It’s no secret that Nintendo’s Wii U has struggled to find its footing since its release back in 2012.
As of Dec. 31, the successor to the mega-popular Wii entertainment system had only sold 5.86 million units since its debut. By comparison, as Craig Lloyd points out at GottaBeMobile.com, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One each sold around 4 million units in just their first six weeks.
Nintendo has drastically reduced its annual sales forecasts, cutting estimates from a total 9 million hardware units to just 2.8 million by the end of March. Meanwhile Nintendo's CEO and several other key executives have all taken drastic pay cuts, as reported by Time, and the company is mulling over the possibility of a merger on the horizon, as reported by the Japanese publication Nikkei.
But despite the current grim state of affairs, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the Wii U when looking at the games coming to the console in 2014.
In much the same way that 2013 proved to be so successful for Nintendo’s handheld 3DS, which likewise stumbled out of the gates before hitting its stride, the next 12 months could see Nintendo regain lost ground thanks to a strong lineup of family-friendly games.
Here’s a look ahead at the titles.
New Mario games
Pretty much anytime a game with Mario comes out, it’s cause for celebration. There’s a reason Nintendo’s mustachioed mascot remains one of gaming’s top sellers: No other character has been so consistently great over such a long period of time.
This year will see the release of new installments in two of Nintendo’s most popular Mario-related series. First, in May, is “Mario Kart 8." Along with all the classic features one would expect of a Mario Kart game, the new title introduces some new mechanics to the mix like anti-gravity karts.
Later in the year, the long-awaited Wii U version of “Super Smash Bros.” will also be arriving, although no date has yet been specified. What has been revealed, though, is a partial roster of characters. New fighters include Mega Man, an Animal Crossing Villager and the Wii Fit Trainer.
Other first-party titles
The first major Wii U release of 2014, though, is a game featuring a different classic Nintendo character, Donkey Kong. Hitting store shelves on Feb. 21, “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze” is the follow-up to 2010’s “Donkey Kong Country Returns” for the Wii, which proved to be one of the best 2-D platformers of all time. “Tropical Freeze” will attempt to improve on its predecessor’s already winning formula with crisp HD graphics, a new playable character and — most importantly — Viking penguins.
Wii U owners can also look forward to a new game set in the world of Zelda called “Hyrule Warriors.” To clarify, this is not the new Zelda title being worked on by longtime franchise producer Eiji Aonuma, which is still tentatively slated for a 2014 release (although that’s looking more and more like it will be pushed back to 2015 at the earliest). Instead, “Hyrule Warriors” is a hack ’n’ slash spin-off developed with the makers of the Dynasty Warriors franchise.
For more story-based fantasy, there’s also a crossover between Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei role-playing game franchise and Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem series.
And for the kids, Mario’s dinosaur pal Yoshi is getting his first solo game since “Yoshi’s Story” on the Nintendo 64. Sporting the same yarn- and fabric-based visual style as the developer’s previous title, “Kirby’s Epic Yarn,” the new game looks like more of the family-friendly platforming fun that Nintendo is famous for.
Exclusive third-party titles
If there’s one area where Nintendo has been criticized most over the years, it’s in its failure to rally support from third-party developers. The Wii U hasn’t totally fixed that problem, but it’s definitely made steps in the right direction. That includes scoring a few exclusive titles that alone might justify the price of a new console.
Particularly, fans of role-playing games like the Final Fantasy series should keep an eye out for “X,” the new title from Japanese developer Monolith Soft.
Monolith Soft’s last effort, a Wii exclusive called “Xenoblade Chronicles,” has become one of the most sought-after games of the last console cycle. Used copies routinely fetch around $100 on eBay. Although not a whole lot is known about “X,” it’s believed to be a spiritual successor to “Xenoblade Chronicles,” and it allows players to control giant robots called “dolls.”
The Wii U eShop will also be getting some downloadable exclusives worth checking out such as “Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails” (a top-down, on-rails shooter), a futuristic racer called “FAST Racing NEO” (from popular indie developer Shin’en), “Tengami” (a puzzle-based adventure story set in feudal Japan and done in the style of a popup book) and, as a timed exclusive (meaning, a title that will come out first on the Wii U before eventually showing up on other consoles), a platformer/puzzler hybrid called “Armillo.”
DS Virtual Console
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Last but not least, during the company’s recent third quarter financial results briefing as reported by IGN, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed one more thing to get excited about in 2014: A future update to the Wii U Virtual Console will add titles from Nintendo’s extensive back catalog of DS games.
No specifics have been announced yet, but with so many software options to choose from, including installments in popular franchises like Castlevania, Pokémon and many of the ones already mentioned here (Mario Kart, Zelda, etc.), this could prove to be a huge draw for families looking for more gaming options.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.