CHIBA, Japan — Scurrying, squealing, bouncing, each of the more than 100 Marios does something different on the screen. One waves. Another yelps. A third Mario rolls a fourth one along the ground.
Nintendo Co. gave a preview Thursday of its new video-game console, GameCube, equipped with the technological finesse, memory capacity and dazzling graphics to compete with Sony Corp.'s PlayStation2 and the planned X-Box from Microsoft Corp. GameCube is expected to reach U.S. stores in October 2001.
In a clear stab at competitors, the Japanese manufacturer behind the Pokemon animated monster craze stuck to a single strong message: GameCube is for playing games. It's neither another living-room appliance nor a personal computer.
Sony's PlayStation2, which went on sale in Japan in March and is slated for the U.S. market Oct. 26, also plays digital video disks and is expected to be Sony's flagship machine to access the Internet.
Microsoft is expected to exploit its prowess in the computer business when it comes out with the X-Box next year.
"We don't have the motive of spreading our machines to the public so they will be later used as multipurpose audio-visual machines," said Genyo Takeda, a Nintendo official overseeing research and development. "We aimed for the best possible machine for playing games."
The still unpriced GameCube, which is about half the size of a shoe box, is expected to hit Japanese stores in July 2001 and U.S. shelves in October 2001.
Besides the regular remote control, it comes with a wireless one that works from as far as 10 yards away. A modem that hooks up to a regular phone line as well as the faster broadband will also be available.
Analysts said Nintendo was making a wise choice by sticking to the niche game business, instead of trying to challenge Sony and Microsoft on their turf.
"It's going to be a different marketing scheme. They still have a huge hold on the little-kiddie market," said Zachary Liggett, analyst with WestLB Panmure in Tokyo.
"Those who are going to survive and really bang it out on the hardware market are Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft."
Nintendo was shy about showing the reporters in a packed hall near Tokyo any of the games being developed for GameCube, which was code-named Dolphin during its development.
On a huge screen, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto showed off the dozens of replications of the red-capped little plumber, all in movie-quality imagery, instead of the solitary Mario battling monsters that is familiar to players of the current Nintendo 64.
Nintendo was less secretive about its prototype Game Boy Advance, the improved version of its popular handheld game machine planned for the Japanese market for March 21, 2001 at a price of $90 and for July in the United States. Nintendo did not give a U.S. price.
About the size of the current Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance has an easier-to-see liquid crystal display that is about 1 1/2 times bigger than the current one.
An adapter that will allow Game Boys to connect to cell phones is planned for Dec. 14 in Japan.
Nintendo showed about 10 games planned for the Game Boy Advance but made no secret of the fact that the machine was strictly for simple, two-dimensional images that can still be fun.
Sony has shipped 3 million PlayStation2 units so far. And it has managed to dominate the world game market, having sold 73 million of the original PlayStations.
But Nintendo has managed to stay in the game. Worldwide sales of its Game Boy topped 100 million this summer. And Nintendo 64 sales total more than 29 million worldwide.
As with any new game machine, the quality of the games that come out with the GameCube machine will determine its popularity, analysts say.
"Nintendo can certainly put up a good fight," said Eiji Maeda, analyst with the Daiwa Institute of Research. "Maybe they can't dominate, but they can certainly rally from behind."