Two key messages were pushed very strongly by all of Nintendo’s speakers – namely that although the company acknowledges difficulties and failings of the GameCube to date (president Satoru Iwata began his talk with a surprisingly frank assessment of key challenges and failures of the Cube over the past year), it still has no intention of withdrawing from the console wars, and that it considers connectivity between the Cube and the GBA to be one of the most important aspects of its future game titles.
Of the scant number of titles announced at the show, almost all rely to some extent on linking the two consoles. Shigeru Miyamoto introduced a new standalone four-player title which builds upon the gameplay of the Four Swords component seen in the GBA version of Link To The Past, and is played on both the GBA screens and on the main GameCube screen, while Will Wright was brought on stage to announce GBA link cable functionality in forthcoming Cube and GBA versions of The Sims.
Miyamoto also announced a new Pac-Man title, of all things, which is in development in collaboration with Namco and features a four-player multiplayer mode designed for GBA link play. Like the Four Swords title, the gameplay looks highly innovative and fun, requiring significant communication between three of the players who gang up to catch the fourth, but it’s hard to see this as a mass-market title – a problem which faces the GBA link functionality in general, as despite Nintendo’s enthusiasm, there’s still some scepticism that it will appeal to consumers on a large scale.
Beyond these announcements, and showcases of more “mature” upcoming titles including Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, Resident Evil 4 and body-switching FPS game Geist, there wasn’t a lot of information to be gleaned from the Nintendo conference; as several analysts and commentators said afterwards, while Iwata accurately highlighted many of Nintendo’s problems in the marketplace, he failed to show any solutions for these problems. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to a cure, but some indication of what that cure might be would have been much more reassuring.
One interesting detail which did emerge was Nintendo’s commitment to developing a successor to the GameCube – and according to Iwata, the company has no plans to allow its rivals to get a head-start on it in the next generation race. This would suggest that Nintendo plans to roll out its next console ahead of any releases by Microsoft or Sony – with early 2005 seeming like the most likely date, but a launch as early as the end of 2004 is potentially possible should the company decide that the GameCube needs to be replaced relatively early in its lifespan.