So, at some point this year Nintendo is supposed to not only unveil, but release their next platform, currently called, NX. There is a lot of speculation that it will either be a hybrid console/portable or have some sort of functionality to help bridge that gap. Given market saturation with handheld devices, namely smartphones, this might seem like a bad idea, just look at the relative commercial failure of the Vita (Note: I love my Vita), but it could be the only unique niche that they can successfully try to explode.
Nintendo has never led the charge with super powered hardware, so it is unlikely that they will try to jump into the current fight for the VR space. Let Oculus, Sony, Microsoft, and Samsung throw all of their R&D money at the first wave, and whatever comes after NX could easily build off of the lessons learned from this first real VR generation. The days of motion controls are effectively dead, at least in the way we know them now. Nintendo knows how to make a solid portable device, and despite the disappointment of the Wii-U, we know they can make a solid console. Sony’s Playstation Vita might have had a longer shelf life if they had supported it more, and not opted for overpriced proprietary memory cards, but here we are. Microsoft has no portable device, and even their Windows 10 smart phones are having trouble moving units (I tried the Lumia 950 for two weeks, it just didn’t do it for me).
If Nintendo can truly pull off a hybrid console/portable it really could be a hit, especially with all of us older farts out there. The path to victory won’t be easy though, in order for this to really succeed they will have to hit a few points to win hearts, and gain traction.
*Form Factor– If it’s going to be portable, it needs to be portable. Despite my love for the Vita, it doesn’t stay with me all the time due to it’s size, while the 3DS fits comfortably in most pockets. It will need a large and pretty enough screen to make mobile play attractive, without drinking all of the battery-milkshake up in an hour. Add in battery, and the requisite input options people will demand (dual analog sticks, shoulder buttons, touch screen), and you could easily wind up with a device too bulky to want to take with you.
*Compatibility– Just how portable will it be? It’s very doubtful that it would be able to play full console quality games un-tethered from a base console, so, what does it play? If the new Nintendo account system is being overhauled the way I hope it is, they should start making Virtual Console titles from ANY previous system playable on the mobile handset with or without the main console. Now you would have a legitimate portable device with an instant catalogue of your favorite games, and the input methods necessary to play them. These titles would also be less hardware intensive and would hopefully play nicer with the battery life. Will the mobile device also be compatible with their new smartphone offerings, or will they be content having those be separate worlds? It would be really strange if the new Pokemon AR game isn’t available at all to play on the new Nintendo system, so how will they work with those titles?
*Launch Lineup– Again, what can I play on it? They will have to have at least two big titles at launch for the main console, likely to be Zelda and something else. If they release the console while leaning on the promise of big games within a 5 month launch window, it will send mixed messages to those of us who devour video game news. Are they rushing the launch? Are they really committed to this, or is it another Wii-U?
*User Interface– Nintendo has more fun with their user interfaces that Microsoft or Sony, and they should continue to embrace this with the NX. Further the integration of their properties into the UI, make navigating the system more entertaining or dare I say nostalgic by having much more dynamic interface methods, but still have the option for quick and simple. Make it customizable with icons/backgrounds earned from completing challenges in games, similar to the stamp model they are experimenting with, or the badges on the 3DS. Have the option to make your main menu a Mario level, with different applications being blocks, again, not a forced experience, but an option, and make it easy for 3rd parties to create their own interfaces/stamps/badges/icons/whatever.
I’d love to see the NX be a hit, because after all these years I still love Nintendo games. Yes, there are a lot of amazing game experiences that you can never have on one of their systems, but then again, there really is a lot of genuine fun to be had on their systems. Looking forward to the next few months leading up to E3 to see for sure what their new plan is.