It’s official! After a week of making the rounds in the videogame rumor mill, the console that will be Nintendo’s successor to the Wii has been officially announced, and should be hitting our living rooms in 2012. What, you don’t believe me? Nintendo even has the announcement on their website. We won’t have to wait long to see what it can do either, as the press release states that Nintendo is planning to have playable demo model at this year’s E3 conference in early June.
Currently codenamed “Project Café,” the new console is rumored to be able to do a few things that the current Wii cannot, like provide HD graphics that are on par with or beyond the abilities of the Xbox 360 or PS3. Another rumor, which is far more interesting than just graphics to me, is the controller, which is said to be a tablet-style touchscreen, which may or may not be able to stream media from the console in addition to controlling games.
This is the right time to announce the new system because Nintendo is facing a drop in Wii sales this year, causing a drop in profit to ¥77 billion, a 66% decrease from last year’s ¥228 billion. In addition to people spending less for entertainment while the economy struggles, the uniqueness of motion control that Nintendo hung its hat on has been more or less eliminated with Sony’s Playstation Move Microsoft’s Kinect. Sony and Microsoft, however, have both stated that their new consoles won’t be released until 2014, giving Nintendo a window to launch a console uncontested by the other two gaming giants. If there was ever a time for an innovative idea, that time is now.
Now I’m just a guy who plays games, so if I understand the advantages of being there early, then Nintendo president Satoru Iwata definitely must, and could therefore have some tricks up his sleeve. Iwata said about Project Café that “it will offer a new way of playing games within the home.” Calling game-changers is what Nintendo has always been good at, from when we saw the NES Zapper light gun in 1985 to the first release of the Wii in 2006. Even their R.O.B. controller was a novel idea, despite it only working with two games and never really catching on with the gaming public. I’m not even sure the Move or Kinect exist if it hadn’t been for the instant and sustained popularity of the Wii. Nintendo wasn’t involved in a race with Sony or Microsoft to produce true-to-life images and media capabilities but was still highly competitive in the market. I personally don't even care that Wii’s graphics haven't blown my mind. It just focuses on fun, and presents itself at an affordable price for a family console.
The main point is that Nintendo knows how to think differently, and that includes creating ways of capturing people that don’t traditionally fit a “gamer” profile because of it. From that alone I would venture that “HD visuals” is only going to be a minor bullet point compared to what they could have planned for control style and other functionality. I, for one, am very excited to see what they have in store for us at E3; if they can combine their novel ideas with doing more for games made by third party developers, we could see some very interesting things. Additionally, that two year head start sure doesn’t hurt.