Earlier this year the late Satoru Iwata announced they are releasing a new platform code-named NX. While details at this point are scarce there are a few interesting tidbits we do know. I would like to go over these first and then delve into my theory, and why I believe it.
First off, we know it's a new platform dedicated for gaming. The interesting thing about this announcement is that it was done simultaneously with the DeNA partnership and Nintendo's mobile strategy. Obviously, Nintendo did not want people to think they were wholly transitioning into mobile and abandoning their dedicated consoles. While I imagine this is earlier than Nintendo wanted to announce the platform the reassurance of knowing their intentions was more important than keeping this fact a secret.
Secondly, we know that NX is a new concept designed for emerging markets. This is very interesting information because it implies that this will not be like anything we have seen them release in the past. A good example of an emerging market is China which recently had a 15 year console ban end.
Thirdly, we know that Nintendo has stated that they will continue to support the Wii U and 3DS after the NX's launch. Satoru Iwata said that the install base of the NX will be zero at launch so it wouldn't make sense for them to abandon their existing platforms in lieu of the NX. Historically, Nintendo has done just that with the previous 3 consoles, so that remains to be seen, but then again Nintendo has not made this claim before, at least not to my knowledge.
Some additional information is that Nintendo has in the past implemented the same idea in different ways and attempted concepts multiple times. Often, they have to wait on the technology. One such example is stereoscopic 3D, the Virtual Boy being the first implementation, but was also attempted for both the Gamecube and GBA but never implemented into the final products. Another example is the disk system starting with the Famicom Disk system but also the N64 DD.
I also think it's worth pointing out the origins of the DS handheld. The GBA was launched in spring of 2001, but the DS was launched 3.5 years later in fall of 2004. The interesting thing was that it wasn't originally conceived as the successor to the GBA but rather a "third pillar", the GBA was supported alongside the DS and they co-existed for 3 years before Nintendo discontinued the GBA in 2007. The original models could play GBA games (in single player mode only) and Nintendo even released a new model of the GBA called the Micro in 2005. My point is these were totally different systems with different capabilities but they were both given a full life by Nintendo and even some compatibility with each other. I believe Nintendo will implement a similar strategy with the NX.
Not the most elegant, but effective
For a time I thought that Nintendo might try an expansion system of sorts to the Wii U, almost like the 32X was for the Sega Genesis. But honestly, it requires that you own the Wii U first, and then want to drop another $100-$200 on an add on, run it through USB 2.0 and then try and have developers try to make ports on that system work. The Wii proved that the lack of power wasn't a death knell, as long as people want to buy games on the platform developers will make games for the system. Frankly, it didn't work for Sega in the 90's and I don't think it would work today, the only reason the N64 expansion pack worked was because it was a small investment and was mostly cosmetic, that and the N64 was already more powerful than the PS1.
I also toyed with the idea of Nintendo making a Micro-console. They could potentially make a system that's digital only and able to produce some decent graphics for a small price, even use the Wii U pro controller. While that sounds nice in principal, those systems never made any waves, the PSTV was a flop, so was the OUYA, sure the Fire TV and Apple TV have gaming options and are successful, but those are only optional features, they are primarily streaming boxes.
There's also the notion that they would essentially develop and 4K console, a total redo on their 8th generation that would put them ahead of the PS4 and Xbone from a technological standpoint. This idea has a little merit but doesn't play out too well when you think it through. Say that Nintendo is able to make a 4K system and launch it in late 2016, and say it really is able to offer better performance than it's competition, then what? The system would have to be at least $500-$600 to be able to do that, and it's a known fact that developers start with the lowest common system and upconvert from there, at best, we'd be looking at slightly prettier versions of the same games, very few would take full advantage of the system's power. And it's not like third party developers are banging on Nintendo's door to make games for their current systems. Worst of all, what happens when the inevitable PlayStation 5 and next Xbox comes out in say 2020? They would have a 3DO on their hands, something that's better than the previous gen (specs wise) but doesn't quite keep pace with the next gen. Sure, developers could make games for the system, but Nintendo really needs to give them as little reason as possible to skip making a NX version of a game.
Believe me you don't want this...
So, we've gone over what it (probably) isn't, so what do I think it is? I think it's a stand alone gamepad that plays it's own games. Disagree? Well hear me out:
From a logical standpoint, this fits all of the criteria that Nintendo has laid down. It would be a new platform, it could potentially cater to those in emerging markets with simple touch games, could easily support the mobile games Nintendo has been touting, could be relatively cheap to manufacture making it a nice entry point, wouldn't disrupt the work being done on 3DS or Wii U, and could even be coupled with a console for increased functionality.
Imagine something like the Wii U gamepad that has it's own OS, you aren't tethered to the Wii U, so it's portable, but at the same time it's offering a larger screen than most portables, along with tactile buttons. They could make games specifically for the device and with mobile processors being what they are, you could actually get some impressive performance. I could easily see this being more powerful than Vita and costing $200.
I think the beautiful thing about this concept is that it could potentially enhance the Wii U functionality as well without relying on it. Think about it, you could have the new Legend of Zelda for Wii U and if you have an NX synced with the Wii U, you could get better visuals, faster loading times or maybe more modes that would have otherwise been impossible with the regular gamepad. Yes, I realize it does have that pitfall I mentioned earlier about having to write code for two devices, but it's not like it would be an integral feature like the expansion card.
The upgrading process would be also an issue for sure, but they could certainly make a bundle with the NX instead of the gamepad. There's also a mystery port at the bottom of the Wii U gamepad, perhaps a peripheral could be added? It worked for the Wii remote +.
It would certainly get around the need for physical media, you could use SD cards for storage since it would be smaller games, and I could see using an external hard drive if you had it synced with a Wii U. It could also give the Wii U more popularity if the NX took off: do you want to play your NX games on the TV? Buy a Wii U! Why stop there? Imagine the NX could sync with Nintendo next home console and offer off-screen play for it as backwards compatibility the Wii U.
They could even take it a step further by adding a 3DS game card slot. The Wii U can already play digital DS games with or without a TV, how much more compelling would the NX be if you added functionality for both of those systems? Nintendo has been reluctant to allow their handheld games to be played on a TV as of late, but if they marketed the NX as a deluxe 2DS and an upgrade to the Wii U it could gain some very good traction.
The idea has me excited, and we could see it as early as next year, so who knows? But what do you guys think of my idea? Are you ready for the Nintendo NX?