There has been much scepticism in the wake of Project Cafe rumours, both by forum goers and industry insiders alike. Echoing comments from the gaming community on a recent Bonus Round segment, Gametrailers’ Geoff Keighley questioned whether the reported specifications fit within Nintendo’s established Wii strategy of selling dirt-cheap hardware to a casual audience. Is it characteristic of Nintendo to release a hardcore-pleasing HD machine significantly more powerful than its rivals? Is it cost-effective to use high-capacity Blu-ray-like discs and high-res controller screens?
First of all I think we need to eliminate the notion that HD graphics and Xbox 360-level processing power automatically equal an expensive premium device. We all need to remember that Xbox 360 is OLD relatively speaking in today’s world of technology. Nintendo can use affordable parts a couple of generations behind the latest desktop CPUs and GPUs, and still be a couple of generations ahead of the parts Microsoft chose for their circa 2005 console. In 2011 even the mobile processors that power pocket-sized smartphones and tablets have enough grunt to run modern 3D games and output it at 1080p.
Perhaps the initial disbelief that Nintendo could outmuscle its rivals is an indication that consumers are becoming satisfied with what we have now. Some 5-and-a-bit years into this console generation, many still regard the visuals that 360 and PS3 pump out as being impressive or ‘high-end’, and worthy of premium pricing. Indeed it’s hard not to be dazzled when seeing a Gears 3 or Rage or Skyrim in motion. Remind yourself that this level of performance now starts at just £150/$200 for the Xbox 360 4GB console, which is a good comparison to Nintendo’s reportedly harddrive-less future console.
What of the suspiciously Blu-sounding 25GB optical discs that the games are apparently supplied on? Overkill? Not really when you factor in the lifecycle of a console; do you really want to be stuck with regular DVDs 5 years from now? Those boundaries are being broken already, long before Cafe launches. Games like Final Fantasy XIII, Rage and LA Noire are all multidisc for the 360 versions versus a convenient single disc on the PS3. The amount of games requiring large capacity discs will inevitably continue to rise.
More than anything else, word of the 6-inch ‘HD’ screens embedded into the controllers has caused people to cry “fake!” How can Nintendo justify such an expense? Undoubtedly such a move would represent a significant chunk of the cost of the system. Although seemingly superfluous at first (we get on fine without personal satellite screens now right?), it does in fact gel completely with Nintendo’s incessant need to differentiate itself and innovate. If not for its extravagant controllers, what reason do you have to choose Cafe over the already established HD consoles.
It is even possible that Nintendo may not be interested in pricing Cafe in the low impulse-buy range, at least to begin with. Wii and DS were hit by stock shortages for years as demand massively exceeded supply. It quickly became clear that the first wave of customers would buy them no matter what the price, as Wii consoles on eBay started going for more than double the recommended retail price. For its most recent hardware launch – the 3DS – eyebrows were raised when Nintendo set the price at something closer to what the PS3 sells for now, rather than what has come to be expected of a handheld.
None of the leaked details of Nintendo’s new console are outside the realm of plausibility, although the direction they seem to be embarking on post-Wii may surprise some. When talking about Nintendo you can guarantee that the surprises are never over; the internet sources spilling the beans pre-E3 are surely not privy to some fantastic details that can only come from Mr Iwata himself when he takes to the stage at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.