By 2013, Nintendo knew the Wii U was a flop. Lifetime sales of the console never broke 15 million, prompting Nintendo to focus on the next big thing. That Nintendo NX concept turned out to be the Nintendo Switch. But before settling on removable controllers — Nintendo may have experimented with a modular controller.
A patent filed back in 2013 and first revealed in 2014 shows how such a device would have worked. The illustrations with the patent resemble the bottom-half of a Nintendo 3DS or a rudimentary Wii U controller.
Example of a modular controller piece for a portable gaming device.
The design seems to address the Nintendo 3DS problem of having only one analog stick. Nintendo latter corrected this with the release of the New Nintendo 3DS XL and the C-Stick.
On the journey from the Wii U to the Switch, a modular controller concept emerged. Some modules depicted for the controller include another analog stick, D-Pad, and a three-button module.
The patent seems to indicate that the modules would communicate with the game console through near-field communication (NFC). At the time, modular smartphones were all the rage as Project Ara became the focus of the tech world.
This patent may have been a precursor to the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons. A few third-party manufacturers have created alternative Joy-Cons, but so far Nintendo hasn’t taken advantage of their modularity. Perhaps it’s something we’ll see with the release of the Nintendo Switch Pro?
Nintendo Controller – Alternative Joy Cons
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At least one company is producing a Joy-Con set with the GameCube button layout. The GameCube Joy-Con ($59.99 Amazon) feels more like playing Smash as it was intended.
HORI also created a bigger Joy-Con designed for larger hands. The Split Pad Pro ($49.99 Amazon) feels more like a traditional controller, but attaches like a traditional Joy-Con.