Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

In many ways, the GameCube was a failure for Nintendo. With just under 22 million units sold, it was a step down from the 32.93 million N64 consoles which made their way into homes all over the world (which, in turn, was down from the 49.10 million sales of the SNES). This put the system in third place behind both the PlayStation 2 (155 million) and Xbox (24 million) – not the outcome Nintendo would have wanted, especially as it had invested heavily in ensuring the console could compete with its rivals in terms of raw processing power (arguably the last time the company would do so).

However, as is so often the case in the world of video games, commercial performance doesn't tell the entire story. The GameCube is home to some of the finest games ever created, including Zelda: The Wind Waker, F-Zero GX, Super Monkey Ball, Metroid Prime and Pikmin, just to name a few. The quality of these titles is evidenced by the fact that many of them have since been remastered or rereleased on modern-day systems.

The GameCube's impact and influence extend beyond the 21.74 million consoles sold during its lifespan, and it continues to be one of the most beloved Nintendo systems ever made. The iconic controller (complete with analogue triggers) still looks and feels futuristic even today, and the fact that it's possible to play GBA games on it via an optional accessory remains impressive.

Sure, the GameCube may have trailed its rivals in terms of sales, but it's still a fantastic machine – and, without it, we would never have had the Wii, an architecturally similar successor which returned Nintendo to the top of the gaming tree.

What are the best GameCube games of all time?

In our list, we've selected some of the greatest GameCube titles ever made, including titles from the Mario, Zelda, Metroid, F-Zero and Pikmin franchises. These games are not presented in any kind of order, but are instead a suggested selection of games you simply must play if you want to experience the best the console has to offer.

F-Zero GX (GCN)

While debate still rages as to whether F-Zero X on the N64 or its Sega-developed GameCube sequel F-Zero GX is better, we can all agree that both games are rather special in their own right. The story mode in the latter helps paint a picture of the 'F-universe' and those cutscenes featuring Captain Falcon and the gang sure add some pizzazz. The series also certainly never looked better than this GameCube entry. The breakneck speed and brutal difficulty might put some people off, but racing doesn't get much purer than this and seeing as this was the last entry from the franchise to come to a home console a depressing sixteen years ago, this is still the hottest take on F-Zero going. Track it down.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)

Given the 'Cel-da' controversy that blighted the game at its initial reveal, it's fitting that The Wind Waker has come to be so loved and admired over time. Where other games of the era struggle under the weight of modern high-definition scrutiny, Toon Link's maiden voyage looks almost as fresh as the day we first set out from Outset Isle to discover what had happened to the Hyrule we once knew.

It's not without flaws (and the HD remake on Wii U addressed many of them) but thinking back, we don't really remember the repetitive wind conducting, the infamous Triforce shard hunt or Tingle's sea chart extortion. No, it's the rainbow colours of the tempestuous ocean, the breezy panpipes of Dragon Roost and the salty self-reflection our voyages brought about that stick in the memory. Beneath the surface, it's very much a continuation of the 3D Zelda template laid down in Ocarina of Time, but there's undeniable magic in The Wind Waker, and in spite of its imperfections, it's still one of our very favourites of the series.

Viewtiful Joe (GCN)

Crackling with energy and celluloid action, Viewtiful Joe is a side-on brawler and was one of the fabled 'Capcom Five' exclusives which would end up (for the most part) finding their way to other platforms. With an intricate combat system, it skirts into fighter territory with a dusting of VFX (Viewtiful Effects) that change the flow of combat and enable you to chain combos and use strategy to beat your way through Movie Land and rescue film-fanatic Joe's girlfriend.

Resident Evil 4 (GCN)

Resident Evil 4 was a watershed moment for survival horror Capcom's series. Shedding the genre-defining fixed-camera gameplay of the previous titles, it traded a little of that survival horror for a boatload of tight, tense action and not only revitalised the series, but set the blueprint for a decade of third-person actions games. So brilliant was RE4 that it's taken until relatively recently for the series to escape its shadow.

The game was designed with Nintendo's hardware in mind and despite going on to appear on practically every other home console produced since the GameCube, the original system is still one of the best places to play it, with the GameCube controller marrying the design perfectly (although the recent Switch version isn't bad, either). The series has had its ups and downs like any other, but it's hard to argue that RE4 isn't the best it's ever been.

Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)

Mario's run of hit after hit after hit is rather incredible when you think about it. The expectations each new mainline entry creates are astronomically high and we're continually gobsmacked that, more often than not, those expectations are surpassed. Available to play on Switch if you have a copy of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Super Mario Sunshine is a great game which — thanks to its rushed development — lacks the immaculate polish we've come to expect from the Mario series. However, there's a unique charm and brilliance to its mechanics and setting which make it an underdog in the series, and who doesn't love one of those?

As a direct sequel to Super Mario 64, it is not the genre-defining classic everyone was hoping for. However, with the passing of time, we can look back and appreciate the many things that Sunshine does superbly. The joyful, bouncing Isle Delfino theme alone makes it worth revisiting, and if you've skipped this entry in Mario's back catalogue, don't let its reputation put you off. The Sunshine Defence Force may be overcompensating a tad — it's certainly got its flaws — but at the very least, it's still very good in our eyes.

Luigi's Mansion (GCN)

Had it been released now, Luigi's Mansion would arguably be lauded for the charming and affectionate genre parody it is and its short length would arguably be an asset in an era when we have more games than time to play them. As a launch game for GameCube, though, it wasn't what Nintendo gamers were expecting in 2002 after the genre-defining Super Mario 64 which launched Nintendo's previous console. It took a while to be appreciated after the initial bafflement that it wasn't a Mario platformer, but after a 3DS sequel (not to mention a remake) and Luigi's Mansion 3 on Switch, it's safe to say the original has since received the appropriate levels of love and it still plays beautifully today.

Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (GCN)

The N64 original put an arcade-y spin on Star Wars flight games like X-Wing but its sequel took things to a whole other level. A GameCube launch title and technical showpiece (alongside Wave Race: Blue Storm), Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader blended original space missions with key moments from the classic trilogy and really showcased the capabilities of the console. The visuals and audio are still impressive — most impressive — today, and the feeling you get from locking S-foils by squeezing the analogue trigger down to a click and blasting into vast space battles against dozens of enemy fighters is the closest we've come to feeling like we're 'in' the movies.

It's challenging, too. Turns out that finding tiny whining spacecraft against a starfield backdrop is hard (let alone hitting the damned things!), but the tight controls and authentic feel of Factor 5's game make finally nailing that wily TIE worth the effort. Other games have come close, but Rogue Leader is still the benchmark for flight-based Star Wars games on consoles. Given the chance, we'd jump on an HD re-release faster than a mynock on a power cable. Red Five standing by.

Pikmin 2 (GCN)

Removing the 30-day time limit that so irked players in the first game, Pikmin 2 expands on the original in every way, creating a larger adventure with more of everything you liked before, plus a host of extra modes (including a surprisingly addictive two-player component). Wingman Louie joined Captain Olimar this time around and the game also introduced White and Purple Pikmin, expanding the puzzling possibilities and the options available to you as the diminutive spacemen and their plant-based charges ran around gardens fighting beasties and collecting tasty-looking fruit, discarded objects, and ship pieces. Some players might miss the tight focus of the original, but this is an excellent sequel and absolutely worth digging up.

Skies of Arcadia Legends (GCN)

If there was a positive to Dreamcast's untimely demise, it was that other consoles benefited from Sega's misfortune. A port of the Dreamcast original, Skies of Arcadia Legends was made by Sega studio Overworks, a starry team of Sega veterans, and was billed as a 'director's cut' of the turn-based JRPG. With minor improvements across the board, Skies of Arcadia made exploration a central part of the gameplay as opposed to other games in the genre and fans have been calling for a modern remaster of air pirate Vyse's adventures for a long time, although it's failed to materialise. Until it does, the GameCube is the best way to revisit Arcadia.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GCN)

The power of GameCube enabled greater fidelity of its paper-based art style than the original, but otherwise Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door stuck closely to the original's blueprint. It's a wonderfully colourful adventure packed with clever callbacks to the portly plumber's history and the same irreverent spirit which makes so many Mario RPGs refreshingly different from the mascot's platformers. Where other entries have dropped the ball in an area or two, Thousand-Year Door gets everything right; plot, writing, battles, presentation - the lot.

Prices for a GameCube disc — still the only official way to play — have skyrocketed in recent years and given the quality, it's not hard to see why. Treasure your copy if you've got one, and perhaps lend it to a trusted friend who never visited the town of Rogueport.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

Your favourite Mario Kart game tends to depend very much on which one you played first, or which one you've played the most in multiplayer. This can lead to much contentious debate, but we have wonderful memories of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! despite it often getting short shrift from many.

While not overflowing with new ideas, the racers were presented as gorgeous fully 3D models for the first time, the two-driver gimmick was extremely satisfying and introduced a new layer of strategy as you switched characters and juggled items, and it has some great courses, including DK Mountain (ah, that little shortcut at the end!) and perennial favourite Baby Park, the hilariously hectic mini-course. It might lack a certain je ne sais quoi if you're devoted to other entries in the series, but make no mistake, this remains a chaotic karting classic.

Chibi-Robo (GCN)

Chibi-Robo is difficult to describe because it doesn't neatly fit into any particular category or genre. It's part-platformer, part-adventure, part-amiable helper game which mixes in elements of Toy Story as you work to help the Sanderson family solve their everyday problems. The eponymous altruistic robot himself is a charming little chap who's starred in several games since this GameCube introduction (and he also has the most devastatingly cute amiibo imaginable), but he's never quite reached the heights of his debut here. Lovely.