As the console gaming market continues to undergo generational shifts that have led to Microsoft considering cross-platform play and Sony opting to upgrade the PlayStation 4 well ahead of its traditional life cycle, the most mysterious question hovering over the industry continues to be the fate of Nintendo. The last remaining console giant from the medium’s so-called “Golden Age” period and owner of several of gaming’s most recognizable properties — including Super Mario Bros, Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda — the Japanese company has seen its Wii U console fail to deliver the big sales of its predecessor and recently delayed the release of the next Zelda title for a dual-launch on their next console — an enigmatic new device codenamed The NX.
Now, new reports suggest the company may take its old-school reputation to the next level — by returning to solid-state media for the NX’s games.
According to the Japanese financial site Money-Link (via Games Radar), the speculation comes from a financial report by Taiwanese memory manufacturer Macronix, which reported to its investors that it expects a significantly higher volume of orders for its products (including a proposed plus-size 32GB model) specifically relating to the launch of Nintendo’s new console, which is expected to hit in March of 2017. Notably, Macronix has a preexisting relationship with Nintendo as the main supplier of the proprietary memory cards used to store games for the 3DS handheld console.
What makes that confluence of information interesting is that rumors have persisted for over a year that the NX would forego the disc-based storage that has defined console gaming for most of the 21st century thus far, with alleged early “leaked” patents showing a device schematic that omitted an optical disc-drive altogether. While some at the time speculated this meant a download-focused device, later (more concrete) information centered on the idea of a console/handheld hybrid system, leading many analysts to speculate that the device would be a 3DS-successor handheld capable of streaming its games to a television — which would likely mean games stored on solid-state media of the type Macronix already manufactures for the current-gen 3DS.
If so, it would make the Nintendo NX the first major home gaming console to be based around solid-state media since the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 in the late 1990s. While several independent consoles have launched attempting to revive the cartridge format, the idea of a major console maufacturer going that route in 2016 would typically sound absurd — despite the nostalgic attachment that many older gamers who came up in the ’80s and ’90s have for the pre-optical-disc era. However, several factors would suggest that the move might make sense given Nintendo’s past decisions and known future plans.
Whereas other console companies have long embraced universal disc formats, Nintendo has typically favored proprietary software formats. Also, the company has openly stated that it plans to sell the main NX hardware at a profit, which would require keeping the main unit affordable — a difficult prospect in an era where expensive-to-produce high-powered internal processing is a must for many modern games. However, storing games on cards, cartridges or some other solid-state format would allow much of an individual game’s memory needs to be met by the game itself — reducing the need for extra memory to be available inside the console itself.
As is generally the case with Nintendo, it’s unlikely fans will know the answer until much closer to the reveal of the NX itself — which the company still does not plan to unveil until a much later date. While many had expected it to be shown at this year’s E3 show, Nintendo will instead focus its efforts on promoting the new Zelda title.
Screen Rant will have more updates for you on the Nintendo NX as they are made available.