GameCube Initial Impressions
November 26, 2001
Born to Play
Guess what? It's time to "change the system" once again. As the five-year video game life cycle dictates, a new Nintendo has been born—and it's ready to play. Nintendo GameCube (GCN) finally hit shelves on Sunday, November 18. Unlike N64, though, this system surprised us by not releasing early. In spirit of the N64, I'm going to provide my impressions of its replacement.
You really have to see this compact package to appreciate it. Both the system itself and the games are smaller than you would imagine.
I chose the indigo GameCube because that was the system's original color. I must admit, though, that it definitely makes it look like a toy. Still, I bought a GameCube for one thing and one thing only: to play the best games available. It's amazing there's so much power in this tiny cube-shaped box.
If Nintendo does one thing consistently, it tries to evolve control with each generation. The GCN controller is very, very nice. The comfort level may be Nintendo's best yet.
Although I enjoyed the N64's three-prong design with the Z-trigger underneath, I do like switching the analog Control Stick to the primary position on the left. The Control Stick also has a nicer feel than the N64 controller does.
Additionally, the button layout on the right side of the controller is fabulous. It feels quite natural. You don't wonder what button you're pressing like on the PlayStation controller or within the N64's C group.
Initially, however, I'm not completely enamored with the top of the controller. I recognize that I'll probably get used to it as I did with the N64's C buttons. In the meantime, I'm not too fond of the digital click with the L/R buttons. And the Z button on top of the controller is just plain awkward.
Overall, the GCN controller does a better job than the N64 of appeasing multiple genres. It's not perfect, but it's functional and unique. Different is good in this case.
Somebody call 911, because Nintendo released GameCube without a Mario game. The NES had the revolutionary Super Mario Bros. Game Boy got Super Mario Land, although Tetris was the main focus. With the Super NES, we got an evolved Super Mario World. From there, we were ushered into the third dimension with Super Mario 64. And, no, Luigi's Mansion doesn't qualify as a Mario game. It's merely a spin-off from the franchise.
Without further adieu, let me tell you my initial impressions of the first three games I purchased: Madden NFL 2002, Super Monkey Ball, and Luigi's Mansion.
Without question, pro football is my favorite sport. Undeniably, I have been a fan of the John Madden video game since its debut on the Super NES. Therefore, without a "killer app" from Nintendo, this was the game I was looking forward to the most. I was not disappointed.
Madden NFL 2002 is breathtaking. It's crystal clear, incredibly detailed, and super smooth. Everyone who has seen it remarks how incredible it looks and how it rivals a real broadcast. At the same time, though, one has to remember that the incredible graphics are only evident between plays. What about the rest of the game?
The in-game graphics when you're actually running or defending a play are merely a step up; it's the between-play camera shots that give the game its astonishing graphics. What makes Madden NFL 2002 shine are 60 fps gameplay and lifelike animation.
The sound got a makeover, too. If you're really not that familiar with anything other than cartridge-based sports games, you'll be shocked. The sound is a significant step up from the cartridge realm, but it's hardly better than CD-based games of the past. Nevertheless, the sound really helps capture the football atmosphere. We'll save more critiques for the review.
As far as gameplay goes, this is classic Madden, with an ever-growing need to be more realistic. The GameCube controller does Madden justice. It feels right. You can do everything you want to do. It provides the responsive level of control you would expect. And realism continues to improve.
In short, Madden NFL 2002 is the epitome of NFL football games. No other game packages everything—graphics, sound, control, realism, artificial intelligence, gameplay, options, etc.—so well. Compared to its cousin on PlayStation 2, the GameCube incarnation runs perfectly at 60 fps, contains shorter loading times, and includes a few subtle graphical improvements. If you don't already have it on another 128-bit system, you absolutely must own this game. It's a ton of fun.
It's been compared to Marble Madness, but it probably shouldn't be compared to anything. Sega is one of the few companies out there willing to take a chance, and Super Monkey Ball exemplifies Sega's commitment to originality. The result is a simple yet addictive, challenging yet rewarding title that's fun to play alone and fun to play with friends.
The goal of Super Monkey Ball is to guide your ball, with a monkey inside, to the finish line before time expires. Most stages give you 60 seconds, but some stages only give you 30 seconds. The quicker you finish the level, the more points you get. The number of points you get correlates with the number of "play points" you receive. Play points open up extras. You also can pick up bananas along the way if you want. If you acquire 100 bananas, then you receive an extra life.
Super Monkey Ball becomes challenging because of the perils thrown your way. As you guide your monkey ball, you'll find that most levels don't have walls, which means it's very easy to fall off—especially in a heated race to beat the clock. But you also have to contend with moving platforms, pinball bumpers, jumps, small pieces of track, rotating objects, steep inclines, and many other perils.
It will frustrate you, yet because it's so simple to play, you'll want to give back into a game because you think you're THAT close to completing a troublesome level.
On the multi-player side, Super Monkey Ball is a good start for four-player gaming on GCN. It won't go down in history as one of the very best multi-player games, but it will provide lots of enjoyment.
For instance, you can play the regular game mode two ways. One, you can alternate as you each take a stab at the Main Game and its 100 levels. Or, two, you can race simultaneously to see who can complete the level the fastest in split-screen fashion.
Additionally, numerous mini-games exist like Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, Monkey Golf, and more. The mini-games don't have a lot of substance, but they still can entertain.
On the audio/video side, the game isn't all that special. The frame rate is rock solid, and the graphics are colorful and detailed. The graphics get the job done. And the sound is merely average. It seems like it came from the arcade. But it's fine and doesn't annoy.
Overall, Super Monkey Ball is great. The Main Game is simple, challenging, and addictive on its own right. But the multi-player games help push the game into that next level. Highly recommended.
Admittedly, I played this game the least, because I've either played games in short spans (Super Monkey Ball) or played a ton of Madden NFL 2002. Luigi will get his due soon. Nevertheless, I've played enough to offer my brief initial thoughts.
Let's put it this way: Luigi's Mansion is no Mario game. On the other hand, it's hardly a slouch, either. The game is certainly original, with intuitive control, unique gameplay, clever puzzles, and technically amazing graphics.
Luigi's Mansion feels like a Miyamoto-influenced game, because of the gameplay structure. For instance, you have to figure out how to make ghosts appear or how to dispose of them. These puzzles lock you in a room until you figure them out. Moreover, power-up items and an ever-increasing difficulty level are present.
The actual ghostbusting is unique. You have to make the ghosts appear somehow, and then you have to shine your flashlight on them to freeze them. Once they're frozen, you can start to vacuum them. They will put up a fight, however, so you have to run around the room, avoiding traps and continuing to suck them up, until their health reaches zero.
Luigi's Mansion can be described as a graphical masterpiece. It doesn't knock your socks off with the big picture, but it impresses with the little things. How about real-time lighting with your flashlight? How about accurate physics when using your vacuum? How about comical, detailed cut scenes? The sound is noticeably improved, too, with a realistic-sounding musical score. And the sound effects work well, too. But why isn't there spoken text?
Mario? Mariooo? Where are you? Although Luigi's Mansion is good, it's not a killer application like Super Mario 64. In fact, this spin-off title may be too short with not enough replay value. If you're a huge Mario fan like me, however, then you'll want to own it for the unique gameplay and Mario references. Not for everyone, but a great game for some.
In terms of Nintendo's console introductions, GameCube fares better than Nintendo 64 but not as well as Super Nintendo. Third-party support is off and running already, but first-party software is surprisingly missing that system seller, that mind-blowing game. Nintendo also succeeded in doing things its own way while pleasing others by using the proprietary mini DVDs. One also could be correct in saying that the GameCube controller is the most comfortable and unique one on the market. It's a joy to hold.
Nintendo GameCube is off to an encouraging start. It's already apparent how easily games can be made and ported to this system. Once the "killer apps" start coming from the likes of Nintendo and Rare, it will be THE system to own. And you know what? I think the stream of incredible games will start on December 4, 2001, with the release of Pikmin and Super Smash Bros. Melee. For the first time in a few years, Nintendo console players can hold their heads up high, because Nintendo GameCube is something to brag about.