by Ken Gagne

Ah, Nintendo. Microsoft spurned my attempts at journalistic infiltration, so the first event of E3 2001 I attended was the Nintendo Press Conference. Standing amid the throngs of gamers pressing their bodies and each other through tight gates, I could imagine how rockers are crushed to death at concerts. Fortunately we made our way downstairs without fatalities — "we" being CompuServe staffers Will White, Jon Sohn, Kevin Young, T.J. Falls, and Joe Talladira, Joe's friend Eddy Wysoki, and former VGC staffers Ian Johnston and Lee Rogers — found our seats, and awaited the conference.

Peter Main appeared, aware we were anxious to see the debut of the Nintendo GameCube, so he was quick to speak on the Game Boy Advance. The 32-bit handheld launched in Japan on March 21st, selling 1.6 million units in the first five weeks, and will launch on June 11th in America with about 20 games. 200,000 of the 500,000 units available on launch day are preordered; another 500K will be available two weeks after launch, with a goal of 24 million units sold in 12 months.

Main then invited Satori Awata of the NCL Board of Directors to talk about what will make the GameCube unique among the next generation of consoles — what Awata called "the Nintendo difference." Today's industry trends of multi-platform game releases, repetitive sequels, and focus on graphics have preached mistrust and boredom to the gaming community, and has made the console a generic commodity. "The Nintendo difference" is innovation, quality, characters, and heritage. Nintendo has these attributes in spades, since, unlike large electronics corporations, entertainment is their speciality. As Awata put it, "We are only an entertainment company, but we are working to become the best entertainment company anywhere" — as demonstrated by the first GameCube demo: Super Smash Bros. Melee.

The new Smash Bros. game has favorites Mario, Yoshi, Princess Peach, Captain Falcon, Kirby, Pikachu, Fox, Donkey Kong, and Ness, and new characters Shiek (from Zelda: Ocarina of Time) and Ice Climber (now there's an old game!). The gameplay looks similar to the original game, but the graphics are all new, with changing camera perspectives. Seeing Nintendo's icons together in one GameCube game was really an experience. This game will be playable on the show floor tomorrow, as will Luigi's Mansion.

Mansion is the latest Mario game, but is more akin to Ghostbusters. Luigi explores an abandoned manor, capturing ghosts and coins with his vacuum. If he can vacate the house of spirits, he'll save his brother, Mario.

The next game is the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto. In Pikmin, players control swarms of plantlike insects to tear down walls, collect items, and defeat larger insects. Odd, cute, Lemmings-like.

Nintendo briefly showed on video their entire lineup in development:

Super Smash Bros. Melee Pikmin
Starfox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet Luigi's Mansion
Rogue Squadron II Animal Forest
Raven Blade Metroid Prime
Wave Race Blue Storm Mario Kart
NBA Courtside 2002 Starring Kobe Bryant Eternal Darkness
Disney's Mickey Kameo
Donkey Kong Racing Zelda

Plenty of third-party titles will be coming, according to Nintendo, because the GameCube is developer-friendly. Though the Nintendo 64 created new genres of games, the GameCube will give developers the freedom to realize the worlds they've imagined without scaling it down to the system's capabilities. This is due in part to Nintendo's partnership with several engineering firms, including IBM and Panasonic. The latter, known in Japan as Masushita, will release in that country a GameCube-compatible machine with extended capabilities, including CD and DVD functionality.

The GameCube controller will have built-in force feedback, and the WaveBird, a wireless controller, will also be available at launch time. The Game Boy Advance can be used as a GameCube controller, too.

The Nintendo GameCube will launch in Japan on September 14th, and in the USA on November 5th. This announcement came hours after Microsoft announced the November 8th launch of their $300 Xbox. A price for the GameCube will be announced on May 24th.

Nintendo not only had a well-organized presentation, they demonstrated an uncanny sense for what their audience wanted. Though Luigi's Mansion was not entirely what we expected, and nobody knew what to think of Pikmin, there was a surprising lack of Pokemon (such as Crystal for Game Boy Color) coverage or of Game Boy Advance titles, which we'll be seeing on store shelves soon enough anyway. The speakers were interesting and intelligible, yet brief and to-the-point.

Yup… I love Nintendo. 

This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Gamebits, 16-May-01