Nintendo (OTC BB: NTDOY.PK) will be facing a battle this holiday season far worse than anything its Link character has ever suffered through. Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) will be pitting their console units against the Nintendo Wii -- and all three will be vying for the undivided attention of early-adopting hardcore gamers.

Nintendo does have one ace up its sleeve, however -- the Mario brand. In fact, there's some good news on that front, according to recent sales data. Marketing research firm The NPD Group reports that the latest software featuring the most celebrated plumber on the planet has been doing gangbusters business at the retail shelves.

New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS portable gaming system moved 453,000 copies last month, good for the pole position in the sales chart; in fact, it was No. 1 for two consecutive months. Even though Mario has been around for years, he's still proud and popular and ready to put on the jumping shoes.

Why is this important for the Wii launch? To my mind, a release of an "old-school" Mario game serves as a vital reminder of what Nintendo is all about. Gamers who may not have enjoyed 3-D releases such as Super Mario Sunshine for the Gamecube are happy as clams right about now. New Super Mario Bros. takes the brand back to its roots and will perhaps entice DS owners into at least thinking about springing for a Wii come the fourth quarter. Along with the planned virtual console scheme, gamers looking for some nostalgic fun will be served well.

This latest Super Mario title will certainly help move DS units. It also will further differentiate the platform from the Sony PSP -- after all, you can get your Mario fix only from a Nintendo product. Doing well in the handheld-gaming industry is old hat for Nintendo; now is the time to leverage that success as much as is conceivable to drive those Wii sales. It's sort of like the theory behind the Apple iPod -- sell a lot of the popular devices and then try to convert those users into adopters of the Apple OS.

Nintendo doesn't want a repeat of the Gamecube performance, a scenario in which it couldn't really get a "cool factor" going against the PlayStation and Xbox. With the Wii coming in for less than $250, and with the summer bonanza of Mario and his platform-jumper action, Nintendo has an opportunity to tell gamers that it knows how to distribute great systems and program great games at a reasonable cost of investment to the gamer. (Sony's PlayStation 3 will cost $500 or more.) But it will also have to move as many consoles as it can to instill confidence among third-party concerns such as Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) and THQ (NASDAQ:THQI).

The support of third parties can significantly alter the prospects of any new console, and the Wii will go only so far with Mario. Nevertheless, Mario -- along with Link and the Zelda franchise -- are important assets for Nintendo, and they both will serve the company well.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.