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GameCube Test Drive: Third-Party Hits and Processing Power Give Nintendo a Serious Shot at No. 2

4 Oct, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

Nintendo's 128-Bit next-generation GameCube system, which ships Nov. 18 for $199, is touring the country in Cube Clubs. Nintendo had 32 GameCubes set up in a special Cube Club Los Angeles retail site at Hollywood & Vine, playing all 17 fourth-quarter titles, as well as some titles shipping early next year.

After playing all of the system's games for a solid eight hours, it looks like Nintendo's little box (4.3-inch height, 5.9-inch width, 6.3-inch depth) has a handful of “AAA” hits for launch and the processing power to give Nintendo a serious shot at second place in the three-way next-generation horserace with current leader Sony's PlayStation 2 and new entrant Microsoft's Xbox.

Although Nintendo has blockbusters like Mario Sunflower, Metroid Prime, a Mickey Mouse game, a new Legend of Zelda game and a new Pokemon game slated for its new system next year, the most impressive launch titles for GameCube come from third-party developers.

A galaxy beyond any other title is Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II (Nov. 18) by LucasArts Entertainment. This sequel to the bestselling Nintendo 64 exclusive will only appear on GameCube, which should help jettison the hardware at retail. This game has the potential to sell on a one-to-one ratio with the hardware.

The game begins with the Death Star battle from Star Wars and takes players to Hoth, Tatooine, Bespin and to a series of new planets not seen in the films. Luke Skywalker is the main protagonist of this game, which features better-than-cinematic visuals and new surround-sound technology to deliver a breathtaking arcade experience. Piloting a variety of popular spacecraft from the original trilogy, including the X-Wing, Y-Wing and A-wing, players take on the enemy in space dogfights and planetary missions.

Considering that first-generation software usually just taps into a platform's potential, GameCube should have some amazing second-generation games heading to retail in 2002.

Sega gets second place with Super Monkey Ball (Nov. 18), a completely addictive puzzle game that offers a wide array of game experiences for the whole family. Based on its Japanese arcade games, Super Monkey Ball takes the premise of the arcade classic, Marble Madness, and raises the bar with a cute monkey, colorful environments and a wide array of minigames like billiards, bowling and golf. The core game has more than 100 levels, in which players must guide one of three monkeys in a glass ball through moving obstacle courses suspended in mid-air, while collecting bananas. Multiplayer games, including up to four-player races and fighting subgames, add to the overall fun and great replay value of this game.

Nintendo's first-party standout is a truly unique real-time strategy/action game called Pikmin, which ships Dec. 3. The latest creation by game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who also created Mario and Zelda for Nintendo, puts players in control of a spacesuit-clad ant on a lush, foliage-filled planet. The game puts you (as the ant) in control of dozens of Pikmin, Lemming-like plant-beings that do as you obey. The objective is to find pieces of your crashed spaceship by exploring the vast planet's surface. To solve puzzles, build bridges and defeat enemy insects and creatures, the player must organize the Pikmin and command them to perform various tasks. The game starts simple and gradually unfolds into an action/adventure game. It's completely different from anything out there and should appeal to Nintendo's vast GameCube audience.

Another Nintendo standout is Super Smash Bros. Melee (Dec. 3), a sequel to the bestselling N64 game that pits all of Nintendo's favorite mascots against each other in different fighting environments. Up to four players can choose fighters like Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikachu and Link to duke it out in colorful 3D environments in five different game modes. In addition to the core multiplayer gameplay, there's a deep single-player quest mode for added value.

Although the game looks great, a huge graphical leap past N64, the addictive fighting gameplay makes this title a guaranteed hit for the system. This is a great party game that will appeal to kids and college students alike.

A cross between Ghostbusters and Mario, Luigi's Mansion (Nov. 18) is a fun adventure game with a very broad target audience. As Luigi, it's up to the plumber to find Mario, who's lost in a haunted house. Armed with a flashlight and vacuum cleaner that sucks up ghosts, players explore the large mansion in search of Mario. The game serves as a great demo of GameCube's lighting and particle effects. Using the flashlight to scare the ghosts and the vacuum to suck them up, the gameplay is simple but fun. Plenty of humor makes this game good for all ages.

Although it won't ship until next year, Sega's Sonic Adventure 2 looked amazing. Sonic is faster than ever and he explores vast 3D worlds never possible before. The game features a variety of single and multiplayer options and an array of environments, including a San Francisco-inspired cityscape and a thick forest. Collecting rings, speeding around loop-the-loops and jumping to new heights has never been so much fun. This game helped show off the speed and color palette of GameCube.

Other notable games include Activision's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (Nov. 18), which will also appear on PS2 and Xbox, but looked and played great on GameCube. Electronic Arts' trio of Madden NFL 2002, SSX Tricky and FIFA 2002 (all fall releases), which will also appear on rival platforms, looked solid. Nintendo's Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet, a combination of two Nintendo franchises, offers fun flight combat action and third-person adventuring to the system lineup when it ships next March. Nintendo's Wave Race 64: Blue Storm (Nov. 18), shows off the water effects of the system and offers solid four-player support, but this game doesn't have the mass appeal of a Mario Kart, which is heading to GameCube next year.

Overall, this is the largest software launch collection in Nintendo history with a wide array of games in every major genre. The Japanese GameCube launch had only three titles available, which should bode well for retailers in the U.S., as analysts and retailers expect every GameCube console that ships this year to sell. The large number of launch titles also provides a great opportunity for rental chains, as even those consumers who are lucky enough to buy a GameCube this year won't be buying every game.

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