Nintendo thinks that good things should come in small packages, and the affordable GameCube, about the size of a squat lunch box, certainly proves that point. Unlike the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox, which aspire to be DVD players and living-room minicomputers, this is exclusively a game machine--and a fun, powerful one at that, offering games suited to a broad audience. playback, but you'll need the $30 component-video connector and an HDTV to take advantage of the superior picture quality. We tried out a third-party S-Video connector and found the picture to be quite sharp with titles such as Metroid Prime and Monkey Ball 2 on a standard 4:3 TV, as well as an HD-ready Samsung set. So long as a game is optimized for the GameCube, its graphics best that of the PS2, and, in some cases, match that of the Xbox. Overall, however, the Xbox offers slightly superior graphics and performance.
While the GameCube is a decent performer visually, it lacks the big audio dynamite of digital-audio outputs. This is likely another cost-cutting maneuver that can hopefully be addressed with a different cable output. Presently, however, none is available
Some expansion underway
Unlike the Xbox, the GameCube has neither an internal hard drive nor the promise of one in the near future. Instead, you'll need to buy extra memory cards to save your progress in games. No card is included, but it is worth noting that we did like the one peripheral that ships with the system: the bundled controller, which fits comfortably in hands both large and small and handles well, too.
Since we first reviewed the system, Nintendo has delievered on its promise to take the GameCube online; you can now buy either a modem adapter (for dial-up connections) or a broadband adapter. That said, the selection of online titles is rather paltry at the moment, with only Sega's PhantasyStarOnline I and II available--and you must pay an additional subscription fee to play. Hopefully, the GameCube's list of online games will expand in 2003. However, it's up to developers, not Nintendo, to support online play for their games, so some tough economic decisions are involved.
On a feature-for-feature level, we found the GameCube slightly lacking. However, it is ultimately the games that will sell any system, and in that respect, the GameCube is well positioned for casual gamers' families since Nintendo has a history of franchise characters. Super Mario Brothers, Pokemon, and the Legend of Zelda are just a few of the titles that will make any kid happy, and it doesn't hurt that Spyro and Crash Bandicoot have made their way over to the system as well. Just as important, Nintendo now has a major winner with Metroid Prime, one of the top titles on any console. More high-caliber games are needed, but for now, there's enough here to make the GameCube a tempting purchase for certain gamers--and their parents--at its $150 price point.