absolute best games for the Nintendo GameCube.

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes brought espionage to the GameCube

Long before the HD remaster/remake train well and truly left the station in the 360/PS3 era, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes showed everybody how it could and still should be done. It helps, of course, that the jump between graphics on the PS1 and graphics on the GameCube was huge, but nothing had gone the extra mile the way this had at the time. The entirety of Metal Gear Solid was, essentially, remade in the Metal Gear Solid 2 engine by Silicon Knights at the height of their creative powers, with new voice acting from the original cast, and the cutscenes completely redone by Ryuhei Kitamura, aka one of the craziest action directors on the planet. All while being supervised by Kojima himself and a hands-on Shigeru Miyamoto.

Even with the horsepower available to developers now, it's the kind of worshipful effort you just don't see for a game, let alone one as extensive and detailed as MGS.

F-Zero GX was faster and better than the competition

For a game that's still one of the crown jewels of the SNES-era — an SNES launch title, in fact! — F-Zero's cultural cache in the modern age is depressingly small, mostly relegated to Captain Falcon being a Super Smash Bros. mainstay (and the Falcon Punch still being ridiculously OP, but that's a whole other article). The best theory on why pretty much just boils down to Wipeout on PlayStation basically making F-Zero's cartoony graphics look a little juvenile by comparison.

That's still true in F-Zero GX. Nobody remembers that game for its utterly ridiculous cutscenes, after all. But those who do remember F-Zero GX fondly do so not just for being eye-poppingly fast, but for making that speed feel absolutely deadly in the process. Speed has consequences as you race in GX, but the rewards in zooming at thousands of miles an hour down a track sometimes the width of a ruler is still one of the most breathtaking racing experiences ever crafted.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is still unique after all this time

It's been so long, and so much has happened, that it's hard to remember. But we assure you: once upon a time, Silicon Knights were respected. 

For PlayStation owners, Silicon Knights were the folks behind Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, a second-wave PS1 game that didn't sell great and was eventually overshadowed by its grandiose spinoff, Soul Reaver. But the GameCube got Silicon Knights' magnum opus, a down and dirty, history-spanning little beast called Eternal Darkness. On its own, it's basically a Lovecraft-style compendium of terror, chronicling centuries of horrors across the world within a book made of human skin. It's truly grisly, ambitious, and compelling stuff, with a timbre and scale unlike anything before, or even since.

The cherry on top, however, is that the game actively trolls its players, with a sanity meter that would inflict all sorts of fourth-wall breaking hindrances on the player and their poor, abused save file. The closest analogue is the save state shenanigans near the end of Undertale, but even that never went as far as Eternal Darkness. To this day, it's still a wholly unique horror experience, and despite even Silicon Knights' best — er, well, let's just call them notable — efforts, it's one you could only get on the GameCube.

Killer7 is one of a kind

If gaming has anything resembling a David Lynch, able to make absolutely mindblowing choices within the context of tired genres, it's Suda51. While he'd been making bizarre little point-and-click adventures before, and his resume afterward certainly didn't get any easier to parse, Suda's breakout game, Killer7, is simultaneously his most accessible title and also the most psychologically baffling. 

On paper, it's easy to say Killer7's little more than a glorified rail shooter, with some light puzzle-solving for spice. But the reality is obvious within minutes of starting the game. Right at the outset, our main character dissolves away in a haze of white noise, something he's able to do to turn into seven wildly dissociated personalities. Even that's just the tip of the iceberg for a game that ends up being an unhinged, Kojima-esque take on government corruption, all rendered in a weirdly unsettling abstract cel-shaded noir aesthetic that just accentuates the weird. It's not the kind of game you typically look for or would ever expect to get on a Nintendo system — and that's even in a world where the Wii got the No More Heroes games — but it's certainly one to be grateful for, regardless. 

Ikaruga was rescued from the Dreamcast

When the Dreamcast died — rest its poor soul — its legacy would, by and large, be carried forward by the original Xbox. While most of the system's best games would get a second life later, there were a few stragglers, and somehow, the GameCube would inherit one of its best in Ikaruga.

As much as your typical bullet hell shooter is a careful feat of maneuvering hitboxes and pattern recognition, Ikaruga adds a whole new element of red/white color immunity, which essentially makes navigating the game into a frightening dance of not just avoiding getting shot, but getting shot the right way, at the right place, at the right time. It's a gimmick so immensely versatile that the game is designed so that you can beat it without firing a single shot, absorbing everything in your way instead.

As meticulous and frighteningly beautiful as a game like this normally is, it's rare they require a player to be equally as graceful. It's a unique game that belonged on a unique system. And with the Dreamcast out of the picture, it's only right it ended up on the Cube.

Viewtiful Joe was way ahead of its time

Before Platinum Games was, well, Platinum Games, the vast majority of their development team worked at Capcom under the name Clover Studios. Clover wasn't nearly as prolific as their current iteration, though the fact that they made Okami before they even became Platinum Games should be enough to drop a few jaws. But while that game is considered a masterpiece, their previous title was just as unique, but much more woefully overlooked.

Viewtiful Joe has all the hallmarks that we identify with Platinum today: the hard-hitting combo-based fights, the slo-mo mechanics, the obsessive hat tips to popular films — in this case, the entire plot happens because Joe's girlfriend gets sucked into a movie, Last Action Hero-style. The difference, however, is the 2D formatting, the cel-shaded art style, and some rather ingenious sections where Joe has to use those hard-hitting powers to not just ruin his enemies, but solve traversal puzzles. It's a mix that nobody would really attempt until Guacamelee some ten years later, which goes to show just how far ahead of the curve Platinum's staff really was.

Star Wars: Rogue Leader is a spectacular starfighter sim

There have been dozens of games that tried to transport players into the Star Wars universe, and, generously, maybe half are more than just one-off time-wasters with a John Williams soundtrack. Unless you owned a PC, games that truly put you behind the stick of an X-Wing were thin on the ground for a long time. It wasn't until Factor-5 absolutely aced Rogue Leader that the experience felt fully realized.

It all just feels right: The rock-solid framerate meant that the dogfights felt like real-life pulse-pounding dogfights. The score came through crystal clear. The X-Wings themselves felt fast and fluid, but then, it took you that extra step further, giving players a full-fledged story with Wedge Antilles taking center stage with spectacular guerilla airstrikes against the Empire. It's all just perfect, and even with stuff like Battlefront 2 making things prettier than before, Rogue Leader is still a delight.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is a lighthearted good time

It's a sobering thing to look at the RPGs that came out in 2004. This is the year that brought us World of Warcraft, Vampire: The Masquerade, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, and the first Fable. And right smack in the middle of all that is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, as weird and wacky as it can be, at the most angsty and staunchly traditional time for RPGs ever.

Paper Mario games have rarely tried to reinvent themselves, but they've also never had to. It's only very recently that RPGs have lightened up to the point where a Paper Mario game's cheery take on RPG tropes isn't a wild departure from everything else it would share shelf space with. For Thousand Year Door, its greatest innovation is taking fuller advantage of the paper aesthetic, with Mario able to turn himself into paper airplanes, background elements depending on Mario himself, and the environment folding into various shapes. There's such a self-awareness, humor, and lightness to the whole thing that it stands out in the GameCube's library.

Super Mario Sunshine took the franchise on a wildly different path

Every once in a while, Nintendo gets a wild urge to throw a wrench into the typical Mario game formula, and not always at the opportune time. In Sunshine's case, trying to put out a game so wildly divergent when they hadn't made a 3D Mario game in eight years was probably not ideal, but since when has Nintendo gotten anywhere doing exactly what people expect?

While history prematurely consigned Sunshine to black sheep status, as part of a series of far-thinking innovations for the series, it's not hard to draw a straight line between Super Mario Sunshine and Splatoon. The gimmick of Mario having to strap on a water-hose and do environmental cleanup, as opposed to just hopping on every enemy in sight, probably could've used a bit more time to polish up; but as it stands, it still employs a series of unique gameplay ideas and daunting platform segments that we wouldn't see from the series for years afterwards. 

Super Monkey Ball is way harder than it looks

All the best games share one singular mantra: easy to learn, difficult to master. And there's perhaps no greater example of that premise than Super Monkey Ball. The game certainly owes quite a bit of its DNA to old school tests of skill like Marble Madness, but Monkey Ball takes things that crucial step forward into something much more brilliant, but also much more diabolical.

It's a game that has you carefully using balance and momentum to clear courses, and unlike the industrial drabness of Marble Madness, the adorable monkey aesthetic never gets old. But after a couple of stages, it becomes obvious the courses are designed with a certain level of sadism that just makes it all the more addicting in that "give it one more shot" kind of way. That determination carries through dozens upon dozens of stages. Combine that with a set of surprisingly robust minigames and Super Monkey Ball easily becomes a staple of any GameCube owner's library.

Metroid Prime brought a classic franchise to its peak

Metroid is, and always has been, a strange case for Nintendo. It's popular in the West, but not in Japan. Nintendo doesn't necessarily hate it, but there's always been a sort of benign neglect that means they only really address the series when they get around to thinking about it. 

As such, unlike the vast majority of their other properties, they've always left the good work of carrying on the series to studios in the West or friendly to the West. Luckily for them, the result has been some of the best first person shooters ever crafted, and it all starts with the  incredible first Metroid Prime

It's hard to imagine now, but there once was a moment where everyone was worried Metroid wouldn't make the jump to 3D very well. But it doesn't take long after Samus' ship lands on the Space Pirate station for the game to feel every bit as natural as its 2D counterparts. But even beyond that, Retro Studios also manages to capture that lonely feeling, a mood of truly being stranded someplace alien and hostile but beautiful. All the while, they manage to make precision aiming work in a way that still stands up to scrutiny. They even managed to implement platforming, something it would take most other FPS franchises years to get right.

Mario Kart: Double Dash is an arcade racing great

Generally, if a Nintendo game has Mario in the title, it's a pretty sure bet it's quality, but that's been especially true of Mario Kart. But even in that series, there's a pecking order, and if Double Dash isn't at the top of it, it's pretty close. 

For the most part, it's business as usual for Mario Kart's special mix of white knuckle racing, insane obstacles, and gleefully evil items to smite one's enemies with, but Double Dash's stroke of genius has players racing to the finish line as a duo. One player drives, the other is essentially your side-seat gun moll, or shell moll as it were. 

The result is a game that was already pure mayhem turn into the wildest chases imaginable, and that's if you're playing alone. Manage to connect two GameCubes up via LAN and make a 16-player match happen, and you're looking at some of the purest sources of chaos in not just the series, but in the entire arcade racing genre.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was the generation's biggest upset

There's an interesting throughline for many of the GameCube's best titles: they're ideas that, on paper, a lot of folks thought wouldn't work. For the most part, Nintendo proved all those naysayers wrong, but there's no one game this century that gamers owe more of a mea culpa to than The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Nintendo did themselves a bit of a disservice by including that now-infamous tech demo of a more realistic Link fighting Ganon at the GameCube's big coming out party, and then announcing the next Zelda would be cel-shaded. But it's never a good idea to underestimate Nintendo, and pretty much every angry internet tough would go completely silent when they realized that Wind Waker is one of the more impeccably crafted Zelda titles in the series, brimming with charm, humor, ingenious puzzles, an exhilarating seafaring aspect, and a no-nonsense Princess Zelda unlike anything in the series. Did even Sheik run a band of pirates? No Sheik didn't.

The game's legacy is all but cemented a couple of generations later, when it and Twilight Princess got prettied up for the Wii U. And yes, Twilight Princess remains pretty spectacular, but between the two, one of these games desperately misses motion controls, and the other feels timeless, and felt timeless since the day it released on GameCube.