Will Mario Kart 8 Sales Be Enough to Save the Wii U?

This past Friday, Nintendo (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) released one of its most anticipated games for the Wii U, Mario Kart 8. While there has been speculation that the game might end up producing the lowest sales figures in the franchise despite glowing reviews, it was off to a good start in its first weekend. The popularity of the game even caused overloads of the company's "Club Nintendo" website as release-day purchasers attempted to register the game to take advantage of a free-game promotion that the site is running.

Mario Kart 8 shows every indication that it might be the hit that the Wii U needs. Its predecessor, Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS, sold 1.54 million units in the most recent fiscal year and has recorded 9.62 million sales in its three-year lifetime, while Mario Kart Wii sold 1.27 million units in the fiscal year and has recorded 35.5 million sales in six years. The demand for "Mario Kart" games is certainly there.

With this in mind, what are the prospects for Nintendo moving forward? Is Mario Kart 8 the draw that the Wii U needs?

Source: Nintendo

Increasing demand
One thing that Mario Kart 8 has going for it is the popularity of online racing among Mario Kart Wii players. As I've mentioned before, online services for Mario Kart Wii ended recently as Nintendo continued to phase out support for the older console. This left fans of the series with no way to access the online play that they love on a home console. (Mario Kart 7 still has online play, of course, since the 3DS is still receiving active support as it's the company's current handheld console.)

This provides a compelling reason for some "Kart" fans to buy the new game, especially since the game introduces a few new features, refines popular ones, and allows players to revisit iconic tracks from previous games in 720p HD at 60 frames per second for the first time.

Early adoption encouraged
While some games gradually build up sales and become hits in the long run, Nintendo wanted to make sure that Mario Kart 8 was a hit right out of the gate. The company is offering a promotion through its Club Nintendo service that allows players to choose a free game from a list of first-party titles upon registering Mario Kart 8 or downloading it from the Nintendo e-Shop. The promotion is set to run through the end of July, encouraging gamers to buy early to take advantage.

If the slowdowns and server errors experienced by the Club Nintendo site on release day are any indication, a significant number of gamers are trying to take advantage of this deal. While the problems were short-lived, it's likely that the site will continue to see a significant amount of traffic as additional sales accumulate over the next two months. Even though games such as New Super Mario Bros U (with 4.16 million units sold to date) and Super Mario 3D World (with 2.17 million units sold to date) have captured a respectable amount of the Wii U's install base, it's likely that Mario Kart 8 will start closing the gap on these earlier titles fairly quickly.

Source: Nintendo

A Wii U selling point
In addition to providing a must-have game for those who already own a Wii U, some within the company believe that it could be a catalyst for Wii U sales as well. Several Mario Kart 8 bundles have been introduced around the world, allowing potential players to pick up a console with the game preinstalled and ready to play. While previous bundles (such as console bundles released with the Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker remake) failed to have a significant impact on console sales, the games that were bundled in those deals didn't necessarily have the appeal of Mario Kart 8.

Is it time for a Wii U recovery?
Amid news that the Wii U actually outsold the PlayStation 4 recently in Japan (where Sony's console has been notoriously struggling) and increasing hype for both Mario Kart 8 and the upcoming Super Smash Bros, this year will likely be the best one yet for the system. The company has put to rest rumors that it would announce a Wii U successor at this year's E3 conference, indicating that it isn't giving up on the console just yet.

The Wii U will likely never reach the sales figures of some of the company's more popular consoles, but games such as Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, and the upcoming Hyrule Warriors could help it to build a solid foundation similar to that eventually found by the Game Cube; while the console only sold 21.74 million units in its six-year lifespan, it released a number of now-classic games and served as a starting point for the development of the massively successful Wii.

Watchers should pay attention to upcoming Nintendo financial reports to track both Mario Kart 8 and console sales. This could be the beginning of a major growth spurt for the Wii U's install base.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On June 02, 2014, at 11:37 AM, Anonemewse wrote:

    What people don't seem to realize is the Wii U is doing just fine. It's outselling the Xbox One, yet nobody ever mentions that.

    If any console is in trouble it's the Xbox One.

  • Report this Comment On June 02, 2014, at 12:14 PM, bmprsvz777 wrote:

    Despite all your doom and gloom articles about Nintendo, Wii U library is not bad at all, there is something for everyone, I enjoy this product actually. Who knows maybe third party people will realise one day that they lost some money by not supporting this console. I have two children and they love Mario games, Lego games, Skylanders, Pikmins... and there are still some shooting games left for me in the evening when they sleep. You can use it for web to some extent, but why on earth does it not play movies, music or DVDs is hard to understand. Come on Nintendo it's probably just software upgrade that is necessary, so do it please, it can only increase demand so why not?

  • Report this Comment On June 02, 2014, at 12:55 PM, jasongw wrote:

    Mario Kart 8 is FULL 1080P 60FPS. It is not 720p.

  • Report this Comment On June 02, 2014, at 2:15 PM, Andion79 wrote:

    @jasongw

    It is 720p @ 60 Hz. The Eurogamer article has been corrected if that is your source. I own the game and can say that it is definitely 720p.

  • Report this Comment On June 02, 2014, at 2:27 PM, Wafflesman wrote:

    Bought this game Friday evening and absolutely love it!

    However, there are some serious flaws.

    -The game-pad included with console has poor battery life.

    -That game-pad is the only place a map ever appears, and this is a problem because it is difficult looking switching back and forth. They need to add a visible map on the actual game, or make it an option.

    -Unlocking everything in a few hours is very frustrating, and way to short.

    -Online racing is fun, yet, when you are in last place (hey it happens) and all you get is mushrooms is very frustrating as well. Need more powerful abilities to have a fighting chance.

    -Online balloon battles suck! - You only have a couple race tracks to choose from for balloon battles. There is no dedicated courses.

    This game is a good launch but falls far short again. I guess the only real MarioKart is Double Dash. Nintendo can fix this if they up the win chance on more useful items for players that get knocked into last place, and give some actual balloon battle tracks - like the more fast pace high energy ones found in Mariokart 64.

    - 6.5/10 from me my buddy and my sister. Fix those small issues and it would be perfect!

    Still worth picking up though.

  • Report this Comment On June 02, 2014, at 7:14 PM, awang0718 wrote:

    Mario Kart 8 was reported to have sold 1.2 million copies worldwide during its first 3 days.Meanwhile, the Wii U sales in the UK rose 666% the week Mario kart 8 was released..

    Considereing that the UK is the Wii U's weakest region by far. it can be assumed that Mario Kart provided a similarly large Wii U hardware sales boost worldwide.

    So in other words, Mario Kart 8 is a massive sales success on a console that is considered to be a complete and utter failure. In fact, Mario Kart 8 sold faster than Infamous 2nd Son (1 million copies in 9 days) and tInfamous was relased on a console that is considered to be nothing but a monumental success.

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