How Nintendo kept the GameCube controller in constant circulation

GameCube controller

Quick question for all of you: What was your favorite Nintendo controller? For many Nintendo fans, the answer that springs to mind is the Nintendo 64 controller. However, my personal answer is the GameCube controller. First released in 2001, the GameCube controller was, initially, just another controller for an underappreciated console. It was a perfectly functional controller, but it didn’t scream “classic” in my eyes. Even after I received a GameCube as a Bar Mitzvah gift in 2003, I still preferred the N64 controller. After all, my formative memories were with the N64, constantly playing it at my friends’ and cousins’ houses. These were still fresh in my mind, so why wouldn’t I prefer it? It was my childhood!

This sentiment even transferred over to the Wii Remote in the late-2000s. I loved the Wiimote; don’t get me wrong. I probably loved it more than most people at the time! But it was still no N64 controller. Only after I started downloading N64 titles on the Virtual Console did I actually begin to realize how great the GameCube controller really was. It’d taken me 11 years, but I finally understood why the controller was so excellent.

GameCube controller

The secret is…

The controller layout is a boomerang-shaped piece of plastic, except with two bulges protruding from each end. It has two joysticks, one on each side, a D-Pad adjacent to its C-Stick, and ergonomic standard buttons on the right side. It also has a Start button in the middle, and two triggers on each shoulder. The bulges might seem like a weird setup, but it’s actually quite efficient design. The controller, unlike the N64 controller, was designed with efficiency and no excess fat. None of the buttons are in awkward positions. It works perfectly for a gamer flipping through a catalog of diverse titles.

I don’t think gamers, at least at the time, recognized how functional the controller really was. But Nintendo did. Even after they discontinued the GameCube in 2006 following a lifetime of disappointing sales, the controller never went away. Nintendo even announced at E3 2006 that it’d make a return in the future, starting with the Virtual Console’s library. There was something special about that controller that made it a perfect fit for the Wii’s classic titles, and that was only the start.

The half-life of the GameCube controller

In 2008, Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii, followed by Mario Kart Wii a few months later. While both games were designed with the Wiimote in mind, the GameCube controller was also included as a playable option. Surprisingly, at least in the case of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the GameCube controller even became the preferable control style. Everyone I knew used it over the Wiimote.

Personally, I was more partial to the GameCube controller for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The Wiimote worked fine, as did the Classic Controller, but there was a magic to that boomerang controller with two bulges that couldn’t be replicated quite as well. It was easy to pick up due to years of rote memory, and even easier to use. With the Wiimote, I had to learn how to use an entirely new layout for a fighting franchise, potentially making myself vulnerable in the process. I never had to do that with the GameCube controller.

Mario Kart Wii‘s decision to use the GameCube remote as a playable controller style also proved an interesting choice. The game was practically designed for the Wiimote attached to the Wii Wheel, yet the GameCube controller worked perfectly fine for what the game was trying to accomplish. Was it the same as steering your bike or kart with the wheel? No, it wasn’t. Did it allow for the sensitivity of the Wiimote? No, it didn’t. But for those who struggled with adapting to the primary control method, it was a serviceable replacement.

“It keeps going and going and…”

Perhaps the real testament to the GameCube controller’s greatness is in how it was still being sold and used by the time the Wii U was released. It was even re-released with a Smash Bros. logo on it for Smash for Wii U, making it the perfect controller, yet again, for multiplayer gaming. All you needed was an adapter that plugged into the console, which, thankfully, you could find for relatively cheap in gaming stores. Unlike Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I was more partial to the Wii U tablet for this one — it had a separate screen that I really liked — but I was more than happy to use the GameCube controller if necessary.

Which brings me to the Switch, and how the GameCube controller, yet again, has received another circulation run for games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. What’s better, the adapter for the Wii U also works with the Switch, provided you actually care to plug in your console to its stand and not play on the go. Even if the controller is old at this point, and I mean really old, the fact that Nintendo has routinely recognized that the controller is still worth using for games is more than enough case for its practicality and quality. Nintendo didn’t have to bring it back into circulation three times. They did it because they saw its usefulness outside of its console of origin.

It’s not going away anytime soon either

Think about it this way: There’s a reason why used GameCube controllers still go for upwards of $40 on sites like Amazon and eBay. There’s a reason why new ones can sometimes go for more. It’s not because the controller is nostalgic, because not everything nostalgic is worth your time or sells well. It’s because, at the end of the day, the controller is that good and in constant demand. And given how gamers have reacted positively to it each time, there’s a good chance that that demand isn’t going away in the near future.

Zachary Perlmutter
News and editorial writer for Nintendo Enthusiast. Is hoping to one day publish a graphic novel or two.