Nintendo NX: The pros and cons of a transforming portable

Ben Parfitt
Nintendo NX: The pros and cons of a transforming portable

We finally have a pretty firm idea of what Nintendo has in store for the upcoming NX.

As revealed by an extensive pair of reports from Eurogamer yesterday, the console is a portable/home system hybrid. The unit has an integrated screen with a controller plugged into either end. When on the move the screen can be propped up and controllers connected for two (or more?) player fun, while at home it can link to a base station for TV play.

The innards appear to be based on Nvidia’s Tegra mobile chipset. Whether it’s the existing Tegra 1 or the upcoming Tegra 2, this means NX will not compete with the likes of PS4 and Xbox One in the power race.

Nintendo is doing its own thing. Again. And history shows this can lead to both glory and failure.

Most of this NX news is largely in line with the steady stream of rumours we’ve been seeing about the machine all year, although Nintendo’s choice to partner with Nvidia certainly is a surprise, as are the ramifications.

Here’s what we think may be the advantages and disadvantages of Nintendo’s chosen approach:

THE PROS

  • Unified development

You could argue a number of reasons as to why the Wii U has been such a big failure for Nintendo, but first party software support (well, all software support, really) would certainly be among them. Diehard fans will argue that the console has had plenty of love from Nintendo, but the truth is too many of the big hitters have been absent for too long.

Nintendo’s support for 3DS has been a lot better. Is that why 3DS has outperformed Wii U? That’s a complicated question, but it’s been a big plus for the device, even if ultimately 3DS has also fallen short of Nintendo’s expectations.

Regardless, Nintendo’s decision to unify its home and portable output will definitely result in one thing – more Nintendo games more often. Even if third parties stay clear of NX, Nintendo should be positioned to offer unprecedented output for its new console – providing Tokyo doesn’t shift all its developers over to mobile projects.

  • Price

Early online speculation about pricing for the NX expects it to be cheaper than current consoles, but from what we’ve heard it’s going to be cheaper than even the vast majority expect. This is a machine that is targeting the mass market, and Nintendo certainly plans for it to have a mass market price. Price is one Wii U mistake Nintendo is determined not to repeat. This could be NX's single biggest win.

  • A simple message

“Take your games with you on the go.” It’s a simple message that avoids all the pitfalls of confusion that dogged the Wii U. The NX sounds like an easier sell. Nintendo can nail this. They must nail it.

  • Avoids competition

The PS4 is an ongoing and huge success. And despite what you might think, the Xbox One is doing well too, certainly compared to its predecessor which itself was regarded as a big hit. Nintendo is wise to stay well clear of this lethal pair, even if a sizable portion of its fanbase wants nothing more than a traditional, powerful Nintendo home console.

THE CONS

  • Competing with tablets

However, by avoiding the twin threats of PS4 and Xbox One Nintendo finds itself squaring off against another huge challenge – the mobile market. Portable gaming may be doing OK in Japan, but it’s a brave analyst that predicts anything other than decline for the sector in the years ahead. In the West it’s already dead.

Pokemon Go has just proven the potential for break-out mobile games success, and now Nintendo wants to try and convince gamers to carry around an entirely new and separate device for portable gaming? The joy of packing your iPad for a trip is that you’ve got with you a wonderfully capable games machine that’s also the best internet browsing experience and essentially a fully fledged computer. Even if the NX gaming experience is top-notch, you can be pretty sure Nintendo’s OS and browser and Twitter app and who knows what else won’t be.

  • Different games for different markets

Yes, there are certainly times when we’d all like the chance to play that triple-A game we’re currently addicted to on the move. But it’s also very true that portable gaming and home console gaming is very different. You might have dropped 50 hours into Flick Kick Football over the course of a few years in many, many five-minute chunks, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever want to play it on your TV at home.

By the same token, that 200 hours you’ve put into COD multiplayer in the early hours of the morning is not an experience you’ll want to take with you on your morning commute.

This poses a real challenge for Nintendo. Its machine is designed for games both on the go and on the sofa, but it’s going to be hard to design titles that are ideally suited to both places. And if you’re left developing games best suited to one or the other, than the entire point of the NX starts to feel a bit flimsy.

  • Horsepower

By making the NX portable-friendly Nintendo can’t avoid the peril of lessening its home credentials. There is a big chunk of the Nintendo faithful who simply want to play new Mario and Zelda games at home. That their experiences will be less technically capable because they’ve also been forced into buying a handheld has already drawn early criticism.

Nintendo has definitely proved time and time again, however, that it can make its comparatively underpowered hardware punch well above its weight. Well, it’s going to need to do that again if it wants the NX to be a real home console competitor. Surely 1080p output for its Tegra chipset is the absolute bare minimum requirement here.

  • Haven’t we been here before?

As a friend of MCV said on Twitter last night: “Let me get this straight. Nintendo, undeterred by its console-with-portable-aspirations, is making a portable-with-console-aspirations?” Wii U’s hybrid experiment was such a failure that you really must admire Nintendo’s intention to give it another go. You’d think the biggest trick here will be to ensure the mixed and confused messaging that surrounded the Wii U from day one is avoided.

MCV has spoken to one person with hands-on experience with the machine. Their assessment? "It feels like a bit of a novelty."

  • Where’s the new?

The prior point kind of underlines the fact that the NX doesn’t seem to be a new idea. We’ve had plenty of portable devices that output to TVs, and we’ve had portables that use external controllers. Of course, none of them play Nintendo games, and that x-factor will always count for something. The ultimate question is does it still count for enough?

UPDATE: As there still seems to be some debate about the veracity of Eurogamer's claims, our aforementioned senior source assures us the site is "100 per cent correct".

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Tags: Nintendo , Hardware , analysis , NX

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