Nintendo is facing what may be its most important holiday season since 2006. If the Wii U cannot turn its fortunes around this year, its uphill struggle is about to get much worse. Even if the Wii U was the only new console on the market, the Wii U would have a tough time proving its worth. In a holiday season with Sony and Microsoft shouting over each other to get attention, the Wii U’s situation is even more dire. People have been wondering what Nintendo would do to counteract the hype of the PS4 and the XBox One, and Nintendo has responded with a flurry of announcements, both big and small. How is Nintendo going to fare this holiday season? Let’s take a look at the Wii U’s holiday lineup.
What It Is- The Wonderful 101 is a game developed by Platinum games and Hideki Kamiya. If you’re not familiar with Kamiya’s name, you may be familiar with his work which includes Bayonetta, Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry. Like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, Wonderful 101 is a high octane action game. Wonderful 101 is not just about dispatching enemies, but looking cool while doing so.
In Wonderful 101, players control a mob of up to 100 super heroes who can unite to form different shapes such as swords, guns, or whips. These heroes will use these powers in an effort to stop an alien invasion. The game is modeled after classic Sentai shows (think Power Rangers for those not familiar with the term) and features the bright and shiny style of those shows.
How Will It Sell- Platinum is known for making great games that resonate with their passionate fans. They are not known for making games that sell well. Platinum’s games have enjoyed mostly modest success. With the marketing muscle of Nintendo behind the game, people might have expected better sales, but Wonderful 101 is off to a sluggish start. In Europe, the game sold 6,000 copies on its launch week, and in Japan, the game sold 5,000. The US version may fare a bit better, as it will be released shortly before the Wii U’s price cut. Overall sales should be around 250-300K before the year’s end. Hopefully, strong word of mouth will keep the game selling.
Will It Move Systems: I think it’s safe to say that the Wonderful 101 will not be a driving force behind Wii U sales, but a quality game in a franchise is always nice. Despite its colorful nature, Wonderful 101 is an undeniably hardcore title, and the Wii U will need a lot of those to convince Sony and Microsoft fans to pick up the Wii U, possibly as a secondary console.
Wind Waker HD
What It Is- At one point Wind Waker’s cel shaded graphics were controversial, but history has proved Nintendo right. Wind Waker is now considered by most to be a classic, and by many to be one of the most beautiful games ever created. Wind Waker’s cel shaded graphics have stood the test of time, and now the game is being remade into HD. Aside from cosmetic changes, only slight changes will be made to gameplay in Wind Waker HD. These changes are designed to make traveling faster, and to shorten a particularly irritating fetch quest. Aside from these alterations, this is pretty much the same game some of us played many years ago.
How Will It Sell- Wind Waker was released 11 years ago on a system that wasn’t particularly popular. There are many people playing games today that were either still in diapers or not alive when the original game came out. Of course, there are also those who played the original Wind Waker, and are willing to pay $50 for an HD paint job and a rush of nostalgia. There are even those who played the original and will want to share the game with the next generation.
Launching on another struggling system that had just received a price cut, Ocarina of Time on the 3DS sold quite well with over 3 million copies sold. The Wii U is doing a bit worse than the 3DS was, and Wind Waker is not quite as popular as Ocarina of Time. On the other hand, Wind Waker has not been re-released as often as Ocarina of time. Ocarina of time was released as a preorder bonus for Wind Waker, as a part of a collection on Gamecube, and as a virtual console game. Wind Waker should sell around 1.5 million copies, including digital copies bundled with the the Wii U, by the end of the holidays.
Will It Move Systems- Wind Waker HD strikes Nintendo fans where they are most vulnerable, in the nostalgia. Zelda has a very passionate fanbase that will certainly be swayed by Wind Waker HD. Nintendo has wisely put out a bundle for the game, which allows Zelda fans to trade Nintendo Land for Wind Waker HD, a digital copy of Hyrule Historia, and a snazzy Gamepad. Like Ocarina of Time 3D did for the 3DS, Wind Waker HD looks like it could start to change the momentum of the Wii U.
Wii Party U
What It Is: Long before the term, “casual game” existed, there was Mario Party. Mario Party was a franchise that aimed to get non-gamers in on the action. By modeling gameplay after the familiar concept of board games, focusing the action on brief minigames where failure was a minor setback, and adding a huge element of luck to the proceedings, Mario Party was one of Nintendo’s first great casual titles. With the popularity of Wii Sports and Wii Fit, Nintendo made a further simplified version of Mario Party, took out the Mario characters, and called it Wii Party.
Wii Party U takes the core board game that made Wii Party successful, but also adds other game modes to serve as a tech demo for the Wii U’s multiplayer capabilities. Some games will take advantage of the Wii U Gamepad’s features such as its ability to hide information from other players, its camera, and its separate display. Some games will be simplistic titles that can be played without the TV at all like a tabletop foosball game.
Of the Wii U’s holiday lineup, Wii Party U seems to make the most of the Wii U Gamepad. In addition, the game also comes with a Wii Remote for a cool $5o, which makes the game a great pickup for those who did not have the original Wii.
Will It Sell- The original Wii Party sold an impressive 8 million copies. That figure is impressive on its own, but what was more impressive was Wii Party’s longevity. The game sold well for a solid three years, which is a rarity in the industry. With a controller packed in, Wii Party U will sell far more copies. Getting a multiplayer game and a second controller for your new console is a pretty sweet deal. Wii Party U should be the best selling game of the holiday for the Wii U, mostly due to the inclusion of a controller. Expect sales between 2.5 and 3 million.
Will It Move Consoles- You can call me crazy, but I think Wii Party U could be one of the Wii U’s biggest titles. The Wii U has great potential, as did the original Wii U, as a product that fills the same niche as board games. While many parents will balk at the idea of poor little Johnny playing games for hours a day, they may be receptive towards a game that the family can enjoy together. Local multiplayer, and especially local multiplayer between gamers of different experience levels, is a huge selling point for the Wii U. With the right marketing behind it, Wii Party U can help sell the Wii U to a market outside of Nintendo’s faithful.
Sonic Lost World
What Is It- Is it ok to be excited about a new Sonic game again? Fans of the hedgehog have been burned in the past by titles like Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Black Knight, and Shadow The Hedgehog, but recent Sonic games have fared pretty well. Sonic Colors was a good game, and Sonic Generations was even better. Sonic Lost World looks to build on these successes and add a heaping does of Mario Galaxy to the mix. Sonic Lost World features some smart adjustments to Sonic’s controls such as a parkour system, and a tubular level design reminiscent of Mario Galaxy or the canceled Sonic Xtreme. These elements look to prevent the jerkiness of past Sonic titles and create a smooth and fun experience.
Will It Sell- Sonic has always performed well on Nintendo systems. Sonic Unleashed sold more on the Wii than the PS3 or the XBox, and Sonic Colors sold more than Generations on either console. Despite the limited install base of the Wii U, Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing Transformed sold as much on Nintendo’s console as it did on the PS3, and only slightly less than the 360 SKU Nintendo’s platform heavy consoles make a natural fit for Sonic. A new and exclusive Sonic game that happens to look pretty damn good should sell nicely on Nintendo’s console. I would expect sales of around 600-750K for Sonic over the holidays.
Will It Move Systems- Any franchise that has been around as long as Sonic is going to have some amount of fans who will buy a console just for that game. I’m not saying you should expect millions of Wii U consoles sold because of Sonic, but you should expect a small boost in sales. Wii U sales shot up about 12,000 units in the US with the release of Lego City and Monster Hunter, so expect something similar to that, but slightly larger due to the price cut which will have kicked in by that. Sonic has a nice bit of nostalgia that will give gamers on the fence a kick in the pants.
In the long term, Sonic Lost World is a good game to have on shelves. If you’re a young kid, are you going to buy the console with Knack, Battlefield, and Drive Club, or the system with Sonic, Mario, and Donkey Kong? If you’re a parent, are you going to buy the system with tons of shooters, or the ones with a lot of platformers? Sonic isn’t going to be a huge immediate factor, but these types of games are what the Wii U needs from third parties.
What Is It- One of the Wii U’s most under the radar titles for the rest of the year, Scribblenauts Unmasked is the latest entry in the ambitious but underachieving Scribblenauts franchise. Scribblenauts allows players to create and interact with any object they can imagine by simply typing the word into Max’s magic notebook. This concept sounds like great fun to mess around with, and it is, but doesn’t work well in a focused game design. With the power to create anything possible to aid you, puzzle solving turns into a vocabulary test.
While the first entries in the Scribblenauts franchise sold over a million copies each, Scribblenauts Unlimited performed poorly on the 3DS and the Wii U. To aid their slumping franchise, Warner Bros. Interactive have pulled out their ace in the hole. The newest Scribblenauts game focuses on DC Universe characters and will let Maxwell mess around with heroes and villains of the DC Universe. Hopefully, this addition will add some much needed structure to the proceedings. Unmasked will be a console exclusive on the Wii U, likely because the Game Pad is well suited to a game based around typing, but will also be available on the 3DS and PC.
Will It Sell- The Scribblenauts franchise has cooled down since its inception. So far, the franchise hasn’t found a way to make the most out of its clever premise. The addition of DC’s stable of characters should help the game expand its audience to children and avid DC fans. In today’s environment where superheroes are treated as super serious business by Hollywood, the idea of messing around with Batman and Superman seems more appealing than ever. Having Batman slug it out with Superman while both are wearing frilly pink dresses? Sign me up. Scribblenauts unlimited can likely sell about 300-400k units this year.
Will It Move Systems- Scribblenauts isn’t going to move a lot of consoles on its own, but when you combine it with the rest of the Wii U’s offering, you’re starting to see a solid lineup of family friendly titles that other consoles are not going to match. The availability of the game on the 3DS will hurt its potential for the Wii U. Furthermore, Europe is still waiting on Scribblenauts Unlimited, so Scribblenauts Unmasked won’t be releasing East of the Atlantic this year.
Super Mario 3D World
What Is It- Nintendo scored a big hit with New Super Mario Bros Wii and its multiplayer focus. Nintendo also scored a big hit with Super Mario 3D Land and its deft merging of classic 2D and 3D styles of Mario. Now, Nintendo is combining these two concepts in Mario 3D World.
Super Mario 3D World takes Super Mario 3D Land’s linear level design and adds in four player coop. Those who have played 3D Land know what to expect, but they may not expect the multiplayer component of this game to be as fun as it is. Like many, I was disappointed when I found out I wouldn’t be collecting stars in a single player Mario experience, but a demo with 3D World won me over. It’s rare to find a 2 player 3D platformer that works well, so the fact that Super Mario 3D World works so well with 4 is impressive. With four players, gameplay becomes frantic and chaotic in a good way, and unlike New Super Mario Bros Wii, there is enough space for four players to maneuver comfortably. I still hope we see a game in the Mario Galaxy style sooner rather than later, but at the same time, I’m pretty stoked that I can play a 3D Mario title with my friends and family.
Will It Sell- It’s a Mario game, so yes. Mario has always been a strong seller and even on less popular consoles Mario has sold very well. Super Mario 3D World may be hurt to some degree by the availability of New Super Mario Bros U, but the promise of a familiar yet unique experience may tempt gamers to try 3D World.
Many gamers who played New Super Mario Bros. were reluctant to try Super Mario Galaxy, which, at a glance, appears far more complex. Super Mario 3D World’s streamlined level design should be less intimidating, and the concept of playing a 3D Mario with four players is a novel concept. Sales of Super Mario 3D World may be stifled by New Super Mario Bros U which should be a popular title to buy with the Wii U. Super Mario 3D World should sell around 2 million copies this holiday season.
Will It Move Systems- Nintendo made a smart decision by flip flopping the release dates of Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World. Originally, 3D World was to be released in December and Tropical Freeze was set to be released in November. Now, Super Mario 3D World will be released on November 22nd giving the Wii U a big title ahead of Black Friday and in the midst of the XBox One and PS4 hype. I’m not suggesting 3D World will derail the PS4 or the XBox One, but it will provide a nice incentive for Wii owners looking to upgrade their system this holiday season.
Mario and Sonic At The Olympic Winter Games
What Is It- Not much to say about this one. Mario and Sonic (Mario even gets top billing in Sega’s games) was a popular minigame collection for the Wii, and its sequel was fairly popular as well. The new entry looks to make some creative use of the Gamepad (for instance in a skiing/shooting hybrid). Mario and Sonic is not a huge release, but it’s another feather in the Wii U’s holiday cap.
Will It Sell- Sonic’s Olympic adventures have actually been the strongest selling Sonic games in the character’s history. Combining two of gaming’s icons with easy to pick up gameplay is a good idea. The series has declined in popularity since its inception, and it will be debuting on less popular hardware, so Mario and Sonic at Sochi isn’t going to be breaking records, but it should sell reasonably well. Over the holidays, you could expect to see sales of around 500,000 with sales continuing well into 2014.
Will It Move Systems- No, probably not. More games is better than less games, especially when characters as popular as Mario and Sonic are on the cover. Mario and Sonic isn’t going to be THE game that makes you want a Wii U, but it may be a secondary reason for some people.
Wii Fit U
What Is Is- Wii Fit was one of the games that turned the Wii into a phenomena. Wii Fit was a beginners exercise routine that put a friendly face on the tough task of exercise and weight loss. Wii Fit is certainly not going to turn you into a world class athlete, but it is a great first step for a person going from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one, and a good substitute when the gym is not an option.
Wii Fit U was supposed to be a launch title for the Wii U, but it was delayed, and we haven’t heard much about it since. That’s probably a good thing, because Wii Fit U didn’t look too promising from my point of view. The main draw of Wii Fit U was its Fit Meter, a fairly nice pedometer accessory that lets you incorporate outside exercise easily into Wii Fit U. The ability to weigh yourself via a Gamepad is also a big deal for those who are self conscious and have their console set up in a living room.
What Wii Fit U seemed to be lacking is new content. Originally, Nintendo promised 20 new exercises, many of which would be in a new “dance” category. While the amount of exercises is decent, it’s easy to become bored with the same daily routine very quickly. With Wii Fit U, Nintendo has a big opportunity with DLC that will keep people from becoming bored, and keep their game relevant. There is also huge potential for Miiverse integration. Wii Fit U would also greatly benefit from linking to any or all of the popular calorie counting applications available on smart phones and computers. Hopefully, Nintendo’s delays have led to some of these features, or other new ideas, being implemented.
Will It Sell- Based on the sales pattern of games like Nintendogs and Brain Age, a lot of people are expecting Wii Fit U to shrink into obscurity. These people do not understand how weight loss products work. Something like Brain Age is a passing fancy. People think, “oh it would be cool to have a sharper memory”, join in on the hype, and then quickly forget about their training because they don’t really care. On the contrary, weight loss is a constant fixture in our society. It is hard to go a day without seeing an advertisement, magazine cover, news article, or TV segment about weight loss, so Wii Fit will not suffer the same fate as Brain Age. It is important to note that last year, 5 years after the debut of the original Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus still sold over a million copies. Wii Fit Plus has even sold over 200 thousand copies this year which is mighty impressive for such an old game.
The weight loss industry is an industry that thrives on failure. Weight loss products sell well because so few people succeed in losing weight and keeping it off without trying several times. Even if someone tried and failed to lose weight with Wii Fit, they’re going to try it again with Wii Fit U thinking that this time will be different, and perhaps it will be.
Wii Fit U is going to sell well, and how well will depend on the final product. With the right features and marketing, we could easily be looking at 2 to 2.5 million units being sold this year.
Will It Move Systems- A common refrain among Nintendo’s critics is that casuals aren’t buying the Wii U. A common response is that Nintendo hasn’t put its casual hits on the the market yet. With Wii Party and Wii Fit U, we’re going to see how much power the Wii branding still possesses in this day and age, and I think that the answer will surprise people. I am still firmly of the opinion that once Nintendo has the kinds of games that made the Wii popular, the kind of gamers that own the Wii will return to them, although perhaps not in the same numbers.
The big question is when the Wii U will be coming out. After being delayed out of the Wii U’s launch window, Wii Fit U was announced for December 2013. This release date has been changed to a vague “holiday 2013” date. I would guess that Nintendo is doing all they can to get the game out by the holidays. Wii Fit U is a prime candidate for bundling. A Wii Fit/balance board bundle for $350 (possibly with an 8GB harddrive to cut costs) could be a strong seller over the holiday. If Nintendo can get Wii Fit U and Wii Party U with a Wii-mote into the same package for $400, that would be even better.
Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
What Is It- He’s the leader of the bunch and you know him well. DK has been one of Nintendo’s big players for as long as Mario has. His rival Mario took off leaving poor DK in the dust until the days of the SNES when Rare developed Donkey Kong Country using then state of the art computer graphics. After Rare left Nintendo, DK floundered around being used for quirky titles like DK Jungle Beat or Mario vs Donkey Kong. Eventually, Retro Studios picked up where Rare left off with the wonderful Donkey Kong Country Returns. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze looks to be more of the same, but now with shiny new HD graphics, a dynamic camera, and Dixie Kong.
Will It Sell- As great as Donkey Kong Country Returns was, Nintendo made one huge mistake with the game. Donkey Kong Country Returns was freaking hard. While that was great for longtime fans of the franchise, I feel that younger kids who picked up the game may have been turned off from the franchise by its difficulty and may not return for the sequel. Unlike the first game in the franchise, Tropical Freeze won’t have the strong nostalgia factor that comes with a decade long absence. Tropical Freeze will sell alright in the long term, but I don’t expect it to sell as well as its predecessor which sold over 6 million copies. Selling one million copies over the holiday season would be a big victory for DK, particularly with its December release.
Will It Sell Consoles- To be honest, I don’t see Donkey Kong reaching too much of an audience that New Super Mario Bros U and Mario 3D World won’t. There are definitely fans of Nintendo who are passionate about the DK franchise, but for the most part, DK appeals to the Mario crowd. Despite that, another great game (and based on Retro’s pedigree we can assume this will be great) is always nice to have.
Third Party Support
For all the doom and gloom, Nintendo actually has more third party support than its had it recent years. The Wii U will be lacking compared to the XBox 360 and PS3, but will be in line with what is offered for the XBox One and PS4. Aside from EA’s titles and NBA 2K14, the Wii U will be getting all of the same multiplatform titles as the XBox One and PS4 will until the end of the year. The Wii U has a couple of exclusives under its belt that we already described. Time will tell how things progress from here, but for the moment at least, Nintendo is surprisingly competitive with multiplatform games.
Of the multiplatform games, the biggest sellers will likely be Rayman Legends which has been promoted via the Rayman Legends challenges app, Disney Infinity, Skylander’s Swap Force, and Just Dance 2014. Games like Just Dance and Skylanders Swap Force are especially important. These types of games make the Wii U relevant to third party developers like Ubisoft and Activision. If these games sell well, then the relationship between Nintendo and these companies will become more important leading to games like Assassin’s Creed IV and Call of Duty Ghosts being brought to the Wii U.
The Wii U has some clear advantages and disadvantages over the holiday season. Unlike the PS4 or XBox One, the Wii U does not have a strong exlusive “hardcore” title for the holiday season like Dead Rising 3, Forza 5, Killzone Shadow Fall, or Drive Club. Nintendo will also be missing out on EA’s titles due to a spat between the two companies, which means no Madden, Fifa, or Battlefield. The Wii U does have enough support from Ubisoft and Activision to salvage its third party holiday lineup, but the lack of these huge titles hurts.
On the positive side, the Wii U has the best lineup for the market that made the Wii a success by a wide margin. Obviously, Nintendo has a monopoly on Nintendo games, and will have several strong titles for longtime Nintendo fans in Wind Waker HD, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World, Sonic Lost World (not a Nintendo title, but one that resonates with old school gamers) and Pikmin 3. Nintendo also has strong casual titles in Wii Party U and Wii Fit U. In terms of titles for younger gamers and families, Nintendo is ahead by a country mile with titles like Super Mario 3D World, Sonic Lost World, Scribblenauts Unmasked, Mario and Sonic At The Olympic Winter Games, and already released titles like Lego City Undercover and New Super Mario Bros U. Nintendo’s biggest strength lies in local multiplayer. Nearly all of Nintendo’s Holiday titles will feature local co-op, and Super Mario 3D World and Wii Party U in particular will feature very strong multiplayer components. Against rivals that focus more on online gaming, this will be a big differentiating factor.
Ultimately, the comparisons that we love to make on the internet between Nintendo and their rivals aren’t all that important. The PS4 and XBox One are not going to make a strong push into Nintendo’s market, at least not based on their “hardcore” focused launch. The real question is if Nintendo can reel back in the consumers that they lost since 2011. There is no mystery behind Nintendo’s slump since the Wii’s peak. After peaking in terms of software in 2010, Nintendo has released few major titles. Since 2011, Nintendo’s biggest Wii titles have been Mario Party 9, Kirby’s Return To Dreamland, and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. With the delays of Lego City Undercover, Game and Wario, Wii Fit U, Pikmin 3, and the Wonderful 101, New Super Mario Bros U, Nintendo Land, and Sing Party were left to carry the entire Wii U launch on their shoulders. It’s no wonder that Nintendo fans have gone to greener pastures.
On paper, it sounds logical that gamers will return with Nintendo as the games roll in, but that may not be the case. Nintendo has been quiet on the console front for about 2 and a half years. This may not seem like a long time, but in terms of technology, it might as well be a decade. There has been plenty of time for people to forget about the Nintendo and the Wii.
Nintendo’s strategy is to bludgeon people with the games that made the Wii U such a success. A sequel to a game that sold 6 million copies, a sequel to a game that sold 7 million copies, a sequel to a game that sold 8 million copies, a sequel to a game that sold 10 million copies, and a sequel to a game that sold 20 million copies. Nintendo is bringing sequels to nearly all of the Wii’s biggest titles (with Smash and Mario Kart to follow in 2014) and betting that gamers are going to come back for seconds.
Will this strategy work? I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that Nintendo will be eating up a large chunk of my holiday gaming dollars, and I’m in for some fun times. Hopefully for Nintendo, I won’t be in the minority.