Nintendo's next console, at least provisionally called the NX, is being released in March 2017. The Japanese gaming giant needs a hit with its next home system, as its current-gen (home) offering, the Wii U, has sold 12 million units worldwide, putting it way behind the performance of the PlayStation 4 (approaching 40 million by now) and Xbox One (somewhere just north of 20 million). VICE Gaming editor Mike Diver and Chris Scullion – former staffer at Official Nintendo Magazine, Nintendo Gamer and CVG, and now a freelancer – discuss what the Mario makers need to do in order to become a video gaming heavyweight again.
MD: That's a damn good point and one I'd not considered. The New 3DS feels like a halfway house that nobody's really happy with. I mean, come on – why can I not play A Link to the Past on my ordinary 3DS XL? It can run N64 games, so what gives? SNES games on the New 3DS feels like a flopped marketing move, to shift consoles to a market that has them already. But I never paused to think about Nintendo abandoning the 3DS line entirely. Surely they wouldn't?
But then again, if they didn't, and the NX is as much a handheld as a home system, do you think Nintendo can afford to support two systems, simultaneously? One criticism of their releases right now is that you have your Wii U version of a game, then a very similar, perhaps slightly simplified version of it on 3DS, and actual identity of each system, or its personality, hardware aside, can be hard to pin down.
I suppose now the question is: what does the NX need to be, and how does that impact Nintendo's existing hardware? I imagine the Wii U will disappear quickly, unfortunately, in its wake; but the 3DS still sells shitloads. Nintendo can make Zelda cross-platform across Wii U and NX – but surely the same can't happen with NX and 3DS titles?
CS: It's going to be very interesting to see the NX later this year, because – while we all know the Wii U is on its death bed – as soon as Nintendo reveals the NX we'll have a much better idea of the 3DS's fate.
To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if the 3DS was approaching the end, too. It's a year and a half older than the Wii U and, other than a new Kirby in the summer, a new Pokémon in the winter and that Metroid Prime: Federation Force game nobody's looking forward to, there are no first-party games in the release schedule for that, either.
If we take the "part console, part handheld" thing as fact, then it does stand to reason that the 3DS should be phased out. If it's marketed properly – and that's a big IF – the NX could appeal to parents as a money-saver: a single purchase that lets the kids play Mario, Splatoon, Minecraft and so forth at home, but also keep them quiet with Pokémon and Animal Crossing games on trips. Even if it ends up being something like £350 – which is expensive by Nintendo's standards – that's still you getting two powerful systems for less money than buying both a Wii U and 3DS, according to Nintendo's current RRP.
One thing Nintendo's always nailed is backwards compatibility, so it stands to reason that the NX will probably be able to play Wii U games, even if that ends up being digital-only. But who's to say it won't be able to play 3DS ones, too? When you look at what the Wii U does with Wii games, where it sort of quits out of the Wii U operating system, loads its own custom Wii firmware and acts like a standalone Wii, it would be interesting if the handheld element of the NX could do the same and turn into a 3DS at will.
Of course, this would also necessitate the much-requested feature of being able to play your digital Wii U and 3DS games on more than one system. Which would lead to another brownie point for Nintendo, and another way of winning over lapsed fans.
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MD: Do you think the NX would benefit from a subscription service that allows users access to a wealth of old Nintendo classics? Like PS+, but rather than a few games at a time, actually have the 8- and 16bit games available to stream all the time, for a small cost per month. I love that idea, and would eat it all up.
Beyond providing a platform to play what we know, though, what more does the NX need to do in 2017 to ensure it's not a Wii U, that it outperforms its predecessor and, I guess, returns Nintendo to a major contender in what is currently a two-horse race for console supremacy? Okay, a one-horse race.
CS: That subscription service idea is something I've dreamt about for years. I think I wrote about something like that back when I worked for Official Nintendo Magazine. It would be fantastic: essentially a Netflix for Nintendo.
Nintendo puts a lot of importance on its legacy games, and rightly so: they're fantastic. But many gamers feel they're massively overpriced and no matter how great these old games were you need to find a price point that will stop gamers saying, "Stuff that, I'll just download an emulator."
The original SNES Donkey Kong Country is currently £7.19 on 3DS Virtual Console. It's clearly a fantastic game, but in this day and age that's simply considered too much.
Charge us something like £12.99 for access to the entire NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy and Game Boy Advance vaults, though – even if it's just first-party stuff at first until Nintendo sorts out a royalties system for third-party devs – and people will leap at it. Get just 200,000 people signed up to it and that's £2.6 million in income every month. £31.2 million a year off old games just sitting there in the archive is nothing to be sniffed at.
As for what the NX needs to do, I think it needs to find a balance between power and innovation instead of going all-out with one of them. If it's a console and handheld in one, that's innovation enough: we don't need any other quirky nonsense like those non-button controller fakes that were doing the rounds a month or two ago.
By all means Nintendo should add existing stuff like amiibo support and StreetPass. Imagine playing a new Pokémon where you play the normal game on the move on the handheld element, then upload your StreetPasses to your console when you get home and battle the teams of people you passed on fancy Pokémon Stadium-style battles on your telly.
Speaking of which, in terms of power, I think the console element needs to at least hold its own with the Xbox One and PS4 as they stand just now, never mind the rumoured upgrades for those systems. The Wii and Wii U lost third-party support when porting "multi-format" games became a huge downgrading hassle, so make the NX easy to port like-for-like from Xbox One or PS4 and the third-party support will come naturally. If a developer sees a porting opportunity that takes little effort, that's easy money: of course they'll support Nintendo.
In short, then, my dream NX is one that's as powerful as an Xbox One, at least for its home console element; has full backwards compatibility with all legacy Nintendo systems, be it directly or through Virtual Console; replaces both the Wii U and 3DS; and appeals to both the so-called "hardcore" gamers and long-time Nintendo fans. Oh, and it should have a system-level achievement system, too.
Not much to ask for, eh?
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