To break the Talking Point rule I'm going to start this one in first person. Late evening on 3rd May I was browsing around the web when I came across the trailer for the PocketC.H.I.P., a Super Handy Fun Computer that uses a $9 micro-PC within a relatively simple casing and has a price tag of $60 ($49 as an early pre-order bonus). Most fun of all, the fact it's a mini-computer and has a keypad means that it can be used (with custom of pre-supported tools) to play community games, and to also mod them on the fly. Or you can create your own games from scratch using a variety of coding languages.

First of all, if you missed our article on it, the trailer is below.

I sent the trailer to my buddy and editorial director Damien McFerran. Below is our (edited to be clean) text chat about it after the late night discovery.

Damien: I need one.

Tom: Yeah, $60 with shipping (assuming it doesn't then get snarled up in customs). I might take the risk. It's just hotness.

Damien: Ordered one of those things, can't resist handhelds. It's VERY hipster but I'll overlook that.

Tom: Hey, with my beard and lavish hair I can get away with it.

Damien: It's just so damn cool, can't stop watching that video. See, this is why Nintendo not making another "proper" handheld (which is only a theory) is a bad thing. Handhelds are flippin' cool.

They always will be!

Tom: Nintendo should have done something like this, actually, just as a side project. Would have sold plenty at $60.

Damien: Yeah, for sure, I'm getting a real Game Boy vibe off this. I mean, just releasing a handheld that only plays NES, SNES and GB games - and comes with 1000 pre-loaded - would make bank for Nintendo.

But they will never, ever do it, not when they can charge you £7 for Pilotwings on the 3DS.

Tom: Can you imagine the hype if they did it? Crikey. Especially if you could edit, mod and create ROMS.

Damien: Yep. There's still space in the handheld arena for cool little stuff like this. A Nintendo handheld which is basically Mario Maker in portable form...

I would imagine that people will recreate classic games on the PocketC.H.I.P. (read: Nintendo games).

That, right there, is the crux of this Talking Point, but a key early point to make is that it's rather fantastical. The idea of Nintendo taking that sort of idea - a programming / game playing / modding device - and applying it to its own library seems fanciful. But, but... what if?

Super Mario Maker.jpg

The one reference point of late is Super Mario Maker, which took the sense that 2D Mario games were losing their creative edge and flipped it, putting the focus on players to make fun, creative levels. The game isn't without its issues, especially with Nintendo being fairly aggressive in removing stages that fall foul of certain criteria, but the concept itself is golden. The tool-set is well constructed and easy to use, while the sharing tools are decent and improving, and some absolute gems have emerged from the community. When you give fans creative tools they can shine, even if you have to dodge some dross to get to the good stuff.

The idea of a Nintendo-developed creative platform is certainly enticing. Individual third-party apps already exist on the eShop, of course, including the likes of SmileBASIC and all-manner of creativity tools for making small games, music or art. What we're talking about is the concept of a PocketC.H.I.P.-style device, a budget portable with the sole purpose of providing simple games that can be modded, alongside broader creative tools.

When it comes to portable hardware, Nintendo leads the industry. It also arguably leads the industry in small, fun gaming experiences, whether through its immense Virtual Console catalogue or modern releases that fit the style. In a future where, say, the NX is a relatively pricey system ($200-400), and there are a variety of individual smart device apps, surely there's a gap for small side-projects that can be sold at low prices?

For example, companies like Game Freak allow employees to pitch small game concepts and, if approved, devote a percentage of time to making it a reality. That's the origin of HarmoKnight and Pocket Card Jockey. Applying that sort of policy to Nintendo's hardware and software teams, and supporting small-scale runs for fun little devices and games, is hugely enticing to this fan.

With the greatest respect to Next Thing Co, a similar Nintendo system would look far slicker
With the greatest respect to Next Thing Co, a similar Nintendo system would look far slicker

There's a market for creative, quirky and nostalgia-fuelled products, too. Not the sort of market that measures success in tens of millions of unit sales, but a smaller and devoted group of consumers nonetheless. When you see what small companies often achieve with products like the C.H.I.P. micro-computer (which is the guts of the PocketC.H.I.P.), it's clear that smart and delightful gadgets and software can be produced with modest resources - especially when communities and enthusiasts are enabled to contribute to the cause.

The problem, to return to reality, is that it'd be a major change in approach and mentality for Nintendo to contemplate these sorts of community-led, retro and budget platforms. The big N likes to be in control, to know what content is on its systems and to have authority over it - even in Super Mario Maker some consider the moderating grip to be too tight. It's disappointing to say, but Nintendo is still too happy to sell us Virtual Console games at old prices and dictate the terms of the games we play.

But, but, it's nice to dream. A product similar in concept to the PocketC.H.I.P., but with Nintendo's hardware mastery and software, could be incredible. A budget-priced and quirky delight where we create silly 8-16 Bit games with Nintendo assets, where games are a true virtual playground. That would be something to be truly excited about.

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