Rumors surrounding Nintendo’s next system have been sprouting up consistently since the existence of the device was first announced last Spring. There have been all sorts of different reports coming from a variety of sources, and Nintendo has been adamant about keeping as silent as possible on the matter. We already know that the company will lift the veil at some time in the Fall, but until then, the rumors will continue. It just so happens that earlier today, Eurogamer dropped quite the bomb.
According to the (large) site, sources have reported to them that the Nintendo NX will be powered by Nvidia’s powerful mobile processor, the Tegra. On top of that, the sources have also told them that the system is indeed a hybrid, featuring a main handheld unit that has detachable controllers. This isn’t exactly a new concept, but it’s still an interesting design choice for a hardware giant such as Nintendo. Many have thought that the NX would be Nintendo’s return to form, going back to its original ways of producing simple, but powerful hardware. If this rumor is indeed true, then obviously the company wants to continue being unique.
Many gamers have ostracized Nintendo for trying to be different, harping the company to try and compete directly with the likes of PlayStation and Xbox. You can’t exactly blame the gaming community for thinking this way. Both Sony and Microsoft have kept their consoles set in a relatively basic pattern: make the box sleeker and more powerful each generation; things have obviously worked out for both sides. Nintendo used to be the same way, but its consoles have always had a ‘quirk’ or two since the days of the N64. Nintendo’s home console sales have been on a steady decline for a while now. While the Wii proved to be a huge success in numbers, it didn’t have any lasting appeal; the customers that gobbled it up in the beginning had moved on well before the system was truly finished. Seeing that these rumors suggest that Nintendo is planning to be unique again, will it work out for real this time?
It’s really hard to say.
The N64 and GameCube showed a significant decrease in hardware sales from the NES and SNES. They weren’t financial failures, but it was still an uncomfortable situation. It’s also where we saw many third-party companies begin to turn their backs on Nintendo. The Wii came in and lit up charts, but then the Wii U returned sales to the declining pattern that had already began two decades ago. Having considered all this, it’s safe to say that after Nintendo started doing it’s own thing, that’s when its console sales began to decline. Seeing that the NX is allegedly going to continue this trend of ‘weird’ systems, does that mean things will go bad?
Nintendo’s console sales started declining after the systems got ‘weird’. Could the NX suffer the same conclusion?
The success of the system primarily depends on two things: its games and its features. If there’s a wide variety of games to choose from, then consumers will naturally be attracted to it. If its feature-set is on-par with other systems, then consumers will enjoy it even more. Features are one thing, but games are undoubtedly the most important factor. With the news of the system allegedly being powered by Nvidia’s Tegra chip, the concern of power has presented itself. The Tegra is a mobile processor, found in tablets like Google’s Pixel C and Nexus 7 (2012 edition). The chip is fine for tablets, but how does it handle the heavier loads of full console-level games? Doing a little research would reveal that the (currently) most powerful variant of the chip can handle Direct X 12 titles, as well as those created using Unreal Engine 4. It has an ARM-based, quad-core CPU (like the 3DS, but much more powerful), and supports 4K resolutions. That all sounds pretty good, right? Indeed! The Tegra is no slouch, that’s for sure. But if the system really is supposed to be a handheld, then this main concern comes in: battery power.
The Wii U was created to be an economical, low-power system. Compared to the PS4 and Xbox One, the Wii U is incredibly discrete when it comes to power usage. This is also the reason why its specs are of a much lower caliber. While hardware components overall have gotten a lot more efficient, the more powerful they are, the more electricity they draw. If the NX really is a hybrid, then as a handheld it needs to be as efficient as possible in order to have decent battery life. That could mean that even if it really is powered by the Tegra, it would potentially need to be held back in order not to fry itself. But what about when its docked?
A while back, Nintendo filed patents for what is being referred to a “Supplemental Computing Device”. It was unclear exactly what this meant when these details first surfaced, but now with Eurogamer’s sources saying that the system is indeed a console/handheld hybrid, then perhaps that ‘SCD’ could be the dock that will allow the system to be connected to a TV. Seeing that it would then be in ‘console mode’, perhaps the full power of the Tegra chip would then be activated, thus leading to performance more akin to current-gen systems. Could this really work this way, though? Perhaps.
Mobile devices are continuously getting more powerful. At this point, there are games that are pretty much as complex as what we saw on the PS3/360, with much better resolutions. Sure, console-like gaming still isn’t completely a thing on mobile, but that’s gradually becoming a reality. As for the NX, being powered by what’s supposed to be a mobile chip is an inconvenience, but the SCD could potentially remedy that. Furthermore, game engines are increasingly becoming more flexible. I already mentioned that the Tegra can support Unreal Engine 4, an engine that powers many current PC and console games. Major ones, at that. On top of that, think about how PC games are made to be flexible. Not everyone who has a Steam account can run games at 4K with 60 frames. There are millions of PCs out there, all possessing different specifications. Game engines need to be scaleable in order to support all of these different variations. With that said, the NX using the Tegra may not be too much of an issue. The main problem is the architecture.
Both the PS4 and Xbox One use the x86 architecture. While that has existed for quite some time now, consoles were mainly running on PowerPC-based architecture for a while. That’s also what the Wii U uses. The switch to x86 brought systems more in-line with PCs, making porting a relative breeze. If the NX really does use ARM, then porting is going to take a little extra effort. Of course, it’s going to be up to developers to decide whether or not its worth the effort.
Ultimately, there’s no exact way to look at this. There’s a lot of variables here. But is it genuinely okay to be worried? Of course. While the concept isn’t completely new, it’s never been tried before with what is supposed to be a fully-fledged console. Therefore, the outcome doesn’t have a solid conclusion, yet. Nevertheless, Nintendo are hardware wizards. Even if the system is limited, you can bet that their teams will work some sort of tech-sorcery and produce something that shouldn’t be possible; Mario Kart 8 says “hi”. But what about third-parties? Well, Ubisoft, Take-Two and Warner Bros. have already given positive remarks about the system. SEGA hasn’t said anything, but they recently announced that Project Sonic 2017 will be coming to the system. Keep in mind that the game is also coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One. And of course, let’s also not forget that Zelda: Breath of the Wild is also coming to the system. That’s a lot of positive points to take into consideration.
Autumn can’t come soon enough.