Nintendo launches Gamecube console in US

Hot on the heels of Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox console, which was launched last Thursday, Nintendo Co. Ltd. released its new Gamecube console in the U.S. on Sunday and all eyes in the computer gaming world are now trained on the U.S. market and what is expected to be a fierce battle for holiday sales.

The latest Nintendo console made its worldwide debut in Japan on Sept. 14 but the U.S. is the first place that it and the Xbox will go head-to-head against each other and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s PlayStation 2. The Gamecube is set to launch in March/April of next year according to Nintendo Australia. No price has been set. Microsoft will release the Xbox in Australia on March 14 next year.

Nintendo has plans to ship around 1.1 million consoles to the U.S. between now and Dec. 23 -- compared to the 1.5 million Xbox consoles that Microsoft says it will ship before the end of the year. Nintendo already has a price advantage over the competition. It's console is selling for US$200, which is significantly less than the Xbox and PlayStation 2 that both have US$299 retail prices.

Much of the battle between the three companies is expected to be in the area of software, where prices are broadly similar with Nintendo selling its starting line-up for $50 per title. The company is emphasizing its stable of popular software titles, specifically titles produced by well-known game developer Shigeru Miyamoto, responsible for creating characters such as Mario and Donkey Kong.

For its part, Microsoft announced at the recent Tokyo Game Show that it has signed on board two of Sega Corp.'s best known games developers: Yu Suzuki, who heads the Sega-AM2 team, and Yuji Naka, in charge of the Sonic team.

Despite the focus on software, the Gamecube launch has brought some disappointment to potential users. The Gamecube is the first new Nintendo console for some time that has not had a game featuring the company's popular Mario character ready at launch. Players have to make do with Luigi's Mansion, a game featuring Mario's brother, and wait until the middle of 2002 when a new Mario title is expected to go on sale.

Hardware-wise, the Gamecube system is based on an Power-PC based "Gekko" processor from IBM Corp., a graphics chip custom-design by ATI Technologies Inc. and 40M bytes of main memory. Game software is supplied on proprietary 8-cm (centimeter) optical discs with a 1.5G-byte capacity designed by Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., which is also about to put on sale in Japan an add-on kit that allows users to watch DVD Video discs.

The Gamecube measures 150mm (millimeters) by 110mm by 161mm and is available in indigo and black colors.

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