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September 14th, 2016 marked the 15th anniversary of the Nintendo GameCube. The console was the lowest-selling system of the 6th generation (minus the SEGA Dreamcast), but it still managed to build a solid library of hit games and is fondly remembered by gamers all over the world. But, there’s one standout quality of the system — it was the last time Nintendo pushed the envelope with power. Many gamers and analysts wish that Nintendo would return to this way of creating systems, instead of continuing to take the unique approach that it’s been doing for the past two generations. If the NX does happen to turn out to be like the GameCube in this regard, could it work?
While it seems like just about everyone is obsessed with console specs these days, taking a look back at history shows that in pretty much every generation, minus the current one, the system with the most power did not win. Console power is important, but it has never been the prime factor of success. The average consumer doesn’t really care about what’s going on under the hood, they just want to play some games. Only those who enjoy having bragging rights feel the need to analyze every aspect of a system’s specifications. With that said, being the most powerful console wouldn’t necessarily help the NX, and the GameCube proved this.
The GC was more capable than the PS2 and slightly less powerful than the OG Xbox. Even with its capabilities, it still ended up selling the least out of the three. But, why? Well, there are many factors. The most major one is the storage medium that was used. While the PS2 and Xbox used DVDs, Nintendo decided to go with mini-discs for the ‘Cube. Not only were these discs physically smaller than DVDs, but their capacity was also a lot less — 1.5GB vs. 4.7GB+. The incredibly large size difference caused some developers to turn away from the system, as their games simply couldn’t fit (and also stopped the system from being able to double as a DVD player, unlike the other consoles). This is also the same problem that the N64 had (cartridges vs. CDs). Other factors of the GameCube’s low sales were its limited support for online multiplayer, and ‘childish’ design (remember it being nicknamed the ‘Purple Lunchbox’?).
The GameCube was powerful, but it’s those unfortunate factors which held it back from selling better. What if these issues didn’t exist? How much better would it have sold? It’s really hard to say; after all, the PS2 pretty much had rocket boosters attached to it — it was just that good of a system. Even so, the Xbox was the ‘new kid on the block’ at that time, so the GC should have at least been able to do better than that. But let’s focus primarily on the system’s capabilities. If the NX were similar to it in that regard, that is, having hardware on-par with the competition, how much of a benefit would that be?
Up until the GameCube, all of Nintendo’s systems were either more powerful or comparable to the other consoles on the market. When the GC didn’t sell as well as expected, Nintendo then decided to take a more simplified approach with their systems in order to keep the price down, thus attracting more customers. This obviously worked with the Wii, not just because of its unique design, but also because it was much cheaper than either the 360 or PS3. Nintendo achieved this by simply re-designing the GameCube a bit; in reality, the Wii is pretty much an overclocked and slightly more capable GC. Despite the modest increase in power, the system still got many titles that were also on the much more capable PS3 and 360. Even the PS2 did for a few years. Mind you, many of these titles were heavily altered to suit the less powerful hardware (for example: Sonic Unleashed), but there were games that were fundamentally the same, minus the visuals (for example: every CoD game released during that period). So, this proves that for the most part, power isn’t everything. Really, just about any multiplatform game that’s on the PS4 and XBO could run on the Wii U with the right optimization; that probably would actually be the case if the system was selling well. So, what does this mean for the NX?
Actually, Bethesda pretty much summed it up. Recently, the Vice President of the company had an interview with Metro, and the topic of Nintendo and the NX came up. There, he admitted that Bethesda hasn’t “done anything on Nintendo in a very long time”, but there’s a reason behind that. It’s not because the company thinks that its games wouldn’t sell well on Nintendo platforms, but rather, it’s because of the hardware.
“. . . it’s usually been one of a technical… hardware issue. It’s just, what it is that the devs are making and what are the hardware requirements that they’re looking at, to support what they’re making? And what fits? And anything that is below the line is, ‘Well, we can make it work, but we’d have to cut this or that or do it like…’ But no, that’s not the point. The point is to take the game, as you designed it, and to get it working on those platforms. Not make a bunch of cuts and a bunch of changes and bring out some other version of it.”
Nintendo needs to make sure that the hardware isn’t just powerful, but also has parity with the other systems.
Now, I know I just said that “power isn’t everything”, but there’s a catch here and that’s exactly what the Bethesda VP highlighted. Developers want parity between the platforms. If the system is selling well, like the Wii and PS2, then having less powerful hardware is an obstacle, but studios will still try to get a game out there because of the potential profits. If it’s weaker and isn’t selling well, like the Wii U, then studios will avoid it. The GameCube may not have been weaker, but the contrast in sales and limiting factor (mini-discs) is what caused developers to overlook it. So, then, the NX does not just have to be powerful, but it needs to be on-par with the other platforms.
Nintendo can still add some unique features to the system, but it needs to make sure that they don’t get in the way of the developers. If a game can be ported to the system quickly and cheaply, then that alone will help it out big time. Bethesda’s comments are its own, but I believe that it’s pretty safe to conclude that what Bethesda said could also be applied to the many other third-party companies; they just want the developing process to be simple. They don’t want to have to cut corners with their projects. Mind you, some of them have done that even when they didn’t have to (late ports, missing features/DLC, poor optimization, etc.), but if the NX has power parity with the other systems then that will be a big hurdle removed.
Now then, back to the original question — would the NX work as a GameCube 2.0? Not exactly. When many people say that Nintendo should make another GameCube, they’re thinking of the system being ‘traditional’ and powerful. But, as we have just discussed, that’s not all that is necessary. Developers want parity. If there aren’t many major roadblocks to overcome, then that would help tremendously. Just having another powerful box won’t magically make the system a success. Nintendo needs to make it attractive to not just developers, but also consumers. The NX now has to compete with four other systems for attention; the Big N better have a few Big Bills waiting in the shadows.