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Nintendo Gamecube:
The Little System That Can
GAMECUBE_Top_tn.gif (14187 bytes)
November 22, 2001

 

The Gamecube launched in full force Sunday, putting 700,000 units on the shelves (more than any other next-gen launch). According to Nintendo’s own estimations, about $100 million worth of them were sold the first day. For those of you who didn’t rush right out and buy one of Nintendo’s funky little indigo or jet black boxes (those of you who still have the bitter taste of the N64 lingering in your mouths, no doubt), we have the skinny for you right here.

GBA_GCconnected_tn.gif (9695 bytes)Measuring a diminutive 6" x 4" x 6", and weighing under 3 lbs., the Gamecube (GC) looks as if it is just begging to be taken seriously, especially with that goofy handle sticking out of its back. But take it seriously you should, because technically, it is a gaming powerhouse. In terms of hardware, the GC sports a 485 MHz CPU, a 162 MHz "Flipper" graphics processor, and 40 MB of total memory (24 MB of MoSys 1T-SRAM and 16 MB of auxiliary RAM). All of these numbers fall just under the Xbox (the current hardware champ) and just above the PS2. The GC’s strongest point as far as graphics go is texture rendering—eight textures in one render pass, while the Xbox can do four and the PS2 only one. The GC supports the full range of video connections: Composite, S-Video, and Component. S-Video and Component connections require cables sold separately, but if you had an S-Video cable for your N64, it is compatible with the GC. Unfortunately, it does not support digital surround sound, though some games are compatible with Dolby Pro Logic II.

Unlike the all-in-one approach of the Xbox and PS2, the GC was deliberately designed as a games only system, foregoing DVD movie and CD playback. Nintendo has learned from past failures and successes, however. Out are the days of cartridge games (thank God) and frustrating game save features. In are 3" mini-DVDs and traditional memory cards. The GC has two memory card slots and four controller ports. It also has two serial ports and a high-speed port for later add-on devices like the 56K modem, broadband adapter, and hard drive to be released later. The lack of DVD/CD playback, and a hard drive and internet connectivity out of the box may make it seem like the GC is lacking in extra features. But remember, at $199 it is $100 cheaper than the Xbox and PS2. Kind of makes you wonder why you paid $299 for a PS2 (which, in addition to having only two controller ports, also lacked a hard drive and internet connectivity at launch), doesn’t it? Plus, the GC has the added ability to link with multiple Gameboy Advance systems via the controller port and special link cables for added game features, such as hidden game menus in multiplayer games.

Controller_tn.gif (12563 bytes)The controller configuration is strikingly similar to the Xbox’s. The dual joysticks, D-pad, and button pad are in pretty much the same place, only the GC’s controller is smaller, more comfortable, and has fewer buttons. There are four buttons on the button pad, two dual-function triggers, and a Z-button above the right trigger. The shoulder buttons are the only analog buttons on the controller. They can be pulled back to a stopping point (function 1) and then clicked (function 2). This allows for intuitive control set-ups, as in Rogue Leader, where pulling back the right trigger gradually accelerates your spacecraft, and clicking it gives you a turbo boost. The controller has a built-in rumble feature as well. Overall, I have found the GC controller to be accessible and easy to use. It is small enough that my seven year-old son can reach both shoulder buttons and both joysticks at the same time, which he has trouble doing on the larger Xbox controller. There have been complaints that the Z-button is hard to use where it is placed, but I have had no trouble with it. However, the button pad configuration is a bit wonky. The A button is huge, which is fine, but the B button is small and a little awkward. Also, I don’t think that the C joystick is as comfortable as the directional stick, which has a much better design. And the cords are short (6 feet), so expect to buy extension cords.

The GC’s system menu is not as sophisticated as that of the Xbox, but it certainly is laid out better than the PS2’s. Graphically, the menu is represented as a 3D cube (no surprise there) that rotates to one of four menus that allow you to set the calendar and clock, configure the video and audio, and manage the memory cards.

I could talk hardware all day (quicker for you to just click here), but it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got the games. This is where, depending on your tastes, the GC distinguishes itself a little. A quick look at the list of games set for release in the upcoming year will tell you that the majority of third party titles are going to be available on all three systems. This is great, because it takes some of the financial pressure off of both the developer and the consumer. But when it comes to the short list of exclusive games, the GC has the most distinctive list. Soon to be released are Super Smash Bros. Melee and Pikmin, an intriguing strategy/critter-raising game. In development are titles like Mario Sunshine, Legend of Zelda, Metroid Prime, Starfox Adventures, and Perfect Dark Zero. The exclusive titles are not all Nintendo mainstays, however. Nor are they all "kiddie games." Capcom recently announced that their extremely popular survival horror series, Resident Evil, will be exclusive to the GC for at least 5 titles, including two all new games. Admittedly, the GC’s launch line-up lacks anything that can be called a "killer app." Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, Luigi’s MansionWave Race: Blue Storm, Super Monkey Ball, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 are all great games, but I think we will have to at least wait until Pikmin, and possibly for Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or Perfect Dark before we can start using that particular buzzword. For those of you who are only interested in the right here, right now, the PS2 is the hands-down winner when it comes to games.

With the GC, Nintendo has created a terrific game system, especially if you already have a DVD and CD player. It is powerful enough to remain competitive in the years to come. It is also developer-friendly, so the third party companies are definitely on board this time around. At $199 it is both priced to own, and priced to modify, if you wish. When the time comes, you will only be forced to spend around $300 dollars for a 4-player system with hard drive and internet connectivity—the same as an Xbox. In comparison you will have to spend around $435 or more for a PS2, a 4-player multitap, a modem, and a hard drive. When it comes to games, the GC is by far the most kid-friendly system, though that does not mean kids-only. It is also cute-hip in a tiny shelf stereo with dancing lights kind of way. The general consensus here at GamesFirst! is that you can’t go wrong with any of the three next-gen systems. I know that makes it tough on people looking to purchase one system. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. But I would have to say that for anyone planning on buying two systems, your best bet, in terms of variety of game play, is to pick up a GC and either a PS2 or an Xbox. Of course, that last choice is the subject of an on-going debate, and other articles (feel free to check out Shawn’s not entirely impartial editorial, Xbox Vs. PS2 Redux here).

Jeremy Kauffman

 

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