Sony and Microsoft have been in an arms race for whose gaming console can squeeze in the most graphical muscle, but for two consoles now Nintendo has taken a more creative approach to its hardware. Unfortunately, the Wii U has struggled to sell. After the breakout success of the Wii, the Wii U has had a tough time competing with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, despite a generous lead time on its release. Even so, Nintendo’s announcement that it would reveal a brand new console in 2016 came as a surprise to many.
At this point, we don’t know a lot, for certain. Late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata revealed the NX’s existence at a March 2015 press conference, alongside the announcement of its mobile game licensing deal with DeNA. Iwata described the project, code-named “NX” as “a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept.” Nintendo confirmed in April 2016 that the NX will launch in March 2017, though it would not appear at the intervening E3.
That is the sum total of what Nintendo has officially revealed about the project so far. Below are the major rumors and our hopes and educated guess on what the NX will be.
March 2017 release
According to a recent earnings report, Nintendo will launch the NX console in March 2017. The long-anticipated Zelda game, which was originally slated for 2016, has been pushed back to release alongside the NX in 2017. It will also be available for the Wii U and will feature prominently at E3 2016, according to a tweet from Nintendo of America, much like how Twilight Princess was delayed to straddle the console generation between the GameCube and the Wii. Despite its impending arrival, however, the NX will not debut at E3, as confirmed by Tokyo tech reporter Takashi Mochizuki.
Smash Bros. launch title
Other than early rumors of the long-delayed upcoming Zelda game coming to NX, there have been no leaks yet about what games we should expect to launch with the console. According to Kantan Games CEO Serkan Toto, fans may be treated to one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises: Smash Bros.
Bandai Namco is currently developing several NX titles. Smash Bros is planned to be a launch title. I am not sure about the date – yet ;).
— Dr. Serkan Toto (@serkantoto) January 28, 2016
In a follow-up tweet, Serkan suggested that it would be a new Smash, and not a port of the current version, but that is not certain. He would not name his source. Serkan has a good track record with Nintendo rumors, breaking the company’s plans to develop mobile games before the official announcement. (via Techno Buffalo)
Many consider the prolonged lack of core Nintendo franchises on Wii U to be one of the most important factors in that system’s weak reception, so leading with Smash would go a long way to reassuring fans that Nintendo is serious about the NX.
Graphics and Streaming
A slide from a market research survey gauging interest in Nintendo NX was posted on NeoGAF January 20, 2016, providing some potential insight to the specs and capabilities of the upcoming Nintendo hardware. Reportedly commissioned by British analysis firm GfK, the slide said the console will support “gameplay graphics at 900p/60fps.” If true, this would amount a visual step down from the Wii U, which supports games with 1080p graphics. The specification seems especially odd given that the slide also boasts that the NX will support “4k/60fps video streaming.”
The slide also substantiated the rumor that NX will be a combine a base home console and a handheld portable device, referring to “gameplay [that] flows between the Nintendo NX console and Nintendo NX handheld device.” Lastly, the slide said the NX would allow users to surf the web and make video calls.
According to Eurogamer, the survey asks users to estimate how much they would pay for a device based on these and other qualifications, such as “exclusive game franchises such as Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and more.” The survey also reportedly asked customers whether or not they would like the console to include a disc drive. While the report confirmed that some users had received and filled out the survey, neither Nintendo nor GfK have verified that the survey was officially commissioned.
Scroll wheel shoulder buttons
Another interesting patent to emerge, shared on NeoGAF, describes replacing the GamePad’s shoulder buttons with clickable scroll wheels, like on a mouse. That sounds like a great way to maintain the functionality of a current design feature while also adding another dimension of utility. Particularly for games that use a lot of menus, scroll wheels could be a real boon. Thinking more outside the box, two scroll wheels isn’t something we can recall ever seeing before on a gaming platform, which opens up all sorts of new possibilities for unorthodox control schemes. The GamePad is already begging for designers to come up with innovative was to interact with their games, so adding more interesting control functionality to it at no loss seems like a no-brainer.
Achievements and sharing unlocked
Nintendo has been the odd man out among its peers for not yet including a metagame of achievements or trophies to commemorate gameplay milestones. That may finally change for the NX, as Nintendo has filed a patent (spotted by Nintendo Enthusiast) for achievements and a system for sharing the gameplay that led to them. That would mean, for instance, that if you unlock an achievement after a particularly epic boss fight, you will be able to immediately share it with friends on Miiverse (or whatever social system replaces it). The company’s highly-publicized partnership with mobile developer DeNA implied that we should expect more social and connected features just like this.
Return of cartridges
A patent filed in February 2015 suggests that Nintendo might be dropping optical drives and returning to cartridges like its consoles used in the 80s and 90s (and its 3DS handhelds still does). Flash storage steadily grows cheaper and more capacious, while disc-based media retain harder limits to how much data they can hold without increasing surface area, making a return to cartridges one logical solution to ballooning game file sizes. Cartridges also have the advantage of being more resilient to scratching. Another, more contentious way to interpret the filing, however, is that Nintendo is dropping physical media entirely and instead shifting to digital downloads. While this makes a certain amount of sense for many people, it risks alienating gamers without consistent access to a strong internet connection.
Many have speculated that the NX will be a hybrid between a portable, handheld gaming device and a TV-bound console — like a Wii U GamePad that you could take anywhere, or a 3DS with a dock to hook it up to your TV. This rumor goes back to a January 2014 post on Nintendo News (a generally reputable site), which shared an anonymous tip with specifications for the “Nintendo Fusion.” The specs detail two components: the Fusion DS and the Fusion Terminal. While the DS is a fully-functional gaming device, the Terminal also has its own processing power, implying that docking to the TV increases the system’s technical capabilities.
Meanwhile, a May 2016 report from Yahoo Japan Finance suggested that Nintendo may release two discrete consoles; the Nintendo NX home console, and an as-yet-unannounced portable device codenamed “MH.” While the idea may seem to run contrary to prior reports, the two ideas are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the idea that Nintendo may build (and sell) two complimentary devices, such as the aforementioned “Fusion DS” and “Fusion Terminal,” makes more financial sense selling than a single “hybrid” device.
More recently, the Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported a rumor that the NX would come “loaded with Android.” The reason would be that third party developers, who are hesitant to create games for the Wii U, would be more inclined to make games based on an already-familiar operating system. While it’s unlikely that Nintendo would produce a console that strictly runs the Google-loaded regular version of Android, it could build a console on an Android-derived OS, like the Ouya console, or support Android apps and games through virtualization. However, following the Android rumor, a Nintendo representative told the Wall Street Journal that there is “no truth to the report” that Nintendo is adopting Android for the NX.
As for particular games, the only official word from developers so far is that Square Enix is looking at the NX as a platform for the upcoming Dragon Quest XI and a port of Dragon Quest X, which has still never been released outside of Japan. XI is also currently under development for PlayStation 4 and 3DS, aiming for a release on the series’ 30th anniversary, which would place it around spring 2016.
The delay of the upcoming Legend of Zelda game for Wii U has also prompted speculation that, at least in part, the delay is in order to simultaneously release the game for Wii U and as an NX launch title. The theory was corroborated even further when Zelda was conspicuously absent from a list of games scheduled for 2016, implying an even further delay. Nintendo did the same thing with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which was delayed from its planned 2005 release to launch alongside the original Wii in 2006.
Why we’re excited
It’s easy to draw parallels between the GameCube and the Wii U. Both consoles followed immensely successful, gameplay-innovating predecessors (the Nintendo 64 and Wii, respectively), but had a difficult time competing against their more popular peers from Sony and Microsoft. Historically, Nintendo struggles when it tries to compete in the technological arms race with Sony and Microsoft. GameCube didn’t have a major differentiator from Xbox and PS2 aside from a new controller button layout, and Wii U has struggled to identify its target audience since launch. Nintendo’s greatest successes have come from it striking off on its own to create innovative hardware that encourages new types of play.
We hope that the NX is a merger between handhelds and consoles. Handhelds have always been a strong suit for Nintendo. The original Game Boy more or less defined the category, and the DS sits narrowly behind the PlayStation 2 as the most successful video game console of all time. Its successor, the 3DS has also sold remarkably well, particularly in light of smartphone’s rise as a gaming platform. In The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, game designer Jesse Schell contends that focusing on the particular platforms on which we play games might be less instructive than considering the venues in which we play them. Bridging the gap between a portable handheld and a stationary console with games that exist fluidly in both is an interesting and untapped idea that Nintendo could explore.
That’s all we can say for now, but bookmark this post. We’ll update it whenever we hear more about Nintendo’s upcoming console/platform.
Updated on 4-27-2016 by Will Fulton: Added launch window
Updated on 5-24-2016 by Mike Epstein: Updated handheld/console hybrid section to include report on Nintendo “MH” handheld.