In the past, each iteration of Nintendo’s hardware followed something of a basic formula: improve the hardware, change the controller, and give it a new name. Perhaps the weirdest name in the lineup was the Nintendo 64, and even that’s memorable, and different enough from the its predecessor, the NES, to make it stand out. That went out the door with the Wii U, and the Nintendo NX just might be repeating the same mistake.
Besides sounding odd, “we you” doesn’t exactly make sense to English speakers — it also sounded far too much like the original Wii. Instead of understanding that this was a new console, some consumers believed that the Wii U was just a new Wii controller with a giant touchpad.
Now, as details are revealed about the mysterious NX console-slash-handheld set to debut in 2017, it seems like Nintendo runs the risk of repeating that mistake.
Here’s what we know about the NX, either from Eurogamer’s recent report, patent applications, or other sources: It’s a hybrid that works as a handheld and a home console, it will use cartridges, and it will have a docking station as well as detachable controllers on the side of the device.
It’s hard to even picture that console. What exactly is a detachable controller? How big is the docking station? Will the NX be some amalgamation of the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS with beefier hardware? Is there any hope of backwards compatibility for those of us who bought a Wii U? And what happens if I want to play Super Smash Bros. with friends? None of this is immediately apparent.
The answers to those questions will be revealed when Nintendo finally decides to kill the Wii U and show us the NX some time before its debut in the first quarter of 2017. But the fact that it seems so complicated now doesn’t bode well for Nintendo.
And the worst part is that Nintendo already knows how to make a popular console that people can understand, both from a gameplay and branding perspective.
The Wii was a hit. It sold more than 100-million consoles and helped introduce video games to more players. This is because the controls were intuitive, thanks to motion controls, and because the name lent itself well to award-winning marketing campaigns.
Nintendo’s commercials explained everything someone needed to know about the Wii in less than a minute. You aim the remote at the TV and a pointer appears. You swing the remote and your avatar moves with you. It was simple, intuitive, and perfect for Nintendo’s philosophy of creating games that everyone can play regardless of their age, taste, or experience with video games up to that point.
The problem was that Nintendo then had to convince people that it came up with something better than the Wii. Some things were obvious — up the graphics, give more “hardcore” gamers different control options — but others weren’t. So we got the Wii U, which has a fantastic control scheme (I like the gamepad more than any other controller I’ve ever used) that most Wii owners have yet to experience.
If the rumors and reports are correct, now the NX has to convince Wii owners that Nintendo really has found something more intuitive than the Wii remote, get Wii U owners to not feel salty about buying a console with relatively few games, explain how a console-handheld hybrid works, and come up with a name that makes more sense than the Wii U or the New Nintendo 3DS XL or what-have-you.
Don’t get me wrong; the NX is an exciting console. I want to be able to play all my Nintendo games on-the-go and on the couch. It would be great if I could purchase Super Mario Bros. 3 once and be able to play it anywhere. And making a smaller gamepad with the same functionalities (easy inventory management, heads-up display, etc.) would be a good compromise between the Wii U’s power and its unfortunate heft.
But damned if I don’t feel bad for the people at Nintendo who have to try to explain all of this to consumers in time for the NX launch to qualify as a success.