Nintendo NX rumor round-up: A portable console with detachable controllers?

Will Fulton

Sony and Microsoft have been in an arms race to see whose gaming console can squeeze in the most graphical muscle, but for two consoles now, Nintendo has taken a more creative approach to its hardware. Sadly, the Wii U has struggled to sell. After the breakout success of the Wii, the Wii U has had a tough time competing with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, despite its early release. Even so, Nintendo’s announcement that it would reveal a brand new console in 2016 came as a surprise.

At this point, we don’t know a lot for certain. Late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata revealed the NX’s existence at a March 2015 press conference, alongside the announcement of its mobile game licensing deal with DeNA. Iwata described the project, code-named “NX,” as “a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept.” Nintendo confirmed soon afterward that the NX will launch in March 2017, though it wouldn’t be at E3 2016.

Related: Nintendo won’t talk NX or smartphone games at this year’s E3

That is the sum total of what Nintendo has officially revealed thus far, but it still leaves a lot of questions about the hardware, which only become bigger with all the rumors and reported leaks about the new system circulating around the internet. Current rumors suggest we may hear more in September, but until then we’ll be updating this piece with all the information — rumored or official — on Nintendo’s upcoming console.

Launch Window

Nintendo told investors in its earnings report for its 2016 fiscal year — April 2015 to March 2016 —  that it expects to launch the NX console in March, 2017. The recently-detailed Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, originally slated for 2016, was pushed back to release alongside the NX. It will also be available for the Wii U, according to a tweet from Nintendo of America, much like how Twilight Princess was delayed to straddle the console generation between the GameCube and the Wii. Despite its impending arrival, however, the NX will not debut at E3, as confirmed by Tokyo tech reporter Takashi Mochizuki. Nintendo will attend Gamescom 2016 in August, leading to rumors that Nintendo will unveil the console there.

While, officially speaking, Nintendo’s launch plan appears locked in, a rumor from hardware manufacturing blog Digitimes from June, 2016, has suggested that Nintendo may push back the launch date. The report, which cited anonymous sources, said Nintendo has delayed production of the NX hardware from “mid-2016” to “early 2017.” If accurate, Nintendo may push the NX launch date, or will ship a very limited number of units on day one.

Handheld/Console hybrid

nintendo wii u controller
nintendo wii u controller

Many have speculated that the NX will be a hybrid between a portable, handheld gaming device and a TV-bound console — like a Wii U GamePad that you could take anywhere, or a 3DS with a dock to hook it up to your TV. This rumor goes back to a January 2014 post on Nintendo News, which shared an anonymous tip with specifications for the “Nintendo Fusion.”

In July, 2016, Eurogamer reported it had confirmed rumors about the home/portable hybrid device, and painted a clearer picture of what the console could look like. According to the report, the NX will be a powerful handheld with its own screen flanked by two detachable controllers, allowing for local multiplayer on the go. At home, the NX can be plugged into a base station for playing on TV.

The report also reaffirmed that cartridges would return alongside digital downloads, with Nintendo recommending 32 GB of storage as the standard size. Under the hood it will supposedly be powered by Nvidia’s Tegra mobile processor, running a new operating system (and not simply Android, as a previous rumor suggested).

Taken together, these rumors suggest that Nintendo is not aiming to compete with Sony and Microsoft when it comes to raw computational power and graphics. Instead the Japanese gaming mainstay is leaning into its previous strengths of portability and hardware innovation. We will learn more when the NX is scheduled to be officially revealed, in September.

A June 2016 report from hardware manufacturing blog Digitimes claimed to have independently confirmed that the NX will feature a mobile device, which will also “connect to a TV” for players looking for a home console-style experience. According to the report, the mobile component will have a 5- to 7-inch display. A separate report from Let’s Play Video Games’ puts the display’s length at about 205mm, making it slightly smaller than the Wii U’s GamePad. The individual controller segments can be removed with the press of a button.

Next-Gen Wiimotes, and Controller Backwards Compatibility

wiimotes
wiimotes

Wii Motion Plus controllers for the Wii, Wii U (and NX?)

In August, 2016, Let’s Play Video Games reported that console form factor from the aforementioned Eurogamer story was correct, and added that console’s controllers would support motion controls with the same fidelity and accuracy of Nintendo’s Wii MotionPlus controller. According to the report, the controller would also support some form of “advanced vibration force feedback” similar to the dynamic vibrating feedback found in the HTC Vive controller.

The report said the console will support current Wiimotes, which will be compatible with some multiplayer games, including Just Dance 2017. The goal, however, will be to phase out the multi-generational controller during the NX lifecycle.

Split Directional Pad

In August 2016, rumors began to circulate that the Nintendo NX controller would make use of a split directional pad, following a report from Let’s Play Video Games. This would represent a major break from tradition, given that the company has been using its proprietary solid directional pad for decades.

The report also indicated that the NX controller would feature a share button similar to the one present on the DualShock 4. The button would facilitate the sharing of still images and video to services like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Miiverse, as well as the transfer of that content to an external memory device.

The Return of cartridges

Eurogamer and the Wall Street Journal have both reported that the NX will support some form of proprietary cartridge. According to the Eurogamer report, Nintendo has been recommending publishers use a 32GB cartridge, suggesting the NX games may be smaller than current-gen home console games.

Rumors that the NX would use cartridges were triggered when Nintendo filed a patent in February, 2015 for a device without an optical drive. At the time, many fans assumed the NX would be a traditional home console, prompting comparisons to Nintendo’s iconic consoles of the 80s and 90s.

Region-free at last

After continuing to region lock both the Wii U and the 3DS, limiting gamers from playing Japan-only titles without purchasing a duplicate Japanese system, Nintendo will make the NX region-free, according to a report from Let’s Play Video Games. Late CEO Satoru Iwata hinted at this possibility at an investors’ meeting last year, saying that the company was looking at it “optimistically going forward.”

Tegra X2

Eurogamer’s report on the NX hardware said the new console will use Nvidia’s Tegra X1 chip, the same chip powering Nvidia’s Shield console, but more recent speculations suggests that the NX may sport the upcoming Tegra X2 chip, which will feature the same Pascal GPU architecture used in Nvidia’s current flagship video cards: the GTX Titan X, and the GTX 1000 series, including the GTX 1080, 1070, and 1060. That doesn’t mean the NX will be capable of the same graphical power as these cards, however, and since Nvidia has not officially announced the Tegra X2 yet, there’s no telling just how powerful the new chip could be. It would certainly be more powerful than the X1, though.

There’s also a chance that the finalized chipset in the NX is a customized Tegra chip, rather than a standard X1 or X2. Still, whatever the final hardware specs of the NX ends up being, these rumors place it well above the Wii U in terms of power and speed, though not quite as powerful as current PS4 or Xbox One systems.

Graphics and Streaming

A slide from a market research survey gauging interest in Nintendo NX posted on NeoGAF January 20, 2016, provided some potential insight to the specs and capabilities of the NX hardware. Reportedly commissioned by British analysis firm GfK, the slide said the console will support “gameplay graphics at 900p/60fps.” If true, this would amount a visual step down from the Wii U, which supports games with 1080p graphics. The specification seems especially odd given that the slide also boasts that the NX will support “4k/60fps video streaming.”

Nintendo hasn’t exactly refuted rumors of underpowered hardware. Indeed, in an interview BloombergNintendo of America chief Reggie Fils-Aime said that the NX “[isn’t] about specs … teraflops … [or] horsepower,” but content. “We’re focused on bringing out best entertainment to both the Wii U as well as the NX in the future,” he said.

The research slide also substantiated the rumor that NX will be capable of functioning as both a home console and a handheld portable device, referring to “gameplay [that] flows between the Nintendo NX console and Nintendo NX handheld device.” Lastly, it said the NX would allow users to surf the web and make video calls.

According to Eurogamer, the survey asks users to estimate how much they would pay for a device based on these and other qualifications, such as “exclusive game franchises such as Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and more.” The survey also reportedly asked customers whether or not they would like the console to include a disc drive. While the report confirmed that some users had received and filled out the survey, neither Nintendo nor GfK have verified that the survey was officially commissioned.

Scroll wheel shoulder buttons

Another interesting patent to emerge, shared on NeoGAF, describes replacing the GamePad’s shoulder buttons with clickable scroll wheels, like on a mouse. That sounds like a great way to maintain the functionality of a current design feature while also adding another dimension of utility. Particularly for games that use a lot of menus, scroll wheels could be a real boon. Thinking more outside the box, two scroll wheels isn’t something we can recall ever seeing before on a gaming platform, which opens up all sorts of new possibilities for unorthodox control schemes. The GamePad is already begging for designers to come up with innovative was to interact with their games, so adding more interesting control functionality to it at no loss seems like a no-brainer.

Achievements and sharing unlocked

Nintendo has been the odd man out among its peers for not yet including a metagame of achievements or trophies to commemorate gameplay milestones. That may finally change for the NX, as Nintendo has filed a patent (spotted by Nintendo Enthusiast) for achievements and a system for sharing the gameplay that led to them. That would mean, for instance, that if you unlock an achievement after a particularly epic boss fight, you will be able to immediately share it with friends on Miiverse (or whatever social system replaces it). The company’s highly-publicized partnership with mobile developer DeNA implied that we should expect more social and connected features just like this.

Pokémon and Mario NX

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (thumb)
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (thumb)

Nintendo may be planning to ship games from many of its biggest franchises within six months of the NX launch date. According to a report from MCV UK, Nintendo plans have NX games based on The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and Pokémon ready the console’s launch window lineup. Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokémon are by far the company’s most popular and highest-selling properties, and their presence would likely bolster the NX’s early sales.

We already knew that The legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be releasing on the console near launch, but with confirmation that new titles from both the Mario and Pokémon franchises will be available within the first six months of launch bodes well for the system. The report also mentions that Nintendo is courting third-party developers to support their new system, and lists Sega, Square Enix, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros to bring games to the platform.

Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara subsequently spoke to the Wall Street Journal, confirming that, bolstered by the breakout success of Pokémon Go, they would indeed be developing games for the NX. He declined to confirm, however, whether a game would be ready for the console’s launch.

Breath of the Wild

zelda
zelda

In April, 2016, Nintendo confirmed that its upcoming take on The Legend of Zelda will be released on both the Wii U and the Nintendo NX simultaneously in spring 2017.

Rumors that the game would launch on both consoles began circulating after Nintendo announced it would delay Breath of the Wild for Wii U, dropping the game from its planned 2016 software lineup. Nintendo did the same thing with Twilight Princess, which was delayed from its planned 2005 release to launch alongside the original Wii in 2006.

Any differences between the two will be relatively minor, implied Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma in a roundtable discussion with GameSpot. “The users will be able to have the same experience with the NX version as they will with the Wii U version.” That’d be consistent with Nintendo’s modus operandi: the Wii edition of Twilight Princess was graphically identical to the Gamecube version, save for different controller icons.

Dragon Quest X and XI

dragon quest
dragon quest

As for particular games, Square Enix has announced it will bring Dragon Quest XI to the NX, as well as a port of Dragon Quest X, which has not been released outside of Japan. XI, which will also come to PlayStation 4 and 3DS, is currently expected to launch in Japan between now and May, 2017. Series creator Yuji Horii confirmed that Dragon Quest XI would be coming to NX during an interview with Japanese magazine Nintendo Dream, and explained that all three versions of the game will feature a slightly different look due to the hardware capabilities of each platform. Read more on the Dragon Quest X and XI announcements here.

Super Smash Bros. NX

Other than early rumors of the long-delayed upcoming Zelda game coming to NX, there have been no leaks yet about what games we should expect to launch with the console. According to Kantan Games CEO Serkan Toto, fans may be treated to one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises: Super Smash Bros.

In a follow-up tweet, Serkan suggested that it would be a new Smash, and not a port of the current version, but that is not certain. He would not name his source. Serkan has a good track record with Nintendo rumors, breaking the company’s plans to develop mobile games before the official announcement (via Techno Buffalo)

Many consider the prolonged lack of core Nintendo franchises on Wii U to be one of the most important factors in that system’s weak reception, so leading with Smash would go a long way to reassuring fans that Nintendo is serious about the NX.

Just Dance 2017

french5
french5

During its E3 2016 press conference in June, Ubisoft became the first Western third-party publisher to confirm a title for the NX when it announced Just Dance 2017, the latest game in its cross-platform rhythm series. It’s an appropriate choice — the first Just Dance title debuted exclusively on the Nintendo Wii in 2009.

Alain Corre, Executive Director of Ubisoft’s EMEA division, told MVC that the developer was “working closely” with Nintendo on the new Just Dance. “We have always appreciated the relationship with Nintendo, the co-creation and the fact that they are really concentrating on quality,” he said, and expressed a bullishness on the NX platform. “We have done a lot of products and successes with Nintendo in the past, and we believe that the NX will recapture a lot of lapsed Wii players,” said Corre.

According to a report from Let’s Play Video Games, Just Dance 2017 will be a Nintendo NX launch title. It’s not much of a stretch: The game is set to launch on current platforms October 25, 2016. According to this report, this game will be one of a number of titles that will support both the new NX controllers and current Wii remotes.

In addition to Just Dance 2017, Ubisoft is also developing games for the NX that take advantage of the system’s unique features — a plan that would be less likely to be implemented should Ubisoft be taken over by media giant Vivendi.

Nintendo VR!?

According to a June 2016, report from hardware supply chain blog Digitimes, the Nintendo NX may feature some kind of virtual reality support. The report, which claimed Nintendo has delayed advance mass production of the NX, suggested that part of the reason for the delay may be to allow Nintendo to incorporate an unknown type of VR functionality.

The idea that the NX could support a VR headset comparable to the Oculus Rift, HTC, or PlayStation VR headset seems highly suspect. A report from respected Nintendo blogger Emily Rogers suggested the NX hardware will feature hardware similar to what’s inside the Xbox One, which would not be capable of supporting a competitive VR device. And in an interview with Bloomberg, Aime stressed that VR “needs to be mainstream” before Nintendo dips a toe in the water.

That said, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima told investors that the company had been “exploring” VR during a February 2016, investor call. If Nintendo has delayed production on the NX, more powerful, VR-ready processors could be part of the plan. Of course, that is purely conjecture at this point.

Android (Debunked)

More recently, the Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported a rumor that the NX would come “loaded with Android.” The reason would be that third party developers, who are hesitant to create games for the Wii U, would be more inclined to make games based on an already-familiar operating system. While it’s unlikely that Nintendo would produce a console that strictly runs the Google-loaded regular version of Android, it could build a console on an Android-derived OS, like the Ouya console, or support Android apps and games through virtualization. However, following the Android rumor, a Nintendo representative told the Wall Street Journal that there is “no truth to the report” that Nintendo is adopting Android for the NX.

Why we’re actually excited

It’s easy to draw parallels between the GameCube and the Wii U. Both consoles followed immensely successful, gameplay-innovating predecessors (the Nintendo 64 and Wii, respectively), but had a difficult time competing against their more popular peers from Sony and Microsoft. Historically, Nintendo struggles when it tries to compete in the technological arms race with Sony and Microsoft. GameCube didn’t have a major differentiator from Xbox and PS2 aside from a new controller button layout, and Wii U has struggled to identify its target audience since launch. Nintendo’s greatest successes have come from it striking off on its own to create innovative hardware that encourages new types of play.

Related: Artist-rendered Smart Boy device predicts Nintendo’s mobile future

We hope that the NX is a merger between handhelds and consoles. Handhelds have always been a strong suit for Nintendo. The original Game Boy more or less defined the category, and the DS sits narrowly behind the PlayStation 2 as the most successful video game console of all time. Its successor, the 3DS has also sold remarkably well, particularly in light of smartphone’s rise as a gaming platform. In The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, game designer Jesse Schell contends that focusing on the particular platforms on which we play games might be less instructive than considering the venues in which we play them. Bridging the gap between a portable handheld and a stationary console with games that exist fluidly in both is an interesting and untapped idea that Nintendo could explore.