Earlier this year, Nintendo confirmed and gave name to something that we had long known was coming anyway- their new console. It wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone- the Wii U, as good as it has been, has been, from Nintendo’s perspective, an unmitigated disaster. And while the company right now is compelled to support the Wii U for as long as necessary, lest it risk burning its most loyal, most dedicated fans, it is also undoubtedly keen to move on from the Wii U to a new console, for a fresh crack at the market.
And that is exactly what they are doing. Earlier this year, Nintendo announced a brand new system that was in the works– it is called the NX, and it will be a brand new line of hardware, completely separate from the DS and Wii brands. Almost nothing is known about the NX, not at first glance- unlike the Wii (then called Revolution), which also had a similarly cryptic announcement, the NX has not even received many leaks to go by. But the more you dig around, the more you discover- and what you discover is very encouraging.
In this feature, we’ve put together everything that we know about the NX, all in one place. As you read, you will learn that not only does Nintendo’s enigmatic new machine sound like a true game changer for the company, but also, it sounds as if it will be the machine to finally get Nintendo back into the game, after nearly ten years of Wii made them a non factor in the larger industry’s ecosystem.
WHAT IS THE NINTENDO NX?
That’s the most important question here, isn’t it? What exactly is the NX? The wording of the initial announcement – a new dedicated game platform – was vague enough that no one was quite sure what NX was. Was it a new console, or a new handheld? Did it refer to a service for game delivery that would be hardware agnostic? What was it?
Since then, we have received several indications that the NX is in fact a brand new console. Specifically, Nintendo’s own developers have referred to the NX as the Wii U’s successor. For instance, speaking to Eurogamer at E3, Metroid Prime series producer Kensuke Tanabe said that a new mainline game in the franchise was probably going to come on the NX over the Wii U.
Indications such as these make it clear that the NX refers to a console. However, it does not refer to only a console. As Nintendo has been letting on for at least two years now, the Wii U and 3DS’s successor platform will be one, and that platform is the NX.
"The NX remains an enigma."
The NX platform, therefore, refers to both, a handheld and a console. However, it does not refer to a hybrid. Former Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has conclusively come out and debunked that idea multiple times. The NX is not going to be a convertible system (i.e. a handheld that docks into the TV and becomes a console). However, it is going to be one brand that covers systems in different form factors- i.e., Nintendo will have an NX handheld and an NX console. Think iPhone and iPad, and you have the idea. This is something Mr. Iwata himself confirmed multiple times:
“Home consoles and handheld devices will no longer be completely different, and they will become like brothers in a family of systems. Still, I am not sure if the form factor (the size and configuration of the hardware) will be integrated. In contrast, the number of form factors might increase. Currently, we can only provide two form factors because if we had three or four different architectures, we would face serious shortages of software on every platform.”
“To cite a specific case, Apple is able to release smart devices with various form factors one after another because there is one way of programming adopted by all platforms. Apple has a common platform called iOS. Another example is Android. Though there are various models, Android does not face software shortages because there is one common way of programming on the Android platform that works with various models. The point is, Nintendo platforms should be like those two examples.”
Therefore, the NX handheld and NX console will share hardware, at least to an extent. Nintendo will take what it learned with the Wii U to model their new hardware to create a hardware base, from which they can derive a handheld and a console. Nintendo’s idea is to make it so that a game developed for the NX can run on both the handheld and the console (Cross Buy, and something that its third party partners are likely to do), or, more to Nintendo’s liking, that it can develop two companion games, one for the handheld and one for the console, using the same code base, instead of having to re-develop them from the ground up (think Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U, but rather than having to develop two games, Nintendo can develop it once, tweak it for the handheld and console, and put one out for each form factor).
What is the benefit of this? Let’s focus on the chief issue, which is resource allocation. Increasingly over time, Nintendo has found it harder and harder to support two platforms, a handheld and a console. As we have seen in recent years, one always suffer at the hands of the other (in this case, the Wii U seems to be marginalized in favor of the 3DS); as software development grows more and more complicated, not just for consoles but for handhelds as well, Nintendo finds it harder and harder to allocate first party funds and resources to adequately support both platforms.
In this situation, Nintendo has to develop all the assets and pipelines for video games across all its franchises once, and it can then output games to both of its devices. This effectively means that from a first party perspective, there will never be anything like the infamous droughts that the Wii U and 3DS suffered, if only because developing a game for the new handheld is effectively developing it for the new console, and vice versa.
"Nintendo wants all its devices to be unified under one service, with a Nintendo Network ID."
The NX platform then (now is when that wording makes sense) would be an incredible move from Nintendo’s own perspective.
But here is the killer question- will there be any gimmick to the Nintendo NX? Although Nintendo has been a pioneering force in the gaming industry, with several major advancements, such as the Dpad, shoulder buttons, analog stick, controller vibration, motion controls, and touch screens all attributed to them, their propensity for gimmicks at the expense of the overall system architecture – such as with the DS and especially Wii and Wii U – is what has led them to their current predicament in the first place.
The NX, being a brand new line of hardware, has an opportunity for a clean break from these gimmicks that brought down the 3DS and Wii U- but while it may be doing just that, it almost certainly has a brand new gimmick (Nintendo refers to it as a ‘concept’) of its own. We know this because Iwata-san essentially admitted as much himself. Nintendo’s Mr. Satoru Iwata had confirmed that, but he also made that explicitly clear when he stated that the reason that Nintendo is keeping the NX under wraps right now is because he does not want the competition to steal the idea and get the jump– the only way that can happen is if there was something to steal. That is to say, if this was a simple spec bump or power jump, there wouldn’t be any new idea for the competition to steal. However, it is now clear that there is some kind of gimmick to the new system as well.
This is the single most important issue facing the NX, and any future aspirations Nintendo may have in the hardware market, right now. Nintendo essentially managed to carefully spec themselves out of the AAA third party games ecosystem over the last decade and a half, with the result being that that ecosystem solidified around three platforms- Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. For Nintendo to garner any meaningful and long lasting success with the NX (therefore, not a failure like the Wii U, and success more long lasting than the Wii’s was in the end) they need to break into this ecosystem. But that will be extremely hard, and they will need to do everything right with the new system if they want a chance.
One very important aspect of this is the hardware. The reason that the Wii and Wii U ultimately suffered was because their hardware made it financially unviable for third parties to develop versions of their games for those systems- the hardware, being so much weaker, was too different for them to devote an all new team just for that, especially given the historic weakness of third party sales performance on Nintendo systems.
With the NX, then, Nintendo needs to make a system that is so easy to port to and develop for that third parties will require almost minimal effort or investment- at least as of right now, that is the only thing that can assure a steady flow of third party software.
"The NX may end up ‘absorbing’ the Wii U hardware."
Astute readers have probably already realized the issue at hand here- The NX will have a common hardware base for both the handheld and the console. The problem, however, is that there is no perfect design for consoles and handhelds. The central philosophy of NX is a unified hardware platform- so the question going forward is, which one will Nintendo be willing to take the hit on, the console (meaning they go with ARM) or handheld (meaning they go with x86)?
As it stands, right now Nintendo has three options:
- x86 (the hardware platform used by PCs, Macs, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One) is amazingly powerful, flexible, and modular- unfortunately, it has not yet been successfully miniaturized. This means an x86 handheld is a little bit of a stretch- it canbe done, but it may be bigger than expected and/or have low battery life.
- PowerPC (the platform used by Xbox 360, PS3, Gamecube, Macs pre-2006, Wii, and Wii U) is a dead end, and has a cap on the kind of power and resources it can provide. It is, however, great at power management, which is a stated continued goal of Nintendo with their systems (i.e. they want their systems to have low power draw). Unfortunately, it, too, cannot be miniaturized successfully for a handheld size.
- ARM (used for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices) works wonderfully on a miniature scale, and it has been successfully scaled up for bigger and more sophisticated devices too. At larger sizes, ARM is not as efficient or generally as good at resource pools or management as x86 is- however, it can approximate it well enough that this is viable.
With PowerPC being out of the question, which one will Nintendo be going for? In both instances, they can still get good results. For instance, an ARM based console could still be very powerful- at least powerful enough to achieve parity with the competition. An x86 handheld can also work- as a matter of fact, we have already seen Nintendo trending towards bigger systems- and x86 tablets like Surface Pro 3 are the best on the market after all.
The question of which hardware platform they adopt is hugely speculative- but we have some actual details on Nintendo’s new system as well. For instance, it is now clear that the NX will not have the insular, Japan centric hardware design mentality that marked the Wii and Wii U. The first hint we had towards this was when Nintendo hired an American hardware architect for its future platforms last year. Miyamoto has also confirmed to Fortune that he is no longer designing or conceptualizing Nintendo’s hardware (the Wii, DS, Wii U, and 3DS were all born out of Miyamoto’s input and vision for hardware and user interface)- stuff like this is making it clear that Nintendo may be designing the NX in a far different environment than the one that got us the odd, neither here nor there Wii U.
"AMD may be designing the full NX chipset."
One thing we do know for sure about NX (or as sure as we can be when the entire existence of the platform is so speculative) is that Nintendo may be going with AMD for the CPU and/or GPU again. This makes sense- Nintendo have worked with AMD for the past three generations, from Gamecube to Wii U, and Sony and Microsoft both employ AMD chips in their consoles as well. AMD themselves have hinted that they are working on a new, unannounced system, not just once, but multiple times.
So, here is everything that we know about the NX hardware:
- It absorbs the Wii U architecture in some form
- It is a common platform across the new handheld and console
- It is using either x86 or ARM as its base
- It is going to have a brand new ‘concept’ or gimmick
- It is not being designed insularly in Japan- Nintendo seems to have hired someone from America to head the development of the system
- AMD may be designing the chipsets of the platform
Nintendo’s historical struggle with third parties is very well known- it started all the way back with the N64, and continued on with the Gamecube and Wii eras, reaching its zenith with the Wii U, which was entirely abandoned by third parties. If Nintendo wants to have any kind of success in the console market again, it needs third party games. This is very important, or its system and ecosystem will be distinct from the rest of the industry’s, catering to an increasingly shrinking userbase.
But is it possible for them to even get any more third party support? Or are third parties a lost cause entirely? Interestingly enough, that does not seem to be the case- Fortune reports that Nintendo started to talk to third parties about the NX at E3 this year, and that third parties responded favorably to the system. Now, of course, early indications like these are meaningless, and new systems always get enthusiastic endorsements from third parties – remember just how enthusiastic third party partners were about the PS Vita or Nintendo’s own Wii U? – but we are getting more and more tangible indications that third parties may actually be on board with Nintendo’s newest machine. For example, just a few months ago, Ready at Dawn may have inadvertently announced the world’s very first NX game too. Slightly Mad Studios is apparently looking at the NX too, as they have opted to cancel the Wii U version of Project CARS, and decided to move development to the NX.
"Dragon Quest XI was the first game announced for the NX."
But perhaps the most ringing endorsement for the NX comes from Square Enix. The very first NX games ever announced were announced by Square Enix, when they stated, in no uncertain terms, that Dragon Quest X and Dragon Quest XI would be coming to the NX (the announcement was later partially retracted, presumably because Nintendo themselves have not officially unveiled the NX yet). That’s not all, either, as they have also publicly discussed the prospect of Final Fantasy XIV hitting the NX.
Square Enix, at least, then, seems to be on board with the NX. The fact that third parties are responding favorably to the system, and that graphics intensive third parties, like Square Enix and Ready at Dawn, are considering the NX in their future plans, bodes well for the kind of system that it might be, and is also an implicit endorsement of the hardware itself.
Equally important for a Nintendo console are the first party games. And here is where things start to get interesting. For instance, as was already mentioned before, Nintendo seems to be hinting at a new Metroid Prime game for the NX. There is then the case of the new Legend of Zelda game that was announced last year, but then mysteriously delayed this year, after it was clear that even Mario Kart and Smash Bros. had been unable to resuscitate the Wii U- with no reasons or even date having been given for the new Zelda game, it has become clear that it may be NX bound. The game may still yet get a Wii U version, but there will also certainly be an NX version at launch, much like Twilight Princess back in 2006.
"Was The Legend of Zelda delayed so it could launch on the NX?"
If you want more Nintendo first party games, it is clear they are coming- Nintendo’s E3 performance this year is proof of that. Remember, there was no major first party game announced for the Wii U or 3DS this year. All announced games, from Star Fox to Animal Crossing Amiibo Party, were either outsourced to second party developers, or being built by skeleton crews. No new 3DS games were announced either, and this is the first year since 2009 that we have not received a new mainline Pokemon game. This, then, begs the question- just what are Nintendo’s own teams doing? The easy and exciting answer? They are working on games for the NX.
MORE REASONS TO BE EXCITED
"Imagine a Nintendo Network that doesn’t suck, for a change."
These are smaller things, but they are all important issues, issues that have continued to plague Nintendo’s hardware, and been symptomatic of the mentality that pervades the company. These are issues that, when cascaded, make Nintendo’s hardware hard to enjoy, but that Nintendo has promised will be addressed with the NX.
- Nintendo’s online will finally be on par. Understanding their own incompetence at creating networks, Nintendo have finally capitulated- they will be outsourcing the Nintendo Network, starting NX, to Japanese mobile gaming and network firm DeNA, who will instead create the Nintendo Network for them. All the features that we expect from modern networks, such as achievements, party chat, and universal friends lists can all be expected from the new Nintendo Network- and with Nintendo doubling down on eSports, highly advanced sharing features may be incoming as well.
- Nintendo’s NX will almost certainly be region free. This will make it the first Nintendo handheld in ten years, and the first Nintendo console ever, to do away with the region lock.
- The NX might be backwards compatible with the Wii U. Iwata-san’s comments, which suggested that the NX will ‘absorb’ the Wii U hardware in some way (whether via emulation, or by actually having the Wii U SoC on board, much like launch PS3 models did with the PS2 EE), suggests that all your Wii U games – retail, digital, Virtual Console, first and third party – will run on the NX. This also means that if you are one of those many people who missed out on the excellent Wii U library, you’ll get another chance to enjoy those games.
WHEN IS THE NX COMING OUT?
So… okay, when exactly is this thing going to be out? Because, assuming that the NX is a PS4 level console (which it probably will be, going by the third party game announcements that we have received), timing will be paramount here- if Nintendo launch the thing in 2022, just as the PS5 and Xbox Two are launching, then they’re going to have the exact same issues again, won’t they?
Happily, it sounds like the NX may be launching much, much sooner than that.
According to DigiTimes, a source familiar with assembly lines and manufacturing processes, and one that has had plenty of accurate and authentic leaks about iOS products, the PS4, and Xbox One in the past, it appears as though Nintendo is gearing up to launch the NX soon. Very soon. It seems like Nintendo aims to launch this system in July 2016. That’s not all, either- it sounds like they want to sell a staggering 20 million of these in the first year. That, in turn, seems to suggest that the NX will almost certainly be launching with both, the handheld and the console variants, together next year.
"The new Nintendo handheld and console may be just a year away from launch."
As for the price? Well, that’s the thing that’s up in the air, isn’t it? The thing here is, no console can ever be too expensive- the PS3 and Xbox One launches are proof of that. No handheld can ever be too expensive either- the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS are proof of that. Especially, no Nintendo console can be too expensive. Since Nintendo skimp out on the value added services that the other two consoles offer, they have a lower cap for their pricing than the other two machines do (the Wii U launch is proof of that).
So what would the price be? The planned shipments (20 million) suggest that the price will be low and mass market, at least for one variant between the handheld and the console. It is highly probable that Nintendo starts with low end SKUs for the NX, and, given their multiple SKU and form factor strategy, eventually introduce higher priced ones (much as they did with the XL variants of their handhelds).
So there we have it- this is everything that we currently know about the NX. It sounds like an exciting new system from Nintendo, one that will be aimed at core gamers rather than casual gamers, given Nintendo’s recent distaste for the casual audiences. What it will be, we don’t know yet, but a new system is always an exciting time for the industry- hopefully Nintendo has learned from the failures of the Wii U and will make the right moves this time. They might not get another chance if the next one fails.