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Nintendo's big E3 surprise comes in little box

The onetime gaming leader stakes claim to pocket gaming, and makes a bid against Sony, Microsoft for next-gen console. Photos: Nintendo talking 'bout a Revolution

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
3 min read
LOS ANGELES--Nintendo, once the unrivaled king of the home video game business, released details of its planned new game console and unveiled a new mini-portable device called the Game Boy Micro.

Nintendo's crowded event at the Kodak Theater here was aimed at taking back some of the buzz captured by Microsoft and Sony, each of which unveiled powerful next-generation game consoles within the past week. But Tuesday's display of the tiny new game player, smaller than an iPod Mini, took many by surprise. (Click here to listen to News.com reporter Rick Shim's audio report from E3.)

The mini-console is aimed at a generation of game players increasingly accustomed to carrying tiny cell phones loaded with games in their pockets--something that's nearly impossible to do with the larger and more powerful PlayStation Portable from Sony.

Nintendo Revolution

"No matter how tight your jeans are, the Game Boy Micro will fit in them," said Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America's executive vice president of sales and marketing. "We created the portable game space and we're not moving out."

As for the new Nintendo console, it's still known by its code name, "Revolution." It will be significantly smaller than its rivals', about the size of several stacked DVD cases, and will come in several as-yet-undetermined colors.

The Revolution will play DVDs, have built-in Wi-Fi and an SD memory card slot, and 512MB of flash memory. Executives said Nintendo would offer a free online gaming service, helping to accelerate the move of console gaming to the Net.

Company executives said the console will be released in 2006. The cost, which was not disclosed, may partly depend on how Sony and Microsoft price their consoles.

The Revolution is critical for Nintendo, which has fared the most poorly of the three major console companies over the past few years.

While retaining significant loyalty among a core audience, particularly younger children and fans of a few Nintendo-only titles such as the "Zelda" series, the company has seen its share of the market plunge.

According to Jupiter Research, Sony led in the United States with 43 percent of the games console market at the end of 2004, followed by Microsoft with 19 percent, and Nintendo's GameCube with 14 percent. Nintendo's Game Boy still dominates the handheld gaming market, although Sony's new PlayStation Portable has raised a serious threat to that crown.

Nintendo's new console will be built around a new IBM processor and a graphics chip from ATI. The company did not initially provide detailed specifications on the guts, however.

The company is taking a less technology-focused approach than Sony and Microsoft, which are touting the processor-heavy, high-definition quality of their graphics. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata alluded to the spiraling costs of developing games for the other platforms, and said his system might compete differently.

"Development costs are pushing into eight figures, and developers are endangered," Iwata said. With the Revolution, "big ideas can prevail over big budgets," he added.

Much of the response to the console, as with its rivals, will depend on what games will initially be available. Executives said that a Super Smash Brothers title would be available on the Revolution, as well as titles using familiar characters and franchises such as Mario, Zelda and Metroid.

The Revolution will be backward-compatible with games created for the GameCube, and fans will also be able to download games from earlier consoles, the company said.

The Game Boy Micro will have the same processing power and play the same games as the Game Boy Advance SP. At 4 inches wide and 2 inches tall, with a 2-inch screen, it will weigh about 2.8 ounces, or about the same as 80 paper clips, the company said. It will be released this fall.

Richard Shim reported from Los Angeles. John Borland reported from San Francisco.