Nintendo's Wii U is struggling, but recent announcements point to big developments in the future

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7 2013 3:55 p.m. MST

GameStop employee Lani Girran hands over a Wii U system to Kevin Owande, 51, of Renton, Wash., on a busy Black Friday in Seattle.

AP

In the cutthroat world of video game console wars, there are always going to be some losers. Now that the dust has settled on this last holiday season, the sides are counting their casualties, and at least one thing is clear: Nintendo’s new entertainment system, the Wii U, didn’t come out on top.

Even though it got mostly positive reviews from critics when it was released last November, so far the successor to the Wii hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations.

Through Christmas and New Year’s, consumer response to the new gadget was surprisingly lukewarm, spawning article after article by publications like Forbes that have tried to pinpoint Nintendo's marketing missteps and how they could have improved consumer perceptions.

Ultimately, according to numbers released by Japan's Famitsu Magazine, the Wii U ended up selling at roughly the same pace as its half-decade-old competitors, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

For a brand new console, that’s bad news, especially with the successors to Microsoft and Sony’s current-generation hardware looming on the horizon.

What’s more, this marks the second disappointing product launch in a row for Nintendo. In 2011, its big handheld device, the 3DS, received a major price cut to stoke dwindling sales.

Speaking to investors recently, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata shouldered much of the blame for the company’s weak performance, promising renewed efforts in both software and P.R., but also lowering the company’s sales estimates for the console from 5.5 million units through March to just 4 million.

For anyone keeping their fingers crossed that things will play out just like the 3DS, however, Iwata ruled out the possibility of any price cuts for the Wii U in the near future. At around $300 for just the basic console with a GamePad controller, the Wii U is already being sold at a loss.

With the audience for console video games gradually being syphoned off by smartphones and tablets — particularly when it comes to the casual, family-friendly games Nintendo has become known for — some industry specialists are already predicting a not-too-distant future where the console business could be split between just two companies: Microsoft dominating America and Sony dominating Japan.

But for Nintendo fans, there's still room for hope thanks to an unexpected but well-timed series of announcements that could not only offset the Wii U’s disappointing start but possibly even make it a must-have item for families and diehard gamers in 2013 and beyond.

In a recent Nintendo Direct video blog, Iwata addressed with welcome candor many of the biggest shortcomings of the Wii U, including some nagging technical issues but also, more importantly, the lack of any “killer apps.”

Although the Wii U launched with an impressive 23 games — the most ever for a Nintendo console — many of these were already available on other platforms, but updated with minor tweaks to accommodate for the unique gameplay potential of the Wii U’s input device, a hybrid controller/tablet.

There was also a lack of big first-party games — something to justify the $300 price tag for undecided consumers. Where were the “Mario 64”s or the “Donkey Kong Country”s to drive sales?

Well, they might still be a ways off, but Nintendo does have some exciting things in the pipeline.

Chief among them is a new Zelda game. Details were scarce, but longtime series producer Eiji Aonuma shared just enough to get fans salivating:

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