The GameCube came out at a perfect time in my life—I was 11 years old and for the first time, I started paying attention to things like graphics and gameplay. It felt like I had moved on from “I just play whatever my parents get me” to actually choosing my own games to rent and buy. Some of these I still own!
Skies of Arcadia: Legends
I will take any opportunity to gush about how much I love Skies of Arcadia. Not only is it my favourite GameCube game; it’s my favourite game—period. Originally released on the Sega Dreamcast, Legends adds some bounty hunts and tweaks the random battle encounter rate to something more tolerable. The downside is the sound isn’t as good, but unless you’ve played the DC version you probably won’t notice the difference.
Skies tells the story of Robin Hood-esque air pirates, stealing from the rich military-driven country of Valua and giving to the poor. Vyse and Aika, childhood best friends, come across Fina, a strange girl who had been held prisoner by Valua. Soon you’ll embark on an adventure taking you through all corners of the sky and into the depths of dungeons. Skies uses a turned-based combat system for both human and ship-based combat. The world of skies is ruled over by six different moons, each an element of magic. Green is healing and poison, for example. Your weapon can be aligned with an element (and changed on the fly) to give you an advantage over enemies and level up that magic set.
The reason I keep coming back to Skies, again and again, is the optimistic nature of the characters and story. There are sad moments, but Vyse never gives up and has such a positive attitude that it inadvertently wears off on me. Later, when you get your own ship, gathering crew members and upgrading your secret base is a lot of fun. You can also discover hidden artifacts across the world which adds some nice lore to long ago events that have huge importance to the story.
It’s an amazing game and I’m very happy to see it getting some recognition in recent years.
Long before Bloodbourne or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware made a little deck-building adventure game called Lost Kingdoms. (Which had a sequel, but it wasn’t very good, so I’m not going to get into that.)
I admit that as a kid I made my parents buy this for me purely based on the cover, which featured a girl and a dragon. A winning combination. Lost Kingdoms plays almost like an RPG, with you wandering around fields and sewers and transitioning to a Battle Arena for the card fights. You have a deck of monsters that play in a few different ways: summons who wander around and fight for you, basic attacks where a sword or weapon slashes out, or item cards that restore health or add cards to your deck. During all this you run around freely, avoiding attacks. Cards can be combined into stronger monsters in-between stages. Also, at the end of each level, you can randomly choose a few cards depending on your grade. I remember redoing levels to make sure I got the boss monsters, like a badass lich.
I like the dilapidated world in Lost Kingdoms and the weird nerdy guy who’s obsessed with faeries. I’m sure some of my fondness for this game is nostalgia, but the music and gameplay are still pretty good!
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
It’s hard to talk about any Nintendo console without mentioning Zelda. I’m a huge fan of the series in general, but Wind Waker will always be my favourite. The cel-shaded Toon Link wasn’t too popular when he first showed up but I absolutely loved him. Venturing forth with your talking boat to save your little sister from a giant bird (and Ganon, of course) felt like such a refreshing change of pace from Majora’s Mask. Exploring and mapping each island is a pretty big task but I never found it tedious. Several completely optional features in WW are the highlights; collecting flags, flowers, and decorations for one of the islands and photographing every NPC, enemy, and boss. It’s a massive undertaking (one I have never completed) but really rewarding to see the photographs made into figures in a museum you can peruse.
As with many Zeldas, Wind Waker was re-mastered for the Wii U with improved graphics and additional features. While some find the heavy-bloom style graphics in this version off-putting, the added fast sail and gamepad functionality surely make up for it. Perhaps this version with be forwarded to the Nintendo Switch someday.
If you know me, this feels like a pretty obvious choice. I’m fairly sure this was another purchase based purely on the cover back in the day. I soon became absolutely obsessed with Animal Crossing and have continued that obsession through to the newest version. I have at least 500 hours in New Horizons, and I know I passed 800 in New Leaf. It all began on the GameCube.
Famously taking up so much data it required its own memory card, Animal Crossing was like nothing I’d ever played. Having a game that remembered the days and hours and would have events for holidays and seasons brought me back daily. It became a part of my routine, checking on my town and going shopping. These days with online capabilities trading items and visiting other towns is as easy as a couple of clicks and a good internet connection. Back in the day (I’m old, I can say that) you needed a friend to bring their Animal Crossing memory card over and put it in the second slot to traverse towns. I only had one other friend with the game so this didn’t happen very often!
It was also heavily promoted in Nintendo Power, with codes you could redeem for items and money (which of course everyone exploited), and patterns for clothing and flags. The creativity of players has grown exponentially with each game and it’s easier than ever to find designs to create your perfect town.
The original Animal Crossing is not something I’d go back to (it’s hard to give up all the countless additions in New Horizons), but it’s a hugely important part of my gaming experience.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
The best horror game on the GameCube—and I’m not alone in thinking that!—Eternal Darkness has been beloved for years for good reason. It takes the Lovecraft mythos through several different time periods, with the trademark “sanity effects” if your character gets too spooked.
Unfortunately, these effects don’t hold up completely due to advances in technology, as some of them pretend to mess with your TV itself. Back in the day this was terrifying; your volume turns down, the input changes, one of the effects even pretends to delete your save file. Half the fun of the game is seeing these effects, so you’ll have to play it a little dangerous to get the most out of the game.
There’s a fun mystery to the game, with the main character Alex exploring her recently deceased uncle’s sprawling mansion and discovering more about the old Gods, the Tome of Darkness, and her ancestors. In each chapter, you’ll play as a different member of her family from the past and this adds a great amount of backstory without being too much of an exposition dump since you are actually experiencing the events as they happened.
Another aspect I’ve always enjoyed was the magic system. You invoke the Gods and words of power in different orders to enhance items and heal yourself among other effects. Each God rules over a different field but some spells can be used with any God. Using a guide for this might be helpful! For an example of one of the spells: Chattur’gha-Antorbok-Santak. This is the shield spell, and the formula is Any God + Protect + Self.
There have been rumors of a sequel for years and even a failed Kickstarter campaign, but I’m not holding out hope. We got one excellent game and that’s fine by me!