Now that the year has ended and I’ve played a good bit of the games released, it only felt right to compile my favorites into a list. Of course, I did not play everything released this past year, but I did play a decent chunk. So with that said, let’s go ahead and get started with #5.
#5. SimCity 4
So this one came out right at the start of the year and, I gotta say, it has already become my favorite city builder to date. Sure, Ceaser III and SimCity 3000 were cool, but this one takes all that made the last one fun and further refines it, giving it a fresh coat of paint for modern hardware. The same fun city-building and planning features are there, but now we’ve got stronger neighbor city mechanics, a restructured agriculture system, more building sizes, and a bunch of other smaller changes to really elevate the city-building experience.
And of course, that’s even before you consider the Rush Hour expansion released back in September, which adds even more to an already great game. It’s a feature-packed city-builder and is easily the best sim game released this past year.
#4. Mario Kart: Double Dash
Now this is how you do a racing game. We don’t need any actual cars, HD graphics, or even a sense of realism. Just give me a bunch of Mario characters and some power-ups and I’m good to go. That is exactly what Mario Kart: Double Dash delivered and I couldn’t be happier. Not only are all of my favorite Mario characters there, but now there’s this cool co-op driving mechanic, which has two players (or one if you’re a loner) swapping between driving and managing any items picked up. It’s a cool way to introduce a bit of teamwork in what has felt like a purely competitive series up to this point.
Then there’s the new maps, new items, new characters, and the updated graphics to top it all off. As with the previous entry on this list, Double Dash pretty much takes all that made its predecessors fun and further expands upon it. It has quickly become not just one of my favorite GameCube games, but one of my favorite racing games ever.
#3. Mario Party 5
We got not one, but two Mario games on this list, this time for the latest entry in the now 5-strong Mario Party series. At this point, it should come as no surprise that the Mario Party series is the go-to if you want a party game on a Nintendo console. They did it last year with Mario Party 4 on the same console and a few years ago with Mario Party 3 on the 64. It’s been a success every time and Mario Party 5 is no different. From the elaborate game boards to the wacky, yet fun minigames, there really is a lot to like here. While Mario Party 5 does not revolutionize the formula in any way, it doesn’t really need to. It’s a solid party game that’s well worth your time.
#2. Kirby Air Ride
You may have thought I was done with racing games on this list, but nope, here we have not just the best racing game on the GameCube, but the best racing game I’ve ever played. All three of its game modes are fun, but the true experience is to be found in City Trial, which I have now spent countless hours playing around in with friends. It’s been a blast going around increasing stats, taking out other players, building the legendary air rides, and competing in the mini-games at the end.
Even though City Trial only has one map, it doesn’t ever grow repetitive and I honestly don’t know how the devs have done it. It’s an absolute shame that critics have panned the game so much, as the core gameplay loop here is some of the most fun I’ve had on the GameCube thus far.
#1. SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom
And here we have it, game of the year 2003. While the rest of this list may have been dominated by Nintendo franchises, the top spot is taken by a 3rd-party SpongeBob game. However, this isn’t just any 3rd-party SpongeBob game, it’s one of the best games available on the GameCube and one of the best 3D platformers ever made. It’s got everything: cool characters, excellent level design, vibrant graphics, and fun game mechanics.
It doesn’t go overboard either, instead providing a solid 3D platforming experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The levels are focused, excellently-paced, and, of course, feel like they were pulled straight out of the show. It’s a game that I have already played through multiple times and would recommend not just to SpongeBob fans, but fans of 3D platformers in general.
Alright, that’s the end of my list. I’m sure I missed some really good games, but thanks for reading and see you guys in the next one. Here’s to a good 2004!