First Click: Dreaming of a next-gen Nintendo console with modular controllers

Thursday, August 18th

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Nintendo’s next console is launching next year, but the so-called NX is still a mysterious beast, with its creators still quiet on how exactly it will work and what it will look like. What little we do know about the console has been gleaned from leaks, documents, and pictures that describe a portable console with detachable controllers and its own screen.

This climate makes it easy to see even minor moves by Nintendo as indications of what the company’s planning — minor moves like the patent update spotted earlier this week. The update covers modular controllers, showing diagrams of a central pad unit that could be tweaked by the user, switching out buttons, D-pads, and analog sticks at will.

nx-patent

We could assume that this is just exploratory action by Nintendo, sensibly patenting an idea they may toy with over the coming years, or it could be a special edition Wii U pad like Microsoft's changeable Xbox One Elite controller. But it's much more fun to take it as conclusive proof that the NX's controllers will be fully modular — the Project Ara of the video game world. Assuming that is the case, what exactly would these modular controllers be good for? Well, Nintendo, I'm glad you asked. Here's what our NX controllers could — and should — be able to do.

Make gaming more accessible

Video game console controllers have changed over time but the Platonic ideal remains the same: buttons on the right, directional control method on the left. This makes sense, and is built around the concept of the average player being right-handed, having two hands, and using one controller.

The NX gives us a chance to break that cycle. Why not put buttons on the left, and the stick on the right, an option that might help left-handed humans (maybe, I don't know, I'm not a lefty monster). Or both control method and buttons on one side, making video games accessible to people who have limited range of motion or disabled limbs. Charities like Special Effect do a fantastic job customizing controllers for disabled gamers, but a modular NX controller could help make that work both easier and cheaper, switching configurations without players needing to break out the bandsaw and the soldering iron.

Local multiplayer on one pad

The importance of local multiplayer has withered as consoles became capable of increasingly stable internet connections, but the NX could bring four friends together without the need to splurge $200 on additional pads. Four analog sticks slotted into the controller would let four people play on one screen the same time.

Questioning your opponent's mother's promiscuity becomes a differently charged affair when you're looking them in the eyes, your knees separated by the barest sliver of personal space, your thumbs occasionally touching across a crowded controller.

Fingerprint sensing

I have to enter a password every single time I boot my Xbox One up, using a horrendously slow control method to dial in a code that I'm sure will be leaked online eventually. My phone, on the other hand, lets me in with just a dab of my thumb, giving me full access to its innards in less than a second. A modular fingerprint sensor attached to the NX's controller would make login quicker, and allow players to tie their biometric information to their accounts, giving them easy access into their own profiles when at a friend's house as well as home — perfect for younger gamers.

Fightstick capabilities

Nintendo's consoles haven't been the home of serious fighting games (barring the Smash Bros. series) for a long time, but a modular setup could turn the NX's pad into a serviceable arcade fightstick. Professional players swear by these chunky blocks of plastic, using their digital joysticks and huge buttons to succeed at games like Street Fighter, which demand precise inputs and leave no room for error.

The company's patent diagrams look surprisingly similar to these fightsticks. With a joystick on the left, and space for big, wide, slappable buttons on the right, the NX's controller could draw committed fighters back to Nintendo's console, especially if they can select modifications that use their favorite switches, joysticks, and other components.

Enable third-party add-ons

That being said, I don't trust Nintendo to produce the kind of high-quality parts fighting game fans demand. Instead, the company should open up the NX's controller slots for additions by third-party sources, letting other manufacturers produce modules that work with the base unit.

People of a certain age will have painful flashbacks to being handed the third-party pad during multiplayer sessions of Mario Kart or Goldeneye, but at least this way the shame of using a cheap knock-off controller could be shared around the group.

Slot for N64 controller port

Nintendo is famed for its hardware innovation, regularly being the first among its peers to strike out in new and interesting ways with motion controls, touchscreens, and analog sticks. But why bother with all that these days when the NX could just rely instead on the best controller ever invented — the N64 pad?

This attachment would simply allow users to connect their old N64 controller, the triple-pronged beauty still serving as a better device for controlling video games than anything released in the 20 years since it first arrived. Nintendo wouldn't have to worry about any of that pesky hardware design, and it already owns the rights to the pad, having designed it in the first place.

Vape charger

If there are two things millennials love, it's ironic nostalgia for mascots of the past, and vaping.

Cigarette lighter

Or just go one further and sell one of those impossibly hot cigarette lighters you find in cars — the ones that operate at a heat that suggests that they're the closest scientists have come to mastering the science of atomic fusion.

You might think smoking would go against Nintendo's family-friendly ethos, but I live about three miles from Nintendo's Kyoto headquarters, and everybody smokes like a chimney here. If parents regularly pull out a cigarette after a meal, then why can't Nintendo sell a lighter attachment? Why not bundle it with an ashtray, too — you've still got a spare slot to fill.

Amiibo holder

Nintendo's Amiibos might just be simple plastic toys with NFC chips embedded in their rear ends, but their collectors jealously guard their rarest purchases. With an NX Amiibo holder, you'd never have to let your first edition Marth out of poking range while you played.

Of course, this patent could just be a speculative one, and our eventual NX controllers may stay unmodulated. But even if we don't get a Swiss army console, if Nintendo follows its usual of hardware innovation, we can expect something maybe even weirder.

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