Nintendo will discuss the successor to GameCube, or N5 as we're calling it, at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, according to the company's executive vice president of sales and marketing Reggie Fils-Aime.
"Comment on this will come from the highest levels," Fils-Aime told CNN/Money's Game Over column this past week. "The focus and commitment we have on this will be shown at E3."
Earlier this year, a series of revelations in a Japanese newspaper suggested that Nintendo might not launch such a system at all. Nintendo quickly refuted the report, claiming that a comment made by its president "was supposed to mean that Sony and Microsoft are expected to release their next-generation consoles from 2005 to 2006, and we also won't be releasing one until that period."
Elsewhere, a piece in Mainichi Shimbun tracked down a senior Nintendo source, who said, "We would like to show [N5] at E3 next spring." Since then that has been more or less the gospel on the GameCube's successor, and nobody openly expected to see or even hear anything about the system at this year's event.
It's not altogether clear what form the N5 "comment" will take, but "from the highest levels" would suggest that either executives or - as Nintendo sometimes likes - bigwigs from first party developers are being rounded up to promote the platform. But will Nintendo unveil the console fully, or just talk about it? A full unveiling seems a little unlikely, partly because it doesn't tie in with the company's strategy as we know it, but mainly because the platform holder simply has too many things to get through, and would be unwise to split attendees' focus between new Cube titles, the Nintendo DS system and N5 during an already jam-packed week in Los Angeles.
Nintendo DS, however, will certainly be on hand, and - according to reports - in playable form. Fils-Aime confirms again that DS will be unveiled, albeit under a different, final product name, and when pressed added that it's still on the slate for 2004. "As we're sitting here, that's the plan." That would put DS on shelves ahead of the Sony PlayStation Portable, but - according to the two companies' continued protests - the two systems are by no means trying to complete, so it's left to analysts to get excited about that part.
Fils-Aime also tried to talk up the enigmatic handheld system, confessing that if he were a gamer he would probably be sceptical too. "The gamer needs to see it, to see the games, to see the full functionality of the machine," he told CNN/Money. "That's why we're reticent to give details until we can show it." And show it Nintendo will.
Moreover, the GameCube is expected to receive a big chunk of conference time. As previously reported here, sources close to Nintendo have pointed to Metroid Prime 2 and Zelda: The Wind Waker 2 announcements (and who knows, a new full-blown Donkey Kong title is long overdue), which are expected to form the backbone of the platform holder's pre-E3 presentation. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has mentioned new, 'gameplay-enhancing' GameCube peripherals this year, which could also very well make an appearance.
Furthermore, Fils-Aime confirms that we'll hear more about the Classic NES Series (Famicom Mini in Japan), with more NES conversions due to be announced, and we already expect to see previously sketchy titles like Paper Mario 2 in the flesh, as Nintendo starts to trickle details about its future projects into the public domain, and make a case for each of its consoles' continued existence.
And of course we still haven't heard anything concrete about Mario 128, a game reportedly deemed so innovative that Nintendo pulled it from its E3 presentation last year to avoid giving the competition any advantage. Whether we'll see it at E3 between May 12th and 14th remains to be seen, but we're guessing Nintendo would like to show it off as soon as possible...