It’s the question that has been bugging fans and casual observers for a long time now; What is the Nintendo NX?
Is it a console? A handheld? A toy? We’re still a little while away from knowing for sure … but it got me thinking. Besides the fact that we don’t know what it is physically, the fact that so many of us have been talking about it and assuming almost every kind of rumour for months on end proves that Nintendo still has a place within the industry. All be it one that’s still on uneven ground.
Nintendo hasn’t had a good year. Sure, it helped launch Pokemon Go!, but a license for a product developed and published by a mobile developer hardly counts, hence the sudden rise and fall of the company stock market price. Elsewhere, 2016 is nothing to shout home about. Besides one or two minor releases on Wii U and a somewhat steady flow of content (both 1st party and indie) on 3DS, the market for Nintendo products has somewhat declined. If it wasn’t for Pokemon and Fire Emblem, the company would be in even more dire circumstances, proof positive that both franchises are as relevant now as they ever have been.
When Nintendo launched its successor to the Wii, almost everyone within the industry frowned, groaned even. It may have been a good idea in theory, linking controllers and games from an existing in-built audience to a new system, but when the very same marketing strategy failed to correctly explain what the Wii U really was whilst confusing parents with its name, whatever excitement fans had of Nintendo finally going HD quickly went out the window.
Fast forward a few years, and the Wii U has become almost an afterthought. Despite the usual selection of quality 1st party releases, a big new IP in Splatoon among them, the console just couldn’t find its feet. 3rd party support all but vanished, only Ubisoft gave the system the support it needed early on and even they eventually abandoned ship, and sales have resulted in lower results than the GameCube era.
And then, the unthinkable happened.
Satoru Iwata, the face of the company for so many years, passed away suddenly in 2015. For a long period of time, Iwata kept the company at the forefront of the industry thanks to his enthusiasm, honesty and a dash of humour, changing the expectations surrounding Nintendo produts and introducing the likes of Nintendo Direct in the process. The company has been relatively quiet since, keeping to the standard press releases outside of a Direct or two here or there, both out of respect for their former President and in acknowledgement of their new developments.
Barely any new titles have been released in 2016 for Wii U, the obvious exceptions being a remake of Twilight Princess, this month’s Paper Mario sequel and another entry in the Mario & Sonic Olympics. The 3DS has fared better, but the reality of Nintendo’s situation is rather clear. Until they release what the NX is soon, it will continue to cast a shadow over the company and put doubt in the minds of fans and players alike.
Perhaps doubt is the wrong word. A more appropriate way to explain the current trend surrounding the NX would be ‘hyperbole’. Since the silence following Nintendo’s small E3 presence (in which only Pokemon Sun & Moon and Zelda: Breath of the Wild were featured), numerous publishers, artists, journalists and gamers alike have chimed in on what they think the NX is or might be. We all want it to be something (anything), perhaps stronger than the PS4 or Xbox One, the portable/console hybrid, a system that capitalises on the Pokemon brand and maybe, just maybe, competes with the best hardware and software around. Wishful thinking, dreams we all want to come true, it’s something that has followed the Nintendo brand for quite a while, but only those behind closed doors know the fate of their own brand. We, as consumers, can only impatiently shout on social media in the hope that they may hear.
What is the Nintendo NX? It’s quite possibly the biggest gamble the company has put on the table to date. It’s a chance for a clean slate, an opportunity to provide something new and unheard of in the video game space, a space that may have crowded the kid friendly company out. The Wii U certainly failed, but the the more important thing to consider is whether the company as a whole has put themselves into a pit so deep, they might not be able to recover from it. From a personal perspective, the hole isn’t as deep as some people suspect it might be, and the opportunities to cash in on some recent success stories (and the move to mobile development) might just play into their hands.
The NX is also an opportunity for what some may see as a level of redemption. The Wii and Wii U stumbled on many fronts, nevermind the record sales of the former, and Nintendo are well aware of that. Redemption may come in developing and releasing a console that finally exceeds fan expectations. If the wait this long doesn’t eventuate into something that resembles even a portion of the hype that surrounds it, the NX could become the biggest flop in history before it’s even hit store shelves. Big words, sure, but anything is possible within the current climate that surrounds it. Match or beat those expectations thought? Who knows what’s possible then.
One thing’s for certain. If the NX doesn’t improve upon the mistakes made with the Wii U, Nintendo may have to reconsider every option they currently have available to them. It’s the Dreamcast to Sega situation, where by one final push could determine the future of a company revered by so many for so long. I’m not expecting Nintendo to suddenly vanish from the console scene, not entirely at least, but it could further damage the bottom line and severely dampen any future console development plans. Nintendo will never die completely, not with so many IP’s at their disposal, but we could very well be looking at a future without one of its key console developers. If that does happen, it would be a sad day indeed.
What is the Nintendo NX? I know one thing it most definitely will be.