What could be the secret to the Nintendo NX’s controller?
In all this bellyaching about the Nintendo NX, and what it might be, and when Nintendo might reveal it, and how they may reveal it, and how powerful it may be, and whether or not it will be the magical machine that saves Nintendo from a bleak future of irrelevance in the hardware space, forced to go third party and peddle games for others’ hardware, we often tend to forget one thing- Nintendo doesn’t like to play by anybody’s rules. They always look to stand out, to be the square pegs in the round holes, so to speak.
At times, it backfires against them, horribly- the Wii U and the Virtual Boy are evidence of this. And other times, Nintendo end up setting a standard for the industry that then becomes aped so widely, it becomes commonplace. From the D-pad on the original NES controller to the shoulder buttons on the SNES controller, from the analog stick and rumble on the N64 controller to touch screen, camera, and microphone on the DS, and finally, the Wii’s motion controls that took the world by storm- Nintendo always like to push the envelopes of how we interact with games.
And they do this by experimenting with their controllers. Legions of disillusioned and disenfranchised one time Nintendo fans around the world want nothing more than for Nintendo to return to making ‘normal’ controllers for their machines, and ditch their ‘innovation,’ but these fans forget one very important thing- Nintendo has never had normal controllers on its systems, at least, not for the time that those systems were originally released.
The NES, SNES, and N64 controllers may seem standard now, and the Wii’s motion controls may be secondary and supplementary inputs included unobstrusively in all controllers these days (with motion controls as the primary method of interaction with video games probably about to get a second wind with the coming of VR), but at the time these consoles and their controllers came out, they were all weird. They stood out from what had been the norm until then, whether it was the additional action button and the lack of joystick on the NES controller, to the extra face and shoulder buttons on the SNES controller, to the multi pronged design with the newfangled analog stick taking centerstage on the N64 controller, to the Wii’s split controller, motion enabled design with a speaker thrown into the mix for good measure- Nintendo have never done normal controllers.
"Nintendo has never had normal controllers on its systems, at least, not for the time that those systems were originally released."
In fact, the two times they did cede ground to normalcy with their controllers – the Gamecube and the Wii U (at least with the Wii U Pro) both had relatively traditional controllers – Nintendo had their two worst selling consoles ever. I’m not necessarily saying there’s any causation here- but there’s definitely some correlation, even if it is sheer coincidence.
So yes, Nintendo are a bit weird. They like doing new things. They like consistently redefining how games should be played. Sometimes, what they do sticks – touch screens and gyroscopes are ubiquitous in all devices today, analog sticks and shoulder buttons are so standard on game controllers, they are taken for granted, and even some of Nintendo’s smaller ‘innovations,’ such as putting a speaker on the controller, have become standard now – and sometimes it does not. But they never stop trying. And they probably won’t stop trying in the future, either.
Which brings us back to the NX. There are very few things we know about Nintendo’s new system for sure. We know that Nintendo are treating it as an all new concept, and not a continuation of the Wii and DS lines. We know that Nintendo are promising something entirely new here. From third parties, and especially Ubisoft, we know that Nintendo have something in the works that will probably appeal to a very mass market. From some rumors, we know that the NX will probably be some kind of a console-portable hybrid design, with split controllers a-la Wii (albeit more full featured).
What we don’t know much about are those controllers themselves, because for all the discussion surrounding the NX, there has been shockingly little discourse on the controllers themselves- what will they look like? What will they do? What new and crazy thing are Nintendo working on with these ones? If we are to trust the Eurogamer report on the NX, then the controllers will be like two remotes docked to either side of the system, with some motion functionality, a riff on the PS4’s Share button, a split D-pad, and symmetry across both of them in terms of analog stick and action buttons. Something crazy like the rumored all-touch egg shape design that was so elaborately constructed as part of a hoax earlier this year is off the table.
"We also need to consider that even when Nintendo controllers have been entirely leaked in the past, they have almost always inevitably missed out on some small but important details."
But that almost sounds disappointing, right? This almost sounds like just a refinement of the Wii’s concept, with nothing new brought to the table here. It certainly does not jive with Nintendo’s promise that the NX will be something altogether new (although to be fair, the hybrid part of the console may well cover that, in their eyes).
However, before we jump to conclusions here, we also need to consider that even when Nintendo controllers have been entirely leaked in the past, they have almost always inevitably missed out on some small but important details- for instance, even when we knew of the Wii controller before its final design was made public, we did not know of the speaker on it. The speaker went on to become an important part of the Wii Remote’s design, and again, is now standard on most controllers. Even when the Wii U Gamepad was fully leaked before the console’s official reveal (and then re-reveal), we didn’t know about the NFC port, which went on to be integral to the system’s Amiibo functionality.
What this means is that even when Nintendo controllers are ‘leaked,’ not everything is known about them- some important and potentially game changing details are often overlooked. This could also be the case with the NX controllers. Remember, the change they introduce doesn’t have to be as radical as the analog stick or motion controls- it could be something more discreet, like the shoulder buttons on the SNES, which nonetheless went on to become extremely important, and an integral part of controller design going forward. Aa similar hidden and small detail could be on the NX controller too, something which we are overlooking, but which could nonetheless be key to the next great controller innovation.
"Shoulder scroll wheels would be an extremely sensible evolution- they essentially keep all the functionality of standard shoulder buttons, but then add more options to them."
I propose that that innovation will be shoulder scroll wheels- in other words, shoulder buttons that are basically depressible scroll wheels, like ones found on a computer mouse, and contoured to fit a finger resting idly on them. Think about it- in all the elaborate leaks for the NX and its controller that we have gotten so far, no mention has been made of shoulder buttons. This can either be because the NX controller has no shoulder buttons – which I concede is a very real possibility with a company as unpredictable as Nintendo – or because the shoulder buttons are the controller’s final secret, being kept under wraps until the system’s final and official reveal, whenever that is.
Shoulder scroll wheels would be an extremely sensible evolution- they essentially keep all the functionality of standard shoulder buttons, but then add more options to them. For instance, in a shooter, a developer could easily map multiple guns in your arsenal to the R shoulder button’s scroll, with actually shooting the gun being mapped to pressing the button. In a game like Skyrim, the R button would have your weapons, while the L button would have your shields. You no longer need to pause the game and fiddle in a menu to switch weapons- it can be done, right there, in real time, on the screen. Best of all, unlike the touch screen solutions that Nintendo have propounded for similar problems in the past, a shoulder scroll wheel wouldn’t even require you to look away from the main screen.
It’s not as if the idea doesn’t have any merit, either- shoulder scroll wheels are an idea that Nintendo attempted to patent a few years ago, meaning that this is definitely something that we could end up seeing on their next controller. And as I said, it makes sense, too- it’s a discreet innovation, in that it actively improves the quality of gameplay, but it doesn’t get in the way, like the Wii’s motion controls sometimes could.
"We won’t actually know what Nintendo have planned until they decide to take the wraps off of it- that’s one of the joys of following a company that is so inherently unpredictable."
Of course, it is entirely possible that shoulder scroll buttons aren’t a part of the NX’s controller design. It is even possible that the NX doesn’t even have the controller design that we think that it does, and the Eurogamer rumor is wrong, just a planted leak to throw us off track. We won’t actually know what Nintendo have planned until they decide to take the wraps off of it- that’s one of the joys of following a company that is so inherently unpredictable.
But what we can say is that no matter what Nintendo end up doing, it’ll be something new, and something that will likely become standard on future controllers (even the Wii U Gamepad ended up having a minor influence on controllers, with its giant touchscreen living on as the more unobtrusive touchpad on the PS4’s DualShock 4). That’s just what Nintendo likes to do- and hopefully they do it again with the NX.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.