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Opinion – Why I Hope The Nintendo NX Rumors Are True

by Joe Juba on Jul 28, 2016 at 01:15 PM

With new consoles – or new iterations of current consoles – on the horizon, the gaming industry is an exciting place right now. Players are anxious for any details about the upcoming technology (Sony’s PlayStation 4 Neo, Microsoft’s Project Scorpio, and Nintendo’s NX), but the companies are keeping frustratingly quiet. People are hungry for information that isn’t being delivered, which is one of the reasons the recent rumors regarding the NX are so captivating. But even better than that is the fact that these rumors, if true, indicate that Nintendo is finally back on the right track.

From the design of the system to the tech powering it, the rumors surrounding the NX have stirred a dormant excitement for Nintendo’s future. I’ve been waiting for Nintendo to abandon its losing competition with Sony and Microsoft and consolidate its strength. Thanks to the Wii U, Nintendo’s current place in the console landscape is occupied by an under-powered, under-supported, and effectively dead system – but the company may finally be able to turn that around.

According to Eurogamer’s report, the NX is a hybrid system that combines the features of handhelds and traditional consoles. As a portable device, it has a touch-screen and two detachable controllers to facilitate multiplayer; at home, it outputs to your TV for a more stationary experience. This is a brilliant (though long-predicted) fusion of Nintendo’s previously segmented handheld and console audiences.

A graphic from the NX's announcement

The Wii U is done for. The 3DS is over five years old already, and has been refreshed several times. It makes perfect sense for Nintendo to unify its business into a single platform that serves multiple purposes. The market for dedicated handheld gaming devices is disappearing; tablets and phones occupy that space now – or at least enough of it to discourage such a project. Not only would a single platform be smart in terms of avoiding risk, but it would also give Nintendo something to offer that its competitors can’t: the ability to seamlessly transition to and from gaming on-the-go.

I love my Vita. I know this seems like a bad example, but hear me out. Vita-exclusive games aren’t the major draw of that system for me; I like the way it allows me to play classic RPGs, and I like how it interacts with my PS4. The cross-buy, cross-save, and remote-play options allow you to play games on your Vita and retain that progress when you return to PS4. Sometimes these features are unreliable or convoluted, but on the whole, they provide a cool and convenient way to centralize your gaming. The problem? Enjoying this vision of the future on your PS4 requires the purchase of a separate handheld console without many other features to recommend it. If Nintendo can iron out the technical kinks and eliminate the extra investment, more people will experience and appreciate this evolution in how (and where) we interact with our games.

Another thing I like is the versatility of the alleged design. With the Wii U, people kept talking about the “potential of the GamePad,” but that phrase never materialized into any actual advances that led to developers – Nintendo included – consistently making games that used the technology well. Yes, some games found fun ways to implement the GamePad, but they were exceptions in a sea of gimmicks. Part of that might be due to the strangeness of the device and the questions it left: How do you use two screens? Why is that better? Does the gyroscope improve the experiences? The answers to these questions varied too much to establish a firm foundation. According to this patent, the NX unit is a touchscreen (like an iPad). The more recent rumors point to detachable segments that function like a traditional game pad when affixed, and as different controllers when removed (with the touchscreen functioning as a shared screen for two players holding the detached controllers). Though the exact size is still unclear, that’s all familiar enough to be immediately understandable. Additional features like dual screens and gyroscopes may be announced later, but on a basic level, people can understand how this system might work and the kinds of games it could provide.

One rumor has to do with the NX using the Tegra X1 chip, which would make it underpowered compared to the technology inside the PS4 and Xbox One (and their upcoming iterations). Being a weaker system certainly isn’t great for public perception, but it might be better in the long run. In generations where Nintendo has tried standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Sony and Microsoft with ports of the same games, it usually didn’t compare favorably. However, if Nintendo can establish that the NX is on a different battlefield – as it did with the Wii and 3DS – then maybe it can stop inviting comparisons to other consoles (especially if it also is able to play Nintendo’s mobile games, too).

This may also help with Nintendo’s recurring problem with third-party studios. If the tech is more accessible and less demanding than PS4 and Xbox One, then maybe creating games for it will be less expensive and more attractive to external partners. Of course, this is just one possible scenario. Much depends on the exact specs and how Nintendo positions the product.

The only part of the rumors I don’t like is the lack of backwards compatibility. Maybe that just means that Wii U games won’t work because the system uses cartridges instead of discs. As I already mentioned, having access to a vast back-catalogue is something I love about my Vita. I’m holding out hope that Nintendo will make old games (including Wii U) available for download – and find a way to avoid making people re-buy them again. After all, how many times can Nintendo re-release old games and expect people to keep purchasing them on various different platforms?

Ultimately, everything comes back to the games. The hardware can be great and the features can be innovative, but no one will care if the games aren’t fun to play. That remains the most critical unknown with the NX right now; the only major title it has is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that isn’t exactly a vision of the future since it’s also coming to Wii U. I can’t wait to see how Nintendo paves a path to the future, and I’m hoping the company uses this opportunity to grab the best parts from two facets of its business while surprising us along the way.