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8 January 2019

A Series of Unfortunate Events: an ode to unmemorable, just-alright GameCube games

In a world of competing over which game is best, we forget the nostalgic joy of those that are good-ish.

By Amelia Tait

One of the first video games I ever played was also one of the worst. Charlie’s Angels™ was a 2003 GameCube game that was universally panned by critics and players alike (except for my older sister, who spent her birthday money on the shiny red mini-disc and thus diligently played it through to the end).

With a score of 23/100 on MetaCritic, and a prime spot on the list of the world’s 50 worst video games, we can all agree that the game – with its dodgy controls, shoddy camera angles, and maximum four-hours play time – sucked. There is little joy to be found in truly bad games, as frustration at the plot, play, and pacing overrides all other emotions. But just-alright games? They were my world.

Shooting peppermints at an army of approaching crabs in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events made me the woman I am today. I’m not even being facetious: I must have tried around 50 times to kill those crustaceans, and when I finally succeeded, I had learned a genuine lesson about perseverance (and gained an unhealthy obsession with frantically clicking the “save” button as often as I can).

A glance at MetaCritic embarrassingly shows the game was considered too easy by critics (I was 12, take that slack and slice me some) and also that it scored, overall, a respectable 63/100. Not a terrible game, sure, but not one that’s particularly memorable to anyone but me and 33 YouTube commenters.

The aforementioned lethal peppermints

When the GameCube was initially released, it wasn’t a commercial success. Poor sales figures (the console sold significantly less than the PlayStation 2, which was expected, but was also outsold by the Xbox, which wasn’t) lead a Time International journalist to label the ’cube an “unmitigated disaster” in 2003. Since then, gamers have found a new fondness for the console, and many of its games (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine, Pikmin, and Super Smash Bros. Melee) are now beloved classics.

But these games aren’t why I love the GameCube so much (except Wind Waker, which I’ve played six times and will probably play a seventh, eighth, and ninth). The GameCube games I love are just-alright: good-ish, forgettable, fine.

Take 2003’s Sonic Heroes, which has “mixed or average reviews” on MetaCritic. With repetitive gameplay and slippery controls, the game divides the fandom to this day (a day before writing this article, a video with the thumbnail “Sonic Heroes is hot garbage” was uploaded to YouTube and got 74,000 views). But my overriding memory, once again, is of the thrill of completing a difficult level – the incredibly tricky Rail Canyon – after falling off into the abyss 299,994 times. Plus, the soundtrack bangs.

The treacherous Rail Canyon

And of course, who can forget the Boy Who Lived (With A Terrifyingly Large Pixelated Head). While the Harry Potter video games aren’t forgotten (I think there’s an essay out there comparing duelling with Draco Malfoy to impeaching Donald Trump) the games were, it pains me to say, not all that good. But why do I care? I have the precious memory of defeating a washing machine (a washing machine!) at the Weasley’s, and you can take that over critical acclaim.

My love of just-alright GameCube games means I’m forever trying to see what I can pick up for 50p at CeX, and in researching this article I’ve discovered the excellent-sounding Monster’s Inc. Scream Arena and Muppets Party Cruise, which I’ll undoubtedly soon add to my collection. Last year I even got a hold of the world’s absolute worst GameCube game, Universal Studios Theme Parks Adventure, in which you’re forced to pick up litter to progress. I’m not going to pretend I enjoyed it, but it has a place in my home, if not my heart.

A Series of Unfortunate Events was undoubtedly one of the games that got me into more “serious” and “technically good” games as I aged. As an accessible way into gaming for a preteen, I think this game – and the console I played it on, once derided as childish – has an important place in my personal gaming history. I enjoyed it so much that I even missed the countdown to 2005 – at midnight on New Year’s Eve I was too busy exploring the greenhouse at Uncle Monty’s to give any real aunts and uncles a celebratory hug.

Gaming has always had a problem with what gets to be considered “real” games, and who gets to be considered a “true” gamer. Nostalgia means we remember bad things as good, and the passing of time means things worth forgetting are often forgotten. But every so often, we should celebrate the just-alright things that made us who we are.

This article was part of the NS’s “Vintage video games week”, click here to read more in the series.