Nintendo GameCube - First Look
New Nintendo Platform, Same Old Games?
by Jim Bray
Nintendo's latest shot in the video game war is a technological
step forward, but not a giant step.
The GameCube competes head to head with Sony's PlayStation 2 and
Microsoft's X-Box. It's definitely the most advanced Nintendo yet, but is it as
good as its competition?
Unfortunately, I haven't played with the X-Box and my experience
with the PS2 amounted to a single afternoon of being humiliated at a car racing
game by my kids.
Still, the PS2 also doubles as a fully fledged DVD player, and
that's a distinct advantage if you don't already have one.
But this piece is about my weekend with the $200 GameCube.
The platform uses half-sized compact discs rather than Nintendo's
traditional cartridge, which cuts down on the size. The graphics, courtesy of
PC graphics board maker ATI Technologies, appear first rate, though the two
games we got with the system didn't really stretch the GameCube's
The controllers follow the trend toward adding so many buttons,
sticks and gewgaws that you have to be a kid to figure them out. This isn't a
Nintendo problem, however, because other platforms' controllers are also
getting very busy.
The GameCube's controllers are smaller than the N64's which, while
putting things closer to hand, can also lead to pressing the wrong button at
the wrong time.
Of course that's something I do regardless of the
Unlike the PS-2 and X-Box, the GameCube isn't compatible with 16x9
widescreen TV's. This won't matter to people who don't have these TV's, but it
means those who do have them will have to stretch/zoom the picture to fill the
wider screen, at the cost of resolution. On the plus side, the GameCube does
offer progressive scan and component video output.
Powering the GameCube is a customized IBM Power PC "Gekko" 32/64
bit processor with a clock speed of 485 Megahertz. The system offers 24-bit
color, which is not as good as the best PC's but it should be more than
adequate for a TV set.
The two games I tried were Luigi's Mansion, a typical Mario/Luigi
game that borrows more than a bit from the Ghostbusters movie, and Waverace:
Blue Storm, where you ride around on a Sea Doo kind of thing.
In Luigi's Mansion, Luigi is searching a haunted house, armed with
a flashlight and a kind of ecto-vacuum that sucks up ghosts and stores them in
its canister. His mission is to save Mario from the Boos (that's "Boos," not
Booze - this is a family game!). The graphics are fine, but I had trouble with
the controller (see above!) and the interminable cut scenes that you can't skip
by. I thought the game a tad childish for someone of my advanced age; my
youngest son also found the game too childish, and he's a mere moppet of
Waverace was more interesting, but not much more. There's a
tutorial that comes in really handy, teaching you to take various jumps, lean
into curves, do flips and the like, and then you're sent off into the cruel
world of wave racing.
This version of the game doesn't appear to be much more than an
update for the new game platform, and it isn't really a technological leap
forward. I also found the controls really confusing (see above again!) and the
graphics didn't really leap out at me. Some of the race courses are pretty
nifty, but it's hard to see them whistling by as you struggle with the
On the whole, my all-too-brief first impression of the GameCube is
that it doesn't really break any new technological ground, except perhaps for
Nintendo itself, and it appears to have been designed only to compete with the
other two major platforms, not to beat them. Perhaps Nintendo is hoping to
trade on its name and reputation to make its sales. If so, that's a pretty
cynical way to compete.
It isn't that the GameCube isn't a good system. I'm sure it'll
entertain its target market very well.
But it could have been even better. One thing that's desperately
needed is a more extensive library of good games. The two I tried kept my son
and I interested for the weekend we had the GameCube, but even then we ached
for other titles.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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