Earlier this year, Nintendo teased us with what will be their next-generation home console, the NX. When it was announced, the general consensus was that it was being mentioned simply to assure customers that Nintendo wasn’t quitting the console market due to disappointing Wii U sales. The big console makers (Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, and previously Sega) have always begun working on prototypes for their next generation consoles almost as soon as the previous ones go to market, so of course Nintendo is working on something new.
Well, despite no new information being released during last month’s E3 event, it seems that there’s been some significant speculation this week that the NX could be released as soon as a year from now. It’s not just rumor, either. Hardware manufacturers like Foxconn are saying that Nintendo is already looking to start production next summer. Other sources are dismissing the idea, but while the mid-2016 timeline seems too aggressive, it’s very possible that a holiday release for the NX could be a reality.
Is it really possible for Nintendo’s next-gen console to come in 2016? Let’s speculate on how such a launch could happen.
A couple of weeks ago, Shigeru Miyamoto did a surprising interview with Fortune magazine in which he detailed why he believes the Wii U failed. In it, he described the Wii U as a system that people “never really understood” and confused consumers with both its name and ambiguity about whether it was a new system or a Wii add-on. As a fanboy myself, I recall being unclear about it after the hour-long conference. The focus on the Game Pad hid the fact there was a new console powering it. A new, boring looking console.
This is the crux of the problem: the market wasn’t excited about the Wii U because they never really knew what it was. When it was released, the launch lineup was filled with a series of ports of older games (Mass Effect 3, Arkham City, etc.), a New Super Mario Bros. sequel, and just one game that was exciting: Nintendoland. Not much would follow soon after. There were a few gems like Raymen Legends to come along, but the big Nintendo titles wouldn’t come until midway through the following year when Mario Kart 8 finally hit.
So, if the NX is to come out mid-2016, Nintendo will undoubtedly have a big launch lineup ready to go to generate excitement. What could those games be? How about this trio?
- A New Mario Title
- The New Legend of Zelda
- A Metroid Sequel
Is it possible that Nintendo would launch a console with three of their biggest franchises at once? Yes. And the clues back it up.
The Super Mario Bros. series’ last entry was the excellent Super Mario 3D World of November, 2013. The game is fantastic, but 3DS owners knew that it was built on the engine for 2011’s Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS and not a radically new game concept. It’s actually been a long time since we saw a revolutionary new Mario game such as Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy, so it’s likely they’re working on one right now. For the NX.
In regards to the next Legend of Zelda, we were originally promised it for 2015 but then it got delayed to 2016. We don’t know what part of the year it will be released yet, but it’s perfectly likely that it could coincide with the NX release. Perhaps this is what Eiji Aonuma meant when he said, “we have discovered several new possibilities for this game.” Keep in mind that Nintendo pushed Twilight Princess to be a Wii launch title simultaneously released alongside a GameCube version, so it’s happened before!
As for Metroid, it was a disappointing omission at E3 this year. I theorized at the time that they are likely working on it but didn’t want to announce it alongside Star Fox Zero. Nintendo doesn’t put a huge focus on E3, so they likely would talk about it later in the year to spread out the buzz. If this is true, a 2016 release is possible.
When the NX is released.
Look, we don’t know where any of those games are in development or if they’re being developed at all. Yet, it’s very possible that at least 2 of these could be positioned for an NX launch with maybe one to follow soon after. Nintendo will not let a launch happen again without big titles. They’ve learned that lesson. Certainly, Legend of Zelda can be there at launch. The other titles may come right along with it.
The DeNA Partnership
When Nintendo announced their partnership with DeNA, the headlines declared that they’d finally get into mobile gaming. Lost in the news, though, was that Nintendo was revamping their authentication and friend code scheme. Obviously, the 3DS looks like a relic with its friend code system while the Wii U enjoys a system that’s a little bit better. Both need updating, though, and alongside these mobile games it’s obvious that DeNA and Nintendo will be working on unifying all the platforms. The closing of Club Nintendo is a huge clue into that as well. It’s a safe bet there will be cross-platform capabilities coming down the pike and that the new Club Nintendo could offer games available for download on ALL platforms at once!
All of this could come together with the NX as the main hub to it all. The Wii U can be left as is while the 3DS updates to the new system and the NX and mobile apps kick off with whatever it is. With only about 10,000,000 Wii U’s sold so far, Nintendo wouldn’t have to be too concerned about adding it to the cross-platform family.
What Might the NX Be?
Nintendo is a brilliant company that is always pushing innovation to the market. The D-pad, Gameboy, Virtual Boy, shoulder buttons, 3D platformers, touch gaming, glasses-free 3D, motion controls, and realtime video streaming (Wii U -> Game Pad) were all exciting introductions that had varying levels of success.
There is no doubt the NX will also bring a radical change to gaming. Shinya Takahashi, their Director of Software Planning & Development, came right out with it:
For us, the next step is to think about what is going to be that element that is really going to catch the attention of a large number of players again and get them excited. We’re constantly thinking about this idea from the perspective of the players and the needs of the players in terms of what can we can do with our ability and our technology to capture that excitement and passion.
When he says they’re trying to grab “the attention of a large number of players again,” think: Wii. When the Wii exploded on to the scene, everybody wanted one. Motion controls at that time were revolutionary and nothing resembled the Wii. Retirement homes were buying the system, moms, dads, your grandparents, and kids craved it. Limited supply had the public ravenous!
Nintendo ruled the world with the Wii until it ran out of steam late in its lifetime and the Wii U never capitalized on that success. The system maintained support for the Wii’s Wiimote controllers but largely doesn’t use them for single-player gaming. The Game Pad has four shoulder buttons, six face buttons, a touchscreen, and two analog sticks! This is even more complex than the PS4 and XBox One controller offerings, so the huge market Nintendo had with the Wii was surely not going to upgrade to this control scheme.
They will get back to simplicity with the NX.
If Nintendo wants to return to the success of the Wii, they need to build a revolutionary system that once again makes everything else look bland. What better time to do that than 3 years into Sony and Microsoft’s cycles? They’d be unable to adapt.
What exactly will it be? I honestly have no idea. I can’t imagine it will be a Virtual Reality (VR) headset as there’s been no hint of Nintendo working on one and Reggie Fils-Aime recently said, “And it needs to be something that you’re going to talk about and get others excited. And I have to say, as we sit here today, I’m not convinced that the current efforts are really pushing forward in those two areas. I haven’t seen a “wow” experience yet.”
Bottom line is that Nintendo isn’t sold on VR is for gaming yet. What we might see is something wearable. What we definitely won’t see is a “standard” controller scheme. Nintendo is done with those days. Even Microsoft is trying to move away from that with the Kinect and HoloLens.
Here’s a final big clue: Nintendo recently came out and said that when the NX is released, the Wii U will still be supported. Why would Nintendo say something like this if the NX wasn’t going to be released earlier than expected? Every console maker supports their older system for some time after the new console is released. There’s a huge install base still wanting games when that happens. It certainly makes you raise an eyebrow that Nintendo is saying this. Now.
Nintendo’s only hesitation to getting around the Wii U anchor is that giving up on the system wouldn’t make existing owners too happy. So, how do you get around that? By specifically promising that the Wii U won’t go away. It’s easy enough to do for them because they already have to spend time supporting several control schemes for each and every Wii U game: Game Pad, Wiimote, Wiimote & Nunchuck, Pro Controller, and in some cases even GameCube controllers! The NX will no doubt shed the past and start fresh. No Wii compatibility. No Wii U compatibility. A whole new control scheme.
With the NX, Nintendo can escape the bottleneck the Wii U will hold on sales. It’s a fantastic system, don’t get me wrong. I cherish my Wii U. The market just didn’t go for it and unless they can sell it for $199 or even $149, it’s just not going to pick up enough market share to really drive their game sales. Nintendo can’t rely on the 3DS market as mobile phones threaten it more as every day passes.
So, will the NX arrive in by the end of 2016?
I say yes.
Because it must.