Can Wii U dodge the banana peel?

As new-gen titles slip to 2015, Nintendo must capitalise with MK8

Anyone who has spent much time playing Mario Kart - and that's a pretty huge number of people, given that even the franchise's weakest instalments comfortably sell over 5 million units - knows that there's a certain trick to how items are handed out. If you're at the front of the pack, you don't get very many good power-ups; if you're at the back, however, great power-ups are scattered on you like confetti at a wedding. It's designed to give weaker players a chance to catch up. Right at the moment when you think all hope is lost, the fates hand you something that will put you back in the game.

Life imitates art, sometimes. The Wii U may not strictly speaking be at the back of the pack - it's still got a larger installed base than the Xbox One, though Microsoft's console has been steadily catching up - but it's undoubtedly the most troubled of the new generation of consoles. By some metrics, it's under-performing the late lamented Dreamcast, and plenty of the "Nintendo is Doomed" contingent (a choir with a limited repertoire but a seemingly endless wellspring of schadenfreude-fuelled enthusiasm) are being terribly generous with their advice that Nintendo should abandon the console or quickly reveal a "proper next-gen" successor.

"Looking at the relative positions of the consoles, I can't help but wonder if Nintendo hasn't just been gifted a power-up"

Yet looking at the relative positions of the consoles, I can't help but wonder if Nintendo hasn't just been gifted a power-up. At E3 next week, Sony and Microsoft will both pull out the stops to convince gamers of their future software line-ups - but the vast bulk of what they reveal will probably be 2015 software. Several key releases have slipped already, with Sony's The Order: 1886 only the latest game to disappear from the 2014 release schedule. In fact, in terms of platform exclusives, Sony's DriveClub and Microsoft's Sunset Overdrive are arguably the only real tentpole titles in the second half of 2014 on PS4 and Xbox One, with Bungie's Destiny one of the only real stand-out cross-platform games on the roster.

This kind of software drought isn't new, unusual or even unexpected. It's common for there to be a lull in releases between the games hurried out for the launch window, and the true "second wave" of games that arrives some time later. Developers and publishers spend this period coming to grips properly with the hardware, building up the tools and processes that will allow them to tackle the rest of the generation more effectively. In Sony's case, at least, it seems like the company planned for this lull and is trying to paper over the cracks; the PS4 is getting a steady feed of interesting indie titles, and HD updates of last-gen games like The Last Of Us and Final Fantasy XIV. Still, the reality is that the rest of 2014 is going to be quiet for many gamers; there are good games out there, certainly, but compared to the release schedule already shaping up for 2015, this is the calm before the storm.

"In Sony's case, at least, it seems like the company planned for this lull and is trying to paper over the cracks; the PS4 is getting a steady feed of interesting indie titles, and HD updates of last-gen games"

Except, that is, if you look at Nintendo's Wii U line-up. Kicking off with Mario Kart 8, which has already sailed past a million copies sold (no mean feat given the low installed base of the console) and which seems to be driving a significant uptick in hardware sales, Nintendo has a fairly remarkable 2014 on the cards - a point it's sure to hammer home throughout E3 week, when it will be showcasing games you can play this year, and much of the rest of the excitement will be about games you won't be getting your hands on until after your next rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne.

Super Smash Brothers U is the other massive first-party title on the roster. While it doesn't have the broad appeal of Mario Kart, Smash Bros has established itself as a firm favourite on Nintendo consoles in recent years. If this latest iteration can match the quality of Mario Kart 8, which is earning almost universal praise from critics and gamers alike, it will likely be a major factor in the Wii U purchasing decision for a lot of consumers. Then there's the third-party line-up; Bayonetta 2 is a much-anticipated core title, Monolith Soft's X is an extremely promising RPG from the team that produced the acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles, and both are firmly placed on the 2014 schedule. Question marks remain over Hyrule Warriors, a crossover of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors, but if it hits the quality bar high enough, this could be another important title for Nintendo this year. Then there are host of other interesting titles, which are more niche or less certain in their release dates; Yarn Yoshi, Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, and so on.

If all or most of those titles turn up in 2014, and all or most of them are of high quality and well-received, then the Wii U will have had a pretty remarkable year for software. Bear in mind that the console's back-catalogue is already pretty impressive - Super Mario 3D World was lauded as one of 2013's best games by many critics - and it starts to look like late 2014 will be an important tipping point for many consumers who haven't been swayed by Nintendo's offering as yet.

"There's every chance that by the end of this year the Wii U will have a line-up of first- and second-party software that's easily good enough to justify the 'second console' purchase"

Granted, there are a lot of "ifs" up there. The weak release schedule for PS4 and Xbox One this year is an opportunity for Nintendo, because it's going to create a window in which next-gen consoles are gathering a little dust and their owners start to think about making that "second console" purchase; a role traditionally and very effectively filled by a Nintendo system. If that Nintendo system offers a great Mario game, a great Mario Kart game, a great Smash Bros game and a host of other interesting core titles - Bayonetta 2, X (which will likely be the only decent JRPG on any next-gen system) and so on - then the purchasing decision will be swayed for a pretty large group of consumers. However, if Nintendo is going to actually capitalise on this opportunity, it needs to execute almost perfectly. It can't afford for any of its key games to be flops or critical misses; every one has to be superb.

That's a big ask, but then again, this is Nintendo - and however we may critique the company's overall strategy, executing brilliantly on software is Nintendo's home turf. There's every chance that by the end of this year the Wii U will have a line-up of first- and second-party software that's easily good enough to justify the "second console" purchase for a pretty large audience of gamers. Indeed, in the wake of Mario Kart 8, there's a sense that the tide is turning in terms of the console's perception; it will take a few more good shoves to get things moving in sales terms, but the opportunity exists. If a price cut were to come along by autumn (which Nintendo could afford, in marketing terms, as its console is significantly older than its next-gen rivals') that opportunity would be very significant indeed.

"Wii U has had, perhaps, the weakest first year of any console in over a decade - but with Nintendo's studios seemingly firing on all cylinders right now it's still far from dead"

Moreover, this is an opportunity enhanced by the realities of the modern retail market. In the past, when consoles performed badly, their failure became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Retailers withdrew support, shelf space dwindled, point-of-sale marketing disappeared and sales plummeted further. Third-party publishers bailed out not just because of the small installed base, but because retail support was gone and there was no shelf space to put their titles onto. Today, that problem still exists (although the success of the 3DS has given Nintendo some clout with retailers regarding Wii U support, at least) but it has been alleviated to a significant degree by online shopping. Amazon has no shelf space; Wii U will always be in stock there, and especially for the core audience (which Nintendo wants to exceed eventually, but baby steps, eh?) that's good enough, since they buy a console and software after deliberation and research, not based on shop displays.

Wii U has had, perhaps, the weakest first year of any console in over a decade - but with Nintendo's software development studios seemingly firing on all cylinders right now, the console is still far from dead. Nobody expects it to scale the heights achieved by the Wii, but it could yet sell enough to remain relevant, profitable and respectable by comparison to its rivals. The opportunity to turn things around exists in 2014; if Nintendo can grasp it, it will be arguably the most extraordinary second act in the history of any console, a comeback to rival even the most well-timed blue shell.

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Latest comments (15)

Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University4 years ago
Quick bit of pedantry: X is a first party title, Monolith Soft are a first party Nintendo studio. This works much in the same way that Naughty Dog titles are first party titles for PlayStation...

While I hope this optimistic slant is true, I think even if the currently announced titles make it out globally (as Nintendo are saying they will), and even if they are all excellent, Wii U is too damaged a system to succeed beyond becoming a profitable niche for Nintendo. The mauling from the press and Nintendo's own series of blunders mean that mainstream awareness of the system is either non-existent or hostile, and that's incredibly difficult to shake. I can't see Nintendo having much more at E3 that they'll be able to bring out this year, beyond smaller tier titles and eShop offerings. I think whatever Nintendo's major announcements are (presumably The Legend of Zelda), they'll only be able to bring that software to market next year. Nintendo could do well enough in 2014 to improve Wii U to the point where it doesn't become Nintendo's worst selling console, but I just can't see a major comeback on the cards.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
My thoughts are that the WiiU console may not be selling well, but I dont think its dead and I dont belive this is the end of the road for it. I belive this E3 should be about software. Now that the big 3 have their consoles out I belive it comes down to what they can deliver that seperates them from each other and this is where Nintendo comes in with their excellent catalog of proprietary IP and WiiU gamepad.

Nintendo has so many great titles announced for the WiiU. The thing that hurt the WiiU is that they are not cranking out these games fast enough. But if Mario Kart is any sign of things to come, I wouldnt count them out of the game yet.

Simply look at the list i posted below. I would like to know if anywone agrees with me.


Here is a run down of games Im waiting for or want to play. just note I dont have a WiiU yet. The multiplatform games on the list are ones I would rather try on wiiU for the added features.

Released games:
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical freeze
Resident Evil Revelations
Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Wonderful 101
New Super Luigi U
New Super Mario Bros. U
Nintendo Land
Pikmin 3
Rayman Legends
Scribblenauts Unlimited
Sonic Lost World
Super Mario 3D World
Super Mario Kart 8
Zelda Wind Waker HD
Mighty Switch force
Mighty Switch Force 2
Watch Dogs

Special mention:
WiiU Virtual Console

Bayonneta 2
"X"(Xenoblade 2)
Fire Emblem X Shin Megami Tensei
Super Smash Bros
Fatel Frame V
Shovel Knight
Dr. Luigi
Hyrule Warriors
Zelda WiiU
Mighty No.9
Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure
Sonic Boom

Hopes for the future:
A new StarFox
A new Metroid Prime
A new Console Fire Emblem
A new F-Zero
New IP
Vanquish 2(far fetched but one can dream)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 6th June 2014 6:38pm

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Jim Burns Research Asisstant 4 years ago
Nintendo can win E3
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Show all comments (15)
Robert Ilott Build & CM Engineer, Criterion Games4 years ago
Why wasn't MK8 a launch title for the WiiU?. By my definition it slipped it's schedule pretty badly. We can't pretend all is good now that it's finally out.
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Jim Burns Research Asisstant 4 years ago

Mario Kart has never been a launch title for any Nintendo system ever. I think it is unfair to say this or that should be a launch title when there is no historical evidence.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jim Burns on 6th June 2014 8:36pm

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Nick Wofford Hobbyist 4 years ago
This had to be written before Forza Horizon 2 got announced if Sunset Overdrive is all that got a mention.

And the biggest blow to Nintendo is that there are a ton of other titles that are coming that aren't exclusive, but that are exclusively not on Wii U. Anything from EA, Activision, etc... will be absent, and that's a big sway. Sony and MS have to convince people to not buy the X1 or PS4 (respectively), and that's a tough task. But convincing people away from Nintendo is easy. We all know that the Wii U won't be seeing any of the compelling 3rd party titles on the market.

Which wouldn't be a problem if the Wii U was cheap enough to be a second console. But it's not. Teardowns of the hardware don't give Nintendo much leeway on cheaper production costs. If they don't cut out the Gamepad, then that console won't see a cheaper model for years (maybe another $50 at best).
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Oscar Escamilla Perez Game Designer 4 years ago
Didn't CD Projekt already won E3 with yesterday's mindblowing Witcher 3 trailer? I expect cool things next week, but that trailer sold me the game on both ps4 and Pc versions. And a new PC/video card if needed

I like my Wii U and MK8 but games like Witcher 3 are what will drive next gen console sales through the roof. Nintendo lost third party love long ago with their underpowered wii and its going to be difficult for them to recover if they keep missing so many amazing games.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 4 years ago
Nick pretty much summed up what I came here to say. Even if(in the authors eyes) the fall release first party exclusive titles for both the XBO and PS4 are considered weak there is plenty of third party support coming to keep gamers busy. And let me reiterate what Nick said: the majority of that third party support will not be arriving on the Wii U. Even if, lets say that Halo and Destiny were the only new games launching on the XBO this fall, I still seriously doubt it would help Nintendo's system. Nintendo will most likely be pushing some titles back as well in the coming weeks/months.

Don't get me wrong, all three systems will have worthy games by way of first party and(only in Microsoft and Sony's case) third party. But the Wii U right now reminds me of THQ's last two years. Everybody outside the company knew they were on borrowed time but management wanted to keep trying to convince people(mostly themselves) that the company was an equal AAA company compared to Activision, EA and Rockstar and that they were just going thru a rough patch. But we all know how that rough patch ended.

Does this mean Nintendo is on their way out? Not at all but the Wii U, for all intents and purposes is pretty much going to stay where it is as far as console relevance goes. The only thing that will change in the future is that eventually the XBO will catch up and outsell it, despite the fact that no one in Japan will buy it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 7th June 2014 9:16am

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Nick Wofford Hobbyist 4 years ago
That's only partially true. There are cross-gen games coming, but the difference this holiday versus last holiday is that Holiday 2013 brought us parity between last-gen and next-gen games. Holiday 2014, on the other hand, is populated with "cross" gen titles like Forza Horizon 2, COD:AW, etc.. which are all being developed with separate engines for their last gen counterparts. It's not as drastic as the difference between COD on the Wii and PS360, but it's definitely more than Watch Dogs, COD: Ghosts, or Titanfall.

They're not upscaling last gen games anymore; they're downscaling next-gen titles instead.
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Tanya Rei Myoko Programmer 4 years ago
Nintendo has a fairly remarkable 2014 on the cards
Maybe in bizarro world
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
We shouldn't just make it an argument of hardware prowess. Third party publishers also have to consider whether or not the audience a platform has suits their products, how complicated the development can get for that platform and which options exist for selling a game, in terms of points of sale and possible business models.

Mobile, PC and consoles are in quite a knife fight and currently the Wii U is not the console having all the arguments on its side.
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Nick Wofford Hobbyist 4 years ago
With Forza, we know the exact difference between the versions. It's the same difference between Forza Motorsport 5 and Forza Horizon 1 because those are the engines being used for each version of Horizon 2 (respectively). For fans of the genre, playing the last gen version just isn't the same. It's definitely not like Watch Dogs. I don't know what CoD is doing specifically, but they got a ton of flak for Ghosts on next-gen because it was clearly more of an upscaled last-gen game.

I'm not saying the PS360 versions will be unplayable, but you're definitely missing out if you're stuck on last-gen. That simply wasn't the case in Holiday 2013.
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Nick Parker Consultant 4 years ago
Installed bases by end of 2014 should be around 13m PS4, almost 10 million Xbox One and a little less for Wii U. PS4 and Xbox One will be higher than at the same stage of their respective predecessors lives. Wii U will be a fifth of the Wii at the same stage. Publishers may consider the demographic of the Wii U gamer for relevant games but as an addressable market, remembering it's also still less than the GameCube was at the same stage, a significant increase in units sales is required to seduce 3rd parties.
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Nick Parker Consultant 4 years ago
Hi Christian; at the end of March, PS4 reached 6.5m, Xbox One just over 4m. With more hardware price movement expected before the last two months of the year and Japan kicking in for PS4 and ROW (inc a lot of Europe) for Xbox One, I'm confident with these forecasts.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nick Parker on 9th June 2014 2:50pm

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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
Whelp! After watching E3 2014... I think they are on their way to doing so!
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