A cool idea, but will it work?
Endless speculation and theories about Nintendo’s next console, the NX, have been circulating for as long as it has been announced. Plenty of rumors have spoken on the possible nature of the machine, but a new report from Eurogamer claims that the console is not only a handheld system, but can be connected and played on a TV via a dock. The handheld portion is reportedly a screen with two detachable controllers on either side of it (which the image below depicts).
The NX will also reportedly use cartridges for its physical media, but is also expected to support digital downloads. The report also mentions that the system is running on Nvidia’s Tegra technology, which is the same tech used in Nvidia’s own line of Shield handheld PC’s.
So, for the sake of speculation (and so that we needn’t repeat the obvious), we’re going to assume the report is accurate. But nonetheless, Nintendo has yet to confirm any of this information, so everything should be taken with a grain of salt and all that jazz.
The NX as described here would be a pretty radical departure from the current console market, and not to mention, potentially replace Nintendo’s already existing handheld system, the 3DS. The company is very clearly placing all of their bets on this system, so it’s incredibly important that it succeed. But with an idea so unconventional, it’s a wonder if the system will actually work.
One of the first questions you ask yourself after hearing about the proposed NX is a pretty fair one: “If this is a handheld console, how will its games look as good as a modern console?” Well, that is pretty easily explained by the main technology they’re implementing in the system, Nvidia’s Tegra mobile processor. The entire point of the processor is to pump out impressive visuals out of a very small box, which has been well documented with Nvidia’s Shield system.
Now, that also means the NX under these specifications will likely never be the powerhouse of the console space that Sony and Microsoft are trying to create in the upcoming PS4 Neo and Project Scorpio, respectively. The NX will almost surely be capable of faithfully running the likes of Wii U titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as well as games on par with slightly newer hardware in the future. That is, at least, the most likely scenario. We don’t know the exact specifications of the system, but that seems to be the angle they’re going for in using Nvidia’s hardware.
The report doesn’t say much about the NX’s controllers past the fact that they’re detachable from the screen itself, and the illustration doesn’t say too much either, but they do seem to communicate that they’ll generally be similar to the existing Wii U gamepad’s layout. This is very good news, considering the gamepad is the best feeling controller the company has made since the days of the SNES. But, once detached from the system and used on the TV, the layout might become awkward. Remember how weird it felt to play the Wii with a game that didn’t require much motion?
Another big question about the NX is battery life. It’s no small task to run games the caliber of Zelda on a handheld console, and Nintendo will need a lot of battery power to keep it going for more than a few hours. And for those saying, “wait, the Wii U gamepad battery life is okay, so this probably will be too.” Remember that the gamepad is just a controller that receives a video signal from the real box powering everything, the actual Wii U. In this case, the NX itself, the rectangle you’re holding, is the entire machine. So the company has a lot of design challenges that they’ve probably been tackling for years developing the NX: weight, battery life, screen quality, drop protection.
This is truly some uncharted territory Nintendo is delving into. The only previously released product similar to the NX was Nvidia’s own Shield, which was targeting a very different demographic. The other closest example is Sony’s PS Vita, which was considered a fairly powerful handheld when it came out (though, it’s power level lies somewhere near a lower-end PS3). This is a big step above that, and Nintendo likely has to cram a lot more hardware to make it all happen, so it’ll be interesting to see how they overcome these obstacles.
But truly, if there’s one thing that Nintendo has proven over the past few generations, the company doesn’t need graphical parity with the other big players in the industry to release amazing games that millions want to play. You couldn’t read a “best of 2015” list last year without some mention of Super Mario Maker or Splatoon, and despite The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild being on both Wii U and NX, the game is looking beautiful and fun.
Nintendo’s chief concern has never been keeping on visual par with the competition. They make small technological strides with their consoles, but they do everything they can to place the focus away from graphics and onto the games themselves. The NX seems to be no exception. When the time comes for the system’s official unveiling, we can expect a large emphasis on the games that are coming to it and how easy it will be to take the experience on the go.
And if they can make good on ease of use, battery life, and general hardware quality, the NX is sounding like a really great step forward for the company. The system doesn’t seem to directly compete with the likes of the PS4 or Xbox, but is instead carving out a new hybrid market of both home console gaming and the handheld space.
Nintendo made their name with their home consoles, but the handheld market is where they’ve truly shined in the past five years. We’re now at a place with technology that the two ecosystems can be melded together at a (potentially) affordable price tag, and Nintendo is looking to capitalize on that. But once they combine their two chief markets with a single product, will they be leaving their massively successful 3DS in the dust? If so, we could be saying goodbye to an entire era of dual-screen experiences.
Not to mention what this could mean for existing fans of the 3DS. If the 3DS ceases to be supported long after the NX releases, can they recapture the same market? It shouldn’t be a given that the same people that love their 3DS would also love a (potentially) $400 or more system to replace it. Some might feel betrayed, or left behind themselves in this new hybrid console future. Though unlikely, it’s also possible that Nintendo has plans to maintain both platforms concurrently. But even in that case, most new and exciting titles would naturally be catered towards the NX.
If the tech the report posits is accurate, a hybrid device like the NX could be really special. And with the backing of Nintendo’s first party titles and a launch game as big as Zelda, everything is looking good on paper. But Nintendo still has to convince a whole lot of people, and present some impressive solutions to problems like battery life without breaking the consumer’s budget. Hopefully these questions are answered soon.
What do you think of the NX that this report describes?