There's a sentiment among gamers this year that the Wii U was dead on arrival. There have been comments saying that this will be Nintendo's last console, and that the publisher will focus on only handheld titles, or even go third party like Sega did a decade or so ago. What a lot of younger gamers don't know is that this sentiment has followed Nintendo around since the N64. People love to say Nintendo is doomed to fail. And time and time again Nintendo proves people wrong. I've come to learn to never count Nintendo out.
There are a couple reasons for this cycle of doubt followed by massive success. I think one of the foremost is that Nintendo consoles and handhelds tend to launch rather poorly. While people today remember the DS and Wii as the biggest successes of this generation, during their first year neither console proved to be a massive hit. Then word of mouth built up, and a couple Mario games and a system redesign later both the Wii and DS were selling like hotcakes. Nintendo's main flaw is their lack of software early on. Now almost all systems suffer from a light first year release schedule, but Nintendo suffers more than most for a couple of reasons. One is that people buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games. Until there is a 3D Mario game, a new Zelda game, a new Smash Brothers, and a new Zelda, a lot of people just aren't interested. A lot of people talk about the concept of a "killer app" or a game that is so good it is worth buying a console for. For Nintendo that killer app will almost certainly involve Mario or Zelda. And while New Super Mario Brothers U is a nice start, there have been a few too many of those games coming out, and a 2D platformer isn't exactly the best way to prove the merits of a new console.
Outside of Mario, Nintendo has only released three games for the Wii U, Nintendo Land, SING Party and Game and Wario. That's it. No really, I checked. Two mini-game collections, a dance game, and a 2D platformer. I don't think the Wii U is dead. I think it hasn't even begun. It's almost like Nintendo put the system out a year early without any games ready for it just to beat Sony and Microsoft to the punch. In fact that is most likely exactly what happened. In a couple weeks, though, Nintendo will release its first fully 3D game for the Wii U, Pikmin 3. If you've seen the videos starting to circulate online, you can see that it is a truly beautiful game that puts the vast majority of current gen titles to shame both technically and artistically. It's the type of system showcase that would have made a big impact six months ago. Now with much better looking games on the horizon it is a bit hard to be too excited for the visuals of the Wii U. And while we all love to say gameplay is king, let's face it, for the average person, visuals are going to be a huge factor in deciding what games to get. If it doesn't look good in an ad on TV or on the Internet then chances are it won't sell well. Because of that, Nintendo has an uphill battle when it comes to marketing its games. Because, let's face it, few companies make better playing games than Nintendo. But that is something incredibly hard to show off, especially with the crazy control schemes for something like Pikmin 3.
So that said, what does Nintendo need to do? In reality not all that much. Pikmin may be a hard sell. And The Wonderful 101 is going to be all but impossible to market. But then next year we get our 3D Mario and our Mario Kart and our Smash Brothers and maybe even our Zelda and this year won't matter. You might say that there is no way Nintendo can succeed releasing the same four games yet another time, but look at the 3DS. It went from a disappointment to a major hit as soon as that Mario Kart and Mario game got out there. If next Christmas the Wii U still looks to be in bad shape, then it will be okay to start predicting doom and gloom. But Nintendo systems haven't had great first years since the SNES for a console and GBA for a handheld.
To put it in perspective, sales of the DS more than doubled during its second year on the market. It's big breakout moment? Q4 2005 right after the release of Nintendogs and Mario Kart DS when sales essentially doubled. Point is that games sell systems and Nintendo is notoriously slow at putting out new games. Give Nintendo a year to turn things around. Chances are the Wii U will not be the success that the Wii was but it doesn't need to be to keep Nintendo going. The Genesis sold less than a third as many copies as the Wii. The SNES sold only half. The Gamecube sold only a fifth as many copies. Nintendo has most likely hit its peak at least for the foreseeable future. But anyone saying that the Wii U is finished should hold judgment. Nintendo very rarely strikes out. It may take a while for them to warm up, but eventually they'll manage something.