Give Nintendo this: The company has never been afraid of batshit crazy ideas. While Microsoft focus-tests and Sony researches markets, Nintendo dreams up truly bizarre products and sets them loose on the public. Few remember that when the original Nintendo NES console shipped in the U.S., it was available in a version that included a robot. His name was Robotic Operating Buddy and about all he could do was stack plastic discs. There were two games available for this doomed innovation but R.O.B. swiftly vanished from stores.
This was followed by the Power Glove, a shoddy "virtual reality" device that is best forgotten. Nintendo moved on and soon brought us the 3-D console Virtual Boy, a financial and karmic disaster so great the product's lead engineer lost his job and was soon hit by two cars. Nintendo even made digital bongos.
It also cranked out one terrific game after another. The lesson would seem obvious: Nintendo is a great software company whose hardware ambitions consistently outreach its grasp. Sega had this same problem and gave up on the console wars after the Dreamcast.
But Nintendo isn't giving up. In fact, it's announced its most batshit crazy idea ever. The next Nintendo videogame console, the Revolution, uses a joystick shaped like an ordinary TV remote control. It's motion sensitive so you can tilt it left, right, up, or down to control your character on screen. There are no actual joysticks on the unit, just a D-pad and some buttons, though you can plug an optional joystick in if desired.
The company's goal is simple. It wants to change the way games are played and create innovative experiences. And it will. But in making this jump, it's delivering a clear message to the big American and European publishers: We don't need your stinking games.
Major publishers like EA and Ubisoft want a simple life. They want to invest a ton of cash in a game with massive production values, make it a franchise like Madden NFL or Splinter Cell, and then leverage that investment by porting the game to every platform in existence. What they don't want to do is inflate that investment by redesigning their big games to work with Revolution's all-too-innovative controller.
The big guys already dropped a lot of support for Nintendo's current GameCube console. Many of those mega-selling franchise titles just aren't made for it anymore. They were willing to try again with Revolution—but will EA revamp Madden NFL to make gesture-based gameplay a major feature? Maybe once. But when sales are still at GameCube levels, not anymore.
Nintendo doesn't think it needs those titles. It's going to make cool games that use the weird controller. Some of those games will even be really good, because Nintendo does software better than anyone. But it is driving the already huge divide between Japanese and American gaming even wider. It will remain a contender in its homeland, but over here the new controller is a guaranteed system-seller—for the PlayStation 3.