Nintendo unveils Gamecube launch plans

With less than a month to go before its new game console hits shelves in Japan, Nintendo Co. Ltd. unveiled Thursday more details about the Gamecube console, its launch plans and the software that will be available to consumers buying the new system.

The Gamecube will ship in Japan Sept. 14, followed in the U.S. Nov. 14, and in Europe in early 2002, said Nintendo officials at a Tokyo news conference.

The company holds out big hopes for the success of the console, said Atsushi Asada, executive vice president.

"The console gaming market is still far from healthy," he said. The increasing sales of the last few years have been led by jumps in hardware sales and not software, which is decreasing. "We hope the Gamecube can break this cycle," he said before describing his company's new console as a "masterpiece of video game console design."

At launch, Nintendo is planning to have 500,000 units available for domestic customers and announced today that it has increased the initial shipment for the U.S. market to 700,000. By the end of the year, Nintendo hopes to have shipped 1.4 million consoles in Japan and 1.1 million consoles in the U.S. and for this to increase to a total of 4 million for both markets combined by the end of March 2002.

Helping sales by the end of the year will be a selection of consoles available in colors other than the violet console available at launch. Nintendo plans to offer orange and black consoles in Japan in November 2001, complete with matching controllers, and also to put on sale a controller in a color the company calls violet and clear.

On the software side, three games will be available at launch in Japan: "Luigi's Mansion" and "Wave Race Blue Storm" from Nintendo and "Super Monkey Ball" from Sega Corp. By the end of the year, these will be joined by "Pikmin," "Super Smash Brothers DX," "Animal Forest Plus," "Eternal Darkness," "FIFA 2002 Road to World Cup," "SSX Tricky," "Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II" and "Universal Studios Japan." The Japanese games will cost 6,800 yen (US$57).

In the U.S., five of these titles will be available at launch, priced at $49.95: "Luigi's Mansion," "Wave Race Blue Storm," "Pikmin," "Super Smash Brothers DX" and "Eternal Darkness." An additional 12 titles are expected to be available by the end of the year: "All Star Baseball 2002," "Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2," "Extreme G3," "NFL Quarterback Club 2002," "Crazy Taxi," "FIFA Soccer 2002," "Madden NFL 2002," "SSX Tricky," "Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II," "NFL Blitz," "NHL Hitz" and "Super Monkey Ball."

The company also gave a short preview of two of the most awaited Gamecube games, "Mario Sunshine" and "Legend of Zelda." Not much was revealed during the video preview or by Nintendo's lead game creator Shigeru Miyamoto at a press conference afterward, although he did say the games will be available in the middle and end, respectively, of next year. [See "Nintendo unveils new Zelda and Mario," August 23.]Asada also spoke of the need to change game software to give it a wider appeal. Average consumers are finding console games to be too long and complex, while serious gamers are no longer impressed by new games that simply boast better graphics, he said. Underlining the importance with which he holds software, he said, "No matter how good the hardware, it is no good if there is no interesting software."

The Gamecube is based on an IBM Corp. PowerPC "Gekko" running at 485MHz, with graphics and I/O chips from ATI Technologies Inc. and an NEC Corp. Flipper system LSI (large scale integrated circuit). It has 40M bytes of memory and an optical drive for proprietary 8cm discs developed by Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known by its Panasonic brand name, which have a capacity of 1.5G bytes.

The console is the first of two major home gaming consoles expected to launch this year and compete with Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s PlayStation 2 console, which first went on sale in Japan in March 2000. The second new console, Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox, is due for launch later this year.

Nintendo has already signaled its intention to compete with the PlayStation 2 by announcing a 25,000 yen price tag for the Japan market and $200 price tag for the U.S. The PlayStation 2 is considerably more expensive at 35,000 yen, even after a recent price cut.

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Martyn Williams

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