And it’s another NX post. *sigh*
There are lots of people talking about what they think the NX needs to be, or do, to be successful. Especially in the wake of Nintendo’s third quarter report, which showed that the Wii U now sits at 12.6 million sales and Splatoon – a new IP – sits at more than 4 million units sold, far exceeding the combined sales figures for the PS4’s big new IP’s of 2015, Bloodborne and The Order: 1886. Whilst profits are lower than last year – not surprising, with the NX now providing a note of caution for new buyers of both the 3DS and Wii U – they are still profits, and it’s clear that Nintendo knows its current market well enough to shift games.
However, I’d like to take a moment to talk about what I believe the NX -should- do. You can rightly dismiss this out of hand – it’s not even speculation, it’s just observation based on current trends and keeping current technology in mind. But after seeing everyone frothing about the NX, I’d like to ring a bell of sanity and summon you into MY little world. I promise I won’t indict you. Yay Dark Souls puns!
There’s certainly a lot of fuss about a potential hybrid thing going on with the NX.
Last year, I didn’t really see how this could be a good idea; the idea of making cross-play on two devices heralds back to the problems Sony had with the PS3 and PS Vita, two expensive devices that combined were just far too much investment. Why would you want to buy two consoles just to play one or two games at home and on the move? At launch, the overall investment for the two devices was about £600, and you could have bought an XBox 360 and a Wii for that, and enjoyed pretty much every major exclusive title on the market for the additional cost of a PS Vita. Putting tons of hardware into a handheld doesn’t work very well – battery life suffers, case designs need to be perfect and ultimately the vast majority of games are never really going to utilise the full potential of the hardware in question.
But having thought about recent rumours, I’ve realised that if Nintendo is smart, the Hybrid idea may just work. And, shock horror, be AFFORDABLE! The rumour is thus; “The Nintendo NX would be made of two parts. One part would be a handheld and replacement for the now aging Nintendo 3DS system. The other would be a console device that interacts with the handheld device and has is own internals.”
Interacts with the handheld? Own internals? That seems rather vague to be extrapolating from – but there is some logic to be found in there.
You see, it WOULD be horribly expensive for Nintendo to be shifting two entirely new pieces of next-generational hardware; and horribly expensive for consumers. I don’t care how positive Nintendo fans are about the company and its hardware, the idea of blowing £250 on a handheld and an additional £250 on a home console – whatever the power and performance – is a nonsense notion and it’s not going to take. Nintendo, therefore, needs a way of having one unit be the best it can be and then work on an additional unit which can work with the other device in some manner. And the conclusion I came to is… a booster unit.
Yes. A booster unit.
What I mean with this is simple; Nintendo’s NX handheld will be a significant upgrade to the 3DS and Vita, with more power and more RAM. It will also likely be dropping the 3D Effect, since no-one I know uses the 3D effect any more (it’s a novelty that has long since worn off), and the positive to this is that more processing and graphical power can be utilised without having to split it between three different screens – the Stereoscopic 3D effect is one done with two screens, and the additional touch screen makes three. What you’ll end up with is a monster handheld console that will likely run a 900p image and be super fast. And that’d be amazing, because I would love to see what games like Pokémon and Story of Seasons do with such a huge jump in hardware and performance!
But blowing everything on a £200-£250 handheld doesn’t leave much room for significant home hardware. Indeed, the question is why Nintendo would even bother; there’s no question with Sony withdrawing from the handheld space, it’s one that Nintendo has complete dominion over. So no, I wouldn’t have a full home console unit – I’d personally engineer a booster device instead. What this device would do is sync up to the NX Portable, helping to upscale the display image from a potential 900p to 1080p and beyond on a bigger screen. Nintendo has an illustrious history of nailing some serious engineering challenges – the Wii U Gamepad is pretty much lag-free streaming, which was an impressive accomplishment, and the Stereoscopic 3D on the 3DS – in spite of the novelty – was another very clever piece of engineering, especially considering it also had to run a touchscreen at the same time. Making a home “console” whose only major function is to upscale an image from the handheld seems comparatively easy.
The benefits are obvious; the “booster” unit would not be an essential component, but by requiring comparatively less hardware to assist in upscaling the visuals it would also be much more affordable. If the handheld retails at £225, the booster unit for the home could be as little as £125, and combined at £350 – that’s a pretty sound price point for a new generational entrant. It’s about what we spent on the Wii U. And it allows Nintendo to effectively have its foot in both markets, without compromising too seriously on its most profitable enterprise which is its handheld market.
It also suggests other benefits; the game card would end up as Nintendo’s standard media format, and more investment in the SD Card arena would likely lead to cheaper cards in the long run. Unlike most disc-based formats, which have a set amount of space, the card format would allow for different budgets to be accommodated; independent and smaller developers would be able to get 8GB and 16GB cards relatively inexpensively, whilst 32GB and potential 64GB cards would be deployed for the higher tier of the market. For me, it’s the kind of thing that would be signalling the death knell of the disc-based media era; cards are becoming ever cheaper, they’re more reliable, have significantly lower load times, use far less materials and packaging and with no moving parts, the machines themselves should prove more reliable and require comparatively less cooling (making them a little more power-efficient). Such things seem like a no-brainer for a true next-generational choice; but never underestimate the reluctance of the technology market to move on. For all its positives, it would certainly suggest that backwards compatibility – a staple of the Wii and Wii U – would be jettisoned in favour of driving forward with this one media format, and that might be a bitter pill to swallow for many.
Of course, other issues arise. The chances are that a handheld would still utilise, like the 3DS, an SD Card slot as its primary storage. The booster unit could itself have a 500GB hard drive as standard (and still be pretty cheap), but the actual storage on the handheld would depend on your SD Card. Admittedly, the benefits of card-based media for games means they can themselves store save files and potentially in future also store downloadable content to save filling up your SD card, but it’s still certainly a risk. Though it’s not as bad as it once was – a 128GB SD card will set you back between £25 and £50, depending heavily on make and speed, and no doubt those costs in future will tumble – it’s a gamble that whilst making a lot of sense, also carries a lot of risk.
And what of the handheld itself?
Such devices lend themselves to Nintendo continuing the dual-screen gaming thing long into the future; but I struggle to see a proper 3DS-style unit at the forefront of this. What I mean by that is that a booster unit, hooking up a souped-up new-gen DS unit to a television via wifi, would logically conclude that the player would end up with THREE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SCREENS! Unless the upper screen is disabled; and I have to say I don’t think that’d happen. When many have struggled to find things to do with two screens, throwing a third one in there seems like too much of a good thing. So either the handheld will be a single-screen unit – which isn’t a terrible notion, if a little sad – or, potentially, the top screen could be detachable, allowing those only interested in the NX as a home console to remove an extraneous component. But that still seems rather wasteful, and we all know that screen could end up being dropped, or lost, or buried by your neighbours dog… don’t ask, my Game Boy Advance never recovered from that…
Still, aside obvious issues, the point is – a hybrid unit is theoretically possible with current technology. And it’s also theoretically more affordable than you’d expect.
Will this be what the NX entails? Part of me hopes so; it would be a brave move for Nintendo, and certainly move to quell consistent sniping that Nintendo is stuck using pre-generational hardware to save costs. It also stamps Nintendo’s mark on an entirely new shift in console hardware and set-up; a more cost-efficient model that simply accepts you need to be smarter to do everything and cover all the bases. And it also means that the sales figures would be much easier to quantify – the handheld success would be all but guaranteed, but the home booster unit as an entirely optional (but significant) device would be less important in the long run. Although there’s no question that a lower price point for it would undoubtedly generate more actual sales and potential profits.
I won’t say there aren’t downsides; space would always be at a premium, there’s likely no realistic possibility of sticking a full 8GB of memory into a handheld (though if they did that, I would send Mr. Kimishima a Valentine’s Card every year for the rest of my natural life) which would continue to annoy some third parties and there is always the chance that despite this hybrid concept, some games by third parties would still choose to be home-play only, utilising the booster unit, leaving the noble concept of a hybrid in the dust by deliberately segregating the market. Which is always the potential danger of a hybrid; sure, it can and could be both – but most will still prefer it to be one thing or the other.
Either way, this is what I’d like to see. We’ll likely have to wait for the full E3 reveal in June before we get any solid details on the NX and what it is attempting to do. But I’m coming around, slowly, to the idea of the NX as a hybrid. I’m not so stupid that I think this is an easy or even perfect compromise between two markets which I’ve often felt are completely different in every way. Still, I see logic in the idea. I see potential. And whilst I don’t think the NX would be the perfect representation of a hybrid – every idea has to start somewhere, and Nintendo staking its claim early on in this arena would afford them far more market presence than they enjoyed with the Wii U.
I can’t wait to see what Nintendo does have in store for us with the NX. And if it does happen this way – well, you can be absolutely sure in June I will be humbled and downplay my capacity for foresight. Yes, I’m lying, I’ll have a massive header image emblazoned with the words “KAMI WAS RIGHT!”, and spend three thousand words in self-congratulatory smugness.
Come on Nintendo. Prove me right!