Strap yourselves in, it's going to be a busy 12 months in the world of Nintendo. Thank goodness, too, as it feels like we've been in a bit of a holding pattern for a number of months. We should also acknowledge that the terribly sad passing of Satoru Iwata also left a shadow over the Summer.
Not that there hasn't been some buzz around Nintendo in terms of games, with some excellent titles coming over the rest of this year and beyond on the Wii U and 3DS; the portable looks particularly busy in the first half of 2016. The New Nintendo 3DS did breath some fresh life into the portable family earlier in 2015, though the Wii U's sales have been modest, and the overall feeling seems to have been one of waiting for the 'next big thing'. The reaction to Nintendo's E3 showings, both immediate and in the weeks that followed, did portray sense of slight malaise and diluted excitement for a number of titles that are spin-offs and sequels.
Part of this perception around the current-gen has been down to Nintendo's own actions, which were taken out of necessity. The announcement of the DeNA partnership earlier in the year was a game changer in Nintendo's efforts with mobile, and that same announcement brought the first official talk of the codenamed Nintendo NX, the dedicated gaming platform that will be next from the company. Objectively it can feel a bit early for 3DS and particularly Wii U to be considering old-hat, but that's the sense we're getting from the talk around the company - we're in a world with an increasingly short memory, and when Nintendo predicts falling or humble sales for those systems (it expects a drop to 7.6 million 3DS sales and just 3.4 million for Wii U this financial year) we can't help but look to what's next.
So today was rather exciting for Nintendo fans, even if there was a reliance on unnamed sources or presumption. We saw a revamped Nintendo Developer Portal (this writer's nerdy enough to find that interesting), while the Nintendo Network ID going down for maintenance soon (which isn't the norm) has triggered talk of a potential arrival for the Club Nintendo replacement. Well, it's due.
The news that's gotten fans most excited, though, has come via the Wall Street Journal, a highly respected publication that - though not always 100% right - has enough clout to be taken seriously. The publication shared its reports from sources that Nintendo NX hardware has started to go out to third parties, fuelling talk that NX could arrive in 2016 due to the "softness" of the Wii U and 3DS markets (see above). These sources seems to re-affirm the prospects of a unified platform containing both home console and portable elements. Based on subtle comments in the past from Satoru Iwata and instinct from looking at technology trends, we've been sharing our view that this will be the case for some time.
Though there have been previous sources and rumours around the NX, this does feel like the most legitimate piece of detail since E3, when hardware (of an unspecified nature in reports) was apparently shown to key partners. We should certainly engage our caution from this point - along with healthy use of the Rumour tag - however, as this also feels like the starting gun for rampant speculation to kick in until Nintendo actually reveals the platform; that unveiling is apparently going to wait until next year.
Talk of "industry-leading chips", for example, will surely bring lots of talk about CPU speeds, gigaflops and all manner of shenanigans last seen when people were trying to compare PS4 and Xbox One. There'll likely be zero solid information, too, as even the Wall Street Journal can't name sources for fear those same sources will lose their jobs for breaking NDAs (non disclosure agreements). We're well and truly going into the rabbit hole.
In truth, though, all of this talk around NX and Nintendo's move into mobile, and maybe even a little about Quality of Life (QoL), isn't a bad thing. The fact is that courtesy of system and software performance in the past 1-2 years Nintendo has fallen lower down the ladder in a lot of mainstream gaming conversation outside of Japan. Rival systems are packed with big-budget triple-A multiplatform titles and hog the headlines - especially in the West, where home consoles dominate the media. Once you step away from Nintendo-based websites you see relatively little talk about Wii U and 3DS, and retail stores seem to keep decent space for 3DS and amiibo, while pushing Wii U further to the back.
Nintendo is still very relevant and important, of course, the lifetime sales for 3DS and consumer appetite for amiibo reinforce that; yet it could do with making more headlines, asserting itself even more into the public's consciousness. That's why the next 12 months are so vital, with NX and mobile in particular being big moves - expect Pokémon Go to get plenty of attention, too. These are releases that will be spoken about, and it's important that Nintendo amplifies the noise - and hype - as much as possible. It's not always been the Nintendo 'way' to shout from the rooftops but, frankly, the world is an increasingly noisy and cutthroat place. It needs to scream the house down.
We used the phrase 'new era' in another Talking Point less than a month ago, with our sense of déjà vu prompting us to check our database. Yet actually, we kept it in this headline and make no apology for it - Nintendo bounced back from a slightly disappointing generation beforehand with spectacular Wii and DS success, and now aims to do so again. Yet the game has changed, technology and the consumer scene has evolved almost unrecognisably in the past five years. In jumping into mobile with DeNA and others, and preparing the NX to try and regain a substantial portion of the dedicated gaming market, Nintendo is entering a vital high-stakes period.
It clearly knows this, and the sense is of a company ready to embrace diversification, IP development and new ideas - this started under Satoru Iwata, and Tatsumi Kimishima has spoken about continuing that vision under his Presidency. The next 12 months genuinely could be the instigation of a new era for Nintendo.
We're not saying that the Wii U and 3DS aren't still important; they still have units to sell and - for existing owners - some truly exciting games on the way. We should also be ready for a lot of evolution and change in Nintendo's actions, however. It'll be revealing a new console - possibly its most important yet - and releasing games on iOS and Android. It's going to be unpredictable, occasionally confusing and potentially thrilling. We'll just need to go along for the ride.