Yesterday, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata made the first public mention of the company's plans for a successor to the wildly-popular DS handheld. So we know, vaguely, what Nintendo want from the console. That's fine. Here's what we want.
But first, some caveats! This isn't pure fantasy. We're not going to be asking for HD graphics with simulated surround sound speakers and a wholly digital shopfront. Those are things Nintendo just will not bring to the table, at least not over the next few years.
Instead, we're going to say what we want, but within the parameters of what we believe Nintendo, a company as conservative as it is successful, could actually deliver.
NOTE: The picture above is not intended as a true "concept", or mock-up. It's just a DSi XL, modified to give you an idea of where we're headed with all this.
Iwata says the next Nintendo handheld will have "highly detailed graphics". Now, this doesn't mean "high definition"; that would be far too costly and tech-savvy than Nintendo have shown themselves willing to be in recent years. And besides, on a small handheld screen, you're not going to notice (or care) whether something is really 720/1080p or not.
It just means "highly detailed", something the Nintendo DS was not. It was a Nintendo 64 on a smaller screen. Just like the Game Boy Advance was a Super Nintendo. And the Game Boy a NES. Put the dots together and it's not hard imagining the DS's successor having the graphical punch of, say, a GameCube. Or, for that matter, a Wii.
A GameCube in your hands? That's something we'd like to see.
A big reason for the success of the DS was the accessibility of its touch-screen controls. Nintendo are also (usually) big on backwards-compatibility. So we'd say it's a lock that the next handheld will have some form of touch-screen interface.
But! We'd like to see some changes to the rest of the controls. Namely, the introduction of not just one thumbstick, but two. Sony had kind of the right idea including a nub on the PSP, but then blew it by only having one, meaning direct ports of not only PS2 games, but many successful PS2 control schemes, were out of the question. And the PSP has suffered from this ever since.
Including two thumbsticks might not be as aesthetically pleasing as Nintendo's Apple-copying designers may like, but sometimes you need to trade beauty for functionality. Plus, it would let Nintendo do what they're enjoying so far on the Wii, and that's re-release a ton of old GameCube games.
It's 2010. Time to cut your ties with the 4:3 aspect ratio, Nintendo. Widescreen is the industry standard these days, so the DS's successor needs to stretch its screens out a little. Those screens also need to be of a slightly better quality, especially the "spongy" bottom screen, which on the DS sometimes looks a little washed out.
And yes, we said "screens", not screen. The two-screen gimmick worked well on the DS when developers made proper use of it, and with Nintendo on top of the world and in no need of further zany attempts at differentiation (as the dual-screen layout was thought of when first unveiled), we're fine with the company's next handheld again coming with two screens.
Though, if costs could be kept down, two touch screens would be nice...
We're only copying Apple's name for the thing so we're all on the same page. Nintendo have shown with the DSi that they're finally comfortable not only with downloading games directly to a handheld, but downloading non-gaming applications as well. Thing is, with these games and apps available only for the DSi and DSi XL - and not the more numerous DS Lite - it's more a niche service than a full-blown aspect of Nintendo's handheld strategy.
But on a new platform, they can step things up a little. Really integrate it, make it a cornerstone of the device. Applications, small games, retro re-releases, even communications (with Nintendo unwilling to make a phone, a Skype application could plug the gap), they could really go to town. The only limits would be that Nintendo would of course control the store (so it wouldn't be flooded with crap), and there's always a question of size...
Ah, a tricky one. Adding a considerable piece of onboard storage would drive the price of the device up, and Nintendo don't traditionally release pricey devices. But it's got to come with something. A continuation of the trend set with the DSi would be fine; a small amount of onboard storage (though 1GB would be nice instead of the DSi's paltry 256MB) built into the handheld, then the option of inserting an SD card for more space, or for transferring stuff off the internal memory.
Nintendo should also learn a lesson from the Wii's early problems, and support the running of applications and smaller games directly from an SD card.
Nintendo have traditionally shied away from multimedia convergence with their devices, but this is gradually giving way, particularly with the more recent editions of the DS, which can do things like play music.
This new device, then, needs to have some sort of media functionality. Though nothing fancy; a basic mp3 player, a basic movie player, and we're good to go. I should be able to insert an SD card with music or movies saved in a basic format (.wmv, .mov, .avi), and the handheld can play them. Same goes for photos, too.
In essence, then, what they've "trialled" with the DSi, only refreshed and improved for an all-new console.
While the PSPgo has set a trend by going wholly digital, it's one we can't see Nintendo following just yet. Their #1 priority is accessibility, and since casual gamers aren't likely to be as comfortable making digital purchases as they are bringing a box home from a store, the next handheld's games should still come on a physical medium.
A cartridge similar to that used by the DS, only with a larger capacity (at least 4GB) would be fine, as it would provide the added bonus of making it backwards-compatible with the DS. It may not alleviate the rampant piracy issues currently afflicting the DS, but until the world becomes more comfortable with digital downloads, that's something Nintendo are just going to have to live with.
We've covered some possibilities on this already, but here's what we want: we want motion control with the precision of Wii MotionPlus, but used sparingly. This is a handheld device, used primarily while people are travelling or away from their homes. Games can't, and shouldn't, require people to go jumping around or waving them madly in the air. The odd tilt or lean would be fine.
Basically, learn from the Wii's mistakes: unless you're Nintendo, don't go motion-crazy for the sake of it.
One area motion control would be beneficial to Nintendo's new handheld is when you combine it with the App Store. Like, literally. If the new device has a touch-screen and motion sensing, developers could easily port the more successful iPhone games to Nintendo's handheld.
So, a quick run-down:
- GameCube-quality graphics
- Dual thumbsticks
- Improved Dual display (bonus: dual touch-screen)
- 1GB onboard storage space
- SD card compatibility
- Music & movie playback
- Advanced motion-sensing, equivalent to Wii MotionPlus
- Backwards compatible with the DS
And a few more things to finish off with:
- A free, integrated web browser
- NO MORE FRIEND CODES; a single user ID, like every other company uses, should suffice
- A telescopic stylus; the DS ones are too short for prolonged play
- Keep the microphone; some games use it well, while applications like Skype would find it just as useful
- A Mini-USB charger; when everything else you own is charged from mini-USB, using proprietary Nintendo chargers is stupid
- The camera on the DSi seems to be going down OK; if it's cheap, may as well stick it on the new handheld, let developers plan to actually release games that support it
- The systems and games must be region-free
- All that for $199 at launch would be just fine
So, there you have it! That's what we want from the new Nintendo handheld. It might not be fancy, it might not be terribly daring, but remember, this is Nintendo we're talking about. Now they've taken the plunge with dual-screens in the portable space and motion control at home, it'll be time for a little consolidation, which is why we see this device being to the DS what the Game Boy Advance was to the Game Boy: more of the same, just better.