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.
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
Rumor and speculation: what we don't know
Controller: The design of the Revolution's controller has
remained a closely guarded secret, possibly because it's rumored
that the controller is precisely what will make the Revolution
so revolutionary. Will it have gyroscopic sensors to simulate
analog movement? A touch screen, like the Nintendo DS? Will the
DS itself be the Revolution's controller? Outlandish though
these ideas may seem, each has spawned multiple dubious images
that have "leaked" to various rumormongering Web sites. We're
certainly intrigued; this may be one of the final
next-generation mysteries to be solved.
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
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.
The bottom line
With sales figures for the original Xbox and the PlayStation 2
trouncing those for the GameCube, once-mighty Nintendo needs a
big hit to retain its foothold in the home-console market.
There's a lot to like about the Revolution, but the lack of HD
support could be a crippling flaw, and it doesn't seem to pack
the groundbreaking technological and graphical acuity of its
rivals. One wonders if Nintendo's emphasis on retro gaming means
that the company is reliving its past glories at the expense of
cultivating the more-advanced technologies that next-generation
customers will demand. Fortunately, Nintendo has always focused
on creating games that are fun to play, and the Revolution will
be the only place you'll be able to take new Mario, Zelda, and
Metroid titles for a spin. We'll keep you updated as more
information comes to light.