Nintendo’s last three years in the home console business have been rough. There’s no way around that, no way to sugar coat it. The Wii U was a total flop. Yes, it has it’s fan base, and yes, it may actually be a good console, but it will easily go down as Nintendo’s worst-selling home console in its history.
All of this comes just one generation from Nintendo selling the original Wii like Disney sells Mickey Mouse ears at its parks. It’s also happening while the 3DS is doing well in a market that has been raided by the smartphone. (Check out some numbers here.) While this obviously doesn’t guarantee future success, it does show that Nintendo isn’t completely out of touch when they make consoles.
As we get closer to Nintendo revealing it’s newest console, code-named NX, what does any of that mean for the future of Nintendo consoles? Aside from Nintendo flat-out saying they’re not going to repeat the Wii U’s failures, rumors are pointing to what I think is going to be an exciting platform that’s going to be an alternative to the arms race happening at Microsoft and Sony. Just like the Wii was a refreshing change of pace from the ABXY (or X, circle, triangle, square) method of controlling games, I think the NX is going to appeal to a wide audience in a new way. Let’s take a look at three of the most common rumors, and how they are going to make for the right console at the right time (by the way, here is a good rumor round-up article you can check out for more).
1. A Versatile Tablet
Tablets were a hot item back when the Wii U graced the world with its presence, and it was obviously a huge influence on that game pad. Now, tablets are almost a mainstay, and they are becoming more and more versatile. We don’t want tablets that are just tablets anymore, we want them to connect to more and to do more. 3-in-1 devices and paired keyboards are becoming very popular. Why not bring that to gaming?
I love this idea. The above image, from an article in Eurogamer, shows the concept: a tablet with detachable controllers. This has some really cool implications for multiplayer gaming wherever you happen to be at the moment. But while tablets are great for mobility, the same article suggests NX will also feature a TV dock to allow for gaming at home on your HDTV.
There have been a few articles over the years that speculate mobile processors will eventually give home consoles a run for their money in terms of graphical prowess. Nintendo is rumored to be using one of Nvidia’s mobile processors, with recent rumors pointing to the newest X2 version. While it does fall a bit short of a PS4 or Xbox One, it’s an incredibly powerful and versatile processor that can deliver some great performance.
And since it looks like NX will be mobile and tablet-based, why not some type of app store? Nintendo has already said it will be running their own operating system and they have their own version of a store, but why not bring some popular apps to their new tablet? Pokemon Go immediately jumps to mind, but Super Mario Run is another new candidate. Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem games are also in development for mobile. All of a sudden, we have some stellar games that can be ported to an NX, most likely with relative ease.
2. Cartridges Aren’t Just Retro
Another rumor that made a big splash was that Nintendo would be going back to cartridges for physical game media. This seems pretty reliable given that new documentation for the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild mentions the use of cartridges. Nintendo has placed an emphasis on retro gaming in the last few years, with HD and 3D remixes of popular games, selling older games on the Virtual Console, and even the upcoming release of the miniature NES Classic Edition. But cartridges aren’t just retro anymore; they hold some distinct advantages over disc-based systems.
First, size. If NX is the home/portable hybrid, you can’t really put a disc drive in that. You need something that will allow for portability, and a tablet with a Blu-Ray/DVD drive is insanity. SD or microSD cards work well with tablets, but I would think Nintendo would opt for a proprietary format. Luckily, they have one in the 3DS slot that would fit perfectly. Plus, if you use that form factor and allow the NX to run 3DS games (albeit in 2D most likely), you instantly have about 900 games at launch that can run on your new system. I’m sure GameStop would be on board for what that could do to their used game business…
Second advantage is load times. Reading data off of a flash based medium versus a disc based system is quicker. It would also avoid this trend of having to install games prior to playing them, like I have to do with my PS4. Nothing kills that new game excitement like having to wait for a game to install before you can play the full thing. Load screens are also less painful on a cartridge-based system. And while I’m talking about reading data, the ability to write data to a cartridge is immensely useful, too. Your game save data then can live on the cartridge instead of needing additional data storage to save data. You’d still need storage of some sort to save larger game files, or downloaded games, of course. But there are positive implications all around.
Nintendo originally went away from cartridges, in part due to the rise of manufacturing cartridges versus discs. But as the storage space available in memory cards has increased exponentially over the years while cost has gone way down, all of a sudden cartridges make sense in more ways than just nostalgia.
3. Best of Both Worlds
Listen, I’ve sunk countless hours into Nintendo systems in my lifetime. A majority of those may have actually been on the handheld systems. Nintendo really shines when you get into mobile gaming. The Game Boy line was a revolution in gaming, and the DS sits just behind the PS2 on the all-time list for number of units sold. They know how to do this. And I’ve always wanted a system that I could play on a TV and take with me when I leave the house. Nintendo has offered solutions like this in the past (see the Game Boy Player above that sold as an attachment for the GameCube, but also remember Super Game Boy for the SNES). While I’ve enjoyed those solutions, you’re still talking about playing Game Boy games on TV, and I think the novelty of that wears off pretty quickly.
With NX, we’re talking about something different. This appears to finally be the console that will let you take a full, beautiful version of a game like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with you everywhere. On the same system you play on at home. With all of your data. No more fragmentation between home and mobile consoles. No more having to buy one system to play huge open world games and intense shooters, and another to play all the Pokemon games. This is gaming, everywhere. It all lives on one system. That is what captures everyone. I know a hell of a lot of that requires third party support, and the strength of that remains to be seen. I can, however, see third party developers jumping on a successful implementation of these ideas.
Not Long to Wait
Most recent reports have pegged early October for Nintendo’s big reveal party, but it honestly could be any time between now and then. That part is totally up to Nintendo. If the console is going to make that March 2017 release window Nintendo has mentioned in the past, they don’t have a whole lot of time left.
While all of this is really speculation at this point, these seem to be the rumors with a good deal of support behind them. I’m incredibly excited for this console and the potential it holds. While Nintendo may not be in immediate danger after the Wii U’s failure, they can’t be too keen to accept another console selling like the Wii U did. They followed up with the immensely popular Wii after the GameCube’s lackluster performance, so maybe that portends to better things to come in the near future.