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Can Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. Save Nintendo’s Wii U?

It's no secret that Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) Wii U is falling behind Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) PS4 and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Xbox One in the next-gen home console race. The Wii U has sold 6.2 million units worldwide, putting it between Microsoft's 4.5 million Xbox Ones (5 million sold-in) and Sony's 7.7 PS4s, but it launched a full year before both consoles. However, I think investors and gamers shouldn't overlook the strong sales potential of two key titles for the console -- Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Both titles could provide a much-needed mushroom boost for the Wii U, which only sold 310,000 units last quarter.

Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Source: Nintendo.

Two of Nintendo's most enduring franchises
Mario Kart 8, which will be released in North America and Europe on May 30, is the latest installment of the 22-year-old racing franchise. The series, which debuted on the Super NES, has sold over 100 million copies to date. The previous home console title in the series, Mario Kart Wii (2008), sold a whopping 34.4 million units and helped Nintendo eventually sell 101 million Wiis worldwide.

Super Smash Bros. debuted 15 years ago. The first three titles -- which were released on the N64, GameCube, and Wii -- have together sold 24.8 million units. The Wii version, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, was the top seller of the series with sales of 12.1 million units. This summer, Nintendo will release Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, followed by Super Smash Bros. for Wii U by the end of the year. The two versions will be cross-compatible with one another.

Super Mario Kart (1992) and Super Smash Bros. (1999). Source: Nintendo.

To understand how huge Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. could be for Nintendo, consider these numbers.

The best-selling title so far on the Wii U has been New Super Mario Bros. U, which has sold 3.97 million copies. By comparison, the best-selling titles for the PS4 and Xbox One are Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) Call of Duty: Ghosts and Electronic Arts' (NASDAQ: EA  ) Titanfall, respectively. The PS4 version of Call of Duty: Ghosts has sold 2.23 million copies, while the Xbox One version of Titanfall has sold 1.78 million copies.

If sales of either Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U can hit 5 million to 10 million, it would be a huge accomplishment for Nintendo. Nintendo's strategy of bundling those exclusive games with its consoles could move a lot of Wii Us off the shelves.

Can Nintendo move forward while constantly remaking old games?
Although Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. represent excellent opportunities to get Wii U sales back on track, the two titles also define Nintendo's habit of remaking its past hits repeatedly rather than developing new IPs.

When Super Mario Kart was released in 1992, it was a highly original idea that gave birth to the whole kart racing genre. In 1999, the original Super Smash Bros. tossed Nintendo's flagship characters into a chaotic combat arena with easy-to-learn controls. Super Smash Bros.' gameplay has since been copied by titles such as DreamMix TV World Fighters, Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble, and PlayStation Battle Royale.

Both titles were considered revolutionary. Mario Kart simplified racing games, which were often considered difficult to play due to unforgiving controls. Super Smash Bros. simplified fighting games, which had fallen into the habit of imitating the more complex controls of Capcom's Street Fighter franchise. This was Nintendo at its best -- the same brilliant company that reinvented the platformer with Super Mario Bros. and the adventure game with The Legend of Zelda.

Nintendo at its best: Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Source: Nintendo.

Unfortunately, that's a side of the company we haven't seen for awhile. Rather than take risks on launching new genres, Nintendo is content to remake old games with incremental improvements.

That's not to say that these games can't still be great -- Mario Kart 8 currently holds an impressive 89% rating at review aggregator site Metacritic -- but it's disappointing to see Nintendo not trying harder to remind gamers how great it can be.

The game's not over yet for Nintendo
In conclusion, if Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. sales come in strong, the Wii U could still have a fighting chance.

This could set it up for a strong comeback when other eagerly anticipated exclusive titles -- like Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2, and the elusive Legend of Zelda Wii U -- finally arrive. However, if sales of Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. come up short, Nintendo might have to finally develop new IPs instead of relying on its older ones -- and that might not be a bad thing at all.

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Read/Post Comments (12) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2014, at 11:28 PM, jacobsclub72 wrote:

    This proves that journalists are getting lazier and lazier shoving the same bullcrap for 2 years.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 12:06 AM, Manaphy2007 wrote:

    why do i keep reading any of these articles about nintendo is doomed and you guys have "proof" on this pathetic site? this will be the last time i come to this piece of crap site, if i get banned then good

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 6:57 AM, GrooveMachine wrote:

    How is the Wii U "lagging behind" when its sold more than the Xbox machine? You even have the numbers contradict your own statement.

    Garbage clickbait journalism. Every time Nintendo has some good news (like MK8, which should boost sales and increase their market share) leave it to the Fool to go on another bash-fest on Nintendo.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 7:36 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    -- "but it launched a FULL YEAR before both consoles."

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 7:38 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    And for you guys who think that I'm "bashing" Nintendo, please read the body and conclusion of this article, rather than just the opening paragraph. Thanks.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 8:12 AM, targeyone wrote:

    Mr. Sun,

    I feel a bit sorry that the comments on your article quickly devolve into this, but unfortunately your peers on this site do nothing but write negatively spun click-bait articles about Nintendo, and have been doing so for years. I'm afraid they are doing you a great disservice when you actually write out a non-biased article.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your article, in that the Wii U may finally catch the break it needs this year with some very big titles dropping, but if it doesn't happen this year, Nintendo will have to completely change their game to right the ship.

    However, I don't think your assertion that Nintendo is content to "remake old games with incremental improvements" is entirely correct.

    You give some good examples of how Nintendo has re-invented genres in the past, but how many genres can you re-invent? Nintendo defined the platformer with Super Mario Bros., Nintendo defined the racer, and invented the cart racer at the same time with Mario Kart, Nintendo defined the 3D action game with Zelda for for the 64, Nintendo invented the ring-out brawler with Smash Bros., Nintendo re-defined the monster-based RPG with Pokemon, the list goes on...

    This is far more than any other video game company has ever done, and in each instance, served as blueprints that other developers would base their games off of for entire generations. Yet all we do is demand they do more. Perhaps the only genre they've yet to seriously tackle is the FPS (which scarcely needs another entry with the current flood), although they did just dabble with it, and with F2P, with Sub Wars that released just this year.

    It's true we see the same IPs incredibly often (and there are a few obvious cash-ins, such as New Super Mario Bros., that are solid games in their own right, but seem to be content without innovating at all) but many games that star familiar IPs by Nintendo play completely different than past entries.

    At the same time, to make the assertion that Nintendo is content to repeat its past is to completely ignore what they've been doing on the hardware front.

    What other console maker took as big a risk with completely re-inventing the video game controller with the Wii? And again with the Wii U? With glasses free 3D? Adding a 2nd screen with the DS?

    You can argue about the ultimate relevance of such efforts in the over-all industry, but in order to re-define something, you have to try new things.

    And currently, Nintendo is trying more new things than anyone else.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 8:34 AM, Tragi90 wrote:

    Actually, Mr. Myamoto has announced that they are making a new IP for the Wii U. Whether it is a new genre or not remains to be seen.

    Also, they are remaking the games because they are successful. Just like Activision releasing Call of Duty or Skylanders year after year. Or Ubisoft with Assassin's Creed. People want it. SO the developers keep making it.

    I full heartedly agree there should be more newer games out there. But us as the consumer have to show we want it first. And with us always going after the same thing year after year, that seems unlikely.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 8:38 AM, CNewsMuses wrote:

    Mario Kart 8 is here to save the Wii U! (comic)

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 9:19 AM, ThisIsMadness99 wrote:

    For once I agree with an article on Nintendo is always playing it safe when it comes to games, reusing old ideas in slightly newer ways. Let's just hope that Miyamoto's new IPs will be something unique and innovative.

    Also Leo I think all of us would appreciate it if you told your peers to stop making clickbait Nintendoom articles. No one ever writes about the PS4's drop in sales in Japan (last week it was beaten by the Wii U) or about the drought of games on all of these consoles that are hurting sales.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 6:20 PM, WolframHart wrote:

    Were Wii Sports and Wii Fit not new IPs? How about NintendoLand?

    However, despite my questions, I do think Nintendo needs to either deliver new IP that captures its dedicated player base (not grandparents and girlfriends) or deliver IP that utilizes the GamePad in unique and compelling ways that can appeal to grandparents and girlfriends.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 8:39 PM, LexPro4 wrote:

    The thing is, a console launching a year early is actually a drawback because:

    •People want to check the competition out before buying a console, and if the competition is delayed, the console won't sell

    •Nintendo had less time to develop the Wii U

    •People didn't know it existed

    •People who did know it existed thought it was an add-on for the Wii because of its early launch, as if the 7th gen hadn't ended yet

  • Report this Comment On May 31, 2014, at 10:23 PM, DividesBy0 wrote:

    To say that Nintendo needs to deliver new IP and they don't take risks isn't exactly accurate.

    Regarding their perceived risk aversion, the WiiU Gamepad and Wii Remotes show a commitment to risk taking behaviors for entire hardware generations. The benefit of these risks can be debated, but they risks. I won't argue this point much since Targeyone already did that, but personally, I think the Gamepad is great. If I have exclusive access to the TV (which more often than not, I don't), I can play games on the TV. Otherwise, I can still play those same games on the Gamepad. The time I can spend playing PS3 is severely limited by that specific situation.

    Using Remote Play on the PS4 requires an additional investment of $200 for a PS Vita. Microsoft made their Smart Glass app to provide second screen functionality for it's games. That indicates they see value in second-screen features for gaming. Unfortunately, these features are will be afterthoughts for games on these systems since gamers aren't guaranteed to have these additional items. These features have been afterthoughts for the WiiU as well, but every developer can make games with the Gamepad in mind.

    The WiiU also introduced MiiVerse. While that doesn't make the WiiU a must-own system, it's definitely an interesting feature that I do participate in. I don't spend hours in it like some people do with Facebook, but I also don't participate on Facebook at all. MiiVerse creates a good community for sharing information without seeing obnoxious things you have no interest in, like pictures of what people had for lunch. The way MiiVerse is incorporated into games like New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo Land, Wind Waker HD, etc. is a new twist with a very Nintendo feel.

    My main reason for commenting , however, pertains to new IP. Nintendo could make a brand new shooter game starring a brand new character named Beef Hunkman that does everything other shooters do. Would it sell? Maybe, but it's the gameplay that will determine whether or not it's a good, fun and successful game. Having new IP for the sake of having new IP isn't going to work.

    Nintendo has already stated that when they make new IP, it's based on whether or not they have existing IP that fits a new gameplay concept they are working with. Using F.L.U.D.D. in Super Mario Sunshine makes that game unique in the Mario series. It was a concept that (arguably) fit an IP. We haven't seen a new F-Zero game because Nintendo doesn't know what new things they could add to it.

    Furthermore, Nintendo *is* working on new IP. It's quite possibly related to the trademark they filed for "Project S.T.E.A.M. Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace." If that is their new IP for WiiU, you can be sure it will have a new or unique gameplay mechanic that didn't fit into their existing (and vast) portfolio of characters and game types.

    Nintendo Land has already been mentioned as a new IP this console generation. Yes, it borrows from IP that already exists, but it's used in a way that's different from how the IPs in Nintendo Land are traditionally used. By that criteria, you also have NES Remix as an IP. There has been several new IPs created over the lifespan of the 3DS as well. The most recent example is Rusty's Real Deal Baseball.

    The Wonderful 101 for WiiU is a brand new IP. Nintendo helped fund development and published the game, even though Platinum games created the concept and game. That game received an overall rating of 78 on Metacritic and is exclusive to WiiU. It's a good game and a new IP, but hasn't driven sales. Creating new IP clearly isn't the silver bullet Nintendo needs. It's merely one piece of the puzzle.

    Personally, I would argue that the biggest issue Nintendo faces in reaching the audience it needs is perception. People tend to be dismissive because they feel Nintendo is "kiddy" and has cartoonish graphics. It just doesn't have those "edgy," hyper-violent games that define whether or not you're a "real gamer". Bayonetta 2 is on the way and will help fill that niche, but it's not enough. In addition to that, there are a couple other things that feed into this perception.

    Nintendo only has Nintendo games. It needs better third party support. Ubisoft has been a good supporter of the WiiU, but that support has tapered off. It appears that Watchdogs is the only thing we know Ubi is bringing to the WiiU this year. This is unfortunate since the game has already released for other systems and isn't even developed by the same team that made the other versions. EA's April Fools mocking was very telling.

    Activision has released the two most recent Call of Duty games on the WiiU, but the sales paled in comparison to how they sold on every other system. Activision also hasn't bothered giving WiiU any of the DLC that every other system has received. Publishers will say that poor sales lead to lack of DLC support. Gamers will say they won't buy the game because there's no DLC support. Those gamers are much more likely to buy those games for XBox and Playstation because they know there's going to be a bigger and more active community that receives the DLC. This feeds the perception that Nintendo systems don't have third party games. Nintendo needs to have a system with incentives for third parties to bring their multiplatform titles to.

    Another issue with third party support is the system itself. Despite the fact that Batman: Arkham Origins was released on the WiiU (even though it was missing features), Batman: Arkham Knight will be skipping the WiiU. The most basic reason is PS4 and XBOne have the raw power necessary to drive the Batmobile the way you would expect to be able to drive it. This follows a trend Nintendo has gotten itself into. Ever since the N64, there has been at least one major drawback to each Nintendo console.

    With the N64, it was the use of cartridges instead of CD-Rom technology. Nintendo lost Final Fantasy to the Playstation One. Other major games skipped the system because of the memory restriction and high production costs of cartridges.

    The Gamecube was a more powerful system than the PS2, but the game discs were only 1.6 GB compared to the 4.7 GB of PS2 and the original Xbox. The shape of the buttons on the controller didn't help the situation either.

    The Wii was less powerful than the PS3 and XB360, had a completely different set of controls and the online features were very lacking.

    Now the WiiU has an improved, but not as good as it should be, setup for online gaming. It doesn't have a unified account system, downloadable games are bound to consoles. It's also much less powerful than the PS4 and XBOne.

    Ever since the Wii, Nintendo has been considered a secondary console, something to get once you already have a PS or XB. This only works if you have both the time and money for more than one system. People want a variety of games. The only variety gamers get with a Nintendo system is whatever games Nintendo makes.

    Ultimately, Nintendo systems need to become primary consoles again. The only way they'll be able to achieve this by is releasing systems with enough power to run the same third party games the other two consoles get, then getting those games. Add in the Nintendo exclusive titles, more "mature" games and whatever unique Nintendo innovation comes along and they'll be getting back to where they need to be. Even then, there will still be people with system loyalty to Sony and Microsoft and that will be good for overall competition. Nintendo have a rough road ahead, but hopefully the steps they are taking will smooth out the ride.

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Leo Sun

Leo has covered the crossroads of Wall Street and Silicon Valley since 2012. Follow him on Twitter for more updates!

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