Nintendo NX is a handheld hybrid – but is that a bad thing?

Over the last few days sources have come out of the woodwork to collaborate the fact that Nintendo’s new console, codenamed NX, will be a console/handheld hybrid.

The rumours were first brought to light by Eurogamer, but since then other sites have reported their own independent sources collaborating this and other facts.

This is nothing new, of course.  Back in May we speculated that the console would be cartridge based and a handheld hybrid, plus something very different to Wii U.

So, let’s recap on those rumours:  The console is first and foremost a handheld that has a base-station so it can plug into a TV.  It’s rumoured to be based on Nvidia’s Tegra technology, which is quite a step up from Wii U but not quite as powerful as PS4 and Xbox One.

Design-wise, it could be a tablet-like machine with controls either side which detach to form a separate controller for playing at home.  How this would work in 2-4 player games is unsure, but it’s most likely to be via extra controllers.

A docking unit could, theoretically, provide extra power as with some laptops released recently. This doesn’t really sit with how Nintendo does things, though, so we’re not expecting it.  Power has never been one of their goals, with better programming and art design coming higher up the list than the raw power of a console.  The Tegra X1 also requires less power to run and fits the handheld element of the NX well, though battery life really does need to be well designed.

So is a hybrid the right choice for Nintendo?  We think so, for several reasons;

Price

Some sources have claimed that the NX has been built with a low price point in mind.  The 3DS retailed at around $249.99/£229.99 at launch, could we be seeing a sub-£200 launch for the NX?  This would put it in the ‘second console’ or ‘impulse buy’ bracket.

 

Market

Is there a need for handheld gaming when smartphones have taken over?  Nintendo have seen their handheld market eaten away by Smartphone popularity, to the extent that they’ve now released or licenced several games and are preparing others for phones.  However, a hybrid console would potentially pick up both the home and handheld market in one go, with the benefit of allowing people to carry their console to another person’s house.  If Nintendo release system-selling games then this is an important factor.

 

Games

While the power of the console may not seem to match that of their nearest rivals, the games Nintendo makes don’t really need this.  What is more important, though, is that they have big franchise games out at launch, something the Wii U failed to do.

Back in May, Nintendo’s president Tatsumi Kimishima explained “When people finish the launch titles, they will want things to buy in spring, on summer break, at Christmas.  As such, it’s not simply a question of when the hardware’s ready; rather, we need to ensure our software lineup is also in a good place.”

Third parties have already been given units to work on and several, such as Ubisoft and Sega, have committed to the device.  Even EA, in a recent interview, have been warmer to developing for a new Nintendo console, despite their falling out of love with Wii U fairly early on.

The different architecture may give developers more of a headache when porting from PC, but Nintendo shy away from providing a platform for the CODs of the world and thrive on different styles of games instead, though a smattering of high selling cross-platform games certainly wouldn’t do them any harm.  Along with the rumoured low price point, a console with Third Party exclusives sounds like a good fit.

 

Virtual Console

It’s unlikely that the NX would be backward compatible, as the Wii U was with the Wii and the Wii was with Gamecube, but Nintendo’s own Virtual Console, software emulation for classic NES, SNES and N64 games, would be easily possible on the Tegra hardware.  It could even manage Gamecube and Wii games if pushed.  Imagine a handheld that can legitimately play your Virtual Console back catalogue and more classic games from newer consoles as well.

 

Differentiation

The PS4 and Xbox One have both become more PC-like and certainly more alike than Sony and Microsoft’s consoles have ever been before.  Even the new hardware refreshes from each camp look similar, aside from possible CPU power.  Do gamers really need another identikit box under the TV?

The 3DS has been the only real handheld to survive the onslaught of mobile phone gaming, so a new handheld generation still makes sense for Nintendo, but instead of trying to come up with both this and a TV based home console, they can kill two birds with one stone and make their console unique at the same time.

Those that point out that the Wii U was also unique and failed to capture the imagination miss the fact that this was mostly down to Nintendo’s own failure (or complacency) at providing a coherent message to potential customers.  Aside from those who trawl the internet for news, the general public genuinely thought the Wii U was an add-on for Wii and were unsure why they needed it.   Alongside this, the launch line up and first 6 months of software released for the Wii U turned out to be lacklustre at best.

 

Conclusion

Nintendo are no stranger for doing things their own way.  It worked fantastically for the Wii and if they’ve done their homework and create a perfect marketing campaign then the NX looks like it could go the same way.  They seem to have third parties back on-side if the rumours are anything to go by and the launch line-up should be interesting, with the new Zelda rumoured to be making an appearance on the console as well as the Wii U.

The games hardware market is unpredictable, though, and it all comes down to Nintendo’s understanding of their potential audience and how clearly they can sell their console as the next big thing.  I, for one, hope they succeed and create some much needed diversity in the current generation.

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