Nintendo NX rumor roundup and analysis

It’s been a long ride with NX first being mentioned by Iwata over a year ago in order to ward off rumors of Nintendo leaving the dedicated hardware business. Not much is known so far, even now. Outside of Just Dance, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Sonic 2017 Project, nothing is 100% confirmed for NX. A lot of speculation has been created with the basis that NX is a console or a handheld, but rarely both thanks to Iwata dodging the question when asked. I thought it was a good time to look at the NX with a new perspective before it’s officially announced and compare new rumors to old speculation.

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The Hardware:

The most questionable aspect of the NX, the has remained one of the biggest unknowns for awhile. Even Eurogamer’s report isn’t completely clear. Many expected a system around Xbox One’s power, with some going above or below, but few expected it to be considerably lower and for now we still don’t know what the NX will be capable of.  Eurogamer’s report indicates that with the current dev kits the NX is comfortably above Wii U’s capabilities, but bellow Xbox One’s. They did note that it seems likely that Nintendo could go with the NVIDIA TEGRA X2 chip which could further close the gap, though that’s just their speculation even if others have expressed similar thoughts.

The ‘Gimmick’: 

The EuroGamer report indicates that the NX will be a portable machine that can be placed on a dock to display on the TV as well as having detachable sides which can function as two separate controllers. This is still a bit vague, but what I gather is that, normally it’ll function like the control set up of the Wii U gamepad, but when detached, the controllers act like sideways Wii motes. Perhaps one might be able to attach the controls to the top and bottom of the screen to allow for vertical play, which could result in interesting experiences. This isn’t very “out there” or weird, seems like it could achieve the Wii U’s concept better than the actual Wii U can with its varying controller set ups right out the box.

UPDATE: Nintendo had filed a previously unseen patent relating to the detachable controls mentioned above and in the Eurogamer report. The patent was filed in January and made public recently in August. It details detachable controllers that communicate with the main device via IR sensors. The interesting part of the patent is that the technology or idea they came up with requires no electronics meaning it’s a very simple and cheap component (It’s worth noting that the patent is not limited to a component that lacks electronics, as that would go against Eurogamer’s report about them being able to be used as controllers for multiplayer). The idea could allow publishers to create new control schemes for their games alongside other functions (more comfortable controllers, battery life extenders, etc). I can see these working for future NX devices as well depending on how well the technology works. Check out this mock up for some potential ideas.

Update 2: The detachable controllers are to function as Wii Mote+ like devices according to LPVG and Emily Rogers. Dual Wii Mote+ with dual analog sticks is a big jump from the classic Wii Mote and it’s pretty exciting. Just Dance would need to use it and the leak is probably from them.

The dock is potentially the most interesting piece of the NX puzzle despite EuroGamer having nothing to say about it. It would be weird for it to be included in dev kits if it’s only a TV-out, and if that’s all it did then it wouldn’t really be a hybrid now would it? In terms of hardware power, the battery life is a huge component holding back systems. Being able to utilize more power without having to worry about overheating or running out of battery life might be able to boost the system somewhat. Additionally, Nintendo has experimented with add ons in the past such as the RAM expansion pack for the N64 so added RAM doesn’t seem out of the possibility. Maybe not out of the gate, but building the NX to have more hardware in the dock could allow Nintendo to have the opportunity to release docks in the future in order to power up your system. The dock could also include a Hard Drive, not being limited by the small casing of a portable device. Maybe with TV only games (like Just Dance?) being stored there.

The Software: 

This is where things get a little more interesting. I had already written a detailed article on why a shared library is exciting, but it’s worth looking at it from the perspective of the new rumors. A big issue that Nintendo has as a console manufacturer is that they cannot support 2 different platforms efficiently enough. Lacking consistent and mainstream 3rd party support, Nintendo has kind of backed itself into the “secondary console” market. This isn’t a bad thing, but when you need to buy 2 very different consoles to feel like you’re getting a big enough library, it leaves an unsatisfying impression upon the consumer. It cost the average consumer $600 to become pre-price drop adopters of Nintendo’s latest hardware which is very expensive while not getting a top-tier experience. The shared library lowers the barrier of entry while increasing the amount of software the consumer can buy.

Talking in terms of number of software released, in a good year the 3DS sees a little over 10 games and the Wii U received a little under 10 exclusives. Combining the joint effort needed to release this number of software into one system should, in theory, amount to 14-20 games a year on a singular platform. That’s quite the increase, especially for a Nintendo console.  Additionally, there was a large overlap of titles that fulfill the role of titles on the other platform like developing two Mario Karts, two Smash bros, and recently two 3D Mario titles. This creates redundancy in the software line up and eliminated some titles that could’ve been hardware sellers. With this set up they no longer need to do that, and if they no longer need to make redundant sequels, they could put their talented teams into more unique software making that ~14-20 number feel even greater thanks to the added variety. This is partly how we got titles like Splatoon instead of Animal Crossing Wii U (well, a real one).

A big and exciting factor in all of this is some of the software that was gated to one form factor or the other, and how that’s going to change. You’ll be able to play Monster Hunter on your TV, on a modern system with a controller again. A mainline Pokemon title will make its TV debut as well as a mainline console Zelda making its portable debut. It will be very possible that within the first year or so we will have a system with Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest, the new Zelda game, a new 3D Mario, and the latest Pokemon which is a massive selling point for people, especially in Japan. I think they’re going to love this.

*UPDATE: in a new report, MCV claims that a new 3D Mario, Pokemon, and Zelda will be due out during the first 6 months or so of the NX’s life. Emily Roger also claims that GameFreak is working on NX, though she didn’t clarify on what. Read more about the report here.

Not only will this be great for consumers, but it’ll be fantastic for developers. Nintendo would struggle between choosing ambition or profitability when deciding when to develop for a platform and that will seemingly be resolved. One large audience to sell your games to is increasingly better than having a Wii U situation possible. Greenlighting projects from internal teams or external pitches would be more likely with the lowered risks (budgets are still  considerably smaller than AAA Xbox One/PS4 with an install base big enough to profit off of).


Confirmed Support: 

Just Dance 2017, Sonic 2017 Project, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; an unusual lineup when put up side by side for sure. The only title that seems impossible to play on the go is oddly Just Dance, a games that can run on Wii, so it bares questioning: are there TV mode only games? It might tie back into the dock, but that’s just speculating on rumors at this point.

A couple of publishers have gone out of their way to express support for the NX which is a bit reassuring to see. Earlier today, Ubisoft promised several surprises on top of Just Dance 2017. Warner Bros. said they planned on supporting it, and Scott Moffitt reiterated that you can expect support from Capcom, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros. (whom showed support for them this previous generation with Capcom being a big reason why the 3DS did so well in Japan). Even Take Two, which didn’t support either of their platforms outside of a launch title or two, expressed some interests. Then we see SEGA and Square Enix, which haven’t commented much in interviews, but they have shown support by announcing titles like Dragon Quest XI (which was kind of retracted, likely due to the early announcement) and Sonic 2017 Project.

*UPDATE: MCV claims that the Publishers mentioned above (sans Capcom) are all on board for NX development. Read more on that report here.

It’s still too early to tell the kind of 3rd party support that the NX will amast, but it’s at least very likely to retain the support of the devs that have continued to support Wii U and 3DS like Activision, Warner Bros., Ubisoft, Atlus, SEGA, Namco Bandai, Koei Tecmo, etc. They could potentially get support from more studios, perhaps lapsed Vita/Sony portable devs with no home to go to outside of the demanding PS4 or the limiting mobile market. Would be nice to see quirky japanese games make it to the system (maybe not all of them, though)

Cartridge Games:

Cartridges have been part of NX speculation for a long time, starting after a patent arose for a disk drive-less system. Eurogamer backed up these claims in their NX report from a few days ago, stating that the NX will use 32GB cartridges. While the N64’s fate being decided by cartridges have given them a bad name, the technology has progressed in a way that they provide ample benefits. The proper name of the more modern version of the technology is “cards” which are often found on 3DS/DS. As a Console/Handheld hybrid, lacking a disk drive and using cards means not having to include a disc drive which uses a lot of power and produces a lot of heat. Moving parts such as a disc drive are more likely to result in hardware failure, so removing it reduces costs in replacement units. While the advantages are the same as they’ve usually been on a handheld, if Nintendo ever decides to release a standalone console (the OS that they’ve been working on should allow them to) it could see fairly large benefits. Check out a detailed report here.

Final thoughts:

The NX rumors and speculation have me pleasantly optimistic of just what Nintendo can achieve with this new console. The software output alone should be pretty fantastic, hopefully the quality is also top notch. Some might be disappointed by the visuals, but I believe there’s still a lot NIntendo can achieve in the HD era.

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