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What’s old is new again: Nintendo may ditch discs and return to cartridges

For roughly two decades, optical disc formats like CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, and others have been the media of choice for game consoles. More than any other company, Nintendo has resisted this trend, sticking with cartridges in the Nintendo 64 and all of its handhelds. And as a recent patent filing suggests, the company may return to the classic cartridge format in its next game console.

The patent — describing a game console — was filed in February, released on August 20, and shared to NeoGAF over the weekend. It is explicitly stated in the patent abstract that the “example system is not provided with an optical disk drive,” but what it does feature is a memory card slot, hence the rumors of Nintendo returning to games on cartridges.

As flash storage gets cheaper, using it to ship games increasingly makes sense, especially with game sizes ballooning beyond the limits of optical storage. Considering Nintendo already uses cartridges in its 3DS handhelds, it’s easy enough to see why the company would want to move away from discs.

Related: Here is every rumor we’ve heard about the Nintendo NX

The return of the cartridge isn’t the only rumor that has spun out of the recently uncovered patent, however. Some think that Nintendo simply plans to do away with physical media entirely, offering games via digital download only. Looking at the rise in sales of digital versions of games, this makes a certain amount of sense, but it isn’t without its problems.

Nintendo console patent

While digital downloads work fine for those with fast Internet connections, this simply isn’t an option for large portions of the population. It’s unlikely that Nintendo would readily discard so many potential consumers, but it is a company that has made bold — and at times, confusing — moves in the past.

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Either of these possibilities lends credence to another rumor: that the Nintendo NX will be a handheld/console hybrid. Nintendo has already taken steps in this direction with the Wii U GamePad, and the company sells more handhelds than it does home consoles, so the reasoning is at least somewhat sound.

Of course, this is all speculation. Companies file patents for technology they may use all the time, so this doesn’t even mean that when we do finally get a look at Nintendo’s next console, it will look anything like what the patents describe.