In March, Nintendo announced that it's developing a new home console, currently codenamed NX. While we don't know much about the upcoming system, we do know that there's a lot riding on its success. While the company's Wii U platform isn't exactly a failure, a lack of third-party support and relatively weak sales have forced the Wii U to take a backseat to Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4.
That could all change soon, though -- the NX is rumored to arrive as early as 2016 according to DigiTimes, and if Nintendo plays its cards right, the system could mark a return to form for the illustrious Japanese games giant. Here's what Nintendo needs to do to make the NX a success.
Better Hardware and Third-Party Support
While the Wii U hosts some of the prettiest and most polished games of the past few years (we're looking at you, Mario Kart 8), there's no ignoring the fact that its guts are more in line with last generation's consoles than the PS4 or Xbox One. It's crucial that the NX is at least as powerful as Microsoft and Sony's latest consoles -- not just to ensure the next Zelda or Mario game looks stunning, but to attract third-parties that have kept franchises such as Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed away from the Wii U as of late.
MORE: Our Favorite Wii U Games
Speaking of third-party support, it might be time for Nintendo to dial back on the gimmicks. For example, I love that the tablet-like Wii U GamePad lets me play games off-screen, but the fact that it's a mandatory peripheral forces developers to make their games with two screens in mind. Nintendo certainly shouldn't give up its sense of innovation, but if the NX is built as a core gaming system with neat -- but optional -- accessories, developers may be more inclined to play along.
A True Online Ecosystem
Nintendo has improved its online experience as of late -- you can now pre-install digital games before they're released, for example. However, the company is terribly behind the curve just about everywhere else.
The biggest problem with Nintendo's online infrastructure is that online accounts are tied to hardware. You can log on to your Xbox Live or PlayStation Network account on any Xbox One or PS4 you like, but with Nintendo, you're stuck on the system you started with. And while the Wii U and 3DS offer Miiverse, a fun social network that lets you share screenshots, there's no easy way to communicate with your online friends list in real time when you and your buds are playing different games.
By the time the NX rolls around, it's imperative that Nintendo introduces a true ecosystem -- with an account that can be accessed on any system, complete with all of your purchases. Buying games and apps on marketplaces such as iTunes, Google Play and Xbox Live comes with a sense of security that you'll be able to use that content wherever you want, and it's time that Nintendo embraces that model.
Fusing Handheld, Mobile and Console
This one's a bit more of a stretch, but Nintendo could benefit from building the NX as a fusion of handheld and home console. The Nintendo 3DS is the company's most popular and profitable console right now, and the company has previously hinted at the possibility of merging its two main platforms.
For example, the Wii U GamePad already allows you to play your games off-TV, but imagine being able to go even further and take that gamepad with you on your commute to work. This might be tricky to pull off tech-wise, but perhaps the standalone gamepad can run handheld-optimized games on the go, and connect to a set-top box at home for beefier-looking titles.
Nintendo would also do well to revamp its Virtual Console service, which lets you buy classic games from Nintendo's legacy systems. The service is terribly fragmented right now -- for example, you can buy Game Boy and Game Boy Color games for 3DS, but Game Boy Advance games are strangely restricted to Wii U. Given these games' low technical requirements, we'd love to see a Virtual Console system that lets you buy Super Mario Bros. and play it on your home console, handheld or even mobile device.
This is standard practice for Sony, which offers select games that can be bought once and played across PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, and even Microsoft is jumping on the trend soon by introducing games that work across Windows 10 and Xbox One.
Bigger, Better Flagship Games
This may sound obvious, but the NX needs to be loaded with the very best of Nintendo's beloved franchises. The company's E3 2015 lineup was disappointingly stuffed with spin-off titles, but that means that, hopefully, Nintendo is already saving its best work for its next platform. In fact, when the upcoming Legend of Zelda game for Wii U was delayed to 2016, many speculated that it will hit both the Wii U and NX at once, kicking off Nintendo's new console while serving as a swan song for its current one.
While the Wii U gave us greats like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 8, the big N needs to revive franchises such as Metroid and F-Zero to bring back its most hardcore fans. We also haven't seen a truly fresh take on the Mario formula since Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii; the NX would be as good a place as any to take Nintendo's plump plumber in a bold new direction.
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Mike Andronico is an Associate Editor at Tom's Guide. When he's not writing about games, PCs and iOS, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter. Follow Mike at @MikeAndronico. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.