Can the Latest 3D Mario Help Save Nintendo's Wii U?

After a fairly successful launch, the Nintendo  (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  )  Wii U has failed to garner significant sales traction, which has created doubts about the company's market savvy and ability to compete in a changing industry. The explanations for why the system has failed to catch on are many, but one of the most repeated arguments is that the console lacks standout software that justifies its feature set and price tag.

That may be changing. With the release of Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo has delivered an impressive critical hit that looks to be giving the system a degree of momentum. Is a high-quality entry in Nintendo's most loved and successful franchise enough to alter the Wii U's fate?

Extra life?
The releases of the Sony  (NYSE: SNE  ) PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft  (NASDAQ: MSFT  )  Xbox One have long threatened to make the Wii U irrelevant this holiday season. After roughly a year on the market, Nintendo's system faces an early demise if it stumbles through its second holiday as little more than an afterthought.

With news that the Xbox One has almost eclipsed the Wii U's LTD sales in the UK and reports of sold out PlayStation 4s, this represents a likely possibility.

The new systems bring the promise of more advanced hardware, online features, and media capabilities. However, it appears that neither system currently offers an exclusive title with the level of prestige that has accompanied Super Mario 3D World.

Battle for the holiday spotlight
The PS4 and Xbox One have delivered somewhat predictable arrays of third-party software amid small selections of retail exclusives and downloadable indie titles. For now, each new system is primarily selling on future promise and offering slightly improved versions of cross-generational software.

The fact that Nintendo's latest entry in the mainline 3D Mario series has landed with such strong critical reception gives the company a much-needed opportunity to change the narrative about its Wii U platform. Publications such as The New York Times have put forth articles claiming that the Wii U is the only next-gen system to have a game worth playing this holiday. That said, considerable evidence suggests that the Wii U cannot be saved, and that Mario 3D World will have minimal impact.

Leveling down
When Nintendo issued its latest quarterly results, many analysts were quick to point out and deride the fact that it had failed to revise its mind-numbingly optimistic target of 9 million Wii U's sold in the fiscal year. Having sold only 460,000 in its first two quarters, CEO Satoru Iwata sought to remind investors and the media that one game can change everything. To be sure, Nintendo and Iwata have placed great hopes in the possibility that its iconic plumber's latest outing will alter the gaming landscape and give Wii U its moment in the sun. Unfortunately, early sales tracking indicates that the title's performance will disappoint.

According to Japanese sales tracker Famitsu, Super Mario 3D World moved approximately 107,000 units in its first weekly tracking period. This marks the lowest recorded debut for a 3D Mario title. For comparison, Super Mario Sunshine sold approximately 280,000 units in roughly the same time period on the company's GameCube platform.

The GameCube, although profitable for Nintendo, was a struggling platform that saw the company lose significant mind and market share. That Super Mario 3D World is underselling Sunshine by a considerable margin suggests a dire situation for Nintendo. In fact, it confirms that the Wii U is on track to become a failure of colossal proportions and that a recovery is out of the question.

Time for a change of strategy?
In following up the GameCube, Iwata famously stated that the company should not be in business if its goal for subsequent home consoles was to outdo that system's modest performance. While the Wii proved to be a tremendous success by most measures, the Wii U is on track to come in well below the GameCube's 21 million LTD sales.

With some UK retailers dropping the console altogether, the Japanese market showing a loss of interest in console gaming, and the Wii U's failure to appeal to its most important market, North America, the system is in serious danger of selling approximately half of what the GameCube managed.

If the apparent collapse of Nintendo in the console market reads as good news for Sony and Microsoft, give pause. It is still too early to tell if a broader industry contraction is under way. A Nintendo console has never performed as poorly as the Wii U and never before have the company's industry-shaping IPs looked less capable of carrying a system. Super Mario 3D World will not alter the Wii U's fate, but without breakthrough software, Sony and Microsoft's new consoles could face similar disappointments.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 10:53 AM, bmprsvz777 wrote:

    Dear M.F.,

    this is your 25-th article about Wii U failure. Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective. But what if Nintendo objective is not outselling PS4? What if they just want to make beautiful games and stay profitable? You can continue in your doom and gloom writing but it's getting boring. OK, so you convinced us, we accepted your vision, Nintendo is bancrupt tomorrow, our children play happily GTA and Battlefield during christmass and your income has doubled because your predictions were right.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 2:54 PM, cmsboy6 wrote:

    You guys write the same stuff every day

    "The wii U is dead can blah blah save them?"

    It gets old

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 6:03 PM, RAllenBooks wrote:

    I think Nintendo is missing a huge opportunity by keeping all their in house games on their hardware only. I have to say I will probably never buy another console again (the last one I bought was the PS2). I am all PC now and my rig can handle any game out there - even Battlefield 4 at ultra settings. SOme of the older Mario games like Mario 64 were fun. However, those were really the only reason to buy the system. I don't see myself dumping $250 on a Wii U just to play one game. It makes no sense. If they ever decided to make their games for PC, I would certainly jump at the opportunity to play them. I just don't see the point in locking myself into hardware that is so proprietary and cannot be upgraded.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 9:40 PM, Efernal wrote:

    How often are you going to beat this dead horse?

    I'll give you and everyone a good clue(s) as to why the Nintendo Wii U will never be a big hit with consumers.

    #1 Everyone in the casual gamer market already has a Wii.

    #2 If the Wii U can not beat my 6 year old budget (Under $700 custom built) gaming pc that runs Windows XP Home edition, It will not get the 3rd party support that is needed to impress gamers into buying the system.

    #3 When a company like EA comes out and bluntly tells reporters that they are not going to support it, Your ship has already sailed and you are still on the dock holding the ticket.

    And to the writers for the Motley Fool, Please do us all a favor and find a new dead horse to beat.

    You could start with Windows 8.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 10:40 PM, mitchellrcole82 wrote:

    I have the PS4 and it sux if you are not some multiplayer hack. I love my Wii U! Same garbage every time from those invested in Xbox and Microsoft. Never will I trust a supposed "gaming" blogger from Motley Fools because is they who are fools. Numbers are numbers meant to be lived down or broken. COD and BF4 have sold record numbers and have had HUGE problems. You almost have to sell HUGE numbers just to offset all the players who get screwed over all the time. Need any new patch COD players or GTAV players!!

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 12:00 PM, shortnuke wrote:

    I've yet to see an article that addresses the underlying reason for the poor sales of the Wii U. I believe that Nintendo failed to appeal to their core group of consumers. That group isn't the casual gamer, but rather the parents of the young, casual gamers.

    In my case, I never planned on purchasing the Wii until I saw my neighbor's 5-yr old playing the boxing game. The controls were so easy to understand that I felt my 5-yr old daughter could enjoy it, and that we could all play the games as a family. Since they, we've racked up a lot of hours on Mario Cart and the Lego franchises.

    The problem with Wii U can be summed up in one word: Gamepad. It adds a significant cost to the system and immediately turns off a parent looking to purchase an easy-to-play system. That thing just looks way too complicated.

    Nintendo would have been better off developing an interface for tablets, smart phones, and even the DS series that could accomplish the same thing. This is essentially what MS and Sony are doing. The console could have come in at under $200 then and would present a similar nunchuck/motion sensing control to the Wii.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 6:45 PM, bk70 wrote:

    My daughter has the Wii U, and it's a great system. It really is. But when you come out with a system at the end of 2012 with a series of launch titles and then pretty much do not put out ANY games for the next year, you're not going to get people to buy the system -- it screams of past video game system failures like Nintendo's Virtual Boy, Sega's Dreamcast, or the NEC Turbo-Graphx-16. Santa spent a lot of money on the Wii U, so I hope it succeeds -- but that rush to market before the games were ready was a huge tactical error.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 6:47 PM, bk70 wrote:

    The Gamepad really isn't that complicated to use -- it's fairly simple and intuitive to use. And many games still use the old Wii remotes, so don't be scared off by the Wii U because of the Gamepad.

    \

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