A newly discovered vein of Nintendium was the final missing ingredient necessary for the production of the Nintendo Switch, according to a press release from Nintendo.
Nintendium (Nt, Atomic Number 256) is a metamaterial first discovered in 1983 by Dr. Baka Orakana of Tokyo University. Its core advantage is its “specific strength”—the durability of the material relative to its weight. Nintendo immediately hired Dr. Orakana upon the discovery and utilized an alloy based on the newly-discovered material for its Famicom gaming console. The inclusion of Nintendium in Nintendo’s hardware has led to the legendary durability of Nintendo consoles over the years.
The popularity of Nintendo’s handhelds in recent years has reduced their reserves to dangerously low levels. Fortunately, new veins of the raw ore were discovered in early 2016, which finally allowed the company to begin production on the Nintendo Switch, their latest tablet-based console. TechRaptor spoke with Dr. Orakana in a phone call with the help of a translator.
“The thing you must understand is that Nintendium is a very rare element,” Dr. Orakana began. “It can’t be synthesized, and once refined it can only be recycled in an extremely energy intensive process that involves whale blubber and sake.”
I asked the Doctor why they didn’t simply recycle older consoles and recover Nintendium for the production of new ones. “That’s the ultimate problem, you see,” he said. “I feel as if Nintendium is cursed. Nothing ever breaks! We’ve launched a new DS handheld every few years with minimal changes in the hopes that older ones would be returned but customers are simply holding onto them! Even though there are millions of Wiis sitting around gathering dust, customers just won’t get rid of them. You could bury one of our consoles in concrete, dig it out ten years later, and it would assuredly still function.”
Despite its legendary durability, the material is not completely indestructible despite rumors on the Internet. Much like a diamond, the only thing that can actually damage Nintendium is itself. Most famously, pictures of damaged consoles are peppered throughout the Internet after players had struck them with a thrown controller or cartridge that was also made with an Nt Alloy.
To get a wider perspective on the matter, I spoke with Video Game Historian Daniel Kong. He has a double major in chemistry and chemical engineering, but he has spent most of his career focusing on the history and capabilities of a single material.
“It’s really quite interesting how it’s all played out over the years,” Professor Kong began. “The GameCube was the real turning point for Nintendo. They were running so low on Nintendium that they weren’t able to produce cartridges anymore to a satisfactory level of durability. It’s only now with the launch of the Nintendo Switch that they are finally returning to the cartridge format, albeit in a much smaller form factor.”
Professor Kong theorizes that Nintendo’s hardware strategy of the last few years has been centered around their supply of Nintendium or, rather, the lack thereof. “Look at the confusing marketing around the Wii U, for example. Another example is naming a handheld the ‘New Nintendo 3DS’—an exceedingly vague name. The only logical explanation for such obtuse choices in nomenclature and marketing is that they were deliberately trying to sell fewer units to mask their supply shortage of Nintendium while keeping up appearances for their shareholders.”
Although naturally occurring, Nintendium was not well understood by the ancient Japanese according to the Professor. “The few bits of Nintendium that the ancient Japanese were able to dig up were used for ornamentation. At best, a few practiced swordsmiths laced the otherwise weak Japanese iron with it. Legend has it that the greatest swordsmiths such as Masamune owed their reputation to Nintendium alloy blades. Unfortunately, their techniques are now lost to time.”
On that note, things are looking up for Nintendo. After a nearly decade-long shortage of their golden goose, they’re finally making cartridges again. The future is bright for the company; the announcement of the Nintendo Switch hammered Nintendo’s website so hard that it temporarily went down. Adults who once fondly played the N.E.S. or Game Boy will soon be able to pick up the first Nintendo home console to use cartridges in over two decades.
What’s your “Nintendium story”? What kind of bumps and knocks have your Nintendo consoles survived over the years? Do you think the Nintendo Switch will be as legendarily durable as its predecessors? Let us know in the comments below!