Did Super Mario Save the Wii U?

Since the Nintendo  (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) Entertainment System was released in the United States in 1985, the company's breakout star was clearly Mario -- the one-time plumber who had previously attempted to rescue his girlfriend from the evil (but very patient) gorilla Donkey Kong in the videogame of the same name.

It was the success of Super Mario Bros. that made the NES the first console to become massively successful since the grandfather of the modern videogame console -- the Atari 2600 -- first graced America's living rooms. After that early success Mario has been Nintendo's lead character headlining countless games with his brother Luigi in the Super Mario Bros. franchise as well as heading up successful spin-offs including Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart.

It's the latest edition of that series that may help the struggling console company revive interest in what many have thought is a dead platform -- the Wii U.

The Wii U story before Mario Kart 8

Wii U has been on the market for about a year longer than the market-leading Sony   (NYSE: SNE  )  PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft   (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Xbox One. Despite the 12-month head start, it has only sold around 6.5 million units -- about a million more than Xbox One and a million less than PS4, according to the most recently announced sales totals. While the overall number is comparable to its rivals, buzz around Wii U had faded badly and the product has largely been considered a failure. Few thought it had a chance of making a major comeback.

While the console has had a few million-plus selling titles, none have brought a major bump in console sales. That suggested that the people who bought Wii U were Nintendo diehards likely to buy all the major releases. Attracting the casual fans who purchased 100 million plus of the original Wii consoles is key to the Wii U's prospects, but until Mario Kart 8 there was no reason to believe that audience could be reached.

The Wii U story after Mario Kart 8

At its shareholders meeting earlier this month, Nintendo announced that Mario Kart 8 has sold 2 million copies worldwide in the month since its May 30 release, IGN reported.  

More importantly the title has led to a spike in console sales. Nintendo was selling an average of about 29,000 Wii U consoles per week prior to Mario Kart 8′s release, according to VGChartz. In the week after the racing title went on sale over 130,000 Wii U consoles were sold. Three weeks after the game's release the console was still selling about 60,000 a week.

Mario Kart 8 has sold around 200,000 Wii U consoles in three weeks. That's not enough to declare the console revived but it's a positive sign. 

It also suggests that we are still early enough in the next generation console battle that Nintendo can turn things around based on its wholly owned titles. Nintendo has announced a new Legends of Zelda as well as a Super Smash Bros. title for release in coming months. If these provide the same sales lift, the company may succeed in bringing its platform back from the dead.

It has not worked this way for Sony and Microsoft

Both Sony and Microsoft have invested heavily in exclusive titles. In past iterations of the console wars, exclusivity has been an important factor in helping people decide which system to buy. That has not been true so far in the Microsoft/Sony fight -- recent heavily promoted exclusive releases for PS4 and Xbox One have been less effective in creating a console sales spike than Mario Kart 8.

In March Titanfall was released as an exclusive for Xbox One and inFAMOUS: Second Son was the same for PS4. The Titanfall sales bump lasted two weeks moving about 94,000 additional Xbox One consoles (despite very aggressive package pricing that made the game essentially free with the purchase of a console). The sales jump from Second Son lasted three weeks selling an additional 112,000 PlayStation 4 consoles.

Mario and pals did better showing that some exclusives -- perhaps the ones that younger kids beg for -- are worth more than others.

The added oomph Mario gave Wii U might also be a combination of the character's appeal and the fact that Nintendo's console starts below $300 while Microsoft and Sony's start at $399 after the recent price drop on Xbox One.

One title is not a comeback

Nintendo is fighting for what Gartner predicts will be a $49 billion market in 2014 growing to $55 billion in 2015.The success of Mario Kart 8 does not entirely put it back in the game, but it does suggest the company has a shot to make a comeback and grab its share of those billions. Had the game not succeeded it's possible Nintendo could have thrown in the towel on its console and instead followed what one-time console player Sega did -- make games based on its popular characters for other companies' consoles. 

Wii U is still struggling and Nintendo has to release more than one hot game to revive broad interest in the platform. The success of Mario Kart 8, however, suggests that the family audience that bought the original Wii has not abandoned the company. It's possible that because it has so many highly anticipated future releases featuring well-known characters that the Wii U could fight its way back into the discussion. 

If it does it's all thanks to one plumber, turned adventurer, turned unlikely race car driver.

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Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (1)

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 July 02, 2014, at 12:41 PM, mikeybruises wrote:

    Its "Legend of Zelda"; not "Legends of Zelda".

  • Report this Comment On July 02, 2014, at 10:08 PM, truthofgaming wrote:

    The PS3, given its great current price and vast library, is far more enticing than the PS4 and XBone, so for next gen it has to be Wii U all the way even if the Nintendo system is one year older.

    It's the only console right now, the other two are glorified PCs which don't offer much more than before, and certainly arent worth $300-400. Sony not making the PS4 backwards compatible, then announcing an expensive streaming game rental service of classic PS2 and PS3 titles-very suspect XD

    There seems to be few great games that aren't generic gun based fare on the new Sony and MS gen. The adverts don't help prove otherwise. I prefer gameplay, color and great design over the current focus on the realistic, the dark and the dreary. Sure the 12+ year old kids will love the more adult look and the millions spent on advertising will ensure dad purchases it 'for the family-honest' in future, but he'd be better off with a PC and giant widescreen monitor for the main room.

    Mario Kart is one of those titles that will sell for the systems entire lifespan. Given the price of console games today, users buy Nintendo for Nintendo's own games anyway, so they will just have to step up a gear regarding how fast they release all those major titles in order to compete well with the PS4 (advertising once a year wouldn't be a bad thing either)

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2014, at 9:21 AM, duddy121 wrote:

    Wow...a Fool article that isn't completely bashing nintendo. Genuine surprise is showing on my face even though you can't see it.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2014, at 10:15 AM, Facer5 wrote:

    The true test for how the Wii U will do comes next year when most AAA third party games Nintendo's console can't run are released.

    I still stick to my prediction the Wii U will be this generation's Gamecube: not a disaster but mostly irrelevant to everyone who's not already a Nintendo loyalist.

    But I think Nintendo is quite alright with this, as a Gamecube like performane means they'll still make some profit, however small it may end up being.


    "It's the only console right now, the other two are glorified PCs which don't offer much more than before, and certainly arent worth $300-400."

    Someone is too much of a Nintendo fanboy to think objectively, it seems.

    See, that's the problem with excesive fanaticism, it blinds people and stops them from thinking logically.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2014, at 2:54 PM, Youdntknowgaming wrote:


    When Sony decided to adopt the x86 architecture because it would make putting games out for the consoles easier it became a PC's in architecture only. The funny thing is the 360 was already using Windows API (x32) was more console than the newer XBO that turned into an entertainment system. The problem is The Xbox One is akin more to Apple TV in comparison the only difference it has more features and costs considerably more (99 dollars for Apple TV vs 399 for the XBO).The watered down PC's in the PS4 and XBO are for those who are either Sony/MS loyalists, and those who do not understand gaming technology as a whole.

    Truthofgaming is correct, in comparison to PC gaming (that both MS and Sony are trying to reach for) the consoles they have built are nothing more than gimped PC's. [except MS was already using parts of the PC OS for its systems]. In comparison most 'gaming pc manufactures' offer a small form factor at a starting cost at 699. That allows for upgrades, In the long run PC gaming is far cheaper to maintain after the initial investment. A Processor (as long as the socket type stays the same for two generations) costs 250-350 dollars. GPU (midrange) 250-400 dollars, RAM upgrade 150 dollars.

    The problem that proponents/shareholders/fanboys /pundits do not see or rather refuse to see is that the big dollar multiplats (CoD, Battlefield) grace PC, Sony, and MS. Majority of 3rd party games hit one of the three so in reality there is no difference (other than cost, but those who have gaming PC are in a better long term position versus consoles).

    Nintendo shines as a first party developer, Sony and MS have yet to put any game that can compete with the best the Big N has to offer. Yet shareholders want those games on mutliplats because thats where the quick dollar is, but fail to realize if there's a general demand from other consoles for Nintendo games. If there was then how come Japanese Developers dont port over popular games? That's because the demand is so little that there is little to no money to be made. A Zelda game on a XBO would sell horrible. The reason is simple, EA, Ubisoft and Activision already crowd Sony and MS. That right there also shows motivations in the lack of 3rd party titles, its not because Nintendo is hard to work with, its just EA, Activison and Ubisoft cannot compete with Nintendo's software. That has been the historical case and because 3rd party devs cannot compete with first party games it makes financial sense to abandon Nintendo consoles for 3rd party dependent systems (Sony, and MS).

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2014, at 11:43 PM, Hibern81 wrote:

    @mickeybruises- You beat me to it.

    Finally an article on Motley Fool that doesn't make me want to throw my phone through the wall. When it comes to Nintendo you can't call it a comeback. They've been here for years.

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Daniel B. Kline

Daniel B. Kline is an accomplished writer and editor who has worked for the Microsoft's Finance app and The Boston Globe, where he wrote for the paper and ran the business desk. His latest book "Worst Ideas Ever" (Skyhorse) can be purchased at bookstores everywhere.

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