You just never know with Nintendo.
Transformation was the theme behind Nintendo’s Digital Event during this year’s E3, but it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The untimely passing of Satoru Iwata has left the company in a state of mourning, along with its fans.
Iwata was one of gaming’s true visionaries, a charismatic, charming individual. And he will be missed, dearly. He believed Nintendo should create unique, fun experiences that would appeal to all ages. And, to his credit, he accomplished this with the incredible successes of the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii. Both were revolutionary at the time, capitalising on user input and interaction instead of raw specs and power.
Iwata’s mission was simple, though difficult to achieve.
Iwata’s mission was simple, though difficult to achieve. And unfortunately for Nintendo, the company hasn’t been able to replicate the same success with the Wii U, a console which arguably appeals more to the hardcore fans Nintendo supposedly left behind. Sales have been mediocre at best, and third-party publishers pulled their support early on.
The Wii U also came out at the wrong time. Younger gamers were now picking up their parents’ iPads and smartphones, and probably playing god awful games in the process.
Though it’s easy to dismiss the Wii U as a failure, and a blot on Iwata’s CV, Nintendo has arguably saved-face thanks to a stellar line-up of first party titles and the runaway success of their Amiibo figurines. Momentum was certainly beginning to gather, however, serious doubts remain as to whether the company can compete once again – and rightly so.
Even though legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto has reiterated the company’s desire to continue their unique approach, significant changes were already put in place before Iwata’s passing. Nintendo announced that they were indeed working on a new console, codenamed NX, and went on to announce a partnership with Japanese mobile company, DeNA.
So what, realistically, can we expect to see from the Nintendo NX?
1. A Unified Online Account System
Nintendo’s partnership with DeNA signalled a dramatic shift for the company who were lambasted by shareholders and critics alike for failing to capitalise on the booming mobile market. Nintendo’s games will eventually come to smartphones, but you can bet it will be handled in a typical, Nintendo-like fashion, i.e. strictly on their own terms.
You can bet it will be handled in a typical, Nintendo-like fashion.
What’s really interesting about Nintendo’s alliance with DeNA, though, is the way Satoru Iwata implicitly said that Nintendo will have full creative control when it comes to games. DeNA’s role is to help Nintendo by creating a multi-device membership service, while developing games featuring their iconic IP. This could indicate that Nintendo will finally move towards an online based account system with the Nintendo NX, where purchases, accomplishments and personal information carry over.
This would mark a pleasing departure from Nintendo’s current device-based system, where everything is tied to your console or handheld. It also means that Nintendo can offer and actively pursue the flexibility that Microsoft and Sony are clearly seeking: to provide games and experiences on a variety of devices. This, fundamentally, is the backbone of Microsoft’s push with Windows 10, and if Microsoft pull it off, they will be the first company to do so successfully.
2. A Console/Handheld Hybrid
If Nintendo do create a seamless account system, and finally unify the company’s fractured ecosystem, then the likelihood of the long-rumoured console/handheld is indeed a distinct possibility. How it would work is anyone’s guess, but Nintendo are exactly the kind of company who have the magic and know how to pull it off. The streaming technology is technically already there, thanks to the Wii U, and Nintendo recently combined its handheld and console R & D departments for the first time after the company restructured last year.
If Nintendo can combine the success of their handheld division with a home console they’ll be onto a real winner.
And it makes complete sense for Nintendo to attempt this idea. If Nintendo can combine the success of their handheld division with a home console they’ll be onto a real winner. If gamers know they can pick up the next iteration of Monster Hunter, The Legend of Zelda or Mario Kart and enjoy them at home as well as on the move, well, that’s something that will surely appeal to everyone. It also means that developers will be designing their games for one potentially huge market, as opposed to two, which means there’s a lot less risk and cost involved.
3. A Competitively Priced, Moderately Powerful Machine
If Nintendo were to pursue a hybrid-style system then price will be more important than ever. Shigeru Miyamoto stated that the Wii U’s price was higher than Nintendo would have liked, so it’s critical, then, that Nintendo reach a price point that makes the console an attractive, almost compulsive purchase.
With that in mind, it’s unlikely that Nintendo will create a powerful console. That’s mere speculation, of course, but it’s difficult to see Nintendo reverting back to more powerful hardware after the N64 and GameCube failed to deliver in terms of sales and market share, not to mention it will hike up the price for consumers considerably.
Unfortunately, if they do choose to skimp on technical specs with the NX, they may incur the wrath of third-party publishers yet again. Nintendo would likely miss out on the annual big hitters that arguably equate for the majority of software sales on Xbox One and PS4: FIFA, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed etc, not to mention blockbusters such as Grand Theft Auto.
And that would be devastating, really, as it would ultimately heap more pressure on Nintendo to deliver more software on their own, something which they’ve struggled to maintain with the Wii U.
If they skimp on technical specs with the NX, they may incur the wrath of third-party publishers yet again.
But, and perhaps this is a saving grace for graphics enthusiasts, if Nintendo do decide to create a console/handheld hybrid you can expect the hardware to be moderately powerful. It’s difficult to see the console miraculously scaling games up at home, and the handheld squeezing them down when on the move. It would also defeat the purpose by doing so. Therefore, it makes sense for Nintendo to squeeze the most out of whatever tech they decide upon to ensure that they can provide a satisfying user experience when playing on the console and the handheld. Perhaps 4K support would be a shrewd enough move to ensure that Nintendo’s games will still look great, if not a little less complex.
Time Will Tell
Of course, we just never know what we’re going to get with Nintendo. And that’s what makes it so damn exciting. But you can rest assured that whatever they do present during next year’s E3 will be delivered with a certain child-like wonder that only the Big N can provide. Transformation is certainly taking place. We can only hope that Nintendo make Iwata proud.