Nintendo Launches Tiny HandheldJim Louderback
Nintendo executives were long on innuendo and short on details as they unveiled a tiny new portable game player, the GameBoy Micro, at this year's E3 conference. The company also provided scant details on the new Revolution console, due out in 2006, unveiled a name and a few details on hotly-anticipated Legend of Zelda game, and presented an otherwise lackluster lineup of new titles due this fall.
The diminutive handheld signals the company's belated recognition that style, along with functionality, sells hardware today. About the size of an iPod classic, the Micro features a 2" backlit screen, which the company claims is the brightest screen ever on a GameBoy. The screen is designed for both indoor and outdoor play, and includes – for the first time in a Nintendo handheld – a most revolutionary control. From the press release, "for the first time, users can adjust the brightness of the screen to adapt to indoor lights or outdoor sunshine."
The Micro is not a new platform. It will play all past GameBoy and GameBoy Advance titles, claims the company. A truly tiny player, the device measures 4" wide, 2" tall and .7" deep, and weighs just 2.8 ounces,. And like a cell phone, the Micro will support removable faceplates to let users customize it with different styles and colors. It includes both a built in speaker, along with a headphone jack. The company refused to provide pricing or battery technology details, but did promise that the Micro will be available this fall. Turn to the next page for details on the Revolution...
Revolution Game Console
Extreme compatibility was one of the few tidbits revealed about Nintendo's next-generation console, the Revolution. In a nod to the success of retro-gaming, Nintendo plans to make the Revolution compatible with every game the company has ever created.
"We designed the Revolution to be a virtual console, capable of downloading 20 years of Nintendo content", crowed Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. That includes games created for the NES, Super NES and N64, but not the GameBoy or DS. Those downloadable games will be stored on an internal 512megabytes of flash storage, or through a user-supplied SD card via an expansion slot.
The Revolution will also include a CD-sucker style DVD drive that will play the small GameCube optical games, DVDs and CD music, along with Revolution-specific games on a new 12cm DVD-sized disc. That could prove problematic, however. My experience shows that the sucking mechanism can scratch CDs and game disks, which could lead to a wide number of game returns and unhappy players.
When it ships in 2006, the console itself will be no bigger than three stacked DVD cases. Unlike Sony and Microsoft, two companies that laid bare the entire technology of their upcoming platforms, Nintendo refused to release any more details on the system. "Look at this as a puzzle game," teased a cagey Iwata.
Rather than focus on raw power, Iwata claimed the Revolution was much easier to develop for, calling it "simpler, faster and less expensive than any new system." He went on to position the Revolution as a place where "big ideas can prevail over big budgets." He also showed
a few seconds of Metroid 3 for the Revolution, but the graphics were uninspiring and looked little different from today's games. Turn the page for new Legend of Zelda details...
Nintendo saved the biggest piece of content news for last: more details on this fall's Legend of Zelda title. The game finally has a name, "Twilight Princess," and a gimmick: the main character, Link, can morph into a wolf. The trailer reminded me of fantasy writer Robin Hobb's "Farseer Trilogy", which combines man and wolf in a similar fashion. The clip was exciting and emotional. If the game can live up to its billing it will become the must-play title of the fall.
The company also showed Mario in four derivative titles due this fall: Soccer and baseball sports titles, a Mario-remix of Dance Dance Revolution, and an updated Mario Party 7 that supports up to 8 players.
Pokemon fans should finally get the game they've been waiting for: a full-on RPG called "Pokemon XD" due in October. And two Nintendo DS titles also received considerable attention. The runway Japanese hit Nintendogs -- which updates Neopets and Tamagotchi for the dual-screen handheld -- is due in the US this summer. And an oddball title called ElectroPlankton was demonstrated by DJ David Hollands. It's not a game, said Nintendo Executive Vice President Reggie Fils-Aime, but an experience where "creating is as much fun as competing."
Overall, the press conference was eerily reminiscent of the company's 1999 E3 presentation, the year before the GameCube was announced. Sony was touting the benefits of the upcoming PS2, and Nintendo did a quick unveiling of what was then code-named "Dolphin". That year's E3 was long on titles for the N64, the most memorable featured a potty-mouthed squirrel that unfortunately quickly faded.
And now, while Sony forges ahead with an innovative handheld and Microsoft presents a compelling view of high-speed HD gaming, Nintendo keeps trotting out its (much loved) characters as a way to differentiate itself. But in the end, advanced hardware, along with game play, is what sells. And based on today's press conference, Nintendo is behind the curve.
Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.