Nintendo NX Hybrid Theory Dead?

Image result for roger daltrey
Sing it, Roger. Who are you, NX?

More time has passed, and nothing official is known about the Nintendo NX at this point. Still. I know Nintendo has reasons for keeping things quiet, and that’s fine. But, man, does this get frustrating.

Add to this that new rumors keep churning out, each one seeming to contradict other rumors that came before it. And since Nintendo remains silent, we’re left to wonder what we’re going to get when the NX finally shows up next year.

Eurogamer first reported back in August that they had heard the Nintendo NX would be a high-powered tablet with detachable controllers, and that the tablet will use a dock to connect to your TV. A new report surfaced last week from a Reddit post where a verified leaker from a major, unidentified retailer outlined more “details” about the system. Here are the juicy parts, from (emphasis added by Nintendo Life):

First, in terms of Marketing:

  • “Interact with games on the go”is apparently a key marketing phrase, seen on a poster. We’ve heard of similar phrasing (focused on playing games on the go, rather than ‘interacting’) as a promotional message for the system.
  • Mario launch title reportedly prominent on early ‘posters’.
  • At least four games ‘on deck’ for launch, presumably meaning high-profile titles to push day one sales.
  • Demo units expected in stores in February.
  • Base price of $299.99, it seems.
  • Bundle expected but content is unclear, potential price of $399.99.

Then there are some packaging details reported, too.

  • Packaging described as ‘clean and simple’, slightly bigger box than for Wii U.
  • Colour scheme on packaging said to be white and blue.
  • Packaging says NX but may be placeholder, as art / images of the system were redacted / blurred out.

In terms of features, at the time of writing the Reddit moderators have already retracted some claims made from a second source that has been disproven. That shows how much salt should be taken with reports, but the following are still in place.

  • Games will be on cartridges
  • ‘4K streaming’ mentioned, but the sense is that this’ll refer to supporting 4K in apps like Netflix. Certainly conceivable, as the Xbox One S already supports this without the specification bump seen with the PS4 Pro.
  • 1080p and 60fps reportedly a focus in promoting gameplay. Less verification has been obtained on talk of the hybrid / portable aspect running at 900p; that’s certainly something that we’ve heard in relatively loose talk.

Other comments on the system from industry experts like YouTuber boogie2988 don’t seem to call out the NX as a hybrid, either. Check out his information below (it starts at 33 minutes in):

And then there are these comments from former president and CEO Satoru Iwata (emphasis added by me):

What we mean by integrating platforms is not integrating handhelds devices and home consoles to make only one machine. What we are aiming at is to integrate the architecture to form a common basis for software development so that we can make software assets more transferrable, and operating systems and their built-in applications more portable, regardless of form factor or performance of each platform.”

And finally we have reports that AMD, rather than NVIDIA, will be making the chip used in the NX. This seems to shoot down the rumors of the mobile-friendly Tegra X1 (or X2 – depending on the rumor).

And so, with no one really calling NX a hybrid, no one saying you will directly play your games on the go, Iwata saying they are not making only one machine, and the possibility that the chip will be made by AMD – the hybrid theory is dead, right? Slow down.

We need to take everything into account before we start dismissing theories. If NX is not a hybrid, and it very well may not be, there are some things that don’t make sense. First, in my mind, is cartridges. Why on earth would Nintendo opt for cartridges for a console that is anything but mobile? We’re not going back to N64 or SNES size cartridges. We’re logically talking about SD card-sized cartridges. Those aren’t as cheap to manufacture and produce as discs, so that’s counter-intuitive. You go to cartridges for mobility and durability (because who wants to carry discs with them?) and because the form factor fits mobile devices.

Second, different “versions” of games, or games that have “mobile modes,” sounds ridiculous. It’s exactly the same type of gimmicky idea that ended up causing the Wii to collect dust on home shelves and the Wii U to collect dust on store shelves. It also, to me, sounds like additional coding for developers to create mobile and console versions of games, which doesn’t add up to the “single architecture” Iwata talked about. Companion apps exist today, so that’s hardly innovative, either.

And, third, the Iwata comments. While he does say they aren’t looking to make one device from the handheld and console as we know it now, he also says they are looking to create an environment that basically allows for the portability of software across devices, regardless of how they look or perform. That’s not something you say when you have a particular device in mind, whether we’re talking about a high-powered console or a hybrid tablet.

Finally, the AMD reports, as far as I know, haven’t been verified by either Nintendo or AMD, so until they talk this is all speculation. In fact, NVIDIA conveniently cancelling the follow up to its SHIELD tablet in favor of whatever Nintendo cooking up seems to be every bit as official as the AMD side of this. Furthermore, if the AMD leaks are true, that company is every bit as capable of producing a mobile chipset as NVIDIA is.

So it seems we have a whole lot of nothing here – just a bunch of hearsay. But let me throw a wrench in everything. We all know Nintendo loves hardware and creating a “family” of devices. Just look at the 3DS lineup for proof. It does make sense that Nintendo wouldn’t want to combine two devices into one, potentially losing out on two profit streams. Remember when they were making crazy money on the Wii while also selling the DS and 3DS like hotcakes? So, what if it’s all true?

What if we’re in for a new family of devices – all with the ability to interact in ways we haven’t seen yet? We could be looking at a tablet with its removable controllers, and a docking station, and a mobile chipset developed by NVIDIA. All the while, we could end up with that higher end AMD-powered home console.

Let’s go back to Iwata’s comments for a moment. Nintendo is really working on a way to streamline software development, along with a way to make the operating systems more portable across devices. What I’m starting to believe is that we’re looking at an environment where a game can easily be ported across a family of devices, supported by an operating system that works on each device despite form factor and power (hybrid handheld or powerful home console).

The closest comparisons I have seen are Apple and Microsoft. Apple makes a good example where you have iPhones, iPads, and iPods (and to some extent laptops and TV set-top boxes) running a similar operating system that makes porting apps across devices incredibly easy. Microsoft’s recent initiatives with Windows 8 and 10 are similar as well, where they are trying to make a single operating system that works on laptops, desktops, and tablets. Nintendo’s current setup with the Wii U and 3DS are not as great. In fact, this is frustratingly backwards seeing as how I’ve had to buy Super Mario 3 about a dozen times on different systems and Virtual Consoles now. Nintendo needs to change that, and adopt a similar philosophy for their systems.

It might seem like I’m trying to take the easy way out of a debate here. “Can’t we all just get along, man?” But as I keep looking at the rumors flying around, and the arguments supposedly debunking each one, something just doesn’t feel right. If you choose to argue that NX is only a hybrid, or only a home console with some mobile interaction, it feels like you have to ignore pretty good evidence to the contrary. I think that’s because both sides of this have merit – because both are true. They might not launch at the same time; we might get one of these in March, and perhaps the other closer to holiday 2017 (or even 2018, as Nintendo said their current plans are to support the 3DS through 2018).

Whether this is right or wrong, it’s every bit as speculative as everything else we’ve talked about so far. The number of differing rumors out there only serve to highlight how little we really know about this thing (or things). Will I be disappointed if this is wrong? Not really, although I think having both would be awesome. Either way, just remember that no theory is really dead until Nintendo says it is.

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