The Wii U has been something of a media punching bag since its release. After outpacing the Wii's launch period sales, its successor has floundered in the market and looks poised for irrelevance if Nintendo (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY ) cannot engineer solutions to get the console moving again. Must-have software releases for the system have been few and far between, but there are a series of compelling titles releasing in the holiday window that should give the system a modest jump-start. Nintendo has also introduced a new Deluxe Wii U SKU that is bundled with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD at an MSRP of $299.99. With soon to be released consoles from Sony (NYSE: SNE ) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) soaking up most of the holiday hype, is Nintendo's recent move enough to propel the lagging Wii U through the holiday?
Link's most difficult challenge yet
The Wii U is clearly in trouble, more trouble than can be remedied by a $50 price cut and bundling a new game with the system. The new $299 Zelda SKU will not fix the copious image problems facing the console. It will not miraculously reform the widespread consumer perception that the device is little more than an add-on for yesteryear's Wii console. It will not turn the Gamepad into the groundbreaking, disruptive technology that can inspire creative software implementation and propel otherwise dated hardware to the forefront of the collective consumer conscious. No, what the price cut and bundling have the opportunity to do is endear the system to an apparently shrinking group of hardcore Nintendo devotees.
If Nintendo's primary concern was market share, the company would have instituted a much more dramatic price cut. All sales reporting following the console's launch window suggests that drastic measures are needed to revive a flat-lining Wii U. Unfortunately for Nintendo, its hands have been tied by the expensive technology found in the system's Gamepad controller and its commitment to operating profits that now appear unachievable. With these elements in mind, Nintendo's move to improve the Wii U's value proposition is better than nothing, but not the game changer that the console needs.
Nintendo's selection of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD fits the narrative that the company is scrambling to win the support of hardcore fans who the company expected to have already flocked to the device. That said, of the games that it could have bundled with the system, the Zelda remake is not the best choice. On the one hand, the series stands as one of the most critically heralded in the medium, and The Wind Waker is a title that has grown in stature since its initial release on Nintendo's GameCube back in 2003. On the other, the series is not known for its pick-up-and-play appeal and its titles no longer have the industry-defining reputation that they once carried. Considering the Wii console's 100 million unit installed base and the series' pedigree, sales of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword at approximately 3.52 million can be viewed as disappointing. Compare that figure to approximately 28.02 million units sold for New Super Mario Bros. Wii and it becomes apparent that Nintendo has bigger guns that are more capable of reaching a mainstream audience.
Nintendo vs. new and shiny
The impending releases of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are seriously problematic for Nintendo. The new machines from Sony and Microsoft will launch with superior technology, online networks that are considerably more advanced, and media suites and user interface systems that dwarf what the Wii U can provide. Most importantly, these devices are launching with the almost guaranteed promise of healthy future support. Even Microsoft's Xbox One, which stumbled out of the gate with media gaffes and a product vision that had to be substantially revised, is sure to receive solid support throughout its lifetime. The system has the benefit of being very similar in architecture to the PlayStation 4. Even if Sony's console were to establish a substantial sales lead, which early reports suggest may occur, these similarities and the ease of porting mean that the Xbox One will continue to receive substantive support.
Turning to old, mustachioed friends?
With new entrants from Sony and Microsoft and the degree to which Nintendo has mismanaged the year head start that its system should have enjoyed, the Wii U's chances of becoming a hot holiday item are slim. The Zelda bundle could be enough to court some hardcore gamers who have, thus far, decided to pass on the Wii U, but it's not the hail mary pass the system needs. Rumors have already surfaced that Nintendo will also pursue a New Super Mario Bros. U/New Super Luigi U bundle. Given that Mario platformers have a much greater mainstream appeal than The Wind Waker HD, this is a move you can expect Nintendo to make. Even so, the company will have to do more than cross its fingers and hope that the plumbers know CPR.