It’s safe to say that last week’s leaks and reports on the Nintendo NX drew a mixed reaction. A hybrid portable with modular design that allows it to be a tablet one moment, a more traditional handheld gaming device the next, and a console when you get home and start beaming the gameplay to your TV.
That flexibility comes at an understandable price. There’s no real way that the NX could be as powerful as the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, let alone the upcoming ‘Neo’ and ‘Scorpio’ redesigns, but the simple truth of the matter is that Nintendo cannot and should not be trying to go toe to toe with Sony and Microsoft over hardware specs.
We don’t know the specifics of the Nvidia Tegra chipset destined for the NX, but you’d have to hope that recent advances Nvidia have made for their Pascal GPU architecture can be brought to bear. Even then, it’s not likely that the NX could truly best its competitors in performance, and so you have to realise that where Nintendo have beaten their two rivals in the past is with innovation.
The N64 and GameCube were Nintendo attempting to fight the hardware wars, and they both paled in comparison to the sales of the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, despite both being more powerful machines. Instead, they had huge successes with the DS and the Wii, and with over 150 million and 100 million sales, respectively, they easily “won” their respective console generations and opened up new possibilities for game developers through touch and motion controls in the process. Even the 3DS has been a solid successor to the DS, as it approaches the 60 million sales mark, despite a confusing name and a misguided focus on stereoscopic 3D.
Nintendo have dared to be different over the past decade and a half, and they’ve succeeded on so many levels, but it’s the Wii U that has dragged them down over the last few years. It’s a fantastic machine, with its second screen really building on the ideas of the DS rather than following on from the Wii’s motion controls, but it didn’t capture the public’s imagination in the same way.
Somewhat worryingly, the NX feels to be an extension of the Wii U’s second screen form, just with the technology reversed, so that the actual hardware is in the handheld screen and not in the box you plug into your TV. However, just that simple fact opens up so many new avenues for Nintendo to explore that they couldn’t with the Wii U’s GamePad as a mere slave to the main console, and can quite drastically simplify the vision that they present to the public.
The modular design mooted in Eurogamer’s recent report suggests that the NX is effectively a tablet that you can attach controller elements to on either side. That in and of itself opens a door for Nintendo to exploit, because tablets have, ever since the iPad came out in 2010, been seen primarily as devices for consuming media, whether it’s browsing the internet, reading books and comics, watching videos or playing games. They might be half a decade late to this particular party, but with a few apps from popular providers like Netflix and Amazon, an NX could cover those bases quite nicely.
A mock up of the NX’s tablet and modular design via Eurogamer.
On the go as well, it will have to compete with iPads and Kindles for space in your bag when you head out of the front door, but by being a home console and offering those kinds of full fat games in a portable form, it would have the edge in that regard. That’s the key message to get across, if this is in fact the NX’ true form, that this isn’t just games at home or games on the go, but both of those and more.
Getting that message across is so vital though, because there’s no escaping the fact that having an unconventional console is risky, even if such a strategy has worked in the past. The Wii U has shown how badly that can go, and the NX risks being caught in a similar no man’s land, not powerful enough to compete with Sony or Microsoft, not compelling enough to become the second console bought, not flexible enough to replace an iPad, not sleek and portable enough to be taken on the train…
Let’s not forget that Nintendo have a history of overcoming those hurdles.