Nintendo Can't Win For Losing

by Rick Powers - May 17, 2005, 6:44 pm PDT

Nintendo’s press conference manages to both stun fans and under-deliver at the same time, despite showing off not one, but two new hardware devices.

Nintendo’s had a rough few years. It’s never quite managed to live up to the expectations that its most rabid fans have for the company that brought video games back from the brink of extinction. When the biggest game Nintendo unveils during a press conference is a Pac Man “connectivity” title, you know the company is struggling to inspire its legions of followers.

This year, expectations were set incredibly high, perhaps unfairly so. Microsoft launches a prime-time MTV special (during sweeps no less) in order to promote Xbox 360. Sony counters at its press conference with a PlayStation 3 console that appears to include everything but the kitchen sink, including the mammoth storage capacity of BluRay. Nintendo had been dropping hints over the last week, information started to leak out, but Nintendo still managed to surprise the crowd. Sort of.

Nintendo makes incredibly efficient hardware, but many fear it will be terribly underpowered compared to the astounding performance capability of the competition. Xbox 360 is supposed to be roughly ten times more powerful than the Xbox. PS3 is over twenty times more powerful than PS2. Revolution comes in at a paltry three times the power of GameCube. On specs alone, Nintendo doesn’t even seem to be competing, but the situation was the same with the GameCube. Still, some gamers will only buy “the most powerful system”, and you can expect that Sony will try to plant that seed in the minds of gamers from the get-go. On looks, Nintendo has come up with a high-tech, sexy sleek machine, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the marketplace will decide what looks best in their homes.

In terms of features, Nintendo finally seems to be delivering on demands we’ve made of the company for years, but it all seems a bit late. Wi-Fi is great, but there is faster wireless out now, and wired broadband connections are getting faster every day. While DVD playback is finally a reality (but only if you purchase an add-on), Sony has already raised that bar with Blu-Ray support for high-definition movies.

All is not lost, however. Nintendo could score big with fans still nurturing fond memories of the games of their youth with the availability of their back catalog for download (for a price, of course). These older gamers are clearly back in Nintendo’s sights, as this year’s press guide featured absolutely no photos of their products being played by children at all. Nintendo is desperately trying to shed its “kiddy” image. It’s still a risk, and after the press conference, internet fans could be heard saying that downloadable games have been done before.

Nintendo also unveiled a new version of the Game Boy Advance hardware, and while the Game Boy Micro looks great, and is tiny, it’s yet another revision of the hardware that was notably less than “advanced” when it was first released, four years ago. By Nintendo’s own admission, the Game Boy line sells very well, and this is an obvious attempt to milk that market even further. Micro is great, but it’s just more of the same, in ever shrinking packages.

Somehow, even when giving fans exactly what they wanted, Nintendo was a step behind. Sony’s announcement of the PS3 obviously set Nintendo on their heels, a position in which Nintendo has been far too comfortable as of late. Admitting that it was holding back, Nintendo omitted key details in terms of specifications and availability; even the much-speculated-upon controller was a no-show. There were signs of life, however. Reggie was aggressive and brash, and even Iwata-san was bold when asking “Who’s your daddy?” and bragging about how he could beat Reggie at Smash Bros. As a whole, Nintendo would do well to learn this lesson quickly, take a more aggressive stance, and show its fans that they’re willing to fight. And when they do, they have to leave it all in the ring.

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