Could The Nintendo NX Save Handheld Gaming?


Nintendo’s desire to occupy a separate space in the video game market is no great secret. Conference no-shows, snubbing third party support, and hardware gimmicks over raw power; watching Nintendo over the past 5 years has been a frustrating affair. It’s an imperative that has driven many people away from the brand and hasn’t done much to appeal to a new audience, either. But if the next generation of Nintendo means a future for handheld gaming, supported by AAA games, then for those that don’t want to see a section of the industry go extinct, the Nintendo NX might be the only way to stop that from happening.

Nintendo is a name that is certainly synonymous with video game culture, a company best remembered for a list of iconic characters and several consoles that have since become household names. Ironically, though, despite the Wii U’s dismal commercial performance, to your average individual Nintendo is most commonly associated with the home console platform. Yet, it is their continued success in the handheld gaming market that is by far and away Nintendo’s biggest success story in the past five years.

Indeed, in a market that has been decimated by the rise of the mobile phone, sales for Nintendo’s 3DS console still remain at a respectable level. Of course, there has been a steady decline in units sold since the glory days of Nintendo’s earlier 3DS iterations and the DS that preceded it, but for a market that is supposed to be all but dead, Nintendo is still holding a beacon of hope for fans of handheld gaming.

The same can’t be said of any other hardware manufacturer; Sony making their future plans for the Vita evidently clear by pulling all first party support some time ago, not to mention repeated public statements suggesting their lack of interest in the market.


And the beacon of hope looks set to continue with the NX; the rumors of its hybrid action seemingly all but confirmed through a barrage of leaked patents, comments from third party developers, industry insiders, and anyone else looking to make a passing comment about Nintendo’s mysterious next console.

We are, of course, used to a fair amount of conjecture in the gaming industry and given that Nintendo has a history of whacky hardware innovations, early skepticism on the console’s mooted design was understandable. But leaks suggesting that the NX is likely to be designed as a handheld console first, home console second – vice versa from what had previously been thought to have been the case – is an altogether more desirable proposition.

Suddenly, the notion of a sustainable alternative space in the market, separate from Sony and Microsoft, seems as though it might actually be a viable one. What’s more, statements made suggesting the NX would target both mobile and casual gamers don’t sound quite so concerning. Perhaps Nintendo is looking to convert mobile phone gamers, or have the NX able to support mobile games, rather than designing NX software specifically to appeal that sector of the market, as was initially feared. The NX, then, is not only the Wii U’s successor console, but it is also the future of Nintendo’s entire handheld market venture.

Sure, Nintendo will continue to beat the 3DS drum as long as the console exists in the market, but don’t be surprised if the dual screen handheld is quickly forgotten following the launch of the NX. We’ve heard the “shared ecosystem” speech before prior to console launches, only to be abandoned as the new system gains market traction, especially if the NX can function as a genuine handheld console. Moreover, if Nintendo is serious about merging both markets, then streamlining all their software onto a single device probably makes sense financially.


Nintendo’s track record with hardware gimmicks might be hit and miss, but if the NX is the hybrid handheld we think it could be, then it seems as though the innovation is offering genuine functionality this time around. As gamers, maybe we should be getting less caught up on the innovations of this hybridized technology and focus more on the potential effect that the NX might have on shaping the future of the mobile gaming market. Because without the NX, there’s nothing on the horizon that looks capable of curbing the destructive effects of mobile gaming’s free to play, low quality, and generally uncurated mess of games.

In a future where proper, tactical handheld gaming experiences are looking more and more like a dinosaur relic of the past, the NX might be the only console option. And, indeed, if Nintendo is gambling on appealing to the mobile market and is effective in convincing people that the NX is a better entertainment solution than their phones, fans of handheld gaming might be wise to support the console out of principle.

A healthy NX could ultimately mean a brighter future for handheld gaming. Especially if you’re upset by the generally shoddy quality of mobile games having displaced handheld games, then perhaps it would be wise to look to Nintendo, because they are the only ones offering a potential solution to that issue.

Of course, Nintendo isn’t interested in breathing life into a dying market for any sort of sentimental reason. As with everything Nintendo, this is a cold corporate march to potential profitability. They’ve crunched the numbers and analyzed the raw data, they know there’s a casual market to be tapped into, they’ve run surveys that show children enjoy intuitive small screen experiences; this isn’t anything else but a move to occupy a separate market from the other console manufacturers.

But forget all of that, the upshot for those who care about the continued health of the handheld gaming market is that, come 2017, we might be playing big budget Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games on the go. And regardless of your feelings with Nintendo, any future in which the current mobile market doesn’t dominate handheld gaming is a future worth investing in.