Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) Wii U will soon see the release of its biggest 2014 game. The Mario Kart series has been going strong since the days of the Super Nintendo, and the impending release of Mario Kart 8 is of substantial importance for the world's biggest gaming company.
The last major release in the Kart series posted incredible numbers, moving over 38 million units on the Wii alone and cementing its place as one of the best-selling games of all time. A modified version of the game released on Nintendo's 3DS handheld in 2011 and pushed more than 18 million additional units. Even with the impressive feats achieved by its predecessors, the upcoming Mario Kart 8 will not save Nintendo's ailing Wii U console. Here's what the upcoming mascot racer really means for the company.
Nintendo is finally getting the hang of HD development
While Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) took the expensive route and rushed into HD development with their last-generation consoles, Nintendo went a different way with its motion-gaming-centric Wii. The move was a short-term success for the Japanese hardware and software giant, but created serious difficulties when the company was forced to take steps toward graphical modernization. Until this point, Nintendo has failed to deliver software that showcases the visual capabilities of its latest console. That looks to change with the release of Mario Kart 8.
The Wii U may not have the graphical horsepower of the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One, but the upcoming Mario Kart game shows that Nintendo's developers are improving on the platform and coming to terms with HD development. President Satoru Iwata has openly stated that Nintendo was having trouble adapting to the HD standard. Mario Kart 8 signals that those troubles may be coming to an end.
Nintendo will finally release a Wii U game with online multiplayer
Given the incredible success of Xbox Live in the previous console generation, it's mind-boggling that Nintendo failed to realize the importance of having a robust online ecosystem. Sony clearly took notice of the low-cost, high-revenue success of the Xbox Live platform, and has actually done Microsoft one better through the development of its PlayStation Plus service. Nintendo's hesitance to embrace online gaming has been a major misstep.
Mario Kart 8 will release on May 30, approximately a year-and-a-half after the launch of the Wii U. It will be the platform's first Nintendo-developed game to feature online multiplayer. It's almost certainly too late to create a thriving online ecosystem for the platform, but Mario Kart 8 is the best potential ambassador in Nintendo's stable. The online component of the game should provide the company with valuable learning experience going forward.
Mario Kart 8 will keep the Nintendo faithful satisfied
The recent leaks of NPD Group's North American sales data indicate that the Wii and Wii U combined sold less than 100,000 units. Compared to approximately 370,000 PlayStation 4 units sold and approximately 311,000 Xbox One units sold, and it's clear that Nintendo is taking a serious beating on the home console front. At this point, the idea of the Wii U even reaching the disappointing sales bar set by the company's 2001 GameCube console is a long shot for Nintendo.
While the Wii U will never be a sales success, Nintendo still has incentive to please the fans who purchased the console. The company has one of the most dedicated fan bases in the industry, and Mario Kart 8 should go a long way in making sure that those who have purchased a Wii U are satisfied. When Nintendo debuts new hardware platforms and attempts to reestablish its gaming relevance, it will need as much goodwill on its side as possible. Mainstream commercial success is out of Wii U's grasp, but Nintendo can still provide the high-quality software needed to keep its valued fans.
Better late than never...
When the current console generation draws to a close, Mario Kart 8 will almost certainly stand as the Wii U's best-selling game. The console's small user base guarantees the title will fall substantially short of the heights achieved by its immediate predecessor, but the game represents an important opportunity for Nintendo. The company is in a difficult spot, but the upcoming title shows that it is at least making progress on the console front. Mario Kart 8 won't propel the Wii U to mainstream relevance, but it is the company's most substantial home console software release since 2011's The Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword. The game also shows that Nintendo isn't completely out of touch -- just plagued by slow reaction times.
Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.