Amid the dozens of rumors surrounding Nintendo’s new fun box, to date the company has confirmed only three things: The still-unnamed console exists, it’s launching next year, and a “playable model” will be demoed in Los Angeles at E3 this summer, which is quickly approaching this June 7th through the 9th.
Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth: “Nintendo has decided to launch in 2012 a system to succeed Wii,” says Nintendo’s Charlie Scibetta, senior director of corporate communications, in an email to G4TV. “We will show a playable model of the new system and announce more specifications at E3.” Unsurprisingly, the company declined further questioning when probed by my glaring Fedora hat, digital pencil, and friendly email emoticons. With only a month until its public debut, it’s unlikely the company will confirm any more than that. But we've already learned more, and you can read on to find out what.
How about a dissection of some of the more popular, if not reliable, rumors in existence, starting with the processing power of the machine, first reported by Game Informer? In short, the system will be HD-ready, sources say. Follow-up reports suggest the box will be “significantly more powerful” than either PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, which is understandable given that those respective systems are nearing five and six years of age.
“From what I'm hearing and reading, I actually do believe Nintendo is really going to amp up the power on this new console,” says Mark Ormond, an avid gamer from Salt Lake City. “Does that mean ‘significantly’ more powerful than the PS3? I think it does.”
Not everyone believes in such a high-powered turnabout for Nintendo, however. “I think most believe that the next Nintendo console needs to demonstrate a considerable leap in horsepower compared to the Wii, but I’d be surprised if it was significantly more powerful than the PS3,” says Keith Fuller, an independent video game consultant.
“Any importance Nintendo has placed on improving their tech – be it processing power, HD, or anything else — will be a noteworthy selling point,” he adds, “but I’d be surprised to hear hard numbers from them.” As a reminder, Nintendo hasn’t officially revealed technical specs for any of its hardware in over a decade — not since the unveiling of GameCube and Game Boy Advance at the turn of the century — so don’t be surprised if they follow suit with their newest system.
Apart from graphical expectations, the most rampant rumor out there is the screen-based controller first reported by IGN. In short, rumors say the new controller will feature a six-inch touch screen capable of video playback, in addition to analog sticks, face, and shoulder buttons. The controller will also be able to stream content or simulcast from a connected TV, and maybe even function as a household-tethered portable device when in the vicinity the console.
Poppycock? Not exactly, says oft-quoted (and more right than wrong) analyst Michael Pachter. “They all sound accurate, except for ‘streaming from the TV,’” he says. “I don’t see how that kind of connection works, and think ‘streaming from the Internet’ makes more sense. Perhaps the controller would stream through the console like Netflix, but I don’t really see the point in streaming to the controller if you already have it on the TV.”
Doubtful, says Ormond. “I'm not buying the screen-based controller,” he says. “It just doesn't make any sense. A six-inch screen is huge — an inch less than Blackberry’s debut tablet — and I can't visualize how that would work. Plus, it seems too far removed from motion controls, and I don't really see Nintendo abandoning motion at this point. ”
Fuller says the reality is probably somewhere in between, but only if the price is right. “Given Nintendo’s history of innovation with the Wiimote and the 3DS, I think a touchscreen controller is entirely within the realm of possibility,” he says. “But the counter-argument regarding what that would do to system price is understandable.”
Kevin Cassidy, the world’s most informed blogger on the topic of Nintendo, is confident the controller has some kind of screen, regardless of how it’s implemented. “No matter what new rumors come out, the screen-based controller is always brought up,” he says. “I don't know about the touch aspect or haptic technology rumors, but I feel safe in saying that there is indeed a screen.”
As for the name of the thing, Project Cafe seems to be the front-running codename. That said, the system has also been referred to as Wii 2, Wii HD, Nintendo Stream, and Nintendo Feel — none of which have been confirmed by company officials, and likely won’t be until E3.
So if the console doesn’t arrive until 2012, just how quickly might Nintendo clear the air? In other words, what can we expect them to announce this summer at the coming out party, and what will the save for next year prior to release?
“Form factor and control innovation are definitely things that are reasonable to expect from an announcement this year,” says Fuller.
Pachter agrees. “We’ll see a functioning system at E3, so we will learn all about the hardware except price. I also expect some high profile launch titles to be announced, and would bet one has ‘Mario’ in it,” he says sarcastically.
Ormond suspects Nintendo will unveil as much as they have in the past with previous systems. “If the translations are accurate, I see a working demo this year much like they had with the 3DS last year. This means controller and all with some early first and third party demos that will be playable. Nintendo loves the long booth lines at E3 because that means fewer people are talking about Xbox and PS3.”
Cassidy expects more of a informative tease this summer, followed by the full monty at next year’s E3. “If we follow Nintendo's tradition with other platforms, I wouldn't expect price and final in-box details until very close to launch. We know the system will launch after April 2012, so I would expect Nintendo's E3 2012 showing to be a major blowout for the system.”
Similarly, Steinberg says Sony or Microsoft aren’t helping to force Nintendo’s hand when it comes to divulging information. “If you're Iwata and co., and Microsoft and Sony really don't plan to introduce new consoles until at least 2014, why reveal your whole hand just yet?”
Still, that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill. Just last week, Kotaku reported the new console will support 25GB optical discs and have an 8GB solid state drive. If accurate, that means Nintendo will likely stick with retail as the primary way to buy its games, not to mention keeping downloadable content as a secondary, much like it was on Wii.
Whatever the final form factor, a lot of people wonder what the new console might mean for not only console gaming, but for Nintendo in general. Can the company win the “console war” for a second consecutive cycle in the wake of Wii, like it did post-NES with the Super Nintendo?
Ormond says no. “I think Nintendo is too prideful to see the real competition, and it isn't named Microsoft or Sony,” he says, predicting that an updated and aggressively-priced Apple TV could obviate the modern console as we know it.
Pachter says yes, at least for a little while. “Of course they’ll lead. Microsoft and Sony won’t release new consoles until a couple of years after, so Nintendo will have a free pass.”
Steinberg says it depends. “If the company can get their third-party support, online connectivity, and downlodable content in order — all of which were lacking on Wii — then Nintendo is a strong contender for another first-place finish.
Cassidy sees any short-changing of Nintendo as a failure to recognize the company’s 120 year legacy. “Nintendo still has what it takes to surprise and dominate the industry,” he maintains. “The Wii may not be everyone's go-to platform for core gaming, but there are millions and millions of owners out there that have gotten a lot of fun from the platform. To dismiss Nintendo as incapable of delivering that sort of experience once again would be silly.”
Blake Snow is a freelance journalist, media consultant, and lives in Utah with his family. Despite his interest, he has no idea what to expect from next-generation consoles. Contact information can be found on his website.