What is Nintendo's mystery NX hardware? Here's what I hope it will be.

Nintendo's not out of hardware yet, but its next platform better be a home run. The best bet: make one system, not two.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read

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My six-year-old son is hypnotized by the Nintendo 3DS, even though he's played tons of games on phones. That's probably because the Pokemon Shuffle puzzle game he's playing isn't available on phones yet. But it should, and it most likely will now that Nintendo's making phone games.

Nintendo hasn't given up on hardware, though: their next hardware platform, code-named NX, has been announced and will be unveiled next year.

What could it be? A new handheld? A new console? Hopefully both. Hey, maybe it's a VR headset (it's not such a crazy thought: Nintendo created the weird and oddly ahead-of-its-time Virtual Boy back in 1995).

But Nintendo's latest revamp of the 3DS , released in the US in February, shows what Nintendo really needs to do: finish fusing its handheld and console efforts into one platform. The Wii U and 3DS are very separate systems, trying to get closer together. And that mission needs to be completed with Nintendo's next platform.

Here's the road I think Nintendo should take:

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Turn the handheld into the new GamePad (obviously).

Right now, problem with the Wii U GamePad is it's forced to just be a giant game controller. The 3DS should be a Wii U companion. And the GamePad on the Wii U should be a stand-alone device. For the next Nintendo hardware there should be one new handheld/gamepad, and one connected, small-scale TV-connected box. That's it. If there was one fusion-type console, Nintendo could even release tweaked versions of the GamePad/handheld over time, like the New 3DS XL compared to the 3DS, as a way of upgrading the system midway through its hardware life.

Watch this: What Nintendo's phone games need to do

Lose that second screen (on the handheld).

Does the 3DS really need two screens? I feel like I barely play any games that take advantage of it. Instead, why not one large touchscreen? The DS had some really clever two-screen games, but I haven't seen any in a while. The new 3DS and its newest physical control buttons make the second screen less necessary. The smaller 2DS is actually one physical screen split into two by the chassis. The dual-screen concept is holding back games from being easily translated to other platforms. One screen is plenty. Your second screen is the TV.

Fix Nintendo's broken account-management tools.

To transfer games from one 3DS to the New 3DS XL, you have to follow a multi-step process that also involves unscrewing the back housing and installing a larger Micro SD card. Only one 3DS can have these downloadable games at any one time. Compared to PlayStation, Microsoft, Apple or Google, Nintendo's system is horribly ancient.

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Create one unified game library, managed across devices.

Nintendo should allow you to curate one central library of retro games and play them on all your Nintendo devices. Buy Super Mario once, play it anywhere you own Nintendo system: maybe even non-Nintendo phones and tablets. How can that be so hard? I'm not buying Metroid again. If Nintendo allowed this library to carry across a handheld/console platform and even phones and tablets, wouldn't that increase game sales?

Unleash the kraken of Nintendo's back catalog of games.

Find a way, now, to get the older Virtual Console games consolidated, and make it possible to choose N64, SNES, Game Boy Advance, DS, Game Boy, or NES. Get that virtual console experience running not just on the "NX," but on a dedicated mobile app that supports game controllers. And stop dribbling out the retro titles like rare champagne: just turn on the fire hose. Imagine Netflix for Nintendo games, or a PlayStation Plus-type way to gather free stuff every month.

Emphasize gameplay over graphics.

The 3DS plays games well, but the lower-res display hides how the games it plays are falling behind on graphics punch. The Wii U is far better than the Wii, but a step behind the Xbox One and PS4. Does it matter? Nintendo's proven that cutting-edge graphics aren't always necessary. I'd rather the next platform be smartly integrated and excellently designed than try to achieve super-powered graphics. Wii U-quality graphics are still fine for me.

Make it cheap.

How cheap? $199 for a TV box and a handheld sounds pretty good. Maybe $250 if it's effectively two systems in one. But Nintendo should be trying to win over families trying to save money, and find a way into homes without seeming like a burden. Now that Nintendo games will be hitting phones, dedicated hardware needs to be something extra-special or extra-affordable. Or both.

If Nintendo can't nail success the next go-around, will there even be new hardware beyond the NX? Hey, maybe that VR headset wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.