Does the Latest 'Donkey Kong' Suggest that Nintendo Is About to Ditch the Wii U's GamePad?

Nintendo (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) is in a tough spot. Its Wii U console can be described as a monumental failure that is on track to make the GameCube's performance look great in comparison. While the company's 3DS was the best-selling hardware of 2013, sales of the device are coming in well below original guidance numbers as well. Nintendo is in the midst of losing it handheld breadbasket to mobile. Furthermore, the company's leadership has repeatedly demonstrated a tone deaf approach to the issues at hand.

As Nintendo's hardware faces harsh market realities, the value of its characters and intellectual properties deteriorate. That's not to say that they cannot be restored given the right strategy and conditions, but games launching on the Wii U are all but assured to have a limited audience. Innovative and compelling uses of the system's expensive GamePad controller have been few and far between, and the input device appears to be a flop with consumers. Some have called for Nintendo to ditch the bulky GamePad and ship a cheaper version of its Wii U hardware. Does an upcoming first-party title suggest that such a move is on the horizon?

Donkey Kong hates the GamePad
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the follow up to 2011's highly successful Donkey Kong Country: Returns and is a title that has been touted by Nintendo as a major release for its Wii U console. As one of very few titles currently slated to hit the console in 2014, Nintendo is correct in this assertion. That said, the game is going to underperform its predecessor in a big way. Wii U's installed base is too small and sales momentum too sluggish to believe that the latest adventures of Donkey Kong and company will thrive on the market. It is possible that the title portends broader changes for the console, however.

In promoting the Wii U, Nintendo executives and PR handlers put a great deal of focus on the GamePad. Considering the success that the Wii's motion controls saw back in 2006 and reports that Wii U's chipset makes the system about as powerful as 2005's Microsoft  (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Xbox 360, that strategy is hardly surprising. What is surprising is just how poor of a job Nintendo has done in coming up with software that justifies the device. In its current state, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze ignores many of the GamePad's features.

When the screen goes black
Even games that make very minor uses of the GamePad's screen during gameplay typically display some manner of map, logo, or status display. Tropical Freeze sees the screen kept blank. As a first party title that has received a substantial development cycle and was even delayed from a 2013 release into 2014, there are very few possible excuses or explanations for this. The game is not so graphically intensive as to make rendering images for two screens technically difficult, and Nintendo would seemingly have an interest in ensuring that its games show the value of the Wii U package. Of course, if Nintendo is planning to ship a version of the Wii U sans GamePad, this all starts to make a bit more sense.

Both Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 are trouncing the Wii U when it comes to momentum. Each system could conceivably pass Wii U's LTD sales within a matter of months, despite the fact that Wii U launched a year earlier. In the UK, the PS4 and Xbox One each outsold the Wii U's lifetime total in a matter of days.

Nintendo flirts with irrelevance
While launch numbers are not the best indicators, the PlayStation 4 sold 4.2 million units in 2013, while the Xbox One sold 3 million units. Each console sold more in approximately six weeks time than the 2.8 million Wii Us that Nintendo expects to post in the entirety of its current fiscal year.These systems are offering substantially more robust software lineups and third party support than Wii U can offer. They also offer superior hardware, media capabilities, and online ecosystems. This essentially reduces the Wii U's pitch to two points: 1.) Nintendo games and 2.) the GamePad. Market results suggest that most consumers don't care about the GamePad, so what you're basically left with is a technologically stilted box that plays Nintendo games.

Is it time for a new U?
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has recently stated that additional price cuts are unlikely to help Wii U. He is likely correct in this assertion. The Wii U faces the task of overcoming both its own fundamental deficiencies and those inherent to Nintendo at large. Ditching the GamePad would give the company a chance to rebrand the Wii U hardware set and attempt some manner of a relaunch. It's a stop-gap strategy, but one that's worth pursuing. The company's 2014 Wii U games look to make minimal use of the once central GamePad. Why should consumers line up to pay for features they don't use or care about?

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Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 8:47 AM, virgilcole wrote:

    Every time Nintendo does something these days it seems like they are trying to alienate themselves from their fan-base.

    Stop with the gimmicks, and just make a console that can compete, and one that makes third party developers WANT to develop for the console.

    In a way, Nintendo can take some of the blame for The Xbox Ones troubles.

    With all the hoopla around the Wii's motion controls, Microsoft had to come up with it's own motion gimmick, and the Kinect was born.

    Now they made the boneheaded decision to REQUIRE it with every Xbox One console.

    No one wants motion controls, or gimmicks with the controllers anymore. When Nintendo and Microsoft learn that they will both be back in the running.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 9:04 AM, yuoke wrote:

    ^The gamepad isnt a gimmick though, it is a regular controller with a screen on it that works very well. Motion controls are basically not used anymore or are optional. The wii u's issue is that it has a major lack of games currently, that is it.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 10:02 AM, deputyspade wrote:

    "Why should consumers line up to pay for features they don't use or care about?"

    Also applies to Microsoft's little kinect 2.0 peripheral. When are they going to strip that thing out and sell a kinectless unit?

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 10:34 AM, jlahoud wrote:

    Hey Motley fools be respectful and stop writing the stupid articles against Nintendo...we know you hate The big N but stop this non sense...Nintendo will never abandon the gamepad...not because donkey kong will not use all of it that other games will not use the full shut up because we are fed up with your speculating non sence in the video game do not know anything about gaming and there you spread these rumors

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 1:36 PM, bmprsvz777 wrote:

    Keith Noonan... This person writes about gaming but knows nothing about it. Yes, he is probably very stupid, and has no common sense at all. I do not say gamepad is perfect but Nintendo just can not afford to ditch it for many reasons. What about those 95 games that already do support it? What about those 6.000.000 users that already do use it? Will Nintendo tell them: no gamepad support from tomorrow, get rid of it...? What kind of message to loyal customers would that be? That would be their last and worst bussiness decision, after that, no one would trust them anymore.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 5:10 PM, rogersjam wrote:

    We just got our Wii U this week. I love it. My 13 year old plays Steam on PC, has PS4 and Xbox 360 and he still plays the Wii U. My 4 year old and 8 year old both love it. I am about to purchase a 2nd one. I may go used from ebay with this purchase.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 7:25 PM, Hutchitron wrote:

    Keith, your idea of Nintendo separating from the GamePad is simply not going to happen. The best selling games on the Wii U are integrated with it. Popular games that would necessitate the purchase of a $150 peripheral.. Even if they dropped it to $100 - it's not feasible. They may realize the GamePad is a flop, but they have to be committed to it for this generation. There has already been enough confusion regarding the Wii U as a peripheral of the Wii itself. Why dig a bigger hole?

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 9:01 PM, Nocturneking wrote:

    I realize that the Wii U is not as powerful as the Ps4 and the Xbox one and i also realize that it doesn't have some of the features that those two systems have...However with that said or actually written i do think that the Wii U is a good system and feel that the Gamepad isn't a gimmick because it does serve certain purposes in Madden 13 for instance you can call plays on it,In Batman Arkham City it serves as a map and is also useful for switching between different gadgets,and it can also be used to play games on although not all of the wii u games support this feature,if Nintendo has made any mistakes with this system it is that 1-It should be up to par with the Ps4 and Xbox one

    2-They haven't marketed the Wii U correctly

    3-They should have had either Dvd or Bluray added to the mix cmon Nintendo your lagging when it comes to that.

    4-They did not have a good library of games available at the launch of the Wii U.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 9:25 PM, ZephyrGumby wrote:

    i think that Nintendo's move on the gamepad will be indicative of their plans for the Wii U itself. I think, if they do nothing with the system and keep the gamepad as part of the base configuration, it will be their way of saying "we're sticking with this to the end of the Wii U" which will mean they don't plan to keep the Wii U in their lineup for very long before they replace it with a new console.

    Removing the gamepad from the base configuration would be equivalent to saying " we're behind the Wii U and we're willing to do what is necessary to make it successful" At that point, they drop the price to $149-$199 without the gamepad then re=label software that requires the game pad as "requires Wii U Display Gamepad" Create a $199 bundle with New Super Mario Bros and they've got a hit.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 9:38 PM, woody2363 wrote:

    I just finished watching Netflix on my Wii U. I love the system, and I love the controller. It's not for die-hard gamers - there's already 2 consoles from Microsoft and Sony that can compete against each other for that. Wii U is for people who love the Nintendo family of characters that you can't get anywhere else (Zelda, Mario, DK, etc.). I hope they don't sell out and listen to all these people suggesting they pimp out their characters and games. I grew up on them. AND I don't want to play them on my phone. Bejeweled type games on my phone are fine to pass a few minutes in a doctor's office...BUT they certainly don't compare to the gaming experience you get sitting in your den in front of a big screen TV. Last, Nintendo is making a mistake if they're putting out new games without integrating the gamepad controller. It is great! It feels great, works great, and gives me a functionality that I do want to see used in future games. Yes, I will be purchasing one of the other gaming consoles, as well (like many of my friends, we own more than one at a time). But don't, from a user's perspective, for one minute say the Wii U is a flop. Nintendo just has to get their act together, put out killer games, and utilize the screen controller!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 11:01 PM, jlahoud wrote:

    If you read carefully... You see at the bottom of the article that motley fool have shares in wonder they always write the articles against Nintendo...

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 12:25 AM, dancodd wrote:

    Nintendo just needs to simplify what the gamepad does to consumers. First the best feature of all is being able to play games off screen which is an amazing feature that I use a lot. Second I wouldn't mind if it just showed maps like in Batman games was great not to hit start to go back and forth between the map all the time or in zombie U having all your equipment on the gamepad was nice. Finally it can be used as a tablet. You just use those three features and explain them to the consumers and it would do better. Nintendo's main mistake was not be graphically up with the others not the gamepad. I feel the gamepad is genius I love it.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 8:40 AM, Stealth2k wrote:

    no, stupid.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 11:12 PM, trevelyan8 wrote:

    This statement alone proves you don't know your ass from a hat. "The game is not so graphically intensive as to make rendering images for two screens technically difficult,"

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 2:38 AM, Valentine26 wrote:

    No they are not ditching the Wii U pad. They might make another attachment maybe much like they did with the bongo with jungle beat on the gamecube.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 10:58 AM, rwbean86 wrote:

    While I like the idea of a "new" Nintendo console that plays the same games as Wii u, but without the gamepad I couldn't disagree more with Noonan's assertion that Nintendo has only 2 pitch points.

    There are at least 2 more pitch points that Nintendo can leverage. 1) A family friendly lineup of games. 2) Price.

    Noonan is under valuing the impact of those two things on the original Wii's unprecedented success in the game console market. Nintendo has yet to market the Wii u effectively to the parents who bought the original Wii console. If they can do that they will turn the Wii u console and the company around. Dropping the $ from 300 to 225 or 200 would put the Wii u in the same ballpark as a Kindle Fire. What parent would not cough up 200 buck for their kid to play full blown versions of Nintendo's games?

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 2:20 AM, cjsica wrote:

    this guy is a moron lol who the heck is he to assume we dont use the gamepad fetures i love the game pad and its the cadalac of controllers and nintendo aint going to abandon it ever really dude their whole system is designed around it you cant even use eshop without it if you owned one you would know this you are a complete and utter idiot lmaof who gave this guy the aproval on this article i own all three systems and another thing phone games suck and nobody who calls themself a gamer plays phone games for more then ten mins a week you pppl are in some imaginary world where you think tablets and cellphone are going to take over for games your delusionallol please for christ sake fire this man and get someone who actully owns a system more recently then 1990 this guy just gave me a brain tumor with this idiotc dribble

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