It seems like everybody’s getting their two cents in about the recent rumors concerning “Project Café,” and now that the torrent of new Ocarina of Time 3D media seems to be slowing, I figure it’s about time I made my contribution to the pot. As you might expect from me by now, I’m a lot less concerned with things like hardware capabilities, online services, and the like and almost exclusively interested in what the gameplay and software are going to be like. So while Nate’s done a good job dealing with some of the initial specs rumors, I want to get some ideas flowing: what will games on Project Café be like?

Be warned: copious amounts of assumption, speculation, and general “what if” contained herein.

Well, when we talk about gameplay, we of course have to deal with the controller – all possibilities for gameplay are intrinsically linked to game control. By now we’ve all heard that the new controller’s most notable feature is its built-in screen, which almost everyone seems to agree is going to have touch functionality, and most of you have probably already seen IGN’s mockup of a possible design concept. Personally, I’m getting the impression that we’re going to see a marriage between the Wii’s Classic Controller and the control setup of the 3DS.


Most mockups have the left analog stick taking the primary position on the left side of the controller, but I’m not so sure that’s the wisest course – or that Nintendo thinks it’s the right approach either. After all, the Classic Controller Pro, despite being a “hardcore” redesign of the original Classic Controller, still kept the D-pad in the same place (see my poorly edited rendition of IGN’s mockup – hey, I’m a writer, not an artist!).

Even though all accounts point to Project Café being an HD venture, and “HD” being intrinsically associated with “3D graphics” (and thus “analog controls”) for most hardcore gamers and developers, I think that Nintendo has to keep its toes dipped decisively in the “classic simplicity” pool they rediscovered through the Wii if they’re going to be able to survive. After all, both the N64 and the GameCube were very much “core” systems, but they didn’t achieve as near a wide appeal as the NES, SNES, or Wii, all of which went with a comparatively “casual” approach. Sure, give the system some updates so that the stuff that appeals to the avid core crowd can take off, but don’t leave the fans of classic Nintendo in the dust in the process. A balanced approach is best.

Personally, I think the biggest innovation the built-in screen will bring is in the area of multiplay (surprise, surprise!) – whether we’re talking about doing away with splitscreen in multiplayer games, opening up the possibility of someone streaming a Virtual Console game while someone else plays an HD game on the TV, or even giving us the option to run games while someone else uses the TV in general. No longer will games have to dominate the living room if parents don’t wish it – and at the same time, sibling gamers don’t have to fight over who gets to play what. Of course, if the system really is HD, it’s doubtful the controller’s screen will be, so this kind of functionality might be limited to Virtual Console games…or at least games that don’t demand HD-only viewing. Or perhaps there’ll be some system in place to stream non-HD video to the controllers even while playing a Café title.

I can already think of one game in particular that would benefit from using the controller’s screen: New Super Mario Bros.., not to mention the other cooperative side-scrollers that came out last year. Though I personally still prefer the “take turns” method of the earlier Mario games, this kind of approach to side-scrolling multiplay seems to be here to stay, and getting rid of the limitations a single screen imposes would be great for expanding the possibilities. No longer will you have to worry about suffering unfair deaths from the screen leaving you behind as it follows Player 1 – everyone will have their very own screen! If this is something that Project Café aims to achieve, then honestly we darn well better see a Mario Bros. title at launch.


Of course, adding a touch screen brings the same potential for simplistic innovations the technology instilled in the DS and 3DS – the next console Zelda could handle its equipment menus entirely through the touch screen just as in Ocarina of Time 3D or give us the map-doodling functionality we had in the original DS entries, for example. Any Pokémon title to grace the system could have the “hidden touch screen battle menus” the DS offered to the Wii’s Battle Revolution already in place without the need for a handheld. Whatever the case, the familiarity of the touch screen seems like a good way for Nintendo to reel in their large DS install base to their console platform – maybe Café will launch with a new HD Nintendogs?

And, while I seriously doubt Nintendo would actually do this, it’d be really cool if the Café controllers had a card slot for 3DS games so you could run the top screen through your TV while the bottom screen plays on the controller. 3D viewing might go out the window, but you’d get the added bonus of Game Boy Player-type functionality built right in to your controller! Again, though, this is probably pretty far-fetched.

In the end, I’m not quite sure what my dream Café game would be. The possibilities I’ve explored here have gotten some ideas flowing, but it’s hard to pin down something concrete without knowing more about the controller. So now I’ll pose the question to you: what kind of software would you like to see, based on what we know about the Project Café‘s new controller concept? Are you more excited about the potential for a wider range of third-party offerings, or what new gameplay ideas Nintendo will bring to their core franchises?

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