From now until the start of the new year we're going to be republishing some of what we feel are our best features of 2015. Hopefully this will offer the chance for newer readers to catch up on content they might have missed and allow long-time fans to reacquaint themselves with features they enjoyed the first time around. Today we have Anthony's reaction to the news regarding Nintendo's next console - dubbed the NX - which was first confirmed back in March.
When Nintendo today announced its partnership with DeNA, which focuses on "smart devices" (mobile phones and tablets), it was wise to also include a statement of intent around its current business - dedicated game systems.
As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business, let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept under the development codename "NX." It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project, but we hope to share more information with you next year.
We expect this announcement was included to reassure fans that Nintendo is not abandoning its existing business; in fact it helps us to understand its mobile strategy, as a whole, as they will be designed to complement each other in the long term.
Whilst we don't have any further information on what "NX" is, or will do, there are a number of things that Nintendo has done over the past few years that, we feel, shows a likely path forward. We would like to make it clear that from this point on we're speculating - educated guesses, if you will - as to what NX could be.
It's important to note that Nintendo did not state whether this new NX platform is a successor to Nintendo 3DS, Wii U or both. However, looking at the slides you can probably interpret it in two ways - 1) NX will be a new third pillar in addition to 3DS and Wii U or 2) as the natural successor to both devices.
Nintendo also concentrated on the phrase 'game platform', rather than device, which would suggest a unified platform that can be used on one or many devices - similar to how iOS works at the moment with apps working across both it's iPhone and iPad devices. Nintendo would solve a number of development issues if this is indeed the plan going forward.
Given the strength of the now-aging 3DS system in Japan and the disappointing sales for Wii U, a late 2016 release for new Nintendo hardware is not out of the question and would make sense for a new single platform to replace both existing systems at the same time.
There are a number of other indicators that also point towards the same conclusion, not least the fact the company merged its handheld and console divisions back in early 2013. The company's latest hardware release, the New Nintendo 3DS, also added a few new control options with ZL/ZR and a pseudo right analogue stick which identically matches the control scheme of the Wii U GamePad. Both platforms already share amiibo functionality, too.
So, essentially we could already see games that work with the same controls across both existing devices, though due to the nature of the systems would still need standalone development. NX as a unified platform on the other hand, could allow singular development across multiple devices, saving a huge amount of development resource and simultaneous releases.
The gulf in technical capabilities between home console and handheld has drastically reduced in the past decade with the rise of smart phones and tablets pushing the technology forward. This means console-level games on a handheld are far more realistic than ever before. It's possible Nintendo would opt for a change of architecture at this point too, with x86 and ARM being the logical options. This could open further doors to more development tools being available for Nintendo's platform and start to lure back third party developers and more Indies; not to mention that it would help Nintendo focus its efforts on producing more games without worrying about separate hardware setups. These will surely be considerations for the big N's senior management.
Super Smash Bros. is another example of how this could be advantageous to both Nintendo and the consumer - the latest edition of the game required Nintendo to develop two slightly different variations of the game due to the different hardware constraints; this meant the player had to purchase two versions of essentially the same game if they wanted to play at home and on the move. This approach also imposed limitations on the online functionality as players were unable to compete against other players on the other version of the title. If NX is indeed a single platform it would provide the opportunity for 'Smash 5' to be a completely unified experience across all devices.
We've also seen a few popular Wii games ported over to Nintendo 3DS first, with Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D and more recently Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. These releases could demonstrate that the company is already testing the waters with console-level games on handhelds. Games have also travelled in the opposite direction, with the likes of Resident Evil: Revelations, which was first released on 3DS and later ported to Wii U and other home consoles by Capcom. Its recent foray into cross-buy initiatives also could be further research into whether players like the flexibility of having content they can freely move between devices.
As for how this would work on a very practical level, there's scope for multiple SKUs (purchasing options) in a theoretically unified platform. Nintendo would have to consider the realities of each market - portable gaming is dominant in Japan, home consoles rule the West - and could accommodate its offerings accordingly. There could be a portable only solution, perhaps with an inexpensive 'dongle' to plug into a modern TV to allow it to stream to the TV. There could be a home console-style unit, too, with its own dedicated control options for a genuine living room experience. Take a blend of the GamePad and New 3DS ideas, and there are options where gamers can enjoy the same batch of games on the hardware setup of their choice or budget.
Whilst we can't rule out Nintendo doing something completely different to what we're suggesting here, the evidence is starting to pile up and all pointing to the same thing: there is no advantage in having two different dedicated gaming platforms going forward.
Do you think Nintendo NX will be a completely unified system? Or something completely different? Let us know in the comments.