The follow-up to the Game Boy was the Game Boy Advance (GBA). Released in 2001, its graphics were on par with the Super NES, as evidenced by the amount of SNES games that were re-released on the device.
The Game Boy Advance, a favorite in my household, helped me revisit games of the 16-bit era with its many SNES remakes, of which we owned virtually all. My family did not own a Super NES, so thanks to the GBA we discovered the joys of Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2, Donkey Kong Country 3, and thanks to Super Mario Advance and the Classic NES Series, the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy.
The greatest remake, maybe in video game history, was Metroid: Zero Mission, a gorgeous remake of the NES game Metroid that is not only visually stunning but improves upon the original in all the best ways.
The GBA also had many fantastic original games as well, including the hilarious RPG Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, fast-paced mini game Marathon Wario Ware, Inc., not to mention The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Metroid Fusion, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire versions, Advance Wars, Golden Sun, Mother 3 and the Fire Emblem series.
Nintendo had also gotten back much of the third-party support they lost in the late nineties. Capcom, Konami and Squaresoft had brought Mega Man, Castlevania and Final Fantasy back to Nintendo via some great GBA games.
The Game Boy Advance SP was an improved version of the GBA with a backlit screen, a charger and a flip-phone aesthetic. It offered a more comfortable gaming experience.
As for consoles, the Nintendo 64 was a great system but the Sony PlayStation had kept it in second place. Nintendo saw this early, so a year after the N64 was released, they had begun working on a successor codenamed Project Dolphin.
The Dolphin would be capable of visuals on par with the PlayStation 2 but at a much cheaper price.
In 2000, the new console was revealed under the name “GameCube.” The Nintendo GameCube (GCN) used mini-discs, which meant it couldn’t play DVDs or CDs like the PS2 (the first bad sign), but now storage would not be an issue for third-party developers turned off by the N64’s cartridges.
The GCN launched in 2001 with a fun lineup: Luigi’s Mansion, Wave Race: Blue Storm and Sega’s Super Monkey Ball. It was the cheapest game console at $199 (PS2 and Xbox were $299), which was simply Nintendo’s strategy for making a profit, something that was necessary during this lukewarm period.
While the GCN wasn’t as popular as Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, it had some pretty brilliant games.
Pikmin, from the mind of Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, was a strategy game about an astronaut who leads a herd of alien critters called Pikmin to find and carry scattered mechanical debris back to his rocket ship, while avoiding hostile wildlife, in order to return to his home planet.
Metroid Prime was a first-person shooter update to the normally-side-scrolling Metroid series.
Super Mario Sunshine had Mario vacationing on the tropical Isle Delfino, only to have his trip ruined by a doppelganger spreading graffiti across the island. This game tasks Mario with cleaning the graffiti while using clever and challenging puzzles.
Animal Crossing was a life simulator about a human who moves to a village populated with animal citizens and must earn money in creative ways so as to expand their home.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was a cel-shaded update to the Zelda series that had a cartoonier look than people expected but was easily one of Nintendo’s most fun games with one of Zelda’s best stories.
Other favorites of mine include the incredibly fun racing game Mario Kart: Double-Dash!!, RPG comedy Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, which creatively involved the use of a controller that looked like bongo drums in order to make Donkey Kong move.
The GCN also had strong third-party games like Tales of Symphonia, the Resident Evil series, Beyond Good & Evil, Viewtiful Joe, Star Wars: Rogue Leader and The Prince of Persia.
When my brother bought his first GCN, it was amazing to see my favorite Nintendo characters in movie-quality CG animation for the first time. I obviously love my PS2, but I love GCN equally, unlike most gamers who classify it as inferior.
Before I end this article, I would be remiss not to bring up one of the most interesting things about the GBA/GCN era, which was the evolution of game company Sega at this time.
In the 16-bit era, Sega was Nintendo’s first serious competition, and the idea of their mascot Sonic the Hedgehog appearing in a Nintendo game was the least likely thing to ever happen. However, the string of failures in Sega’s console lineup since the Genesis has forced Sega to abandon their hardware division and focus on Software development, which has forced them to team up with Xbox, PlayStation and, yes, Nintendo.
This has led to game series which have debuted on Sega’s last console, the Dreamcast, to appear on the GCN, including the Soulcalibur, Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star, and Sonic Adventure series. This has extended to the GBA and all of Nintendo’s following systems, including the Wii, where Mario and Sonic appeared together for the first time in the game Mario and Sonic at the Olympics. That was a team-up the likes of which will never be matched in the history of video games.