By the time the Nintendo 64 had reached the end of its life, Nintendo was all but ignored in the console market. The PlayStation had become the first console to gain proper mainstream acceptance and Sega's Dreamcast was offering next-gen graphics before its competitors, making the N64's games visually unappealing. So when Sony announced in March 1999 that it was working on the PlayStation 2, a far superior version of its original console, it was time for Nintendo to fight back.
At Nintendo's SpaceWorld event in 2000, the company revealed its fourth console, the GameCube - a small, boxy system that offered plenty of power for a low price. As part of the announcement, Nintendo showed a video of games in development for the console. While many of these (such as Meowth's Party, Perfect Dark and the infamous 'realistic' Zelda game) never saw the light of day, the point was made - Nintendo was back.
After launching in Japan in September 2001, the GameCube was set to hit Europe on 3 May 2002 at 250 Euros, which worked out at about £169.99. However, Microsoft's decision to slash its new Xbox from 479 Euros to 299 Euros (about £200) led Nintendo to cut the price of the GameCube before it had even been released. As a result, the Cube launched for £129.99, an extremely low price that helped make it the fastest-selling console launch ever at that time.
Launching in the UK with 21 games (only two of which were developed by Nintendo), the GameCube was seen as a turning point for Nintendo, which had long been considered unwilling to accept too much support from third-party developers. Considering that the N64's launch line-up consisted of only two games, neither of which were third-party titles, it was clear that Nintendo was seeking much more third-party support this time around.
Although the Cube was significantly smaller than the PS2 and Xbox, it was graphically more powerful than Sony's machine and could more than match the visual abilities of the Xbox (although the Xbox had more powerful graphics chips, the GameCube's processor handled instructions more effectively so it could make games look just as good).
But despite the power of the Cube and its third-party support, it sold poorly. This placed Nintendo in third place in a 'console war' for the first time, as the Cube lost out to both the PS2, which sold over 100 million consoles, and the Xbox, whose focus on online gaming helped Microsoft sell 24 million machines.
Despite this, things were still looking up for Nintendo. Huge sales of the Game Boy Advance as well as large profits coming from the SP, the DS and the DS Lite kept the company profitable during the GameCube's rough patch.
What Went Wrong?
It could be argued that the Cube didn't succeed because it tried too hard to be like its competitors. Although the original PlayStation sold much better than the N64, Nintendo's cartridge-based console was different enough to gain a large following, and the innovations of its controller (the analogue stick, the Z trigger, the Rumble Pak) meant that N64-exclusive games like GoldenEye 007 couldn't have been replicated on Sony's machine without losing their unique feel.
It could also be argued that although the N64 revolutionised gaming with classic titles such Super Mario 64 and Ocarina Of Time, the GameCube never had a 'killer app', a title that people would buy a GameCube for in order to experience something innovative.