What the Nintendo NX Needs in Order to be a Success

While many are excited about the prospects of Nintendo’s next console — codenamed “NX” — there are some who feel skeptical about it. After Nintendo’s financial flop with the Wii U, many fans are worried that the NX will follow suit. Plagued with a plethora of problems that trace back to the system’s initial launch, the Wii U pales in comparison to not just its predecessor but the 3DS as well. Nintendo cannot afford to repeat this again — there might not be another chance for them.

The Wii U’s GPU/CPU package. The top-left, bigger chip is the GX2-Latte GPU, while the bottom-right, smaller chip is the Espresso PowerPC CPU.

In order for the NX to be a success, it needs to deliver on a few key aspects — the first and most important one being hardware. The Wii U currently uses a PowerPC CPU — the same CPU architecture that was used in its predecessors, the Wii and GameCube. This is what enables the Wii U to have full backwards compatibility with most, if not all Wii software titles.

However, it is very likely that this may not be sustainable for much longer. While having such a powerful backwards compatibility ability is great, if Nintendo were to stick with the PowerPC CPU architecture for future home consoles, it may pose as a severe limiting factor for games developed on that platform. Nintendo is pretty much the last major hardware vendor to still be using the PowerPC CPU architecture — Apple transitioned from using PowerPC CPUs to Intel’s x86_64 CPUs back in 2006, and both Sony and Microsoft transitioned to x86_64 CPUs with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

While it is definitely possible to squeeze more performance out of the PowerPC architecture, perhaps it is no longer cost-effective for Nintendo to try and stick with it. Nintendo being the odd one out with their PowerPC CPU also potentially puts additional strain on third-party developers seeking to write their own code for Nintendo consoles — which perhaps contributed to Nintendo’s infamously… lackluster third-party games. While modern game development middleware solutions such as Unreal Engine 4, Unity, and CryENGINE generally abstract CPU architecture differences out of the way of developers (along with most higher-level programming languages), the noticeable performance increases attainable by switching to the x86_64 architecture (thanks to new instruction sets such as AVX and AVX2) would probably do Nintendo some good.

In the end, Nintendo may be forced to abandon the PowerPC architecture for the x86_64 CPU architecture, which will definitely help with Nintendo’s notoriously-shoddy third-party developer support. This, however, comes at a cost: if the x86_64 switchover were to happen, it is very likely that the NX would completely lose the ability to be backwards compatible with Wii U or Wii games.

Arguably, there are still two ways that Nintendo could implement backwards compatibility. The first is via high-level software emulation, which is what Nintendo currently does for Virtual Console titles. However, this is very performance-demanding — emulating the Wii, let alone the Wii U might be a little too much for the NX’s hardware. Just look at what happened when Sony tried to emulate the PlayStation 2 on the later, cheaper PlayStation 3 models. The second is via static recompilation, which is how Microsoft got select Xbox 360 (PowerPC) titles to function on the Xbox One (x86_64). The problem with this is that it requires extensive programming , deep understanding of both CPU architectures, and specific customizations for each game — which might discourage Nintendo from pursuing this method.

CPU aside, there’s one other major component that Nintendo has to worry about — the GPU. While the Wii U’s current GPU (“Latte GX2,” an AMD R600-based GPU) is a major step-up from what was used on the Wii (“Hollywood GX”), it is still — by modern standards — rather lacking in terms of performance. This only gives the Wii U another severe disadvantage when it came to multi-platform games. We can safely speculate that the NX will probably use another AMD GPU, given Nintendo’s track record with using AMD GPUs in all of their home consoles since the GameCube (which was technically an ATi GPU, but they were since acquired by AMD).

Now, hardware isn’t really everything. Nintendo also needs to pay close attention to how they market the NX. As Nintendo’s newest console, it needs to be advertised as such — it needs to feel inherently distinct. One of the major contributors to the Wii U’s mediocre financial success is the fact that many did not understand the differences between the Wii U and its predecessor. Due to its rather confusing name, many thought the Wii U to be some sort of accessory for the Wii. (Then there’s the whole “New 3DS” fiasco — do not even get me started on that.) What Nintendo has to do is emphasize how the NX is different — what it does different, and better than the Wii U. If the NX is to have any future, it is vital that it is given an identity of its own, instead of being unintentionally casted into its predecessors’ shadow.

Ad depicting the original 3DS’s big price change.

The NX’s price is also another crucial thing for Nintendo to get right. No matter how amazing the system may be, poor pricing will only hurt the sales. Looking back, the original 3DS was initially priced at $250 here in the US. Not long after that, the 3DS’s price was then cut by a third. Such radical prices changes should not be a pattern that Nintendo falls into. While it is important that the NX be set at a reasonable price, the price needs to be comparable to that of its console competitors. If not, the NX might not stand a chance on store shelves.

The Wii U needs to be the last region-locked console.

But even if the NX delivers on all of these points, the system does still have one last relic of the past to resolve — region-locking. It is 2016 and Nintendo is the only console manufacturer left that enforces region-locking on its products. Interestingly, region-locking is a rather new decision for Nintendo in some areas. Nintendo handhelds have never been region-locked, all the way until up to the Nintendo DSi. The Nintendo 3DS was the first to implement region-locking. Though, the same story isn’t really told in terms of Nintendo’s home consoles, which have more or less always been region-locked, if not by hardware (such as the physical cart differences between the Famicom and NES), then by software (the GameCube and everything after it). However, it is time for Nintendo to change its stance on region-locking. In an age where the world is so closely connected together, region-locking no longer has a place.

But nothing matters if the NX doesn’t have a rich software library to support it. One of the biggest faults of the Wii U was its overwhelming lack of not only launch titles but third party titles. as well A lack of games to play on a system equates to a lack of interest in purchasing the system; no one is going to want purchase a console if it’s just going to collect dust in a corner. If Nintendo wants the NX to perform well, they need to give consumers a reason to want to buy and play the console.

Rather than risk having Nintendo’s next big console be a repeat of the past, the company needs to recognize their past missteps and use this to secure the NX’s success.

What do you want to see from the NX? How else do you think the NX could be a success? We want to know so leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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