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Nintendo's Project Café: what we know, what we want

Nintendo's confirmed its next machine will be unveiled at E3. Keza MacDonald looks at everything we'd like to see from the new console, and what we know so far.

With Wii release schedules drying up, it's been obvious for a while that Nintendo has had something up its sleeve. Whatever it is will be revealed at E3. Pro tip: it's almost certainly not this or this. The first is based on a supposedly leaked slide whose wording (as well as the design) is distinctly un-Nintendo, and those controllers look both prohibitively expensive and stupid. But with this company, we can't rule anything out completely – to a lot of people, Wii looked stupid too.

Anything you read about Project Café before E3 is obviously going to be 90 percent conjecture. We'll refrain from speculating wildly on the thing's specs and round up all the facts so far, along with some ideas about what we'd love to see.

What we know

  • It'll be released in calendar year 2012. We'd usually bet on an autumn or winter launch, but the 3DS schedule has shown that Nintendo is willing to deviate from convention. It could be here within a year.
  • It will have touch-screen controllers. We have it from good sources that this is definitely happening, though nobody knows what form it will take. The first (completely fake) mock-ups show Gamecube-like conventional controllers with six-inch touchscreens plonked down in the middle like a Wavebird keyboard, but we can be almost certain it'll be something more inventive than that. Digital Foundry has speculated on the streaming technology that could be used to pump HD video to an independent touch-screen controller – as always with Digital Foundry articles, I understand about one in three words, but you might get something out of it.
  • Expect the unexpected. This is a company that has consistently surprised everybody with its hardware. At last year's E3, 3DS stunned the show with its quality and inventiveness. Don't rule anything out.

What we don't know

  • The price. Unlike Sony or, to an even greater extent, Microsoft, Nintendo has never sold hardware at a loss. It's one of the reasons it's always weathered the lean times: every Nintendo product sold makes the company money. Based on absolutely no information at all, EEDAR analyst Jessie Divinch reportedly told NowGamer that he would expect a price of $299 to $349, which is certainly not outwith the realms of possibility for a Nintendo hardware launch.
  • The specs. Rumours have been flying around about the new machine's power for weeks. Sites' sources have claimed that it will be more powerful than the Xbox 360 or PS3, but I don't think we can lock that down as known information yet – this wouldn't be the first time that Nintendo has prioritised technical innovation over horsepower. IGN looks to have had the best stab at this so far.

What we think

  • The Wii Vitality Sensor disappeared quickly after its announcement – it wouldn't be surprising to see it implemented in some form into a new console, whether as an add-on or an integrated feature. A universal Virtual Console platform is also surely a must – if Project Café does not build upon the foundations that the Wii has laid in this area, allowing you to transfer your purchases of SNES, NES, N64, Megadrive games, et cetera, onto a new and better platform, it will be a huge mistake.
  • No 3D. After spending so much time and money pushing the glasses-less 3DS, and using freedom from unattractive extra eyewear as a selling point in all their advertising, I'd be enormously surprised if Nintendo suddenly started pushing 3D as a feature in a home console. It has to play on people's TVs, after all, and there's no mainstream glasses-free 3D big screen yet.
  • MotionPlus technology out of the box. Nintendo's new console has the potential to be the first with modern motion-sensing technology right out of the box, which would be a big step along the technology's path from “expensive add-on” to “standard functionality”.

What we need

  • It's finally time for online. Now 3DS has finally, finally embraced wireless connectivity properly, it's time for Nintendo's home consoles to follow suit. Wii has had some good ideas here – Everybody Votes, the Nintendo Channel, Iwata Asks content and more – but actually playing games online is still practically impossible. It really is time for that to change.
  • Better digital delivery. Although the Virtual Console has been successful, the same can't be said for WiiWare. It's cumbersome and off-putting to use, and compared to PSN and, especially, Xbox Live Arcade, it's hardly an attractive prospect for developers. Nintendo will need to improve and better integrate its digital delivery service, and offer games at lower price points.

What we want

Starfox's absence has been keenly felt since the Gamecube's Starfox titles. A new game in this classic space-fighter series would be well-suited to showing off Project Cafe's extra graphical grunt. A new Pikmin game has been announced, then denied, then sort of announced again for years now, and would be a very welcome addition to the roster. Nintendo has been hinting at a new Miyamoto IP since 2006, but it hasn't yet emerged, so it's possible we'll see that as well. Animal Crossing is due another update, too, and it's a property that has traditionally been at the forefront of Nintendo innovation, from the N64 through to Wii.

I think it will be a while before we see new Zelda and Mario games, though. Skyward Sword isn't even out yet, and with Mario 3DS in the works it's unlikely the team will double up.

3DS connectivity should be there. Nintendo has been supporting connectivity between its portable and home consoles for three generations now – the N64 and Game Boy with Pokemon Stadium, the GameCube and GBA with Zelda: Four Swords, Animal Crossing and Pac-Man Vs., and the Wii and DS with... actually, I can't think of any game at all that used that wireless connectivity in any significant way. But if the controllers are indeed independent portable touch-screen devices in themselves, it's probable that any 3DS connectivity would take a back seat. Do expect it to happen, though.

It's all go for E3 – we'll be there at the conference when this thing is announced, fighting against the finger-paralysing excitement to liveblog the whole thing. In the meantime, though, let's all work ourselves into a frothing frenzy about what it might be, and what we want to happen. It's all part of the fun.

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