Comment: The next-generation phony war ends here
With Microsoft hoping to sway Japanese gamers to the Xbox 360, Nintendo unveiling the Revolution controller and the first PS3 games set to emerge, the Tokyo Games Show this weekend will see the true beginning of the next-gen battle.
While the opening shots of the next-generation console war were fired back at E3 last May in Los Angeles, it's been a bit of a phony war so far - with only Microsoft really on the battlefield yet, while Sony's talk of the PS3 has died down to a murmur and Nintendo staying entirely silent on the topic of Revolution ever since.
It's in Tokyo this week that we expect the battle to be joined fully. Today in the bustling district of Shibuya, Microsoft slotted the last piece into place regarding the launch of Xbox 360, revealing the worldwide release dates and Japanese pricing plans; tomorrow we will see the long-rumoured Revolution controller at last, and possibly the first sign of real games running on PS3 hardware.
While Sony undoubtedly dominates on the way into the next generation, and Microsoft is first to the table, the feeling in general among the industry types gathering in Tokyo is that all the players have much to prove. Sony needs to live up to the standards set by the pre-rendered videos shown at E3, which it has insisted repeatedly since are truly representative of real game quality. Nintendo needs to unveil something that matches the level of hype and speculation over the Revolution controller - or at least, something surprising and compelling.
And Microsoft.... Microsoft needs to show us the games. Today the company showed Gears of War and Ninety Nine Nights off at its press conference, both of which are unquestionably very graphically attractive but neither of which has spent enough time in the hands of critics or gamers to be declared good, bad or indifferent as software goes. Project Gotham Racing 3 and Kameo both look excellent, while several other titles from third party publishers stand out as interesting prospects.
The first real test, however, will come on Saturday morning when TGS opens its doors to the public, and "real" people get their hands on Microsoft's wares at last. Japan will undoubtedly be the toughest market to crack for Microsoft, so this test may be the toughest, but it's fair nonetheless to say that consumer reaction over this coming weekend could well shape the fortunes of the Xbox 360 in Japan for months if not years to come.
In other words, E3 was just a warm-up. The next three days will give us near-complete Xbox 360 titles running on final hardware, and probably a look at the Revolution in a more complete form and at PS3 software running in a more realistic environment. Judgements made at E3 may have been hasty, but as the next generation battle starts in Tokyo this week, many of them may go a long way towards being confirmed or proved wrong on the show floor of the Makuhari Messe exhibition centre.