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Published: Friday, 11/15/2013


Nintendo just doesn’t get U


Sony’s PS4 debuted yesterday and Microsoft’s Xbox One goes on sale next Thursday, which means it’s far too early to declare a winner among the next-generation gaming systems.

The loser, however, is painfully obvious: Nintendo and its Wii U.

Launched this time last year as the first among this iteration of gaming consoles, the Wii U has sold less than 4 million units, about a million less than Nintendo executives initially predicted. By comparison, the Wii sold more than 13 million consoles in its first year, making its U.S. debut in December, 2006.

To boost sales, the Japanese gaming company is selling the Wii U for a loss, after shaving $50 off the system’s original $299 retail price, compared to $399 for the PS4 and $499 for the Xbox One.

Even with the lowest price of the new systems, the under-powered Wii U — at best, a slight improvement over the previous gaming consoles — was dead on arrival to hard-core gamers. And the casual gamers who made the Wii and its revolutionary motion controllers such a phenomenon, are too engaged with games on smart phones and tablets to notice the Wii U’s GamePad controller.

The system’s price cut has boosted much-needed sales of the Wii U, yet there remains persistent talk that Nintendo might abandon the console next year.

That’s a major fall for a company that once was the undisputed video game king.

In the 1980s the Nintendo Entertainment System resurrected the home video game industry after the disastrous 1983-84 market crash and became the best-selling video game system of all time. And Nintendo’s Super Mario is second only to perhaps Pac-Man as the video game industry’s most-recognizable icon.

Years ago Nintendo was also popular among gamers as much for its console hardware as its software library.

The NES was the most-advanced system to that point, its successful sequel, the Super Nintendo, wowed with its Mode 7 3-D graphics capability, and the Nintendo 64 brought us ever closer to virtual reality.

These advanced video game systems kept Nintendo ahead of its fiercest rival, Sega, in the 1980s and throughout the 1990s.

But new competition from Sony and Microsoft caused Nintendo to change its technology-first strategy for its gaming systems. First came the GameCube, best remembered for its small shape, similar to a box-sized birthday present, followed by the Wii. As Sony and Microsoft touted their advanced gaming technologies, Nintendo enticed consumers with innovative novelties and gimmicks.

The company all but abandoned the hard-core gamer and chased after the casual player. And now both types have little or no use for the Wii U.

In 1999, Sega released the Dreamcast, the first in its generation of gaming consoles. And like the Wii U, the Dreamcast also was DOA.

Sega got out of the video game console business after that and now makes games for the other systems, including Nintendo. How much longer until Nintendo does the same?

Playing Nintendo favorites like Super Mario Bros., Zelda, Pokemon, and Metroid on a PS4 or on a Xbox One may seem unimaginable to those of us who remember Nintendo’s glory years. Then again, so does less than 4 million Wii U consoles sold in a year.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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