So Much Is Riding on One Nintendo Title

Source: Nintendo.

Nintendo is quickly running out of options to save the Wii U. We learned this week that -- despite the introduction of some key new games lately -- the console is still selling poorly.

Nintendo moved just 460,000 Wii U systems over the past six months, putting total sales since last year's launch at an anemic 3.91 million devices. By comparison, Microsoft sold about 10 million units of its current-generation Xbox 360 console in the past year. Microsoft and Sony both expect to see their strongest launches ever when their next-generation systems come out later this month.

First-party games are supposed to begin to turn the tide for Nintendo. That's the idea, anyway. The company said this summer that it had a plan to "regain momentum for the platform" that included releasing titles from some of its biggest franchises, including Zelda, Donkey Kong, and Super Mario.

The early results of that strategy are in, and they're not encouraging. Pikmin 3 launched a few months back, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was released in September. However, Wii U system sales hardly accelerated from the dreadful 160,000-unit quarterly pace that was set back in June.

Super Mario World 3D screenshot. Source: Nintendo.

Now all of the focus is turning to one mustachioed plumber in red overalls. Super Mario 3D World is set for release later this month, and the company sees it as a key title in its push to, as president Satoru Iwata put it, "change the fate of the system." Nintendo has some good reasons to be optimistic about this game. Super Mario titles were among the best performers on the original Wii: New Super Mario Brothers sold a whopping 27.88 million copies, and Super Mario Galaxy was no slouch at 12 million. If there's any single title that could move the needle on Wii U sales, it's probably one that stars the iconic plumber.

After this month's release of Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo can look forward to a potential boost from titles in the Wii Party and Wii Sports franchises, which will finally get their turns on the new system. Those were also huge sellers on the original Wii, accounting for more than 100 million units in total. Still, for those titles -- and whatever comes after -- to succeed on the Wii U, Nintendo needs to get that installed base of devices higher. A price cut alone won't do it. The company needs a hit, and it's running out of second chances.

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