Burnout Dominator
Image: Criterion / EA

Happy birthday, GameCube! It's been twenty years since your gorgeous, chunky indigo shape graced our TV stands, and we were all introduced to that beedle-deedle-deedle-deedle-beedle-deedle-beedly-beep, BLUMP. You know the one I mean.

The GameCube's catalogue is so stellar that I've already written several features about its games, from my favourite game, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, to the grim realities of Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. But there are still so many other games to talk about! Luigi's Mansion! Super Mario Sunshine! The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker!

But I'm not here to talk about Nintendo's stellar first-party 'Cube games. Oh no. We've got plenty of time for that. I'm here to talk about BURNOUT.

Burnout was originally released by British studio Criterion on the PS2 in 2001, and came to GameCube the next year, bringing its car-racing, crash-simulating mayhem to Nintendo audiences for the first time (although later instalments of the series would eschew Nintendo's consoles entirely). But, for that one brilliant 2002 summer, my baby brother and I would spend hours playing Burnout on the gloriously-clicky GameCube controller. But we didn't play it the way we were supposed to — and it turns out that that was the best way to play it.

You see, Burnout is a racing game at heart. You can race other cars and try to beat them to the finish line. But that's boring. What was special about Burnout was the destruction: every time you crashed, the game would tell you how much the crash would cost you. I'm not sure how they figured it out — does the cost include damages? Insurance? Hospital trips? It's not really clear, but it doesn't matter. What matters is the thrill of it.

Burnout would give you "boost" if you did dangerous things, like driving on the wrong side of the road or near-missing other cars. It was incentivised to make you drive like a knob. And I did. I perfected the swerve onto the opposite side of the road, and playing chicken with cars, trucks, and tankers to get that boost all the way up. Then, I would floor it, aiming not for the finish line but for my ultimate goal: as many fuel tankers as I could hit in one go.

We quickly worked out that the best place to rack up the most costly crash was juuuust before the underground tunnel, and if we could drift sideways into five tankers, even better. The trick was to get the tankers to go sideways, so that every car would pile up into the fiery inferno and add to the mounting pile of dollars we'd be expected to pay out. We averaged around $125,000, which is honestly not that bad for the amount of sheer carnage we caused.

There are, of course, a lot of tired arguments about how video games make you violent, but I can promise you that I never ended up totalling a bunch of fuel tankers in real life. Maybe because I never had the chance, but probably because I don't have $125k to spare. My brother, however, eventually went into motorsport engineering, and he currently builds cars for a living — I like to think that those days of exploding cars on purpose was part of that journey, much like doctors probably grew up dissecting bugs for fun. Probably.

Sometimes, the best part of owning a game is that you can play it however you like. On the N64, I would occasionally boot up Mario Kart just to take a little drive around Kalamari Desert, or have a nice horse ride on Epona in Ocarina of Time. It's why I like the sedate farming games so much, because your time is your own — there's no one to beat, no bad guy to subdue, just you and a bunch of land to farm and money to spend. When developers give you a sandbox, or the mere suggestion of free will in a game, it can be surprisingly fun to just spend a few hours playing around in a way you aren't technically supposed to.

Which games do you play when you just want to mess around? Tell me your stories in the comments!