Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nintendo's "Project Cafe" - The Next Wave Of Gaming Is Brewing

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen the first substantial hints of what we can expect from Nintendo’s next generation home console, codenamed “Project Café”, effectively the successor to the mammoth-selling Wii and Nintendo’s first truly high definition platform. What exactly “Project Café” refers to is anyone’s guess;, however it’s taken on the unofficial moniker of “Wii 2”. My forays thorough the online message boards, chat rooms and gaming forums has revealed a myriad of reactions, ranging from elation at the prospect of a new HD console to complete indifference or outright dismissal. Nintendo, like Apple, has always stood out from their competition by doing things a little different and they have built a solid brand as a result. So what does the future hold for this new system? Read on for my admittedly premature and completely speculative thoughts on the matter.

The Wii is perhaps the most polarizing console ever released, with legions of people who love and hate it in equal measure. The dead horse that represents these perceived strengths and weaknesses has been beaten to death, so I feel no need to go into that here. What I will say is that I thoroughly enjoy what the Wii has to offer and I play it often. Since the Wii became a homerun success by pushing towards a casual market with the abundance of sports, party and fitness games, it seems a no-brainer that Project Café will incorporate these kinds of games as well, which gives the Nintendo haters plenty to gripe about. What will change is the HD capabilities of the console, which opens this system to compete with the other consoles by supporting the big name cross-platform titles, something the Wii currently falls behind with. However, what Nintendo supporters will no doubt be pushing for above all else is the continuation of Nintendo’s winning streak with their franchise titles, such as the excellent Super Mario Galaxy games and the recent successes “Kirby’s Epic Yarn” and “Donkey Kong Country Returns”. The potential these titles have in HD is phenomenal and we can also see some Nintendo exclusives reaching new heights. Perhaps the next installment of The Conduit will be able to compete with the big guns in the first-person shooter genre, as opposed to being an interesting “also ran” that not many people will remember or go back to. The potential is there, that’s for sure.

The latest rumors also surround the unique controller that the console will have, which will allegedly combine the button layout and design of the standard controller for the other consoles with the touch tablet interface of the Nintendo DS. This could mean touch screen support for various games as well as the ability to play Nintendo DS games on your home console, which makes sense given how the Super Nintendo and the Gamecube had official attachments that allows you to play Gameboy and Gameboy Advance games through the console. Motion control support would be essential for supporting backwards compatibility with Wii titles, however the extent to which motion control will play a part in next gen titles is something we can only speculate on. Give how garden variety motion control is nowadays, Nintendo can’t rely in it as they did in 2007 when the concept was fairly new, so I don’t expect that we’ll see this functionality being as dominant in the next console as it currently is on the Wii.

So will the next Nintendo console be the success that the Wii has proven to be? That is will be successful is not a question, but I don’t think we will see the same industry shake up that we saw wit the Wii. Gaming has come a long way during the past five years and gamers are a little more jaded, so Project Café (or whatever it will end up being called) will need to satisfy two camps, the casual gamers who buy the Wii for it’s accessibility and the more seasoned gamers who favor the HD graphics and cinematic gameplay we currently get on the other consoles. The current speculated street date for the next Nintendo console is late 2012, while speculation on Sony and Microsoft’s next consoles places a street date of 2014 at the earliest, so this time buffer could put Nintendo at a big advantage. Every console has it’s first wave of early adopters and technophiles who line up for days to be first in line on release day, so not having to compete with other companies is a big plus.

My personal beliefs on what will make this console a success right out of the gate and what will sustain it against formidable competition from Sony and Microsoft is two fold. First, bringing their A-game to the system’s launch is crucial and something Nintendo has resisted doing in recent years. This is evidenced by the Wii and the Gamecube which didn’t see new Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Kibry games until well into the system’s life, and the 3DS that is only seeing a re-release of Ocarina of Time at this point. Having at least one new franchise title that really shows what the system is capable of will definitely get the hearts of Nintendo fans pumping. The second thing I feel will help is to correct certain deficiencies with the Wii that puts it at a disadvantage with other consoles, especially with their online service. Given that Nintendo is moving into the HD realm, online gameplay will be a greater concern and, let’s face it, the Wii is not known as a strong online console. The abysmal friend code system is a chore to wrangle with and finding active online games is often difficult, so this will definitely need to be addressed. Having static user IDs and a more user-friendly online interface is a must for the next generation. Also, love it or hate it, an achievement system that allows people to display the spoils of their online gaming will also up Nintendo’s stock in the eyes of gamers who are into that kind of thing. It seems logical to implement such a system since every other platform currently supports it.

In any case, anything Nintendo releases will definitely have it’s share of fans and detractors, but one cannot deny that they have become successful by being different and their brand loyalty with consumers remains strong. Since Nintendo is moving into the next phase and embracing HD, their need to be competitive and also complacent with gaming trends is higher than ever. All of the news currently is unofficial rumor that may or may not come to fruition, but there is a launch expected at the 2011 E3 and gamers will definitely be waiting with great anticipation for official news. I among them, since I’ve been a Nintendo fan for almost 25 years, through thick and thin, and I have never dislike a system they have put out. The prospect of Nintendo’s potential in the HD market is very exciting, and provided they listen to fans and correct the issues of past consoles, I see it as a great success.

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