Earlier this year Nintendo revealed that they're hard at work on new video game hardware code named "NX." There are lots of rumors swirling around the future Nintendo console, but concrete details are scarce, as the Big N won't make any official statements until 2016. With Wii U trailing substantially behind PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in terms of power, many are wondering what kind of engine NX will have under the hood — a subject with two potentially conflicting reports.
A few months ago, Unseen64's Liam Robertson stated that a Nintendo employee says NX is not looking to compete with PlayStation 4 in terms of power. More recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that NX will feature industry-leading chips, although that term is pretty vague. We can't know for sure right now whether or not NX will be as powerful as PlayStation 4, but a better question is does it need to be?
When it comes to power, Nintendo doesn't really need to have top-of-the-line tech to make games that look and run great. Wii U makes this obvious by having quite a few beautiful games itself even though its hardware is outclassed by Sony and Microsoft. While Sony and Microsoft create a lot of detailed, realistic games, Nintendo games have always been a little simpler and more stylized in nature, making them less taxing on the hardware. It takes a lot less to make a Mario game look smooth and beautiful than games like Uncharted or The Last of Us. That's not to say that Wii U has plenty of power or that NX doesn't need to top it; Nintendo's next console could definitely use a boost to keep everything running at a smooth 1080p and 60fps, and a little extra power can go a long way in improving things like enemy AI while also making things a lot easier on the development side. However, NX doesn't need to top PlayStation 4 to deliver great first-party games.
That said, the issue of power isn't really about Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong. If Nintendo is looking to bulk up on the hardware, it's because they need to do so in order to appease third-party developers. Nintendo's third-party support has been severely lacking for years, and Wii U was supposed to rectify that situation. But it's simply not powerful enough to handle many of the most popular games in the industry. If Nintendo wants to reverse this trend with NX, they need to make sure that it's at least powerful enough that popular game engines like Unreal Engine 4 and the latest iteration of CryEngine can easily be scaled to run smoothly on the console. Keeping NX at least in the same ballpark as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will also make it more likely that developers will be willing to develop exclusive games for the console, as Wii U's hardware is far enough behind in terms of power and different enough in terms of architecture that developing for it can be both costly and a hassle.
One final thing to consider is the price tag. While it might be tempting to create a machine that outshines the competition, that also means high production costs. Nintendo fans are conditioned to expect lower prices than fans of other companies, and many balked at the $300 - $350 price tag that Wii U sported at launch. You also have to consider that Nintendo has strongly hinted at both home console and handheld versions of NX, and a high price point can be even more damning to a handheld (as evidenced by Nintendo slashing the price of 3DS by $80 just months after it launched due to poor sales) than to a console. If Nintendo opts for high power over a low price tag, they may find themselves trying to compete much more directly with Sony and Microsoft than ever before. Sony and Microsoft have been in the business of marketing powerful, expensive consoles for a decade, and Nintendo could end up losing more fans than they'd gain. Giving third-party partners more power to work with is great, but low sales are just as big of a deterrent to developers as a low specs.
Wii U faces a lot of criticism for its underwhelming hardware, and some developers have even stated that they don't consider it part of the current console generation, so it's understandable that a lot of fans want to see Nintendo create NX as a total powerhouse. But the risks outweigh the benefits if surpassing PlayStation 4 means pricing themselves out of competition. NX needs to offer developers enough power that it's not a nightmare to develop for, but it also needs to be affordable. Nintendo is faced with a tough task, and I look forward to seeing their solution.