Rarely has an unrevealed Nintendo console garnered such furious speculation in the run-up to its unveiling. Usually the masters of secrecy and surprise, Nintendo’s early announcement and discussion of the NX – albeit it in resolutely abstract terms – has since been met with a torrent of news, rumours and reports. The Nintendo NX concept, specs, controller, release date, games… There are strong ideas for all at the moment. So we decided it was about time to collect together every important ‘fact’ about the NX to date, and try to make sense of the thing.
And, in contrast to the usual, spurious rumour-mill outpourings, many of them tie together rather logically with the few things we do know about Nintendo’s current hardware initiatives - particularly regarding the controller and specs. Here’s how it currently looks, starting with the one piece of news we do know for definite. The Nintendo NX release date.
An investor call and a follow-up email confirmation seems like a very boring way to announce the release date of one of the most anticipated consoles in years, but that's exactly what Nintendo did. On April 27, Nintendo revealed the news that the console will arrive in stores worldwide sometime in March 2017. No additional details were given - about the exact Nintendo NX release date, its specs, or what it does - but Nintendo did confirm that the machine will be officially unveiled later this year.
In addition to this news, Nintendo also confirmed that the next entry in The Legend of Zelda franchise - now known to be Breath of the Wild - has been delayed to next year, and will release simultaneously on Wii U and Nintendo NX. Both versions have been developed concurrently.
Don't get too worried about Nintendo, though. This push into 2017 might actually be the smartest thing the company has done in a long time.
Because that’s a fake mock-up. We know that it’s fake because a) the creator has admitted that it is, and b) just look at it. With all the ergonomic form factor of a shard of broken glass jammed hard into the user’s palm, arguably the only reason the hoax controller was designed like this was so that it would reflect the shape shown in Nintendo’s earlier patents for new console technology. But those things always use basic, geometric shapes to indicate hardware components. If they were accurate depictions of the intended product, then all consoles would be monstrous, monolithic rectangles, devoid of detail or design. And only the Xbox One does that.
There is, however, a good chance the Nintendo NX controller will have a screen in it. First of all, we know that Nintendo has been touted as the first customer for Sharp’s new free-form display technology, which allows screens to be made in pretty much any shape you care to imagine, strongly implying that some kind of interesting, handheld display is in the company’s imminent plans, very probably related to the Nintendo NX controller. And on top of that, it’s sounding more and more like…
We hypothesised a long time ago that Nintendo’s next console has to bring the two sides of the company’s business together. For too long, Nintendo’s game development resources have been split between home console and handheld, too stretched to make up for the continued lack of third-party support suffered by the former. Nintendo’s portable machines have done brilliantly since the original Game Boy; that side of the company’s output is entirely trusted. But the big old TV box end of the business needs a significant shot of goodwill and developmental support. Folding Nintendo’s handheld wing into it would (probably) fix that, and we know that the two development teams have now been merged.
What’s more, we’ve since had (fairly well qualified) rumours that this is indeed happening. Storied leaker Geno – who has previously blown details regarding Pokemon X & Y and Microsoft’s Illumiroom technology - reckons that the Nintetndo NX is a (very powerful) handheld that streams to a TV via a pop-out HMDI dongle. And beyond that, there’s further news – via Eurogamer – indicating that the NX will indeed be a portable machine – with a TV base unit for playing on the big screen at home - with two, detachable controllers. Sounds slightly odd, but there is precedent for such a design.
Historically, several of Nintendo’s more successful hardware ideas have iterated on concepts from its past – the Wiimote was born of the Power Glove, as the 3DS was born of the LCD Game & Watch series and the Virtual Boy – and there is something rather similar in the company’s archives. The Micro Vs. variation of the Game & Watch hardware actually came with two, wired controllers attached, stored within a clamshell case when not in use. Sounds like a suspiciously good fit for a retroactive prototype, does it not?
How powerful is it though? Well according to Geno…
If true, that’s more than powerful enough to finally put Nintendo back on a par with the current-gen competition. And if Nintendo hopes to recover any of the third-party support it has lost since the Wii, that’s going to be vital. Yes, such specs might see the Nintendo NX being a little pricey for ‘a handheld’, but considering that you might only need to buy one Nintendo console this time around, perhaps the potential cost balances out.
Another part of the Eurogamer rumour relates a slightly different version of the Nintendo NX specs, and potentially contradicts Geno’s version of the news. The EG source says that the NX development kits are powered by an Nvidia Tegra X1, a mobile-focused chip capable of churning out performance a tad better than a last-gen home console. Though it’s entirely possible that the final retail NX will get an upgrade to the X2, bringing it more or less up to current-gen standards.
The other interesting bit is that the Eurogamer story claims that the Nintendo NX will be a cartridge-based console rather than using discs or exclusive digital downloads – though the latter might well be available as an option. Cartridges actually make sense given the probable portable nature of the machine, though they do raise questions over game size. Apparently Nintendo is ‘recommending’ a cartridge size of 32Gb, which is pretty healthy, though not big enough to handle certain high-profile current-gen games on rival formats.
But the Nintendo NX specs might have another trick up their collective sleeve...
The specifics of this one are rather vague, but they do at least come from a more official source: a patent filing, actually made by Nintendo. According to the patent application, Nintendo is looking to design hardware that can “couple to a supplemental computing device” for increased speed and performance. Details on exactly how that might work aren’t entirely clear. It’s entirely possible that Nintendo is planning something akin to Microsoft’s cloud computing tech, but within the patent there are also references to using remote computing devices “from the user community”.
That last part sounds like we might be looking at network tech that allows multiple Nintendo NX consoles to link up in order to power each other up – presumably when the supplemental machines aren’t otherwise active – though if that’s the case it would surely be logistically prohibitive to design games that absolutely required the tech, given the reliance on other players’ variable behaviours. Perhaps we’re looking at a scaling performance situation, where games can ship with uniform minimum specs, but play in an upgraded state when additional processing support is available. Either way, it’s an interesting and unexpected move from the recently horsepower-shy Nintendo. But then, when is any Nintendo console design not?
But what games will we be playing on the Nintendo NX? Well in addition to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild…
According to a tweet by Dr. Serkan Toto, a game industry consultant in Japan, Smash Bros. is planned to be a Nintendo NX launch games. If this news is true, it’s unknown – by Toto’s own admission – whether the game will be a brand new Smash sequel, or a port of an existing game. Though presumably, if the Nintendo NX controllers are as unique as the above news implies, any already-released Smash Bros. game might require a fair but of adaptation.
According to the same tweet, several games by Bandai-Namco are also in the mix. Dark Souls NX? We can but hope. But there may be another, weirder surprise game in the works too.
Now there’s every chance this is just the usual pie-in-the-sky rumour flinging we get every year in the months before E3 – Ubisoft’s long-gestating Beyond Good & Evil follow-up is touted for an appearance almost as often as Red Dead Redemption 2 – but there is an odd sort of precedent for this kind of thing: Bayonetta 2 on the Wii U.
That was another case of Nintendo stepping in to fund development of the sequel to a neglected cult favourite game – as is rumoured to be the business situation here – effectively paying for the kudos that comes with being the saviour of such a project. Yes, there’s every chance that the Bayonetta scenario has simply opened up the plausibility of a whole new avenue of rumour fabrication – Sony’s promotion of the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter last year would add it further credence - but at the same time there’s nothing ruling this news out yet.