Question Block

In the first of what are sure to be multiple rumours before Nintendo lifts the lid on its 'NX' hardware in 2016, Taiwanese press site DigiTimes has made a range of claims around a potential release in July next year. Its general statements revolve around Foxconn handling much of the manufacturing - as it has with the Wii U and 3DS, albeit with some controversy - with Pegatron also taking some work. The timescales cite initial production this October, before final orders February / March 2015 and then production in May or June; all of that boils down to an apparent target for a July release next year and first year sales of 20 million units.

As we highlighted in our original article, there are some question marks and doubts around this timeline and supposed launch year sales target. It's all very tight for one thing, while that sales target is particularly high; that said, however, there are now multiple sources sharing their insight and belief that the NX was shown to third-parties at E3. The LA event is, ultimately, a trade event where plenty of meetings and presentations take place away from the public glare, so it's certainly conceivable that potential publishing and development third-parties would be given early access to prepare for potential titles on the platform.

As is often the case, then, we have a blend of solid rumours, questionable rumours and logical assumptions to work with. If the NX does arrive as early as next Summer, however, it would certainly be a good deal sooner than we've expected when talking about the platform in Nintendo Life HQ, and would shake up some of our thoughts on what's to come.

What's happening within these walls?
What's happening within these walls?

To go with the headline, then, what would the positives be of NX arriving as soon as Summer 2016? On a basic level it would give Nintendo a valuable opportunity to get back into the game in the console space, whatever the form of the hardware. The Wii U, despite improved momentum, is still well behind its contemporaries. As we've also suggested previously, the indications are that A-list projects and development studios are shifting away from Wii U to NX, and Satoru Iwata has recently stated that the company wants to avoid previous mistakes and hit the ground running.

The negatives? There are a few, ultimately, and these also serve as warnings that suggest that the rumours, despite some scope for realism, may be off with that release window. It simply seems too soon, in light of Nintendo's ongoing refusal to even explain what NX is until 2016. Though conventional approaches aren't always the best way, it would seem chaotic to announce hardware - even in January 2016 - and release it just six months later. That's very little time to build hype, establish a narrative and get the pre-orders flowing. On a practical level it would be a major marketing challenge, even assuming the logistics for manufacturing enough units to meet demand were in place.

Also assuming, based on thoughts we've had at Nintendo Life for a while, that this new platform may serve as a cross-platform home and portable system, the timing would be tricky for current hardware. The 3DS turns five in late February / March 2016, so that would be a reasonable innings, but a summer 2016 NX would put pressure on the Wii U and effectively finish it off. Yes, in those Satoru Iwata comments highlighted above he talks of keeping the Wii U and 3DS active beyond the launch of NX, but we don't think there's much doubt that retailers frustrated by stale Wii U stock will happily ditch it entirely for new hardware. The relative improvement in Wii U sales so far in 2015 would mean little on the retail scene if a shiny new device was demanding shelf space.

The Legend of Zelda

A Summer release would also bring the fate of The Legend of Zelda on Wii U back into focus. It's been made absolutely clear that it'll arrive on Wii U, but a Summer NX would surely secure its fate with the GameCube version of Twilight Princess - it wouldn't be surprising if two versions arrived in that case.

So, how likely is a summer 2016 release of NX? This writer will put his neck out and say it's not at all likely. Our instinct with NX has, for some time, been for a Holiday 2016 or Spring 2017 release - the former would be ideal in hitting the busiest shopping period of the year, and the latter is a fall-back if logistical challenges make the 2016 arrival too difficult. It seems likely that, whatever the case, Nintendo would want to ship its first few million units before 31st March 2017, in time to give its financial results a major boost.

What is clear, from the whispers and rumours, is that Nintendo has made notable progress - perhaps final - in completing its overall concept for the NX. Satoru Iwata's comments belie a sense of finality albeit secrecy, keen to hide the concept from rivals, while (as mentioned above) there are now multiple sources talking of third-parties and partners being shown the system in some form. Even forgetting the Summer 2016 rumours, it's certainly possible that early dev units are now kicking around in multiple studios.

Reports in late 2014 suggested Nintendo plans to use Sharp's intriguing "Free-Form Display" for an unnamed product, with production from early 2016
Reports in late 2014 suggested Nintendo plans to use Sharp's intriguing "Free-Form Display" for an unnamed product, with production from early 2016

One aspect of today's rumours that's intriguing - even applying the requisite dose of salt and accepting potential inaccuracies - is the talk of targeting 20 million sales in the first year, which would be beyond PS4 levels. On that note we've written before of our belief that Nintendo will potentially bring us a unified platform, a new pillar that could replace both Wii U and 3DS.

With the ageing 3DS and the toils of the Wii U it makes sense; it's a concept that may appeal to third-parties of all sizes, and also allows Nintendo to use its resources more effectively. Having internally unified its handheld and home console divisions a while ago, Nintendo's teams have nevertheless been stuck supporting two entirely different systems, with wildly varied architectures and capabilities. With one system and one overall infrastructure covering the home console and portable space Nintendo can focus its efforts and conceivably produce a more focused slate of games. If the 'NX' platform ultimately has separate portable and home console purchasing options under one banner, that 20 million target has a degree of - albeit optimistic - sanity.

This would play into the awkward position Nintendo finds itself in, with the Japanese market proving favourable to portable hardware yet Western markets making more money with home consoles; an integrated solution, hopefully at a tempting price, can help Nintendo tackle both markets efficiently. Of course, this is Nintendo we're talking about, so a curve ball that is nothing like that concept is just as likely.

It's clear that, in these summer months and stepping into the second half of the year, we're entering an exciting period with Nintendo. We have some fun games coming to Wii U and 3DS, of course, but it's the mystery behind NX, smartphone games and even that Quality of Life sleep sensor that will occupy minds.

2016 could be a huge year for Nintendo, and full of thrills for its fans.