News of Nintendo’s NX has taken the spotlight this week, with sources pointing to a mobile device that interfaces with a game dock for your HDTV. Inside, the NX is based on Nvidia’s Tegra mobile technology. It’s a big departure from the IBM PowerPC architecture of its last three machines, raising questions over how NX’s compatibility with older games will be handled going forward.
Until now, Nintendo has been diligent in bringing a strong legacy of titles to each new platform. It began in earnest with the Wii, via the Virtual Console for NES, SNES and N64 titles – but also with true, native hardware support for GameCube titles. This ability to tap into past glories boiled down to a common through-line in technology, one that stubbornly persists to this day with Wii U. From Gekko to Broadway to Espresso, the trend of iterating on the same PowerPC core gave Nintendo a link to the past, each time boosting the chipset’s clock speeds over the last, and by the end, adding multi-core support.
The shift to Nvidia’s Tegra means that this form of native backward compatibility is no longer an option. It’s a clean break in technology and one that’s been 15 years in the running. The notion of a second internal processor for backward compatibility – as seen in PlayStation 2 and initial PS3 models – is also highly unlikely, bearing in mind the NX’s portable, power efficient nature. So the bad news is that running library titles using original silicon is off the table, but there is another option. Tests we’ve run this week suggest that the Nvidia chipset may well have the horsepower to bring many of these titles to life on NX using a next-gen iteration of its Virtual Console emulation technology.