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Monday, October 31, 2005

Nintendo Revolution


When Sony and Microsoft kicked off E3 2005 with splashy next-generation console announcements, many wondered how Nintendo would respond. The Japanese giant answered with claims that its offering would revolutionize gaming, accordingly dubbing its effort the Nintendo Revolution. Over the past couple of months, Nintendo has kept pretty quiet amid an ever-escalating war of words between PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 advocates, but some information has managed to leak out. Here's a look at what we know about the enigmatic Revolution and what remains a mystery.

Confirmed: what we know
Appearance: The Nintendo Revolution is the most diminutive of the three next-gen consoles, living inside a sleek rectangular box that's similar in size to the slimmed-down PlayStation 2. As with the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, the Revolution can stand either horizontally or vertically. Nintendo's E3 mock-up was jet black, but the company also showed the console in a variety of colors. The eye-grabbing feature has been its LED-illuminated slot-loading optical media drive, which will accept standard five-inch, DVD-style discs as well as the smaller discs from Nintendo's current-generation GameCube. Nintendo has said that "a small, self-contained attachment" will enable the Revolution to play DVD movies, though you can expect to pay extra for the privilege.

When Sony and Microsoft kicked off E3 2005 with splashy next-generation console announcements, many wondered how Nintendo would respond. The Japanese giant answered with claims that its offering would revolutionize gaming, accordingly dubbing its effort the Nintendo Revolution. Over the past couple of months, Nintendo has kept pretty quiet amid an ever-escalating war of words between PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 advocates, but some information has managed to leak out. Here's a look at what we know about the enigmatic Revolution and what remains a mystery.

Controller:
Nintendo had hinted that the controller would be the truly "revolutionary" thing about its GameCube successor, and the company did not disappoint. Unveiled at the Tokyo Game Show on September 16, the wireless Revolution controller has the appearance of a wandlike remote control you might use to change the channels on your TV. In fact, it uses a motion sensor, so the movements in your hand can be translated onscreen--imagine, for instance, manipulating an onscreen lightsaber in real time instead of just mashing buttons, or pointing your weapon in a Metroid-style first-person shooter. In addition to the motion sensor, the controller features a four-way directional pad and two sets of buttons, including an over/under trigger configuration. Flip it on its side in a horizontal orientation, and the controls revert to old-school Nintendo--the D-pad on the left, two buttons on the right--a configuration recognizable to any Game Boy or NES player. It also features an expansion port that allows for the connection of an analog joystick and other control options. But while no one will doubt that the Revolution's controller is unique, is it so radically different from what gamers are used to that it won't appeal to the masses? Opinion seems evenly divided for now, but it will certainly take users getting some literal hands-on experience--and seeing how Nintendo and third-party software developers exploit the controller in its next wave of games--before a verdict is in.

Hardware specs:
The console packs a customized IBM-developed CPU paired with an ATI graphics chip, alongside 512MB of RAM and an expansion SD media slot for saved games and user-specific content. Nintendo's latest will also feature wireless controllers, a pair of USB 2.0 expansion ports, and built-in, router-style support for Wi-Fi Internet access. Unfortunately, it appears that the Revolution will not support high-definition output; this may prove to be a serious shortcoming since the PS3 and Xbox 360 have wholeheartedly embraced the standard.

Backward compatibility:
The Revolution's flexibility doesn't stop with GameCube games. The console includes a built-in emulator that will let users download and play just about every game from all of the Big N's past systems: Nintendo 64, SNES, and even the original Nintendo Entertainment System. That's a catalog of retro favorites stretching back to the 1980s, one that could reap significant long-tail rewards for Nintendo while recapturing some of the company's more nostalgic retro gaming fans. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has confirmed that the downloads won't be free, though we can hardly blame Nintendo for trying to make an honest buck; we can only hope that the content comes in cheap, impulse-buy-friendly increments.

Rumor and speculation: what we don't know
Developer support: In a much-publicized interview, Electronic Arts vice president David Gardner pooh-poohed the Revolution, saying that EA would likely give greater support to the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Since EA publishes the bulk of the A-list titles these days, its hesitance has been serious cause for concern among Nintendo fan boys. But don't panic just yet; at this point, it's likely that not even EA knows what to expect from the Revolution. We will say that Nintendo's frequent, ambiguous promises of a wholly original gaming experience probably aren't helping the situation; game studios are perhaps justifiably skittish about limiting sales by committing to make games that won't be easily ported to Sony and Microsoft's consoles.

Release date:
Nintendo hasn't specified a date beyond "2006." But impatient fan boys can take heart in rumors that the Revolution may hit sooner rather than later. Kotaku reported that a gaming site received an e-mail containing preliminary ad copy from the Revolution's marketing campaign, trumpeting March 2006 as a release date. Though we'd advise you to take this information with a generous helping of salt, we will say that a March 2006 launch would help the Revolution steal some thunder from the PlayStation 3, which some have speculated won't even arrive until 2007.

Price:
Simply put, we've heard nothing. However, Nintendo has traditionally kept costs down on its console hardware, and the omission of costly extras (internal hard disk, high-definition support, and next-gen Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive) makes us think the Revolution will be priced to move. While it will almost certainly manage to undercut the likely $300 price tag of the Xbox 360, we're hoping to see the Revolution priced at levels closer to that of current console favorites.

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