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New Patent Might Shine Light on Future Nintendo Handheld Platform

The patent depicts an elliptical touch screen combined with a few physical inputs on the top and front.

Remember: The whole of that big elliptical area is a touch screen.
Remember: The whole of that big elliptical area is a touch screen.

Over the last few months there's been a ton of speculation about what Nintendo's next gaming platform, codenamed NX, might look like. Now a new patent has added some fuel to the speculative fire.

Originally filed last June, this new patent application was published yesterday and came to light via a NeoGaf post. Though Nintendo's name is absent from the patent, the names of all five filers of the patent are of Nintendo employees, and the patent itself seems to reflect a report from last year which indicated that the company would be purchasing "Free Form" display screens from Sharp.

The patent is for a hand-held device featuring a wide, elliptical touchscreen that houses a card slot, two "operation sticks" towards the left and right edges of the screen, and also has two additional operation buttons on the top of the controller (effectively "L" and "R" buttons). The operation sticks (which look like pentagonal buttons in the patent's illustrations) can be moved in different directions or pressed in like buttons. In short: It's a touchscreen device with built in buttons and control sticks.

The patent also reveals that the function of pressing in either of the sticks can be changed by first touching a virtual button on the unit's touchscreen or by sliding the stick in a certain direction. Hard to understand? Okay, well, let's look at these two figures from the patent:

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In figure 11, you can imagine an RPG where pressing one of the virtual buttons (marked 120 on the figure) changes your character's equipped weapon, which then changes what pressing in a thumbstick does. Figure 15 depicts a system for inputting writing (in this instance, writing Japanese syllabics with English characters). Numbers 204 and 206 aren't physical or virtual buttons, they're indicators as to what would happen if you slid the operating stick in that direction and then pressed it in--it's a little like the power wheels popularized by the Mass Effect series. It's a control system that I can see working (at least for Nintendo's first party games), but it also feels much more limited than every other currently popular controller layout.

Of course, this should all come with the standard set of caveats about patents like this. Many companies file patent applications for devices they never mass produce. Plus, this particular patent is from last year, so even if this is a look at the NX (or the NX's controller or handheld component, at least), the final product may be pretty different from these illustrations. Even if we take the patent as face value, a lot of questions remain. It's not clear if this device is meant as a fully standalone system (though it does include an onboard processor, RAM, and a card slot), or if it's meant to also communicate with a hub system, as many of the NX rumors have suggested.

One thing that is very clear though: The little character who shows up in all of the patent drawings is rad as hell. As NeoGaf user DownGrader notes, "He wanders, squats, jumps, takes cover, shoots the dinosaur (which causes the dino to explode) and plays soccer. He should be the mascot of NX." Just look!

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Expressionless and fleeing alone through a desolate world on an unpredictable road. Finally, a mascot for the millennial generation. I'm so on board.