Recently released sales figures for Nintendo’s last fiscal year are disappointing. Yes, the other major consoles on the market offer more than just games to those who plunk down the triple digits required for a new purchase. Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PS4 both sport multimedia and blue ray players. Nintendo’s Wii U, on the other hand, only plays their proprietary games discs and has some limited internet and streaming abilities. The games themselves may be the only thing to save the console that started the motion controller craze. The 2014 game lineup may keep Nintendo from being eclipsed by Microsoft and Sony, or it may be the final nail in the Wii U coffin.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was the most important release for Wii U this year that was received well, one of only a handful. It’s worth noting that it is part of an established franchise that is specific to Nintendo. It seems as though the software giant has been left out of a number of important third party releases. Here is a quick look at the rest of May and the upcoming summer. Keep in mind this is not a complete list, just the highlights reel:
May 9: Bound By Flame (PS4, PS3, 360, PC)
May 14: Super Time Force (Xbox One, 360)
May 16: Minecraft (PS3)
May 20: Drakengard 3 (PS3); Transistor (PS4); Wolfenstein: The New Order (Xbox One, 360, PS4, PS3, PC)
May 27: Watch Dogs (Xbox One, 360, PS4, PS3, PC)
May 30: Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
June 3: Murdered: Soul Suspect (PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One, PC)
June 24: Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark (PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS)
July 1: Sniper Elite 3 (PS3, PS4, Xbox One, 360, )
August 26: The Evil Within ( PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One, PC)
August 29: Madden NFL 15 (PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One,)
Summer is looking slow for Nintendo. Swords and Soldiers, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Guacamelee, Teslagrad, Amazing Spider Man 2, Armillo, and even a new Oddworld (New ‘n’ Tasty) are supposed to be coming to Wii U in the second quarter, but no release dates are clear.
On the hardcore console front, Watch Dogs and The Evil Within are garnering a lot of press; Watch Dogs because of creative use of the sandbox setting and Evil Within because it is a project fostered by a legendary game designer, Shinji Mikami (creator of the Resident Evil games). Mario Kart 8 is Nintendo’s last bastion through the grim storm of much-anticipated triple-A titles from Microsoft and Sony. Fall does not look much better for the pioneering console:
September 9: Destiny ( PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One,)
October 5: Skylanders: Trap Team ( PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U, 3DS)
October 7: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Alien: Isolation, Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC); Driveclub (PS4)
October 14: Arkham Knight (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
October is a strong month for releases, but again Wii U owners have significantly less to look forward to than those playing games on PS4 or Xbox One. Even the older systems – PS3 and Xbox 360 – still seem to have more releases than the Mario machine. If we count third and fourth quarter 2014 games like Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes, Citizens of Earth, Bayonetta 2 and Super Smash Bros., Nintendo’s Wii U does not seem as much like the eldest child developers are trying to encourage to move out of the house because they have Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s baby PS4 to worry about. But again, the lack of original third party development is reflected by the reliance on established franchises.
Release schedules for the last two months of the year are not set yet, and the final quarter is often the busiest. But even if Wii U developers doubled their output for November and December, would it be enough to keep the system relevant? The spiral can only continue downward: as fewer people purchase the Wii U, fewer third-party game developers can justify devoting the resources needed to port or design games for the unique console.
If the pattern of low comparative game release numbers and sales repeats next year Nintendo may reconsider its notion of a game-focused console in favor of something more like Sony and Microsoft’s offerings that serve as media hubs.
Referring back to the differences between the consoles, Wii U should be embarrassed; its processor is slower, its disc player is limited. While the system did have an earlier launch than the Xbox One or PS4, the fact remains that its main innovation is its tablet-like Gamepad controller that allows for a two screen experience. Microsoft and Sony have their Smartglass and PS Vita respectively, both of which are sold separately. But in keeping with the general trend of purchasing as evidenced by Nintendo’s sales numbers, people may be more inclined to buy the Smartglass or the Vita because of their multimedia flexibility. Further, Microsoft and Sony are copying the Gamepad effectively by designing games that use tablets or smartphones as controllers.
On the bright side, if they can set up a quick turnaround on system development Nintendo can go right on innovating while Microsoft and Sony can continue to adopt their technology to the betterment of all games and gamers, if not in 2014 then down the line. On the dark side, it looks like Mario is going to have more in common with Sonic the Hedgehog really soon.
By Aliya Tyus-Barnwell