With the official release announcement of the NX, the long-rumored console/portable hybrid has gone from being pure speculation to something that is tangible. We know that the console is set for release in March of 2017 — so in around 11 months, a new era of Nintendo will be ushered in. What we do know about it is that it will be a “brand-new concept” — as stated by Nintendo themselves. The console and portable all-in-one would make sense from that wording and could be a game-changer for the industry and Nintendo.
Portable gaming devices have been Nintendo’s bread and butter since 1989 – when games like Tetris and Super Mario Land showed that they could succeed with both in-home and on the road gaming. No matter how their console divisions have done since then, they can always count on portables to result in massive sales and launch new IPs. The portable gaming market, however, has had to adapt with the rise of mobile phones allowing for either quick or in-depth gaming sessions. This means that while you can still have a successful portable device – as the 3DS showed, you do have to be wary of the competition. The 3DS itself had a tough time finding its footing and price drops alongside a ton of exclusive games that were highly-regarded helped save it.
The Wii U, much like the 3DS, struggled at first. While it has had an incredible lineup of games since its 2012 release – nothing has quite broken through in such a way that the console has been a dominant force. The Wii U has found itself in almost a TurboGrafx-16 spot from 25 years ago where it was a console that die-hards loved and it had an incredibly high percentage of quality games to poor ones – but sales figures to back up that quality were few and far between. Titles like Splatoon, Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. have done well, but rampant confusion from consumers as to just what the Wii U is has always hampered it.
Initially, the confusion stemmed from the title. The Wii U name made it seem like it was just an add-on for the Wii – like THQ’s uDraw tablet. The Gamepad being a tablet/controller hybrid only furthered this issue, as did the console’s design looking like a rounded version of the Wii’s. Today, many potential buyers of the console see it in stores next to a 3DS and figure that with the tablet-style controller, and off-TV play advertised, that it can also be used as a portable gaming device. While this isn’t the case presently, with the NX, perhaps that could become a reality.
Having an all-in-one device for at-home and on the go gaming has been a dream for many years, with a few companies coming close to making it a reality. The first would have to be NEC, whose TurboGrafx-16 console and Turbo Express portable devices enabled you to play the same Hucard games whether you were at home or away. This gave you a far better-looking game lineup than the Game Boy, but you couldn’t play these games on your TV using the Express. In 1995, the Sega Nomad was released in North America and allowed you to play your Genesis games either on the go or at home thanks to an AV output. This was a big step in the right direction, but each system had their drawbacks. Battery life was a big one and the lack of add-on support meant that while each home console incarnation could play CD-based games, you couldn’t do that on the go.
Nintendo itself released the Super Game Boy to enable Game Boy playback at home and later used this same concept on the GameCube with the Game Boy Player enabling GB, GBC, and GBA playback. The Super Game Boy gave players a chance to colorize games with a variety of palettes, and some games – like the 1994 Donkey Kong and Space Invaders, featured enhancements only usable thanks to the SNES-powered Super Game Boy. The Game Boy Player didn’t do that, but did allow for a wider variety of games to be played either using GBA hardware or at home thanks to the Player itself. Other than a weird mandatory border that slightly covered up your screen with a Z button prompt, it was a great device and the best way to play GBA games on a TV until the Retron 5.
While all of these things got players closer to a world where one device could play a portable and home version of a game, none of them quite delivered that. Nintendo has found itself in a position where they rely on portables to make up for console sales — so merging the two and hopefully getting a 3DS-level of sales for a device that does both would be ideal. It also solves the problem the 3DS has of delivering amazing games that you want to play on a TV, but can’t due to the lack of a video output. That doesn’t hurt the system’s sales much, but it does reduce just how many people can play the games since many of them can be hard to see on smaller screens.
With the NX coming in under a year, we should get some news about the device soon. E3 would be a logical place, although Nintendo does seem to love saving their A-level announcements for Nintendo Directs. Either way, this summer is going to be an exciting one for Nintendo and their fanbase. If the NX winds up merging console and portable gaming together, they can change the future of gaming with ease. If everything clicks, they would be able to bypass any immediate concerns over mobile gaming killing portable gaming devices and also re-ignite their console market share at the same time. It’s a bold move and something that Nintendo usually excels at.