No one would say Nintendo’s Wii U had a good run. The video game console has a strong lineup of exclusive games, but that’s about all it can boast. Sales of the hardware have slowed to a crawl, totaling only about 12 million units to date. By comparison, Sony’s PlayStation 4 has sold 36 million units, despite the Wii U’s year-long head start.
Nintendo saw the writing on the wall long ago and is marching on. It has already shifted focus to its next system, code named NX. We don’t know what the NX is yet, but we have some thoughts on what we’d like to see.
1. More power
For most of its history, Nintendo has launched consoles with respectable horsepower. The NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, and GameCube were just as powerful as the other reasonably priced systems on the market. Then the Wii came out in 2006, with such underpowered hardware that it would have been laughable if it hadn’t sold so well. The Wii sold 100 million units because it was priced right and it appealed to the casual crowd, who fell in love with motion-controlled games like Wii Sports.
Nintendo tried to duplicate that success with the Wii U, another console built on technology about five years out of date. The plan failed: Wii U has sold well below any console in the company’s history.
Now that everyone has access to thousands of free games on their phones and tablets, Nintendo can’t count on selling consoles to the casual crowd anymore. Instead, it needs — at the very least — for the NX to match the power of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. That’s the only way for it to attract third-party developers and dedicated gamers.
2. Third-party developer support
Speaking of third-party developers, their absence from the Wii U was one of the console’s biggest downfalls. Companies like 2K and Activision never showed any interest in the platform, which meant Wii U owners didn’t get games like Grand Theft Auto V and Call of Duty. Because Nintendo was the only company making exciting games for the system, the Wii U lived or died based only on Nintendo’s game output. (Spoiler: It died.)
That suggests that a single developer can’t sustain a whole console in this day and age. That’s why Nintendo needs to build relationships with third-party developers big and small to populate the NX with great games.
3. A normal (or at least normal-ish) controller
Nintendo has experimented wildly when it comes to controllers. From the three-pronged behemoth that was the Nintendo 64 controller to the clunky remote and nunchuck for the Wii, you never know what you’ll be holding in your hand when you play the next Nintendo system. Meanwhile, the PlayStation and Xbox controllers have evolved very little in the last 15 years. The lesson is this: Don’t mess with what works.
Nintendo released an optional controller for Wii U called the Pro Controller. Although rumors suggest the NX won’t get one, Nintendo really should offer a slightly more polished version of the Pro Controller.
4. Backwards compatibility
The Wii U wasn’t very successful, but its main selling point is its strong library of games developed by Nintendo. If Nintendo wants its next console to be appealing out of the gate, it would be foolish not to include backwards compatibility with Wii U games as a core function. Bonus points if it also lets you play Wii and 3DS games.
5. Virtual Console games should carry forward
Along those same lines, any games players have bought on the Virtual Console — Nintendo’s digital marketplace for Nintendo games from previous systems — should also work on the NX.
So far, Nintendo has players’ Virtual Console games locked into the system they bought them on. So if you own a copy of The Legend of Zelda on Wii, you have to buy it again to play it on 3DS. And if you want to play the same game on Wii U, Nintendo requires yet another separate purchase.
This is a terribly consumer-unfriendly way to conduct business. It might earn Nintendo more money from dedicated fans who double- or triple-dip, but it burns a whole lot of goodwill. A Virtual Console library that carries forward across systems would help rebuild player trust.
6. A better online experience
Here’s a not-so-fun fact about Nintendo: Its online offerings are light-years behind what Sony and Microsoft have created for Xbox and PlayStation. A unified, well-made online account for Nintendo owners would be a major step in the right direction.
We’re talking about things like voice chat, party play, achievements, and friends lists. These are the basic building blocks of a modern online offering, and Nintendo needs to get up to speed stat.
For the NX, Nintendo has hinted at a better online experience, thanks to a partnership with the mobile company DeNA. Still, I’ll believe it when I see it.
7. Console and handheld capabilities
From Game Boy to 3DS, Nintendo has always excelled in the handheld space. Rumor has it that the NX could be some kind of a hybrid machine that would let you play games on your TV or on the go.
If Nintendo can create a single device that offers gamers great experiences away from the TV while also delivering console-level experiences when you’re at home, it could be the “One Gaming Device to Rule Them All.” It sounds great, but we’ll have to wait for the official announcement before setting off fireworks in celebration.