Up to this point I have avoided talking about Nintendo’s next console. The rumors have been contradicting each other, and I didn’t feel confident enough in any one of them to write about them or even acknowledge them as possibly being true. That changed on Tuesday when Eurogamer came out with a substantial amount of information on the new machine and Kotaku more or less corroborated these rumors. Add to this a Digital Foundry analysis and a Wall Street Journal report, and what the NX will be is finally starting to come into view.
So, let’s start with what it is. The NX is a handheld device, albeit a very powerful one. It is using Nvidia Tegra technology and falls somewhere between the Wii U and Xbox One in terms of power. So while this means that Nintendo is not trying to compete in power, especially when compared to the ever-looming PlayStation Neo and Project Scorpio, the NX is no slouch either. It will be a huge power increase over the 3DS and even the PlayStation Vita. For handheld technology, this will be very impressive. We know that at the very least it can run The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
However, it is not only a handheld. The device can be attached to a docking station which will connect it to your television. This fits within the hybrid idea that everybody has been throwing around seemingly forever. The way this works is that the main console is a screen, and on both the left and the right is a detachable controller. Above is the mock-up that Eurogamer made. A lot of assumptions about how this will snap together have been made, but based on the information in the article I think it is too soon to make those assumptions. However, I will say that this can go very wrong if not handled properly.
The NX will use cartridges for physical games, and it will also support digital downloads. The lack of discs means that there will be no physical Wii U backwards compatability, the lack of a second screen is the death of 3DS backwards compatability, and a new operating system probably means that there is no hope for any type of digital backwards compatability either. While this is a shame, I do think it is smart for Nintendo to cut loose from their previous tech and move on. Plus, there are rumors about some popular Wii U titles already being ported to the system.
All of this is just rumor at this point, but if true it will be announced this September and release next March.
So what do I, somebody who has been interested in but never purchased a Wii U or 3DS, think about the NX? I like the sound of it. I enjoy both handheld and console gaming, and I think that a machine providing both in one could be really cool. I think the detachable controller is a neat idea, and I think that this is the first time in a long time that Nintendo has seemed inventive and ahead of the curve. But what gives me the most confidence in the NX is the potential for games on it.
The biggest problem that Nintendo had last generation was that there were not a lot of games on either system. What was there was great, but it was not enough to propel either console very far. A lot of this has to do with a lack of third party support, and whether they can get that back now is still a mystery. However, assuming they get no third party support, there will still be a major difference this time.
Nintendo will no longer have to split its resources between two devices. 2013 was a great year for the 3DS, but it was a pretty bad year for the Wii U. The opposite was true in 2014. 2015 and 2016 are somewhat middling for both systems, but when those lists are put together they form something that is respectable for the end of a consoles life cycle (let’s not forget that Gears of War: Judgement was the only Xbox 360 exclusive in 2013). Nintendo has 16 major development teams as well as six companies who consistently make exclusive games for their platforms. And while Nintendo themselves can’t put out twenty games in a year, most people also can’t buy twenty games in a year. If they can put out an average of one gamer per month, then that will be more than enough to satisfy most customers.
And that is only counting Nintendo published games. Take into consideration the fact that on the 3DS you had Atlus, Capcom, and Square Enix all making major exclusives, and you get a good idea of what the low bar for support of this system is. Square, Sega, and Ubisoft have already announced games for the NX, and they include a casual rhythm game, a 3D platformer, and a massive, beautiful RPG. Dragon Quest XI shows what can be done on the system. It won’t be leading the pack in terms of technology, but it won’t be too far behind either. And while it might not get a game like The Witcher 3, it might get a less graphically intensive game like Mass Effect Andromeda. I think third party games are going to be a case-by-case scenario with the NX, but I don’t think you can automatically assume that they won’t be there.
Then consider the fact that power doesn’t determine third party support, sales do. The PlayStation 2 was the least powerful console of its generation, but it was also the best selling one. This meant that it got almost every third party game that came out. The Wii is a bit of a different situation because it was so far behind in tech, but third party publishers were still tripping over themselves to put as many games on the system as possible. There is no guarantee that the NX will sell well, in fact I think it is safer to assume that it won’t. However, if the install base is there, then the games will follow.