Can Super Mario 3D World Save the Wii U?

With the recent release of Sony's  PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One, many are wondering which of the two consoles will wind up with the first breakout hit exclusive. With both consoles wracking up 1 million sales in their first 24 hours of release (though the Xbox One required 11 more countries than the PS4 to pull it off), an exclusive hit game could tip the scales in favor of one console or the other.

There is a potentially major hit that was just released, but oddly enough it wasn't released for either of the new next-gen consoles. Instead, it is for Nintendo's Wii U.

It's-a me, Mario!
When it was first announced, Super Mario 3D World was seen by some as a huge disappointment in the making. Initial videos made the Wii U follow-up to the immensely popular "Super Mario Galaxy" games seem too much like the "New Super Mario Bros." games that many considered formulaic. While excitement grew gradually as more information was released, some worried the game would be a major flop for a system that is already struggling.

But reviews have been almost universally glowing. A common theme among reviews is that it's not only the best game for the Wii U, but also one of the best (if not THE best) currently available. With a MetaCritic metascore of 94 (based on 60 reviews) and a user score of 9 out of 10 (based on 299 ratings), the game is listed as having "universal acclaim" from critics and gamers alike.

A much-needed hit
As sales of the Wii U have lumbered slowly along, Nintendo has seen flagging support not only from fans, but also from major third-party developers such as Ubisoft and Electronic Arts . EA in particular has been providing limited support for the console as of late, with the company famously saying that it had "no games in development for the Wii U" back in May. Hit games such as Battlefield 4 have skipped the Wii U entirely, instead opting for release on both last-gen and next-gen Xbox and PlayStation consoles.

Part of the reason for the lack of third-party support is an overall lack of power in the Wii U console. While it is Nintendo's first HD console, it lags significantly behind the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in both processing and graphics. With EA reportedly working on an open-world "Star Wars" game as part of its partnership with Disney and games like Battlefield 4 trying to put as much realism on the screen as possible, the Wii U has neither the sheer power or the large install base necessary to make it an appealing platform for the company. Instead it's focusing its main efforts on the new next-gen consoles and has bragged about how one out of every three games sold for the PlayStation 4 has been an EA game.

Will it help?
While Super Mario 3D World is a major hit for the Wii U, there's only so much that the game can do with the limited Wii U install base. Despite its positive press, the game debuted at no. 14 on the UK sales charts (behind even the often-maligned Knack for the PS4) and reported the weakest sales of any 3D Mario game in Japan (selling only 106,967 units at launch.) While it's no surprise to see even critically panned PS4 games outselling Nintendo titles -- given that Sony's console is breaking sales records around the globe -- it does illustrate that if this is Nintendo's best, it still might not be good enough.

Super Mario 3D World can only be as strong as the Wii U install base, and it's just growing too slowly for the game to make much of a splash in the overall market. It also doesn't seem to be stimulating an expansion of that base as sales figures for the week of Nov. 18-24 showed only 21,002 Wii U consoles sold. While sales figures will likely get higher as the holiday shopping season continues (especially given that the release-week figures were before Black Friday and Cyber Monday), it remains to be seen how large of a bump one successful game might give the system.

Could there be hope?
While it's obvious that the Wii U isn't going to be a come-from-behind winner in console sales (after all, the PlayStation 4 has already topped Wii U lifetime sales with its sales in individual regions), the positive response to Super Mario 3D World does provide a little hope. The game was the first major release from Nintendo's core franchises, and with new Mario Kart, Smash Bros., and Donkey Kong Country games on the horizon, gamers may start looking at the overall value of the console in a different light.

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