Earlier today our network colleagues at Eurogamer published details representative, potentially, of the Nintendo NX system that's currently out in the wild in dev kit form. Citing multiple sources it outlined a number of key details that you can read in summary here, though below is a shortened set of bullet-points with the key information shared.
- The NX is a "high-powered handheld console with its own display", with the key twist that "the screen is bookended by two controller sections on either side, which can be attached or detached as required".
- It can be connected to a base station that displays the system on the TV.
- It'll apparently use Nvidia Tegra technology typically employed in the mobile space. We've covered this further in a separate article.
- NX will use cartridges, as previously speculated.
- There are apparently no plans for backward compatibility, as a result of the different architecture being used.
- Nintendo is apparently using a new operating system of its own, not Android as rumoured.
- The system is likely to be revealed in September, with a core marketing pitch to keep things simple and emphasize gaming on the go.
Of course, there have been a lot of NX rumours from various sources; in this case we've spoken to members of the Eurogamer team who have expressed strong confidence in their sources. Considering our familiarity and relationship with the EG team we're inclined to put decent stock in these rumours, albeit while maintaining a healthy level of scepticism. Perhaps all of the details obtained by Eurogamer from sources are correct, perhaps only some of them are, but they're all feasible and iterate or continue on from previous informed speculation.
With that in mind, some members of our editorial and management team share their thoughts on this particular vision for NX below.
First of all, I want to set out that I'm not always keen on editorial content that goes too heavily into what are essentially rumours, even those stated with great confidence. Sometimes I've written broadly on the NX topic, but taking rumoured details at face value is something we try to avoid indulging in too much.
There are multiple factors that make it worthwhile here, however - the NX 'concept' outlined by Eurogamer feels about right in terms of the ballpark of what Nintendo would likely do, largely fitting with all of the company management comments, patents and business moves that we've debated at length previously. It all seems feasible, and because of our relationship with Eurogamer we've spoken to their team directly to gauge their confidence in the story - they're extremely confident that their information is correct.
So with all of that in mind here we are, even accounting for the proviso that we're talking about potential details. If all of this is accurate, though, I would not be surprised and - more importantly from a personal perspective - I'd be quite optimistic about the system's chances.
I've argued earlier in the year that Nintendo is now well outside the multi-platform triple-A space, and that it would be foolish to try and wrestle the Call of Duty / FIFA / Madden segment of the market back from Sony and Microsoft. That need not be a source of concern or fear, however, as the company has thrived best (especially commercially in the past decade) when it's innovated and gone in its own direction - the DS, Wii and (to an extent) the 3DS are testament to this. With Wii U the big N mis-read a few signs, one of which was to try and pitch it as a 'hardcore' machine, especially in North America. Consumers saw right through that, and the system has struggled to innovate or compete with the more powerful PS4 / Xbox One.
In using mobile Tegra technology, which itself is powerful, low cost (that's a big priority, Nintendo needs to go for $250 or less with NX, I believe) and tiny in form, Nintendo will find itself largely out-with that triple-A space, even if the X2 chip (said to challenge PS4 / Xbox One power) is utilised. Don't forget, Sony and Microsoft are releasing mid-gen platforms to push 1080p 60fps blockbuster gaming, with the Scorpio supposedly gunning for 4K gaming. Nintendo could be dropping out of that race altogether, but in the process will be able to - in principle - deliver affordable gaming that can be incredibly diverse. A lot of developers and publishers, including some of the biggest in the world, are very familiar with developing on technology similar to Nvidia's Tegra range thanks to the mobile space. What the NX could see, if it does well and convinces third-parties to try it out, is a range of smaller and distinctive games, rather like the DS and Wii enjoyed.
Beyond that, the idea that it's a portable device that easily displays through a TV via a base station matches the long-held assumption that Nintendo would target both home and portable gaming in one platform. Since unifying its development divisions a few years ago, and seeing the Wii U suck away the profits that the 3DS earned, Nintendo will have long-since realised that its portables are where it does best in the marketplace. That's been the case throughout its history, but the solution suggested here helps alleviate the sense that home consoles are being 'ditched'; it's a way to cater to both worlds while developing one set of games and keeping things simple for third-parties. For example if it supports Wii Remotes or the detachable controllers have motion sensors, the likes of Just Dance 2017 should work just fine.
Elsewhere, cartridges make sense as this is a portable device, and using Tegra technology a 32GB cart limit could be fine; in any case occasional larger capacity cartridges could happen. It's also worth highlighting that NX could use a mix of cartridges and partial downloads for any massive games, such as the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; whatever happens, cartridges make perfect sense for a portable.
My only concern, actually, is with the detachable controllers. The concept is fine, but the design will be tricky to make aesthetically pleasing, especially if shoulder buttons are incorporated (which Eurogamer didn't include in its own mock-up); I'd cringe if the likes of Breath of the Wild use touch screen buttons for some functions 'on the go', if detachable elements can't fully fit the bill of a conventional controller used at home. Nintendo did a good job with the designs of DS and 3DS (aside from the first model of each family!), so will hopefully make it work. As a concept it's cool, though, with scope for fun minigames on the go where players take a controller section each, for example. The idea, overall, makes sense, and opens the scope for potential touch-screen based simple games (Pokemon GO X, anyone?) that are easily played on the move when you're not worried about clipping on physical controls.
Ultimately, if Nintendo unveils the NX and it fits this template, I'll be a willing believer and optimist.
I've been a fan of Nvidia's mobile tech for quite some time - I've got the Shield handheld, Shield Tablet and Shield Android TV, the latter of which is powered by the Tegra X1 chipset mentioned by Eurogamer in its report. Shield TV is powerful, cheap and compact, and the notion of Nintendo using it to power the NX actually strikes me as quite a wise one; not only does it mean that the system can be supplied at a low cost, but it also provides a perfect balance between raw power and stamina, which will be of prime concern if the console does turn out to be portable first and foremost. The video below is a showcase of the X1:
Given the timings involved, I would expect that Nvidia's new Tegra will be included - as Eurogamer pointed out, X1 will be two years old in March next year, so it would make little sense for Nintendo hold back on releasing NX until then. Presumably the mysterious X2 is only just going into mass production and with any luck it will be supplying the power behind the system, which - if reports are to be believed - could be close to that of Xbox One and PS4, but in the palm of your hand.
Regarding the whole detachable controller thing, the idea reminds me of the old Famicom design, with its cute little docking areas for the pads. As a concept, I think we'll have to wait and see how it pans out from a gameplay perspective - I'm sure Nintendo will have some unique ideas about how to use this setup, but on paper at least, it lacks the "wow" factor of touch or motion control when we first saw those. However, I have to admit part of me likes the fact that Nintendo is trying to make head-to-head gaming popular again; we live in a world where it's possible to challenge someone to a game of Mario Kart 7 who lives on the other side of the planet, but nothing will ever beat the thrill of triumphing over my mates on the SNES version of Street Fighter II, when opponents were close enough to playfully (or not so playfully) punch at the end of a round. This could be Nintendo's attempt to make gaming social again; with two controllers always on offer, NX means that your next contest is never far away, even if your opponent doesn't own a games console. For me, this could well be the "new way to play" that Nintendo has been talking about, and I actually think that despite its simplicity, it could be the unique twist that sells the machine.
Nintendo's decision to focus more on portable hardware than domestic might cause some upset for hardcore fans, but history suggests that it is in this arena where the firm has enjoyed the most consistent degree of success. Ever since the Game & Watch range emerged in the early '80s Nintendo has been a dominant force in mobile gaming, and its Nintendo DS line is its most successful ever. In recent years the company has seen the handheld market eroded by smartphones and tablets, so clearly a different approach is required. Whether or not NX is the right approach remains to be seen.
If these sources turn out to be true, it's probably a wise move by Nintendo to try and carve out its own segment rather than attempt to compete head on with PlayStation and Xbox.
Of course the handheld will need to be powerful enough to run games such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but a compromise will need to be found to ensure the price doesn't end up scaring potential buyers off. The 3DS had a rocky launch followed swiftly by a 33% price cut which helped to get sales back on track. Getting the price right will be vital.
So if we're looking at a device running Nvidia's new Tegra, it should end up being a good balance between power and price. It would be nice to add extra grunt with an optional HDMI cradle for playing at home on the big screen, though that wasn't mentioned in Eurogamer's report beyond a simple base station; the portable is cited as the sole source of power from a games perspective.
The detachable controller idea sounds great to me, if this is true we can expect lots of fun ideas for new ways to control games, as well as retro classic controls which will make Virtual Console games really spring to life.
I feel cautiously optimistic and can't wait for Nintendo to finally show us its latest game changer in the months to come.
Where do you stand on this NX concept, as reported by Eurogamer? Let us know in the comments.