The last five years haven’t been the best for Nintendo, with poor profits, executive shuffling, and both its console and handheld markets shrinking. Following both the Nintendo DS and Wii basically printing money, the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U have been underwhelming by comparison, both selling fewer systems than their predecessors. And now that leaves Nintendo in the difficult position of launching another new console, codenamed NX, which persistent rumors say will be a combination of home console and on-the-go handheld. We’re looking at Nintendo’s one console future, a first for the company, and it could end up being one of the smartest moves they made in some time.
In case you haven’t kept up with the prevailing Nintendo NX rumors, the system will run off a powerful Nvidia chip made for mobile devices and will work both on the go in addition to playing on your TV. It’ll also work off cartridges like all previous Nintendo handhelds, and have detachable controllers for living room action. This heavily sourced report was just the most recent rumor to say the NX would be a hybrid system, working as the successor to both the 3DS and the Wii U. It’s a great plan for Nintendo that will pool all its best strengths into one console future, even if those strengths are rooted in the company’s greatest challenges.
As any Nintendo fan will tell you, the last 20 years of home consoles have seen third party support wane. The lack of non-Nintendo games has been an issue on N64 to GameCube to today, with even the mega-success Wii having trouble getting AAA titles from publishers like Activision and EA. For all the great content Nintendo continues to produce internally (up to 2015 Game of the Year contenders like Super Mario Maker and Splatoon), the Wii U has gone through many months where new games were hard to come by.
When compared to the Wii U, the 3DS is doing much better, but even it must deal with a crisis of content. The 3DS struggled initially but came into its own with strong system sales and multiple games that have sold in the millions while also attracting favorable critical reactions. Just in the last year, the 3DS has seen success with Fire Emblem Fates, Yo-kai Watch, and Monster Hunter 4. Yet the 3DS can also suffer from weeks or even months without a new release, and most third party publishers outside of Japan stopped supporting the handheld years ago.
Both software situations leave Nintendo’s home and handheld markets with limited content despite the fact that Nintendo employs armies of developers to create compelling titles for the two markets. Clearly, Nintendo’s resources are spread thin, and with the always-rising cost of game development, that isn’t going to be getting any easier. However, were Nintendo to combine the efforts of both its handheld and console teams to focus on the same system, they’d end up with enough content to never have to worry about a lack of cgames again.
Just as a test to see how many new games NX could host on a regular basis, let’s look at the games Nintendo published in the first six months of 2016. Star Fox Zero, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Pokkén Tournament, Fire Emblem Fates, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Hyrule Warriors Legends, Kirby: Planet Robobot, BoxBoxBoy, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD all hit retail in the first half of the year. Were the 3DS and Wii U the same system, would any owner of that console feel like they were missing out compared to a PS4 or Xbox One? Or would they be too busy with all these new entries in Nintendo’s biggest franchises?
Taking those separate teams within Nintendo and having them funnel their efforts into the same market finally solves the lack of content issue that has been hurting their consoles for decades now. If the first half of 2017 looked anything like that list of early 2016 releases, then the NX won’t be in any danger of having slow months or the console collecting dust. That’s the kind of internal teamwork Nintendo needs more than ever while it also continues to dabble in the mobile market.
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The restructuring of Nintendo’s handheld and console teams happened years ago, but technology R&D moves slow enough that we’re only starting to see the effects of the move now. The single system future of the NX will finally fix issues Nintendo has been suffering from for years without needing to drastically expand its internal teams. When planning games, Nintendo won’t need to choose between portable or home markets, because it’ll all be the same on NX. As Nintendo shareholders and industry veterans question the company’s commitment to non-mobile gaming, this is the kind of focused gambit Nintendo needs to survive for whatever comes after the NX.