Nintendo Switch backwards compatibility news: What this means for Nintendo's future

Nintendo Switch backwards compatibility news: What this means for Nintendo's future
Nintendo
Nintendo

Nintendo's new console — once codenamed Nintendo NX, now officially called Nintendo Switch — has a lot riding on its shoulders. The company's last home console, the Wii U, flopped bigly (or is it big-league?), and sales for Nintendo's handheld 3DS console, while still respectable, have been declining with each consecutive iteration.

So, when Eurogamer's report that the NX (before we knew it was called Nintendo Switch) would be a sort of fusion between a handheld and a home console, some people were speculating that Nintendo would be moving toward creating a unified ecosystem for its consoles. 

That is, that there might no longer be a difference between "handheld" and "home console": Everything, from the latest Pokémon to that mysterious new  Mario platformer, could potentially run on Nintendo Switch from here on out.

Nintendo's new console, called the Switch, can be used as a home console or as a portable device.  Nintendo

This is something that Microsoft is already working towards with its Xbox platform — it has over 200 Xbox 360 games that are playable on Xbox One, and the forthcoming Xbox Scorpio will play all the same games that the current Xbox One can (except for virtual reality games). Microsoft is also blurring the lines between console gaming and PC gaming through its "Play Anywhere" program, which lets players buy a game like Gears of War 4 once, but play it on both PC and Xbox One.

In a lot of ways, this approach makes sense for Nintendo. Rather than segment its user base with different hardware, having every game available to every Nintendo Switch owner could make a huge difference.

Will Nintendo Switch be backwards compatible?

Unfortunately, that's not a future Nintendo seems ready to commit to quite yet.

Nintendo told Polygon that Nintendo Switch will not be compatible with 3DS cartridges or Wii U discs. The Switch's "game cards," as they're officially called, will be their own thing. Additionally, Nintendo has not made any announcements, nor will it comment on whether old Wii U and 3DS games will be digitally buyable on Switch.

What does Switch mean for the future of Nintendo hardware?

Nintendo is still hesitant to commit to a one-platform future, despite it seeming like that's exactly what Switch is — the trailer, for example, shows someone playing Skyrim on their television and then continuing to play it on an airplane with its detachable controllers

The trailer for the Nintendo Switch shows someone playing 'Skyrim' both at home and on the go.  Nintendo

Nintendo told Polygon that "Nintendo Switch is a home gaming system first and foremost," when asked if the Switch would impact the sale of the 3DS. "We have made no announcement regarding the future of Nintendo 3DS," Nintendo continued.

That doesn't totally put the nail in the coffin of the unified ecosystem theory, but it does complicate things a bit. Could Nintendo release Switch versions of popular 3DS titles simultaneously? Or will those franchises continue to be exclusive to the 3DS? Will Nintendo still make the 3DS in the future, or will it eventually get rid of its dedicated handheld market altogether in favor of the hybridized Switch?

For now, Nintendo isn't answering those questions, but it seems like it's heading in a direction similar to Xbox — a future in which games are available on every platform a company owns.

Nintendo's plans for future hardware are still up in the air for now, but we're excited to get more information about the Switch and speculate feverishly on what it all means. Unfortunately, Nintendo says it's done talking about the Switch until 2017.