M Is For GameCube: Nintendo’s Foray into Mature Exclusives

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By Abram Buehner on December 29th, 2021


Do you understand how infuriating it is to finally get a copy of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes and then have your Japanese GameCube’s disc laser start malfunctioning two hours into the playthrough? Well, I do. What began as a badass 21st birthday present quickly became an annoying repair job that will likely end up becoming a replacement operation instead – putting yet another roadblock between myself and this Metal Gear remake that I’ve been dying to play for literal years. Sorry, I just had to get that out off my chest. While I prepare to inevitably break my GameCube further in an attempt to get back onto Shadow Moses, I might as well take this opportunity to explain what Twin Snakes, and titles like it, meant to the flagging GameCube.

The system was in a particularly dire spot during its commercial relevance, as Nintendo failed to match even N64’s anemic 33 million units sold. The GameCube moved only about two thirds of that – fractional compared to its PS2 competition, putting Nintendo two generations in the hole against Sony. The fact that the GameCube outright failed in the face of its wonderful exclusive library is one of the great gaming tragedies. Yet, it’s not a particularly surprising outcome.

Principle among the GameCube’s problems was an optical one: its reputation on the market. At a time when video games were becoming more serious in a post-Metal Gear Solid world, Nintendo’s brand of family-friendly, Disney-like IP was looking stuffier and stuffier in comparison to the Halos and GTAs of the world. Nintendo’s decision to sell the GameCube in purple and stick a carrying handle on its back did the machine no favors on this front either.

Key art for Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

But, while Nintendo opted to double-down on its all-ages appeal during the Wii era afterward, GameCube era Nintendo was not willing to go down without a fight. So, the company started cutting deals that could supplement the platform’s myriad mascot titles with exclusives that skewed older. Many fail to realize this, as the multifaceted initiative largely ended in flames, resulting in a handful of cult classics, the occasional dynamite success, and a whole lot of wasted potential wrapped up in reneged deals.

the capcom five chaos

Perhaps the most (in)famous product of Nintendo’s M-rated push was Resident Evil 4. Now that RE4 has become a stone-cold classic that’s available on every platform under the sun, it’s hard to picture a landscape wherein the title was a GameCube exclusive. For a very brief period of time though, this was the reality of Resident Evil 4. It was the best and highest-profile game to come out of the notorious Capcom Five agreement, which was the watershed arrangement that saw Nintendo and Capcom partnering up to release five titles exclusively on GameCube. It was pretty much a categorical disaster.

Not only did one of the five titles – Dead Phoenix – get cancelled, only one of the four Capcom games that made it to market actually stayed exclusive to GameCube. The Wikipedia overview and its related readings on the Capcom Five’s failings is a rabbit hole worth falling down, but here’s the TL;DR. Viewtiful Joe, Killer7, P.N.03, and Resident Evil 4 actually hit shelves, each title being some shade of more mature than your average Nintendo offering. Viewtiful Joe, Killer7, and Resident Evil 4 all quickly jumped ship to PlayStation 2 when the GameCube’s fate became increasingly clear. RE4’s incredibly quick pivot was the most notorious of the bunch, given that the game was the highest-profile of the five, and it wasted no time sliding over to the exponentially more successful Sony platform.

Key art for Resident Evil 4

The Capcom Five was always a tenuous proposition at best – the sort of player looking to buy a GameCube and the sort of player looking to buy Resident Evil 4 probably stood at odds with each other. Given the tacit but increasingly obvious fact that these games were destined to migrate to PlayStation anyway, the impact of the Capcom Five just became duller and duller with time. The failure of the partnership is a major shame. Not only are these games fascinating by their own right, most rising either to cult or full-on classic status, but the deal itself is fascinating too. Nintendo was hungry for this win and for the opportunity to prove that its brand wasn’t solely aimed at kids. Now, anyone who has actually spent time with Nintendo’s suite knows that the company’s IP is timeless not childish – but from the outside looking in – that appeal was conflated.

Unfortunately, the bungling of the Capcom Five did little to help repair that image. Although, that initiative was far from Nintendo’s only foray into the mature space. That strategy began early, as Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, a horror hidden gem, hit GameCube exclusively in 2002, the same year as the Capcom Five’s announcement. Importantly, Eternal Darkness was developed by Silicon Knights, the team that would become instrumental in getting Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes onto disc two years later, as the studio co-developed that title with Konami. 

a concerted effort elsewhere

Launched in 2004, The Twin Snakes was another major gambit from Nintendo on the M-rated field, attempting to do for GameCube what the original MGS did for PS1. It didn’t quite work. While Twin Snakes is a high-fidelity modernization of MGS, making its narrative presentation much more archetypically Kojima, it’s become quite controversial due to its revisions upon one of gaming’s classics. Nonetheless, its inclusion in the GameCube’s library furthers the picture of a Nintendo determined to work against its image – one that it hoped to reconstruct through Twin Snakes alongside its aforementioned M-rated peers.

Key art for Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes

These are far from the only examples, as both Geist and the iconic Resident Evil 1 remake are two more critical additions to Nintendo’s mature canon. When you really start to break down all of the adult-oriented software on GameCube, it becomes clearer and clearer that Nintendo really did everything that it could to combat its largely underserved public image. Yeah, the GameCube’s handle is on them. But the rest of the hate? Well, it was largely projection that the console’s library didn’t actually evoke. 

This contingent of titles is part of why I find the GameCube’s library and ethos so damn exciting. Nintendo was backed into a corner and fighting for its life to escape. Neither before nor since have we seen Nintendo try so hard to court mature exclusives. Sure, the Switch gets a lot of M-rated ports, and both Wii and Wii U got a couple as well. But original games are few and far between. The likes of Devil’s Third, Bayonetta, and No More Heroes are slim exceptions. The GameCube had a concentration of titles in this vein unlike any other Nintendo system.

Now, do I want to see Nintendo travel back down this path? Not necessarily. However, the fact that the company once did is so curious. And, it’s so overlooked. The likes of Killer7 and Resident Evil have migrated elsewhere. The likes of Eternal Darkness and Geist remain buried in the back catalog. The entire chapter of Nintendo’s history which spawned these games and more has been largely forgotten, replaced by a general revisionist reverence for the console that looks past some of its missteps and unconventional moves. I’m so glad that the system is finally getting respect put on its name. But, let’s not forget all of the texture that makes it so special.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a GameCube to fix.

Abram is a part-time student and a full-time dork from the East Coast of the United States. He spends much of his time discussing video games, film, and comics... that is, when Abram isn't playing games, watching film, or reading comics. When Abram's not doing that, he is probably busy with college, dual-majoring in English and Film & New Media Studies.


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