Nintendo’s Revolution

Although many details of Nintendo’s Revolution still remain a mystery, the President of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, has finally revealed the Revolution controller at the Tokyo Games Show in Japan.

Technical Obvervations

The prior images of the black revolution have been replaced with a flashy white (almost iPod themed) console and controller. The primary part of the controller closely resembles a TV remote and features two big buttons (one on the underside), two small buttons, and then ‘start’ and ‘select’ which are now accompanied by a ‘home’ button. Of course the D-pad we have come to expect is present too. A power button capable of turning off the console can be seen at the top of the controller, and there are lights at the bottom to determine the numbering of players. In another picture you can see that various colour combinations are going to be made available, but to me the default white looks the best.

The remote is accompanied by an analogue attachment (featuring two trigger buttons) that can be plugged into the bottom of the remote and is linked via a wire. Other attachments are said to be available too.

However, the most revolutionary factor is that the controller responds to physical movements in a real 3D-space. This means is that you can wave the controller around, but instead of having just two axes, X and Y, like a mouse, you add a third axis, Z. From a video posted recently you can see people doing things such as fishing, or waving a sword, by simply waving the remote forwards and back. This is a very interesting idea and works by placing sensors on top of the TV. But the big question is how effective will this be? I’m sure we all remember the old arcade style ‘light guns’ that were all the rage back in the time of the Mega Drive, but I suspect this will be far more sophisticated. In particular, using the remote as a gun may prove interesting, but the quality of gameplay may be highly dependent on the size of your TV screen.

We still await more information regarding the hardware inside of the Revolution.

Future Prospects

First of all, it’s great that Nintendo have tried to do something truly innovative. I’ve been on their back for not doing so many times in this generation.

The TV-style remote and mini analogue certainly put Nintendo at odds with Sony and Microsoft. I think it’s safe to say that the die-hard Nintendo fans will already be on board; if the GameCube wasn’t a let down to them they must have very thick skin. But more importantly, how will mainstream gamers and the press react? There is certainly scope for public ridicule and much mocking, and surely this is something that could be bordering on a disaster, but with any luck the innovation will be welcomed with open arms. The real decider for me is whether Nintendo can deliver on the games front. Do we really want to play Mario or Zelda with a remote control? For me the answer is most definitely no. However new and interesting ideas for first-person shooter and Tekken-style fighting games would be a very fresh thing to try, but I fear Nintendo will lean too strongly towards their back catalogue and rely on novelty party games. The only way the Revolution can be a true success is if Nintendo appeal to the mainstream through their new toy. They could, for example, target adults wanting an interactive action-film experience. If Nintendo stick to their GameCube-style range of games then I feel the technological innovation will be undermined by a lack of software vision.

Such a radical control mechanism throws up a few key issues that will prove an obstacle. Third party support has always been something that Nintendo has struggled with, and for me the Revolution will struggle with this even more than the GameCube. I just can’t see developers going out of their way to create bizarre exclusive games for the Revolution. With the high development costs of games at the moment many developers will only be interested in releasing all-format (or multi-format) titles. A prime example of this is the Pro Evolution Soccer series. Because of Nintendo’s financial inferiority they couldn’t secure the game on their system, and now that they have a new control mechanism there is no chance that Konami will take advantage of this and develop a special version of the series. I suspect this will be common amongst developers and publishers. Yet all Nintendo need is a few (new) world class games to win everyone over.

To me the Revolution signals a shift in Nintendo’s approach. Until now they have played the same game as Sony and Microsoft, effectively going as mainstream as possible; but they have concluded that they are unable to compete on a level footing for mainstream appeal. As a result I believe they will rely more heavily than ever on 1st and 2nd party titles, perhaps to the point where 3rd party games are few and far between. Perhaps Nintendo have come to the conclusion that in the long term they simply have to do something completely different in order to survive, even if it means doing all of the software work themselves.

For years now I have suspected an inevitable SEGA-esque decline into the software-only market, but this is clearly a last ditch attempt to secure a strong position in the console arena. Will this prove successful? As of yet I remain highly unconvinced that this will be anything more than a niche product. However, of late there has been a real need for innovation in gaming, so maybe Nintendo have timed this right, but I think the ideal time would be in three years after people see that the Xbox 360 and PS3 are nothing more than evolutions rather than revolutions. Whether the people choose tried and tested gaming mechanisms or something refreshing will be interesting to see.