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Nintendo's Revolution is nigh

[UPDATE 2] Nintendo's next-gen console is two to three times as powerful as the GameCube, backward compatible, and online; system confirmed for 2006, prices not; DS goes online and Game Boy Micro announced; next-gen Mario, Metroid, and Zelda confirmed.


LOS ANGELES--Nintendo held its pre-E3 press conference this morning and confirmed speculation that it would announce its contribution to next-generation gaming. Plans for its future console, the Revolution, were revealed at an auditorium off Hollywood Boulevard.

Nintendo is the last of the "Big Three" game-console makers to reveal its next-gen plans. Microsoft took the lid off its future console, the Xbox 360, last week, and Sony unveiled the PlayStation 3 yesterday at its pre-E3 conference.

To cheers from the crowd, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata proudly held a "Revolution prototype" aloft in his hand--but did not hook it up to any displays or turn it on. The Revolution design didn't follow suit with its curvaceous competitors, the concave Xbox 360 and the convex PlayStation 3.

In fact, its simple rectangular design could easily be mistaken for a modem at first glance. However, like its competitors, the unit can stand vertically or lie supine. The black console (other optional colors are in the works) can fit snugly in a gray stand, where it is pitched upward at a slight angle for vertical positioning, or it can be removed and laid flat (looking eerily similar to Apple's Powerbook batteries).

Revolution's enigmatic controllers were not revealed, but they will be wireless. Rumors have been flying that the controllers will be unlike any before, possibly losing buttons in favor of touch screens or incorporating some sort of gyroscopic functions.

By Nintendo's own admission, according to a report from USA Today, the system is two to three times as powerful as its current-generation console, the GameCube. Sony's PlayStation 3, announced yesterday, is reportedly dozens of times more powerful than its predecessor, the PlayStation 2.

However, Nintendo told the newspaper, "It's not all about having 'turbo power.' It's about what you do with it." What will it have to work with? Iwata did not reveal many of the game console's specifications, but he did mention that the Revolution will have 512MB of onboard flash memory and will be expandable with two SD memory card slots.

Eschewing the company's previous business ideas, the Revolution will be online-friendly and will support a broadband gaming service similar to that of Microsoft's Xbox Live. Its most significant contribution to online gaming will be the ability to download Nintendo's entire catalog of NES, SNES, and Nintendo 64 console games. As for GameCube titles, they have the potential to be downloadable, though it's not clear whether the games will be saved to storage devices or memory cards.

For those who would rather just pop in their hard copy of Mario Sunshine, Nintendo offers a simple solution: backward compatibility. As indicated before, the Revolution, like the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, will be able to play all the games from the current-generation GameCube, as well as DVDs through its blue-LED-illuminated front-loading media drive, though the unit will require "an internal attachment" to play movies.

Nintendo announced that it has "big plans" for the Metroid franchise on the Revolution--showing a brief cinematic teaser--and that Mario and Zelda games are already in the works. Iwata also stated that Square Enix is working on a Wi-Fi version of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for the console. A brief Metroid Prime 3 trailer was shown as well, and the crowd went berserk when Iwata said that an online version of Super Smash Bros. would be available at launch.

Reggie Fils-Aime, chief marketing officer of Nintendo, also officially announced that the Nintendo DS will go online, offering connection through Internet hot spots. Nintendo will not charge for the service, nor will it ask for a fee for online first-party games.

The premier online game for the DS will be a new Tony Hawk title from Activision. Nintendo did not reveal the full name of the game, nor did it announce a release date. However, Nintendo did say that an online version of Mario Kart for the DS would be playable on the E3 show floor.

Nintendo also revealed a new edition of its Game Boy Advance handheld. The Game Boy Micro shrinks the already diminutive GBA down further and still retains the functions of the GBA SP. The unit is slightly larger than an iPod mini at 4 inches wide, 2 inches tall, and .7 inches deep, and it can fit easily into a gamer's back pocket--"even tight jeans," as Fils-Aime put it. "It's a hip new way to show off your portable passion."

The unit, which weighs a mere 2.8 ounces, will play all Game Boy Advance games and will have customizable faceplates. However, there are no new multimedia functions to speak of--yet. Speaking to GameSpot, Nintendo vice president of marketing and communications George Harrison said Nintendo was considering releasing a version of the Play-Yan video and music GBA player in the US when the Micro is released this fall.

Be sure to check back for more information on the Revolution and Nintendo's press conference. GameSpot News will be updating this story throughout the day.

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