While we’re not exactly convinced that these supposed NX controller images are legit, there’s at least enough track here for a little exploratory train ride.
Taking the patent evidence and leaked images at face value, let’s look this thing over together and try to assess how practical and fun an input device it would be to use. Would it effectively complement Nintendo’s biggest franchises and potential third party support? Does it appear to have any inherent omissions or flaws in design? All aboard!
Far and away the most propagated rumor about NX is that it’s and handheld and home console in one. If this is indeed the case, does this controller look like something that could fulfill the unique requirements of both formats? I’m not so sure.
We’ve seen a lot of power packed into tiny spaces; smartphones and PlayStation Vita are two solid examples. When pressed, they both manage to crank out visuals that could be confused with recent-generation console games. Take a look at the Infinity Blade series on mobile and games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Killzone Mercenary on Vita as showcases of this. It’s not out of the question that this compact, elliptical controller could house the hardware to power some very impressive-looking games. There’s one glaring problem, though: Cost.
If Nintendo were truly looking to create a single library of games for a unified home and portable device, this controller would have to house some truly cutting-edge tech, making it very expensive. And we’re not even talking about the system itself– yet. It’s feasible that in-home streaming tech, like that used in the Wii U, could effectively power this thing, but without some unprecedented mobile streaming technology behind it, we would once again be tethered to our home consoles. If this little oval did pack the hardware it would need to run these games on its own, it would likely be far too expensive for the mass market to latch onto, a risk that Nintendo can’t really afford to take, right now. There’s also the off chance that Nintendo could be prepping some sort of network or technology for this device that we haven’t even conceived of yet, but I’d say the chances of a technological breakthrough on that scale are pretty slim.
A single screen experience
The DS proved to gamers, long ago, the value of a dual screen gaming experience. The 3DS managed to keep a good portion of this creative momentum going, mainly by reusing existing second screen concepts. The Wii U, in contrast, has struggled for its entire life to bring the dual screen concept to life in the living room. It wasn’t until last September, nearly three years into the system’s life cycle, that it finally managed to fully justify the Wii U GamePad with Super Mario Maker. Considering this downward trend, what could a controller that is 98% screen mean for the NX?
Well, if my assessment is correct, this controller would make NX’s portable games a single screen experience for the first time since 2004, and would allow the home console to retain dual screen functionality. Sort of an inexplicable mixup of what seems to work best for Nintendo systems. While this would bode well for titles like Super Mario Maker and (to a lesser extent) games like Splatoon, it would drastically inhibit the functionality that we’ve come to depend on from Nintendo’s dedicated handhelds. It would also, right off the bat, split the capabilities and functionality of the handheld and home portions of the NX, something that goes against the restructuring that’s been happening at Nintendo for the last couple years.
Going back to a single screen handheld would likely discontinue the beloved clamshell design that we’ve grown to adore. It would also limit the creativity of developers, Nintendo included, that have found countless interesting ways to utilize the second screen for a huge variety of display and input purposes. I suppose there’s always a chance that in its handheld form, there could be some sort of second screen or clamshell attachment for the device, but again, that would only stand to drive up the manufacturing cost and consumer price tag.
The unconventional aspect ratio of the screen could be a problem, too. Wrapping a 16:9 image onto this elliptical screen with two holes in the middle would require some special attention from developers. Nintendo’s internal studios would no doubt rise to this occasion, but is it something that third party developers are going to want to spend time considering and working on? Considering the tepid relationship Nintendo already has with most third parties, and how desperately it could use their support, right now, I’d say minimizing this kind of special development requirement should be a priority.
A decided lack of input(s)
The first thing any gamer is likely to notice about this enigmatic oval design is the lack of physical buttons. It comes packing two analogue sticks, a must in this day and age of gaming, and two shoulder buttons that are said to double as rolling click-wheels. And, according to the Nintendo patent related to this device, the entire elliptical screen would be a touch screen. While these few mechanisms do represent broad range of input possibilities, the lack of a dedicated D-pad and face buttons is an obvious and massive problem.
This leaves me, and probably every other armchair theorist out there, considering the dreaded possibility of virtual buttons. The patent itself discusses many potential touch and swipe-based inputs revolving around the touch screen, and the potential inclusion of advanced haptic feedback could hint at simulated physical inputs. Even considering all of that, I can’t imagine playing a classic 2D Mario level without physical buttons under my fingers. Touch screens have become infinitely more viable as gaming inputs, over the years, but we have yet to see them truly emulate traditional controls. But hey, maybe the time is now.
One other issue with the main display also being used for input purposes is our meaty, bumbling hands. My hands covering even the smallest, most insignificant portion of a game that I’m playing drives me insane. This design ensures that at least a couple edges of the screen will be obstructed at all times, for most games, and potentially much more depending on the array of tap and swipe controls that might be employed. This lack of tactile inputs is my biggest worry about this controller, should these leaked images turn out to be actual Nintendo hardware.
Venting that pent up excitement
In the absence of any official word from Nintendo about NX so far this year, this exercise was more of a way to vent some pent up excitement, than anything else. It sounds like I had more negative things to say about the potential of this odd controller concept than I did positive, and maybe that’s true. But whether this design turns out to be real, or final, or even remotely suggestive of what the NX actually is, I’m going to do my best to reserve judgment until it is formally unveiled.
A first look at the Wii remote left Nintendo fans with far more questions than answers, but holding it for the first time made believers out of millions upon millions of gamers and non-gamers around the world. Similarly, the Wii U, and its GamePad were announced to a media and consumer base that really didn’t know what to make of them. Despite the initial confusion, though, the Wii U became home to one of the greatest libraries of games a Nintendo console has seen to date. Both of these reveals and executions illustrate just how deceiving looks can be, sometimes.
It’s true that you only get one chance to make a first impression, but Nintendo hasn’t had its chance to do that yet with the NX. If what we’re looking at here is the actual design for NX’s controller, I’m ready to hear from Nintendo what makes it special. And if it turns out to be a wildly elaborate hoax, I’m equally excited to see what Nintendo really does have up its sleeve.
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