Sony and Microsoft have been in an arms race to see 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. Sadly, 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 its early 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 soon afterward that the NX will launch in March 2017, though it wouldn’t be at E3 2016.
That is the sum total of what Nintendo has officially revealed thus far. Below are the major rumors, our hopes, and an educated guess on what the NX will be.
Tentative release date, design, and more
March 2017 release?
Nintendo told investors in its earnings report for its 2016 fiscal year — April 2015 to March 2016 — it expected to launch the NX console in March 2017. The recently-detailed Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, originally slated for 2016, was pushed back to release alongside the NX in 2017. It will also be available for the Wii U, 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.
While, officially speaking, Nintendo’s launch plan appears locked in, a rumor from hardware manufacturing blog Digitimes from June, 2016, has suggested that Nintendo may push back the launch date. The report, which cited anonymous sources, said Nintendo has delayed production of the NX hardware from “mid-2016” to “early 2017.” If accurate, Nintendo may push the NX launch date, or will ship a very limited number of units on day one.
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.
A June, 2016, report from hardware manufacturing blog Digitimes claimed to have independently confirmed that the NX will feature a mobile device, which will also “connect to a TV” for players looking for a home-console-style experience. According to the report, the mobile component will have a 5- to 7-inch display.
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.
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.
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.”
Nintendo hasn’t exactly refuted rumors of underpowered hardware. Indeed, in an interview Bloomberg, Nintendo of America chief Reggie Fils-Aime said that the NX “[isn’t] about specs … teraflops … [or] horsepower,” but content. “We’re focused on bringing out best entertainment to both the Wii U as well as the NX in the future,” he said.
The research 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, it 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.
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.