Nintendo stopped producing cartridges for its home consoles way back in 2001, and many consumers and developers in the video game industry collectively sighed a breath of relief. Back then, many believed that Nintendo was catching up to the modern era of gaming, an era in which plummeting media prices and rising memory capacities made the old, classic Nintendo cartridges look obsolete. Now, with the upcoming release of the company’s new console, the Nintendo NX, the Japanese video game giant is in an interesting position. Nintendo may not only return to using chip-based media in the form of cartridges but the shift back might also be a good move for the company.

Nintendo NX rumors
Image Source: dualpixels.com

Nintendo NX to harken back to golden days with cartridges

The Wall Street Journal is citing anonymous sources and “people familiar with the matter” have stated that Nintendo has decided to go back to some form of cartridge as the primary storage medium for video games on the upcoming Nintendo NX console.

“Industry watchers said cartridges were a reasonable choice for Nintendo’s next-generation system, code-named NX, because the company targets a wider range of consumers than Sony or Microsoft,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Nintendo’s core fans include small children, who might scratch discs but find cartridges tougher to damage. Cartridges also allow games to load faster, are harder to copy, and can be mass-produced faster than discs.”

Reporters at the British media-reporting website Screen Critics were the first to notice a major financial report from Macronix, way back in May of this year. Macronix is the Japanese company that has historically provided Nintendo with memory-related chips to the company’s consoles as far back as the N64. Macronix had already mentioned serving as a chip supplier of some sort for the Nintendo NX back in January, however, when speaking about its current fiscal year, the chip supplier spoke about higher expectations for its “NOR Flash” business linked to the launch of the new Nintendo hardware.

Nintendo NX Cartridges
Mogur?nya (GameBoy) cartridge by bochalla, Flickr

Cartridges, while they sound old, might be the smart move for Nintendo

Call them what you will – flash drives, game sticks, cartridges – but this retro-sounding idea might just have the right amount of forward-thinking planned with it. Macronix’s financial reports might be convoluted and require some analysis, but it alludes to a possible path for the Nintendo NX. The main reason behind this is that optical discs just aren’t what they used to be.

The Nintendo Wii U is the only current-generation home console to actively load software from its discs. The Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 both require disc-based games to transfer their files onto a big, bulky hard drive. Those games are playable without any additional downloads or Internet connection, but ultimately, discs get some mileage as DRM checks than as a storage medium. Modern optical drives aren’t able to keep up with modern CPU and GPU data bandwidth demands, a fact that any Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 gamer can confirm after seeing so many games produce blurry, slowly buffering textures.

Many benefits for Nintendo by using cartridge form factor

Cartridges are still commonly used elsewhere in the Nintendo video game console lineup – the 3DS still uses cartridges as its physical medium of choice, in all of its models. While the 3DS has been increasing the amount of digital downloads for gamers who don’t necessarily want a ton of cartridges lying around, its use of cartridges is still a key element in the handheld’s design, especially for younger players who might not have access to credit cards for online downloads.

Additionally, the use of cartridges as a storage medium might also aid the development of the the console in terms of size requirements. Early rumors regarding the console state that it is a console/handheld hybrid system, which works as a portable device with a built-in screen as well as a living room gaming system with the help of a television set. If this rumor proves to be true, then small cartridges much like those used in the 3DS is most likely the best option for the system if it hopes to maintain a truly portable form factor.

Cartridges are also obviously more portable than fragile discs, which corroborates this rumor that the console would include “a mobile unit that could either be used in conjunction with the console or taken on the road for separate use.” The Japanese company is obviously not saying much on what the new, mysterious console actually is, but there is a ton of speculation and rumors around for fans to ruminate on.

Furthermore, and perhaps the most fun factor in a move to cartridge use – it has a certain retro appeal to it. While there still has not yet been any official announcement of information released regarding the upcoming console, the CEO of game developer Ubisoft has previously stated that the system will boast a high level of casual appeal, much like Nintendo’s previous offerings.

Nintendo has historically been a provider of entertainment that offers something for everyone in the family, and the use of something as simple as cartridges as media storage has the potential to tug at the nostalgic heartstrings of parents and players who grew up playing Nintendo’s classic consoles with their own family members.