Nick D. explains why Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. and the other big Wii U games aren’t going to singlehandedly save the system.
After the Wii U’s great launch and sales began to stagnate, fervent fans have been pointing at the future to sell the upcoming success of Nintendo’s latest endeavour. It is no great secret that the biggest reason to own a Nintendo system is Nintendo games and Nintendo IPs have been trickling out slowly over the past six months or so. As such, fans have pointed at each upcoming release as the title that would turn everything around and save the Wii U sales-wise. I’ve heard the argument made for The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and even the non-Nintendo Rayman Legends. None of these games made the Wii U a phenomenon, nor will the upcoming Mario Kart 8 or even the much-valued Super Smash Bros. This may sound doom and gloom, and to an extent it is, but I’m here to argue that the Wii U will in fact be saved, but it won’t be a single game that does it.
Recently, in an investor’s Q&A Nintendo CEO, Saturo Iwata, echoed this idea that one game could save a system. This isn’t exactly what he said since he discussed a game changing the landscape of the system and not outright saving it, but that’s the tagline that every gaming site used when reporting the statement. He cited the original Pokemon on the Gameboy as being such a game, and hinted that such a thing could happen again on the Wii U.
Single games can ignite interest and spur on sales, but they don’t save systems outside of extreme circumstances. Pokemon, for example, not only saved the Gameboy’s fortunes but pretty much paved the way for the entire handheld industry. The reason for this wasn’t simply because it was a good game. It was a brand new IP and something western gamers had never seen before. It existed in a market where there wasn’t much competition, and, most importantly, it brought in a huge swath of casuals as the games were cross-promoted with the massive hit television show. The Pokemon example works as a game that saved a system, but there were a lot more moving parts than are generally cited. It wasn’t simply the release of a game then boom.
Other ‘system saviours’ are a little different. Halo: Combat Evolved is also seen as a game that turned around the fortunes of a system – in this case the Xbox. This is once again partially due to the fact it was a new IP as very few things spur interest as uniqueness. However, Halo also had the full marketing budget of Microsoft behind it. I didn’t own an Xbox, nor was I quite as in-tune with the gaming community when it launched. Nevertheless, it was impossible for me to go three feet without seeing Master Chief’s face emblazoned on something. Nintendo, conversely, has traditionally been terrible at advertising, which has been a consistent problem with the Wii U with many still confusing it with the original Wii.
There are also examples of games that supposedly saved a system, but didn’t. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a good example on the PS3. This game was released close to a year after the PS3 launched and the system had experienced a particularly nasty drought. The release coincided with the end of the drought (starting with the less successful Heavenly Sword actually). While its success, critically and commercially, could be seen as elevating the system out of the muck, in truth, the system was already saved by the time Uncharted was released as a whole slew of games were coming out and interest was beginning to shift towards the system.
The 3DS is often cited as following the same trajectory as the Wii U. There are some similarities and it is certainly romantic to think that both of Nintendo’s current consoles are underdog stories, but they aren’t the same where it matters. The 3DS had a massive drought and lacked sales throughout its first year. However, when Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 were released, things started looking up. The handheld started selling very well and now it’s practically a phenomenon.
The principle difference with the Wii U, who received its own Super Mario 3D game without the sales explosion, is competition. Nintendo has a stranglehold on the handheld market, and the Vita hadn’t even hit shelves when things turned around. Conversely, the Wii U faces strict competition from Microsoft and Sony, both of whom have much more powerful consoles and are better at advertising than the Mario factory. A single game of an established series makes far less of a dent in such a market.
This is why the fans I talked about in the first paragraph have been consistently disappointed. The video game industry has never been bigger. That’s great for consumers, but bad for developers who were used to having a bigger slice of the pie. There are so many places to go for gamers to enjoy their hobby – Steam, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U, 3DS, Vita, Mobile Phones, the list is far larger than ever before. To save a system, a single game must be so much more than it’s ever had to be in accomplishing the same feat. Why? Because amazing games are released daily across all of the above-mentioned platforms. It’s a little hard to stand out in such a market.
I did promise that I’d talk past the doom and gloom, and I will. A single game cannot save the Wii U – but many can. The truth of the matter is that the Wii U is amassing a very impressive library of games such that a person picking up the system now is unlikely to want for content. The Wii U’s sales have been increasing slowly since the fall. This is due to the influx of quality games on the system. This goes largely unnoticed because these sales are not of the same jaw-dropping pace as either the Xbox One or particularly the PS4, and Nintendo’s sales forecasts were completely unreasonable, making the system an underachiever in the eyes of the media, but there has been growth.
In fact, if Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros., or Monolith Soft’s X are released and sales of the Wii U skyrocket as some prophesy, I still wouldn’t say it was because of that single game. The Wii U has built a strong yet woefully under-appreciated, foundation, and it’s only because of that work that any Wii U game can push the system to new heights. The fact of the matter is, I think fans were right when they were listing off games that would save the Wii U – just not in the way they were thinking. Every quality game that is released for the Wii U is saving the system. Perhaps not in the explosive hurrah that some may want but a consistent stream of quality will help the Wii U from failing.
System saviours happen, but they are rare and the circumstances around them are far more complex than the mere release of a quality game. I don’t think that anything Nintendo has right now could possibly qualify as a system saviour even though games from some extremely popular franchises are on the way. I hope I’m wrong as system saviours are fun to watch. Nevertheless, even without a system saviour, these excellent games add up. The better the library, the harder it is to stay away from Nintendo’s under-appreciated console.