What are the best GameCube games to own forever?

August 6, 2012

The Best to Own Forever series isn’t about what’s great right now. It’s about what will be great in 10 years, even though there will be better-looking games and later sequels, and what will keep you pulling that dusty old console out of the closet every once in a while. We wrap up the series (for now) with a look at the highlights of Nintendo’s little box that could: the GameCube.

Good RPGs are hard to find on the GameCube, but would you believe that the original Baten Kaitos and its sequel, Origins, were two of the best from that entire generation of consoles? They may be easy to overlook, but both games exhibited a remarkable and original battle system that stood out from your typical turn-based RPGs of the time. While I consider the original Baten Kaitos to be a classic, Origins is a perfect game to pick up thanks to its improvements to the battle system and presentation. Some people may prefer the original (which is still well worth playing), but this prequel stands on its own and is a great introduction to the gameplay mechanics and the world. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything else like it, and it’s a worthy addition to any GameCube owner’s collection. – Andrew Passafiume

The GameCube didn’t get a lot of fighting games, but with Soul Calibur II there really wasn’t much need for any others. This was the first (and thus far only) time the Soul Calibur series would appear on a Nintendo console (ignoring that one spin-off), and some critics believed the GCN version to be the superior of the three. Having Link as a guest character (compared to Heihachi or Spawn) was a big plus, while others pointed to the GCN controller’s unusual button layout as better enabling the series’s combo inputs (assuming you assigned Block to the central A button). Whatever the reason, SC2 was the gold standard for fighting games during this time, and it still holds up incredibly well today, especially as the series started to take some weird turns in subsequent editions. – Chris Ingersoll

The Paper Mario series takes some fairly traditional turn-based RPG mechanics, wraps them in the charm of the Mario franchise, adds some new characters and, if the name didn’t give it away, makes everything look like paper. If for some reason that’s not a good enough reason to make this list, here’s a few more. The combat is very balanced, and the various ways in which the fact that everyone is paper is used for gameplay are clever and great fun. The writing is humorous and all of the characters, new and old, are interesting and well-written. – Shawn Vermette

How fast do you like your racing games? Chances are, unless you’ve played F-Zero GX, it isn’t fast enough. The F-Zero series has always been about high-speed races, but GX took it to an entirely new level. The game’s high speeds and difficult story mode drove some people away, but trust me, if you stick with it you’re in for the most rewarding racing game experience around. The chances of us seeing a new F-Zero game seem to be almost nonexistent, so take this time and play what could be the best racing game Nintendo has ever published. – Andrew Passafiume

Do you like pirates? Do you like RPGs? How about ship-based tactical battles against enemies that range from rival pirates to bounties to giant elemental golems? If you said yes to all of that (and if you didn’t, what’s wrong with you?), then Skies of Arcadia is a game you have to play. Originally a Dreamcast game, Sega ported it to the GameCube along with a few extra features and a toned down random encounter rate that vastly improved the experience. Travel the skies as you recruit crew members, stick it to the ruling empire, enjoy the colorful graphics and enjoyable music, and learn what it’s like to be a sky pirate. Like pretty much all of the RPGs Sega has released, Skies of Arcadia is criminally unknown here, so go on, find a copy of it and play it. We’ll be right here for you to thank afterward. – Shawn Vermette

Would you believe that the DK Bongos are actually worth owning? Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is one of the best games in the franchise, combining some excellent level design with a control scheme that is surprisingly intuitive and satisfying. Controlling Donkey Kong with a pair of bongos is something that might take some time to get used to, but once you get a hang of the controls you’ll find jumping around and attacking just as easy as it would be with a traditional controller. There is a New Play Control version available on the Wii which is a decent compromise, but nothing compares to using the original control scheme. If you’re a Donkey Kong fan who hasn’t played this strange and addictive title, you’re missing out on one of the best GameCube games around. – Andrew Passafiume

The first Lost Kingdoms was a strange hybrid of action-RPG and card collecting that was unfortunately a little unbalanced and clunky at times but otherwise a solid, if brief, offering. Lost Kingdoms 2 fixed pretty much all of those problems and really refined the original’s concepts in basically every way. Customizing decks, upgrading cards and even capturing enemy monsters Pokémon-style all combine with more traditional action-RPG elements to make Lost Kingdoms 2 something more than the sum of its parts. While it may not be the prettiest GCN offering despite its release later in the system’s life, Lost Kingdoms 2 provides an interesting take on the genre that was sadly never really explored again. – Chris Ingersoll

While the game generally has a bad reputation for its long development cycle and relatively shallow gameplay, Kirby Air Ride can absolutely rule a party. Whether it’s in the gather-powerups-and-take-on-challenges City Trial mode, the overhead-view, single-screen Top Race option or just a straight-up race, the game’s super-easy to pick up and play and knowing powerups and vehicles does add some skill to the mix. (Also, if you like unlocking things, the game uses a Super Smash Bros. Melee-like goal interface with usable rewards.) – Graham Russell

Few people associate any Nintendo console with the mature horror genre, which is probably why Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem flew under the radar of so many players. This is something I try to correct whenever possible, as Eternal Darkness is probably the crowning achievement of Silicon Knights and really captures Lovecraftian “elder god insanity” better than any other game. Playing as a dozen different characters spanning centuries of history but all bound to the titular Necronomicon-inspired Tome of Eternal Darkness and the machinations of cosmic forces beyond the ken of mortal man, Eternal Darkness offered a great rune-based magic system, excellent voice work, and brilliant insanity effects if you let your character’s grip on reality suffer too far, several of which screwed with the player’s reality in memorable ways. It may show its age visually, but everything else about this game is still hauntingly solid and it deserves to be mentioned whenever truly frightening games are brought up. – Chris Ingersoll

Capcom and Clover Studios took the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre and almost perfected it with 2003’s Viewtiful Joe. The combination of new gameplay twists (being able to slow down and speed up time) and creative level and enemy design was something to behold. To top that off, you have some of the tightest, most precise controls you’ll ever see in a game like it. All of this adds up to a challenging and rewarding experience for gamers looking for a game that knows exactly what it wants to be and is always attempting new, crazy things. Because of this (and more), Viewtiful Joe is worth treasuring. – Andrew Passafiume