Why Being Different Will Be The Nintendo NX’s Best Trick

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.

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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.

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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.

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10 Comments

  1. If true, it’s certainly a bold move. But that’s exactly what Ninty needs to pull.

    It could make for an outstanding platform, with all of Nintendos first party efforts gathered on one system. But I’m worried that it could end up feeling a bit halfway-there, similar to the 3DS 3D and Wii U Gamepad.

  2. I’m skeptical here, I mean look at the wii U, that was bold to be different but faded, the wii was a gimmick & fun for a month.

    As much as I love Nintendo, they are now a handheld company

  3. If the NX is not stupidly overpriced, it will be a huge success.

    For many people, portability trumps power. If Nintendo can combine a reasonably good home console with genuine on the go capabilities, I can’t see the NX being anything other than an unqualified success story.

    But it can’t be overpriced.

    • Good point about portability, it could be a great gadget on a long drive or flight. Im liking the NX more all the time.

  4. The new machine certainly won’t beat the current gen on power. We have to remember only have their games business to rely on wheras Sony and Microsoft both have other business and therefore Nintendo is never going to compete in terms of finance or power.
    They can compete though by making sure the NX is unique and has enough power for third parties to easily convert their games to the system.

    The first party games, Zelda, Mario, Mario kart etc Wil no doubt be fabulous games. But Nintendo relied solely on those games with the Wii U so to do so again this time would surely be commercial suicide.

    I’m still surprised they haven’t done a full reveal by now. The longer they wait, the less hype will be created and by March next year, we may well have an updated PS4 and Xbox as well as PSVR taking gamers money from them.

    Another issue will be price. The NX will have to be cheaper than PS4 and X box one. It is not going to go down very well if they start asking gamers to buy a machine for the same price as a 3 and a half year old system. Especially one that is likely to be underpowered.
    And then their is the battery issue. If indeed the NX is a hybrid, it’s going to be a very good battery to last more than a couple of hours and that could hike the price right up.

    We are now 7 months away from the launch of NX although let’s not forget this may get shifted to a later date. There are not really any signs of many 3rd parties committing to the new console and that has to be a concern.
    Nintendo have to get this right. Not just for Nintemdo fans but for all gamers. Nintendo fans are loyal and will likely it the system just for Zelda. But with Zelda releasing on Wii U as well, will the NX have USP strong enough to get off to a strong start. Nintendo cannot afford to just wait and see what happens with NX. It needs to be marketed from early on and it has to be supported by those third parties.

    I’m going to save for one but I’m certainly not confident at this stage that Nintendo will get this right. I hope they do.

    • Well technically for Sony, you might as well say they playstation only to depend on as all their other ventures are not doing so great. The PS is keeping them afloat

    • Power isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to price. The NX ought to be in the same ball park as the PS4 and XBO currently are, I agree, but that’s just because that’s a good price for a games console.

      Battery life is a trade off that’s more about the design of the device than the price. A bigger battery means it’s a bigger and heavier thing to hold in your hand, which at a certain point becomes much less desireable to consumers. In terms of cost, it adds a few dollars to the BOM, which isn’t that problematic.

      Finally, the potential buyers. A lot of the first wave of Wii buyers were those who wanted Twilight Princess and decided to get on board with the new console at that point with an eye to Nintendo’s traditional catalogue of games. Third party support does matter, but not in the sense of getting COD and FIFA ports, because there’s so many potential early NX buyers who aready have a PS4 or XBO and are going to play those kinds of games on the platform with their friends. Just as Nintendo need to be and think differently, so too do third parties.

  5. I can’t see me buying the NX in all honesty, I want it but I just can’t see me or the kids playing it. Though I’ll reserve judgement until it comes and probably just end up buying it knowing me.

  6. Does anyone think that we could see a Pokemon game on the NX? Pokemon Go has shown how strong the franchise is, and it could be just the thing to kick start the NX’s life.

    • Pokemon Go 2, exclusive to the NX would probably help it shift a few.

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