Last week wasn't just the tenth anniversary of the Xbox. It was the tenth anniversary of the North American release of the Nintendo GameCube as well.
While the system was home to my favourite game of all time (Wind Waker), and because of the time in my life in which it dominated it ranks as my favourite console of all time, there's one title for the humble 'Cube I like talking about more than any other: Billy Hatcher.
Why? Because Billy Hatcher sums up everything that was wrong, and right, with the GameCube.
On paper, he should have been a success! The game's producer was none other than Yuji Naka, the creator of Sonic the Hedgehog. It was a major title, one that was allocated to the GameCube as an exclusive, which for a game coming out Sega's Sonic Team should have been a boon.
It was also, excitingly, new IP! This wasn't some retread or licensed affair. This was Sonic's creator knuckling down on a new console and bringing the world a new character, with a new story to tell for a new generation of gamers!
And yet, when it was released on the console in 2003, it just...released. It wasn't a bad game, far from it. You can't find many nasty things to say about Billy Hatcher. But you can't find many things at all to say about Billy Hatcher.
He was a cool character, I guess, but you wouldn't go seeing Dreamworks make a movie out of him. The premise of the game, hatching eggs to give you companion creatures, was kinda original for a platformer, but it had a whiff of Pokemon (or even, going by the creature designs, Digimon) about it. And it handled pretty well, though the camera could sometimes be a pain in the ass.
And isn't that exactly the kind of conversations people had, and still have, about the GameCube? Nobody was ever given reason to hate the thing. It had decent performance, a pretty good library of games, it looked OK, it's controllers were just fine. But it never wowed anybody, never set anybody's pants alight, never rocketed up the sales charts or captured the imagination of a generation of gamers like the Nintendo consoles either side of it did.
Yet for all that...I loved Billy Hatcher for the same reason I loved the GameCube. It was a rough diamond. Sure, it had problems, but it was plucky, the underdog, the game I ended up loving as much for what it did as for the fact nobody else seemed to be loving it.
Its controls may have been a little tough and the premise not quite original, but taken as a whole - this was a game about a kid with a chicken head who had to roll around eggs so animals could pop out to help him kick evil crows in the ass - was too lovable not to love.
And that theme song. Oh boy. I am settling down in front of you, crossing my legs and looking at you in all seriousness when I say it's the catchiest, cheeriest theme song (0:45 into the video to the left) I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. Thousands of times. Shit, I even bought this for someone as a present solely on the strength of that theme song, and the quietly amazing CG intro that accompanied it.
If you've never played it and this has lit a fire under you, sorry. You won't be seeing HD re-releases of this game any time soon. It's tough tracking down an original copy, and you'll likely never see a sequel. That's just the kind of game it was, and that's the kind of console it appeared on. It was fun, catchy, made by the dude who made Sonic the Hedgehog and yet will be, a cameo in a crummy kart racing game aside, consigned to the dustbin of history.
Not because it was awful. But because it wasn't awesome.