Nintendo virtually conceded the next generation console war today in Los Angeles, unveiling a new console that, rather like the DS, focuses far more on the game experience than hardware evolution.
In a conference that also saw the launch of a new miniature GBA dubbed Game Boy Micro, the unveiling of a new trailer for The Legend of Zelda - subtitled Twilight Princess - and the unveiling of a free-to-use worldwide DS gaming service called "Nintendo WiFi Connection", Nintendo took the wraps off its Revolution system and revealed that "the advances will relate to area that have no direct bearing on gameplay".
The Revolution will be Nintendo's smallest console - the final form apparently smaller even than the dainty sleek black prototype held up by Satoru Iwata and seen on the Internet earlier today - and plays 12cm optical discs as well as GameCube titles, features 512MB of onboard Flash memory storage with the option to add SD memory cards, has two USB 2.0 ports, stands up straight or lies flat, and, critically, opens the gateway to the company's entire pre-Cube back catalogue on NES, SNES and N64 via a broadband service governed by a proprietary Digital Rights Management system.
While president Satoru Iwata insisted that when we see the graphics, we will say "wow" - thanks to work from IBM (CPU codenamed Broadway) and ATI (GPU codenamed Hollywood) - there was little to back this up, with a teaser trailer for next-generation Metroid barely approaching the levels of detail witnessed in real-time already on both Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, even though it was plain that most attendees would happily take more Metroid. Us among them.
Indeed, in an article in USA Today this morning - typically where Nintendo debuts its new kit prior to E3 conferences - the line was that Revolution is two or three times faster than GameCube, whereas Sony and Microsoft are claiming much greater leaps. Pinch of salt required of course, and Nintendo are usually a bit more honest with their technological blustering, but it was easy to believe.
The Internet will be central to Revolution, Iwata said, with WiFi built into every unit, and the console will be "functional and appealing to every member of the household" from wireless controllers based on Broadcom technology through to the game interface itself.
Nintendo is working on several WiFi titles starring key characters, Iwata said, with "one or two" ready for launch. "I am pushing our teams to make sure Smash Bros. is one of them," he joked, alluding to his introduction where he spoke of "kicking Reggie's you-know-what" at the GameCube version. "That way no matter where Reggie is, I can always beat him."
Other titles on the way for launch include Metroid, Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong, Nintendo said, with Iwata concluding: "It is the game experience that will most separate Revolution from its competitors."
Iwata also spoke of Shigeru Miyamoto's involvement. "For Revolution, Miyamoto is challenging his team to create something new." His new game will debut with Revolution.
"Key second party developers" will also provide exclusive content for Revolution, we were told, with Square Enix already hard at work on a WiFi-enabled version of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle, while Nintendo expects "strong third-party support in both hemispheres" because of a belief that they will appreciate our creative approach.
In terms of media support, Nintendo said that Revolution would play back DVD movie content, but that it would require "a small internal attachment" to do this.
The most positive thing, however, was the sense that Revolution will make strides into areas that neither Microsoft nor Sony are attempting to control. It was the backwards compatibility on two levels - described as the "secret weapon" in press literature distributed after the conference - that drew the most interest. "We have designed Revolution to be a virtual console capable of downloading 20 years of Nintendo content," we were told. It will play NES, SNES and N64 titles, and will be able to play "virtually every Nintendo console game ever created". Iwata said he hoped it would "make us all feel young again".
Concluding the Revolution segment of the conference, Iwata said the machine "is just a tool" and that "the experience is from the software". Nintendo hopes to keep core gamers interested, attracted casual gamers using "consumer friendly content, control and interface" and even draw new gamers to Revolution. "We call this All-Access Gaming," he said.
What he did not call it at any point, however, was a direct competitor to PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, and while it's clear that Revolution will sell in droves thanks to its inventiveness and the strength of the core franchises, it was hard to escape the feeling post-conference that one of the biggest gaming companies in the world had decided to move into new pastures rather than try and compete like for like.
Excitement was palpable - and, if you'll excuse us, bloody loud - but the atmosphere was very different to that which accompanied the unveilings of X360 and PS3. And, it seems fair to say, that sums the Revolution up at this point.