Unlike everyone else at E3 last month, Nintendo was resolute in its pledge to not talk about the future.
Its booth at the trade show, and its livestreamed presentation, were limited only to only games that will be available in the next few months (and in many cases already are available in some places). But Nintendo, which has announced that it will pursue mobile gaming this year, does have a new piece of dedicated game hardware, the NX, that it will unveil next year. And it couldn’t help dropping a few hints here and there about it—hints that make it sound as if NX’s release, and the phasing out of Wii U and 3DS, will be sooner rather than later.
First, let’s review what we knew before E3: Nintendo has merged its previously separate portable and console teams with the aim of creating a single platform—not a single device, mind you, but a common development environment, the way many different devices all use iOS or Android. Said platform would “absorb the Wii U architecture,” meaning Nintendo’s future portable and home gaming devices would stem from work done for Wii U, but probably not the 3DS.
At E3, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime referred to NX as “our next home console.” Although there were a lot of assumptions floating around out there that Nintendo was planning to replace Wii U (which, having launched in 2012, is hardly long in the tooth) with NX, in no previous statement was it called a “home console,” but simply a “dedicated gaming device,” which could just as well refer to a portable-only machine.
Another mention of NX came during an interview with Metroid Prime producer Kensuke Tanabe, in which he said a future high-def, home-version Metroid Prime title would have to appear on the NX, rather than Wii U.
So it seems clear Nintendo is looking to replace the flagging Wii U—and soon. The reason Nintendo didn’t announce many new Wii U games at E3 may simply be because there aren’t many—if any—new Wii U games to announce. We might be looking at the end of the Wii U lineup.
We could be looking at the end of the 3DS lineup too. Nintendo had quite a few new portable games to announce at this year’s show. Why the disparity? We speculate here, but could it be that Nintendo can’t just move 3DS projects to the NX, the way Wii U projects could be repurposed into launch software for the new platform. So it’s time for anything being produced for the 3DS, if you’ll excuse the expression, to ship or get off the pot.
All attention is on the Wii U, but it is the 3DS that desperately needs a replacement. The dual-screen handheld paradigm has run its course. Any piece of software ported to the 3DS must be tweaked to use two screens, which is not easy, and probably is hurting 3DS in a world in which publishers and developers want to create a single piece of software and move it from platform to platform as effortlessly as possible.
Wii U owners might have had a bummer of an E3, but there was a group of Nintendo consumers who had it worse: Early adopters of the New Nintendo 3DS, who got exactly zero new exclusive games for their troubles. The games all run on the standard 3DS hardware, with no discernible upgrades for New 3DS owners besides the fact that Metroid Prime: Federation Force will let you use dual-analog controls on the new machine.
With both Nintendo platforms dragging, it may be time for the NX platform to come in and take over double duty. Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata reiterated after E3 that we’d hear about NX in 2016. Could it be released then, too? If it isn’t, we shudder to think about what Nintendo’s release lineup is going to look like that year.