|Nintendo GameCube Special Edition|
|Home Theater Accessories Game Systems|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Sunday, 01 June 2003|
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Nintendo’s GameCube videogame system was launched in the United States back in November of 2001, so you may be asking yourself, “Why review it now in June of 2003?” When the system was originally launched, there were very few games and it was unclear as to whether Nintendo could even make a dent in the huge market share owned by Sony’s Playstation and Playstation II. There was also the fear that Microsoft’s Xbox could swallow up the entire videogame industry. Fast-forward to today and all three systems are still in production. The Xbox was not the 800-pound gorilla that many expected, Sony still leads the way and Nintendo’s GameCube has survived and prospered, thanks in part to many exclusive Nintendo franchise games not available on any other system. Now that the retail price of the GameCube is an even more reasonable $150 (down from $200) and I think the chances of seeing a $100 price tag before the end of 2003 are strong. I wanted to see if the GameCube could hold its own against the Xbox and PSII, both currently priced at $200.
The GameCube is a compact, lightweight square unit, with a small handle built into the back to make carrying the system a snap. It is very lightweight and measures a mere 4.3 inches tall, 5.9 inches wide and 6.3 inches deep. The fit and finish of the system is far superior to all of Nintendo’s previous systems, including the first-generation Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo and the N64. The GameCube has a proprietary CD-ROM-based system and features a custom IBM Power PC Gekko processor running at 485 MHz, with 42 MB of RAM. The sound for the GameCube is generated by a Matronix 16-bit DSP sound card at 48kHz, using Matsushita's Optical Disc Technology. on three-inch 1.5GB Nintendo GameCube discs. The stock connectors on the back of the system are a pair of RCA audio cables and a single RCA video connector, but component video cables are also available as an option.
The GameCube is available in several colors, including the original bluish-purple (called “indigo” by Nintendo), jet black and, for a specified time, was available in a limited-edition “platinum” finish. This is the unit I have, but other than the outside casing, there is no technical difference between the limited-edition system and the standard-colored GameCubes. It is difficult to find the limited edition system in stores, so if your heart is set on having this shiny version, you may need to look for a used one on eBay.
I was quite surprised to find that the game discs for the GameCube are only three inches across, about half the size in diameter of a standard CD-ROM disc. Despite their small physical size, these discs hold 1.5GB of information. Even the largest GameCube games, such as “The Windwalker,” the latest offering in the mega-successful “Legend of Zelda” franchise, fits on a single disc. These small discs will make it very easy for a preteen with small hands to hold the discs on the edges, keeping their grimy fingers off of the data side. However, these discs will be just a little bit harder to find if they fall in between your couch cushions and don’t make good coasters for large cups if you get fed up with a game and don’t want to play it any more.
If you have learned games on a different system and then switch over to the GameCube, it may take you some time to get used to the GameCube controller’s unorthodox button arrangement. The right-hand thumb buttons are based around a large green center button called “A” with a smaller red button called “B” just down and slightly to the left of the “A” button. Above the large green button are oval gray “X” and “Y” buttons. The top of the controller has two large gray trigger action buttons, which are now almost standard on all video game controllers, labeled “L” and “R.” The top right side of the controller has an extra purple trigger button called “Z.” There are three control pads, two on the left side and one on the right. The top left side has a round disc that can spin in a circle, but has a small octagon pattern notched underneath it. This makes moving at a 45-degree angle in sports games very easy to do, taking much of the guesswork out of trying to make a specific diagonal move. Below the round control stick is a small + control pad that will give original Nintendo players a warm and fuzzy feeling. I sported a thick callus on my left thumb from playing “Super Mario Brothers” and “Excitebike” on the original Nintendo game pad and using this part of the control pad feels like a little bit of a time warp back to my youth. The third control stick is a yellow control pad opposite the + pad called the “C” button that is covered in very soft rubber. On many of the demo GameCube systems that I have seen at AV retailers, this yellow piece seems to wear out quickly. The start/pause button is in the dead center of the controller.
The front of the system features space for four controllers, which is quite useful if you want to have a two-on-two game of basketball with three of your friends. Of course, extra controllers are not included with the system and will run you about $20 to $30, or more if you want a wireless controller. Under each of the controller inputs are spaces for memory cards. Unlike Microsoft’s Xbox, which features an internal hard drive, you have to purchase memory cards to be able to save your games. Virtually every game that I’ve ever seen for the GameCube requires a memory card, so buying at least one card is absolutely necessary. When I picked up my GameCube, I found myself quickly back at the store the very next day getting some memory cards so I could actually save my settings and pick up from where I had left off last in the games.
The GameCube has the option to connect an Ethernet cable to play online games, the most notable being “Phantasy Star Online.” “Phantasy Star” is a role-playing game series created by Sega for their original Sega Master System, but now that they are out of the video game console manufacturing world, they have decided to create software for the current game systems instead. Although I have not played this particular version of “Phantasy Star,” I am very familiar with the series, and I can tell you that it is the biggest black hole of time in video games. Playing it online against players around the world could potentially be even more of a time burner.
The GameCube falls between the Xbox and Playstation II in terms of processing power and doesn’t have the benefit of also being a CD or DVD player. This made the price tag for the GameCube seem a tad steep, especially after Sony lowered the price of PS2 to $200. Microsoft followed suit with Xbox and Nintendo smartly dropped the GameCube to its current price of $150. During the period that I picked up my GameCube, they also ran a special offering one $50 game for free with the purchase of a GameCube. Chances are that you will see a similar type of offer come toward the Christmas shopping season, if not a possible drop to $100 in preparation for the next generation of GameCube.