During last week’s Nintendo Direct conference, a small bomb was dropped when a long-awaited classic was announced to finally be hitting the virtual console. That game, of course, is the magnificent Earthbound. It appears that, perhaps, the hundreds of petitions for Earthbound finally had the intended effect. What was strange was that Earthbound was the only new release that Nintendo had lined up for the Wii U. With sequels to A Link to the Past and Yoshi’s Island as well as the highly anticipated Bravely Default all being announced for the 3DS, it is almost understandable why Nintendo fanboys like James Troxell were oblivious to Nintendo ignoring its home console.
This focus on the 3DS during the recent Nintendo Direct was interesting. The 3DS is selling like crazy, selling around three million units this year alone. The Wii U represents the opposite side of the spectrum, selling just south of four-hundred thousand units so far in 2013. With the Wii U floundering to kick off 2013, I would expect Nintendo to announce some substantial titles to be released. Looking to future releases for the Wii U, the most buzz worthy exclusive titles are Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101. While both of these games have received a decent amount of hype, they are not of the same caliber of many of the titles that were announced for the 3DS.
The announcement of Earthbound hitting the Virtual Console this year could be a sign that Nintendo is beginning to run out of ideas on how to make the Wii U appealing. Nintendo has long resisted letting Americans have anything more from the Mother series apart from the SNES release of Earthbound. In turn, many followers of the series have been extremely vocal in their attempts to convince Nintendo to release any Mother title. The very surprising announcement makes me wonder what Nintendo’s true intentions are. Announcing it at the end of a short Wii U section with roughly half of the excitement of the firmware update (loading times will now only be two minutes!) makes me think that Nintendo is up to something.
The Earthbound buzz strongly reminds me of the controversy that surrounded the localization of Xenoblade and The Last Story for the Wii. Both games were highly anticipated titles that were released to positive reviews in Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Neither game was initially confirmed for an US release, leading to a letter writing campaign that eventually led to the titles being released in the US. In a move that was reminiscent of a spoiled child still attempting to have the last word, Xenoblade was exclusively available through GameStop and Nintendo’s website. Neither game sold particularly well, and in the end Nintendo was able to lay back and say “told you so!” Now, Earthbound will see a strict Wii U Virtual Console release, a console that has sold around one and a quarter million in North America. With such a small user base, it is easy to imagine Nintendo declaring that Earthbound clearly does not sell in North America, giving them all the excuse they need to keep future Mother titles in Japan.
On Wednesday, Nintendo announced its results of the 2013 fiscal year. After posting a large loss in 2012, Nintendo posted a profit of just over seven billion yen in 2013. This profit was made in spite of the JRT as well as a thirty-six billion operating loss. Stunningly, Nintendo has projected the Wii U to sell nine million units for the fiscal year of 2014. This projection is based on projected releases from some of Nintendo’s largest franchises. However, it is crazy for Nintendo to assume that games like Wind Waker and Pikmin 3 are able to drive the Wii U sales that high. Skyward Sword sold less than four million, yet Nintendo seemingly expects the HD remake of Wind Waker to not only double that number, but also entice the same number of people to buy a Wii U.
Nintendo’s handling of the Wii U continues to be confusing. When the 3DS struggled after launch (although not to the extent of the Wii U), Nintendo slashed the price by eighty dollars. Coupled with some high-profile software, the 3DS has remained near the top of the sales charts ever since. Even with this knowledge, a price drop appears to be the last thing on Nintendo’s mind. While Nintendo would never admit to giving up on the Wii U, I am starting to wonder if they are becoming more open to the idea. Handheld gaming has proven to be insanely profitable for Nintendo, and with the number of compelling 3DS titles set to be released this year, it is easy to see why the Wii U becoming more of an afterthought. A home console market that lacks Nintendo’s presence is strange to think about, but may also be beneficial to Nintendo in the long run. Focusing solely on their profitable handheld consoles would streamline the company’s mindset. Considering that the last great home console from Nintendo was the SNES, maybe this should happen sooner than later.