The DS attracted an incredibly broad range of gamers, as its sensational sales attest, and the 3DS has also achieved positive results drawing in gamers of various types. Nintendo has also released variations of the 3DS for different audiences, too, with the 2DS - as an example - primarily pitched as a budget option for children. The Nintendo Switch, however, feels more like a premium device with some potential for family fun as a home console / tablet-thing you randomly play at a picnic. While some see it primarily as a powerful portable rather than as a 'home gaming system', the device's main appeal is truly in the eye of the beholder; it's normal, then, to wonder how the hybrid approach will play out in the long term.
When you consider the recent marketing for Switch, there are plenty of trendy young adults in the commercials - some would use the term 'millennials' - and a few other box-ticking gamer types; there are photogenic 20-somethings playing 1-2-Switch at a party, and a father and son duking it out in ARMS. The bulk of recent ad time seems to focus on 18-30 somethings, though, which fall right into the 'influencers' column. It's not families or younger gamers that are at the core here, as was the case in many campaigns for the Wii U and continues to be the focus for a number of 3DS releases, but rather gamers in a certain age bracket that arguably set the trends that children want to follow.
In any case, that marketing and the launch price of $299.99 also puts the Switch right into home console territory; wherever you stand on the price and lack of pack-in game, it's not necessarily surprising that's the case. What plenty wonder, of course, is whether a true '3DS successor' is also coming, or whether the Switch (supposedly replacing Wii U) is in reality replacing both systems, with Nintendo merely buying time for the rejuvenated six year-old 3DS until its momentum is finally spent, possibly by late this year or at some point in 2018.
Whatever happens, Nintendo's still in a position to be the foremost producer of handheld dedicated gaming systems, but we thought we'd outline some options that we could see in the years to come.
Switch / 3DS Context
A number of people - including this writer - believe that the 3DS won't have a direct successor, as such, but perhaps a variation on the core Switch SKU (which we'll outline below). It would be a bit odd if Nintendo spent a few years unifying its development teams and streamlining processes to then say "ah well, let's just carry on with two separate chains of development anyway". The strain was evident in the Wii U / 3DS generation, as the demands of producing increasingly ambitious HD games was difficult to manage alongside keeping the portable's library ticking. In theory, Switch ends that, as its hybrid form means it can host a unified library of games.
On the flipside, not everyone buys into that. One perspective is that the Switch doesn't fully bridge the gap, and that if nothing else the Japanese market may demand a dedicated handheld that doesn't also serve as a home gaming device. There's also the - entirely fair - perspective that a sizeable audience prefers the distinctive portable-focused games you get on dedicated handhelds, and the question is whether both sides - home console and portable - can be fully satisfied by a hybrid platform.
Ultimately, what we may get is compromises and some interesting spins on portables, and we'll explore a few options below. Also of note are company President Tatsumi Kimishima's recent remarks to TIME; in summary, no 3DS 'successor' is currently being created, but all bets are still off on what may come in the future.
We are not creating a successor to the 3DS right now. We are, however, still thinking of portable systems. We are thinking of ways that we will be able to continue bringing portable gaming systems out, so yes, we are thinking of different ways to continue the portable gaming business.
A Portable-Only Switch SKU, With a New Brand
To be clear, this may not be an option for a year or two, and a system that's a Switch in the box without the 'Switch' mechanic (and dock) would need a spin-off brand. We'll bring the 2DS up once again, which attracted plenty of jokey social media posts when it arrived and removed the key 3D feature of the 3DS. It worked pretty well, though - the name made sense, and keenly priced bundles and styles attracted decent sales from parents, in particular, that were shopping for their young children.
This idea of a Switch tablet in a box without the dock would also face the challenges of reconciling its library with a portable-centric audience, too, but we're not convinced that would be a notable problem in itself. It would need to be competitively priced - a bit like the 2DS compared to the New 3DS, for example - and it would perhaps be stripped down in terms of features, perhaps lacking detachable Joy-Con (though likely supporting the controllers for multiplayer etc should people have them) and instead having a conventional design with permanent control inputs. If it were to come at an attractive portable price, it would also need to arrive at a point when it's cheaper for Nintendo to manufacture that core Switch hardware so, again, it's perhaps 2-3 years away.
This spin-off could also be an affordable alternative to an upgraded Switch. After all, the DS was followed by the DSi, the 3DS moved onto the New 3DS, and that's not even getting into the XL models. As Sony and Microsoft have now also shown with the PS4 Pro and upcoming 'Scorpio', mid-gen iterations in home consoles are now a reality. So if an upgraded Switch came in 2019/2020 that had stronger capabilities, a budget handheld-only option with the original model's graphical capabilities could be a factor.
Of course, that has people asking how you support a more powerful variation alongside the original. It's not new, as Nintendo did it with those aforementioned DS and 3DS iterations. Perhaps of more relevance is the recent move we've seen with the 'Boost' mode of the PS4 Pro, which in theory improves the performance of a number of PS4 games that have not been directly patched for the updated hardware. A similar concept could exist for Switch+ and the older 'portable' hardware repackaged and given a tweaked brand - the cheaper portable will run all Switch-era games, and the pricier system will come with a dock or home unit of some kind and also deliver higher resolutions and faster framerates. In fact the current Switch hardware already does this to a degree (certainly in terms of a higher resolution on the TV), though in this case the effect would be more significant.
Mid-gen iterations and upgrades aren't always popular, and bring complaints of 'dividing the userbase', but Nintendo's been doing it for years with its portables. Now that it's happening with rival home consoles, it seems to be a distinct possibility for the Switch generation.
Retro Revival for the Game Boy Family
This could actually be a product line beyond the Switch variation outlined above. What we're proposing here is an expansion and improvement upon the retro appeal offered by the NES Mini.
For quite some time hardware modders and third-parties have cloned the Game Boy family of systems and sold devices that enable players to enjoy those libraries with better screens, batteries and so on. As Nintendo showed with the NES Mini, it's now happy to step away from its conventional perspective on retro value (which we see with the Virtual Console model and pricing) in order to tap into nostalgia. The dinky little system is very 'Nintendo' in a few ways (locked to 30 games, not enough stock) but also represents a pleasing nod to current-day realities - plenty like the idea of catching up on old classics at a generous budget price.
Plenty of hopeful talk, ultimately, has been around a SNES Mini, but there must surely be scope for the Game Boy range to make its mark in the affordable 'gift' market of tiny revamped systems. A 'Game Boy' with a mix of original and Color games with a sharp screen (giving the famously soupy originals a clarity that's always welcome) could cause a meltdown online when announced, and prove rather popular in the Holidays market. The Game Boy Advance could also be a candidate for some kind of re-release with a fixed number of games, especially as that family of portables had quite a few fun designs that can be mimicked.
Intriguingly, we wonder whether Nintendo could go further with 'Mini' or - in these cases - 'Remix' portables and get them online with their own specialist Virtual Console eShops. Accounting for the screen and some basic Wi-Fi support, an $80-100 Game Boy that looks and plays beautifully - with 20-30 games pre-installed and with more as optional paid add-ons via an eShop - would surely have a good shot at success.
We've seen the attention and excitement that revivals of retro home consoles could have - the portable space could also benefit from that trend.
A Full, Independent 3DS Successor
This, of course, is what some want to see. We've outlined reasons why we don't think this will truly happen - such as the development demands it places on Nintendo - but this is the big N we're talking about; it's not always easy to predict.
Perhaps the possibility of this, a true 3DS successor in a couple of year's time, rests on the performance of the Switch. If Nintendo's new system endures tough times the company will consider its medium-term strategy and, if it looks destined for failure, could rip it up and start again. Nintendo's dedicated portables traditionally outsell the company's home consoles, and the Japanese market in particular is vital for these handheld systems. If Switch doesn't bridge that gap and Nintendo needs a hardware hit, it could recalibrate and produce something all new.
The form would be interesting, of course. For over a decade Nintendo portable fans have been accustomed to clamshell designs, for one thing, and over the past two generations we've seen substantial libraries of unique games - first- and third-party - build up. Nintendo will always try to gauge what's in demand and what could prove to be a sales success, in addition to striving for unique and imaginative forms of entertainment. If there's a gap in the market for a dedicated portable system that isn't being filled, by Switch or anything else, Nintendo will consider stepping into the breach.
With the Kyoto company, the element of surprise is never far away.
Nintendo Goes Fully Mobile
This seems the most far-fetched, not to mention the fact it could trigger a significant backlash from established fans. Nintendo is only in the early days of its smart device strategy, having released three apps of its own to date and with plans to produce a few more for this year. Remarks from senior executives and a look at its releases so far show that the company - and DeNA - are still trying out app types and payment methods to gather data and see what sticks.
The likelihood of Nintendo moving away from having a dedicated portable (whether in terms of the hybrid Switch or unannounced alternatives) and embracing mobile as a full replacement still seems distant. Whether there'd be some kind of 'Nintendo Phone' produced along with an existing major player in the space, or just the big N operating as a third-party software developer on iOS and Android, it would likely meet with a fair amount of resistance. Like with all of these areas, though, it's dependent on what sells well and the direction the company takes over the next few years. The technology and entertainment industry can change quickly.
We don't think this is in the near-to-mid term, but it's worth mentioning. Safe to say it wouldn't be a popular move among many that visit these pages.
What do you think Nintendo's future in portable hardware will bring? Let us know in the comments.