The vital Christmas line-ups for both the Xbox and the GameCube are beginning to look increasingly sparse, with key titles such as Big Blue Box' Fable and Square Enix' Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle slipping to 2004.
Last week, a Nintendo official release schedule for the USA confirmed that Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle has indeed slipped back into early 2004, threatening a repeat of last years fiasco where the Cube had a dismal Christmas in Europe due to a lack of hit software.
Meanwhile one of the Xbox' biggest hitters for the festive season is also gone, with Big Blue Box' Fable slipping to Spring 2004 according to comments made by Robbie Bach at an investors conference in Redmond last week.
Fable has been developed as part of the Lionhead satellites programme, and both the innovative nature of the game and the involvement of Peter Molyneux have made the graphically stunning RPG into one of the most anticipated titles on Xbox.
Other key games for Microsoft's console have also slipped past Christmas, with the delay of Halo 2 to 2004 being announced some weeks ago. Sources within the developer have also indicated that Climax' anime-themed RPG Sudeki may also miss the festive season, although it remains officially pencilled in as a late 2003 title.
So what's left on the schedules for Christmas, then? In terms of the GameCube, the USA gets Mario Kart: Double Dash on November 17th, and we can only hope that Nintendo has the common sense to bring the game to Europe in time for Christmas, or else F-Zero GX this autumn may be the last major first-party game to appear on the Cube this year. The USA also gets snowboarding title 1080 Avalanche on December 1st, but many critics seemed distinctly under whelmed by the game at E3.
In third-party terms, Nintendo claims that Viewtiful Joe, P.N.03, Rogue Squadron III, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg and Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes will all be out in the USA by the end of the year. Whether those dates hold, and how many of the above make it to Europe in time for Christmas, remains to be seen - but it's an odd twist of fate to see Nintendo relying so heavily on third party content to rescue the Cube this winter.
In terms of the Xbox, Microsoft's big hope is Project Gotham Racing 2, which remains firmly on track for a pre-Christmas launch and comes fully equipped with Xbox Live support. Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden should also arrive in time to be played while the turkey is cooking, and in terms of cross-platform titles, Microsoft will be hoping to win some consumers with the charms of Unreal II: The Awakening, Deus Ex: Invisible War and Starcraft: Ghost.
It's hard to tell who's the early leader out of the two "second place" consoles, but in the absence of the major blockbusters which have slipped, it looks like Christmas might not be as merry as it should be for both Microsoft and Nintendo.