After underwhelming holiday sales and analysts predicting tough times ahead for the Wii U, Nintendo has announced their official release list for the first quarter of 2013. And the news won't do much to dispell the doomsayers. Is Nintendo in for a bumpy ride?
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Four major first-party Wii U games have been pushed back outside of their original "launch window" status, and will now be released sometime in the first half of the year. Pikmin 3 is the long-awaited sequel to Shigeru Miyamoto's last original IP, and has already been delayed numerous times. The Wonderful 101, Platinum Game's Wii U exclusive revealed at E3 2012, is a rare example of a new title developed for specifically for Nintendo's system, already beset with year-late HD ports. Game & Wario brings the classic Game & Watch score-attack challenge and infuses it with Wario zaniness and looks to use the GamePad's second screen inventively.
And Wii Fit U might be the biggest seller of them all, if the expanded audience Nintendo tapped with the first Wii Fit to great success hasn't already gone dry, or moved over to Nike+ Fuel Bands.
Some outlets are questioning whether the dry spell is standard post-launch doldrums, or a sign of faltering momentum. Stephen Totilo opens with this salvo: "As with just about every other major console that has ever launched, promises and plans for the Wii U's first few months are thinning into the reality of a system plagued with a lack of early releases." Ouch.
Others are spinning the news more positively, focusing on the bevy of titles that are coming out. Meanwhile, sales in Japan of Wii U are already on the wane. Microsoft and Sony are expected to announce their next consoles for a holiday 2013 release. And everybody from Nvidia to Valve to these guys are jumping into an increasingly crowded market for playing games at home. Cue the reactionary madness! Come on, Nintendo, just sell Angry Marios on iOS already 'cause you're doooooooomed---
Or not. A company founded in 1889 does not fold over a few products late to market. Those predicting the end for the company from Kyoto have been there from the beginning. In Harold Goldberg's All Your Base Are Belong to Us, he describes a scene where Al Stone, in charge of sales and distribution for the fledgling Nintendo of America in 1981, saw this strange new game called Donkey Kong for the first time. Unimpressed, he walked out of the room. "They all feared that Nintendo," Goldberg writes, "was doomed."
Over thirty years later, the company and its products are beseiged by a new strain of competition. Any misstep is often seen as their last. But their coffers are deep with cash; the explosive growth in sales brought on by the Wii and DS's massive success will keep them afloat for some time. The same critics who shook their hands at the dismal launch of their 3DS handheld two years ago now squint their eyes at the ridiculous sales numbers coming out of Japan, where it regularly outsells all systems combined. Whether the Wii U can become such a juggernaut, or even a worthy follow-up to its world-beater predecessor, is impossible to know.
But the simple fact is this: new Nintendo games are coming. And there will be only one place to play them. I wouldn't bet against Mr. Iwata and his white-gloved mascot just yet.
Although, now that I think about it, Angry Marios could be pretty awesome.