E3: Nintendo Revolution, Game Boy Micro unveiled

Nintendo on Tuesday offered assembled media the first look at a prototype of their new Revolution console, due out in 2006. Details were scarce, however - Nintendo made no attempt to offer performance specifications or pricing. They also outlined their plans for Wi-Fi connectivity for the popular DS handheld system and introduced the Game Boy Micro, an iPod mini-sized handheld game system capable of playing Game Boy Advance titles.

The Revolution Was Not Televised

“And now you say you want a Revolution. Well, we’ve got one,” said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata.

The Revolution uses an IBM PowerPC-derived CPU code-named “Broadway” and a graphics chip set designed by ATI Technologies Inc. called “Hollywood.” Iwata-san held aloft a gleaming obsidian prototype unit, which he carefully noted might not represent the final design of the Revolution when it debuts next year. Iwata-san said that the system is the smallest game console yet designed by Nintendo, about the size of three standard DVD cases stacked together. It’ll be able to be stacked vertically or horizontally.

The Revolution uses a slot-loading drive that plays new 12cm optical discs containing Revolution games, but it will also accept GameCube discs. And with a “small, self-contained attachment,” the Revolution will play DVDs.

The controllers, which were not revealed today, are wireless using technology developed by Broadcom.

Backwards-compatibility doesn’t end with GameCube support - Nintendo describes the Revolution as being a “virtual console” capable of playing Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 games as well. Nintendo plans to release downloadable versions of the games for these older systems, and Iwata-san noted that the Revolution would sport Nintendo’s own form of digital rights management to “deter sharing of intellectual property.”

The Revolution features 512MB of internal flash memory, wireless controllers, two USB 2.0 ports and built in support for Wi-Fi wireless networking. There’s a bay for an SD memory card to expand internal flash memory.

Nintendo plans to leverage its previously announced Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service, a partnership it is developing with GameSpy, to offer online gaming connectivity for Revolution players. The company said there are a number of companies who will be developing Wi-Fi compatible games, and Nintendo is working on making Wi-Fi compatible titles with key franchise characters.

“I am pushing our team to make sure Super Smash Bros. is one of them,” said Iwata-san, who said the game is one of his favorites.

Without any specific details about the system’s performance, Iwata-san added that gamers will turn on the Revolution and be wowed by graphics and gameplay, something Nintendo’s development partners IBM and ATI are working together to assure.

Emphasis on content

The central focus of executive vice president of sales and marketing Reggie Fils-Aime’s speech to the assembled throng of media and analysts wasn’t on hardware or performance, but on content. Nintendo showed off new titles in development that are coming out Nintendo’s GameCube and DS handheld system this year.

While many of the titles received warm and occasionally enthusiastic applause and yells from the crowd, the new title featuring Link, “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” drew the most animated reaction. The game will be coming to GameCube in time for Christmas.

Other GameCube titles expected soon include Battalion Wars, Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix, Mario Baseball, New Super Mario Bros. and Pokemon XD. Game Boy Advance SP titles coming forth include Donkey Kong Country 3, Dynasty Warriors Advance and more.

Nintendo’s emphasis on its DS handheld was on the online connectivity coming through Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, including Mario Kart DS and Animal Crossing DS, two titles due out before the end of the year. Nintendogs, a Shigeiru Miyamoto-designed title for the DS, sports Local Area Network (LAN) support. Miyamoto-san made a brief appearance to demonstrate Nintendogs’ networking support. Iwata-san also noted that Miyamoto-san and his team are working on a new game for Revolution, but offered no details.

Nintendo also highlighted Electroplankton, a new game that turns the DS into a musical instrument. Users can create rhythms and melodies using the DS’s touch screen, interacting with luminescent sea creatures on screen.

Game Boy Micro

Fils-Aime also slipped his hand into his jacket pocket and revealed a new handheld gaming system, the Game Boy Micro. He compared it to Apple’s iPod mini, saying the tiny gaming system was “just a hair bigger and two thirds the weight of an iPod mini.” The system measures 4 x 2 x 0.7 inches, and weighs 2.8 ounces. It has the same processing power as a Game Boy Advance SP, and contains the brightest screen Nintendo’s ever put in a handheld, according to Fils-Aime. The screen also features brightness adjustability for indoor and outdoor play.

Removable faceplates will let Game Boy Micro users customize the look of their systems. The Game Boy Micro draws its power from a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery. And, in a move away from the design of the DS, Nintendo is equipping the Game Boy Micro with a standard headphone jack.

The Game Boy Micro will be released this fall. Pricing was not announced.

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