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Gaming Friday, January 17th 2014 at 1:06 pm

The Wii U Is Flopping, So What Can Nintendo Do to Get Me to Buy One?

It starts with an "S" and ends with "mash Brothers had better be great."

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 12.41.24 PM

News that Nintendo’s Wii U is flopping is all over the place, and company President Satoru Iwata is scrambling to apologize to investors. While reports that this is the start of a death spiral for the company are silly, it’s equally silly to ignore that Nintendo is clearly on the wrong path with the Wii U, so what can they do about it?

Let me head off any angry fanboy comments (which probably won’t work anyway) by saying first that I am a long-time Nintendo fan. The only Nintendo system I don’t currently have hooked up to my TV besides the Wii U is an SNES, because I went through a Sega Genesis phase in the 90s, but I’ve been considering buying one to complete my collection.

For the GameCube and the Wii, the two previous Nintendo console launches of my adult life, I stood in line on launch night to make sure I got mine as soon as possible. Picking up a PlayStation or Xbox somewhere down the line of a hardware generation has always been an afterthought.

To me, it speaks volumes about the Wii U that someone like me felt no excitement or need to buy one at launch, and I still don’t own one now. Sure, that’s just me, and there are plenty of people who were excited, and I’m not trying to say that they’re wrong for being excited, but they’re definitely in the minority according to sales.

However, I don’t buy into all of the doom and gloom talk—not just because Nintendo still trounces everyone in handhelds, but because there are some simple things they can do to win my affections back, and I don’t think I’m alone. Here’s how Nintendo can convince a jaded old gamer to buy a Wii U:

#1. Give us Wii U games that can’t be ported to the 3DS

Innovation is something that Nintendo prides itself on, but no matter how much they try to sell the Wii U’s second screen capabilities, it’s still just basically the home console version of a DS. Everyone has realized that by now, right? Whether you love or hate motion controls, they were an effective hook that moved the original Wii off the shelves faster than you can say “Let’s-a go.”

The Wii U, on the other hand, doesn’t offer something new to the expanded gaming crowd that Nintendo courted with the original Wii in terms of hardware. That puts the innovation onus on software, and that’s where the Wii U is failing. That’s not to say that the Wii U doesn’t have some great games, but when there’s nothing about those great games that couldn’t be replicated with fewer polygons on a 3DS, it’s hard to see why the Wii U exists at all.

What’s the solution? This is a tough one, because Nintendo has been quick to bash Sony and Microsoft for just upgrading the power of their consoles without really providing anything new except for graphical upgrades, but the Wii U is actually guilty of that in a much bigger way. More power in Sony and Microsoft consoles often opens up the possibility for new and bigger ideas and features instead of just improved graphics.

The Wii U is basically just a Wii/DS hybrid that doesn’t offer anything new aside from superior graphics, which is the same mistake they like to point out in other consoles. For example, even if Super Mario 3d World is the best 3D Mario game to date, it’s still not bringing anything revolutionary to the table, and that’s why it’s not selling tons of consoles. What Nintendo needs to do is create a game that is not only amazing but provides a new experience that can’t be replicated on any other console, and that includes the 3DS.

#2. Don’t mess up Smash Bros.‘ online mode again

Yes, it may sound strange to mention a game that has basically been around since 1999 right after talking about offering up something new. It may also sound strange because the game is coming to both the 3DS and the Wii U, which pretty much makes it emblematic of the problem I just mentioned, but hear me out.

Smash Bros. is what’s great about Nintendo. For a lot of older gamers, Nintendo characters are still near and dear to them even as they turn their back on Nintendo systems in favor of Sony or Microsoft. While older gamers may grow bored of playing the same Mario and Zelda concepts with improved graphics, repurposing those characters for a mashup game is much more fun, and that’s part of the reason that Smash Bros. may be the game that saved the GameCube. It was, by far, that system’s best selling game.

But it’s basically been the same game since the GameCube, so how can it help the Wii U?

Nintendo still fails to have a commanding online gaming presence. It’s gotten better since Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii, which had an extremely limited and disappointing online mode, but it’s one area where Nintendo could still convince people that they can do new things.

It’s not the most original solution, but for the time being, Nintendo has to work with what it’s got, and fans that have outgrown Smash Bros. may be lured back in one last time by the draw of endless fun in online matches. It’s a band-aid for a bigger problem, but as one of Nintendo’s youngest yet biggest franchises, it just might help if it can overcome the fact that it’s also coming to 3DS.

#3. Stop giving us new Mario and give us the “Next Mario

Creating new franchises is kind of a no-brainer, and it’s actually been hinted at already, but Nintendo needs to stop relying so strongly on its established franchises. There are still hardcore Nintendo fans out there who will go on and on about the most recent Mario or Zelda and how it’s the most wonderful game they’ve ever played, and sequel saturation is far from a uniquely Nintendo problem. (I’m looking at you, every other game franchise that exists—especially Call of Duty.)

This is also why I don’t think the Wii U’s floundering is all bad news. Ten years ago, I may have gone to the store and bought the new Nintendo system just because it was going to have the next Zelda on it, but I’ve gotten tired of that pattern. The fact is that most of Nintendo’s franchises haven’t changed much from their first version to make the jump from 2D to 3D (the old school 2D/3D switch, not the current one), and I’m kind of tired of buying a marginally improved version of the same game over and over.

Of course, there are kids out there who didn’t grow up playing Ocarina of Time and Mario 64 like I did, and they’re a prime market for upgraded versions of existing game concepts. That’s all well and good, but if they want to keep the same audience coming back instead of consistently chasing kids who’ve never played older games, they’re going to have to try something new.

It doesn’t even have to be entirely new. Kid Icarus: Uprising is one of the biggest reasons I own a 3DS. Kind of like the modern Doctor Who, it draws on an old property for nostalgia and great jokes but makes it into something that feels modern and fresh. Hopefully, they’ll get the message from the low Wii U sales that MarioZelda, and the rest aren’t enough to drive system sales. I don’t want those franchises to die out, but it’s time to stop clinging to nostalgia and give us the game that will become the next generation’s Mario instead of more of the game that was ours.

#4. Sorry. You’re probably going to have to cut the price, again

OK, this is super obvious as well, but it needs to be said. I don’t know how much further Nintendo can slash the price of the Wii U and continue to make profits, but even at $299 with a game included, the system is just priced too close to the PlayStation 4′s $399 for comfort. The Wii U is only just over a year old and has already had its price cut once, but it just wasn’t deep enough.

If I could bring home a brand new Wii U for $199, it’d make me a lot more likely to buy one. The 3DS price cut sure got me on board with that system. If they can turn the conversation from, “Do I want a PlayStation 4 or a Wii U?” To, “Hey, I can afford a PlayStation 4 and a Wii U,” it might really benefit them. After all, great games don’t do much for a system unless it’s in people’s homes where their friends and family can see it and decide they need one of their own.

Nintendo was very adamant during the last generation that they didn’t want people to consider the Wii a secondary console that they would own as well as a PlayStation or Xbox, but they should really swallow their pride and embrace the fact that people want the best of both worlds.

#5. Stop trying  so hard to sell everyone on the game pad

Most of Nintendo’s damage control efforts on the Wii U so far have been centered around making sure people understand that it’s something new and not just a Wii add on that your Grandma doesn’t understand. The reason that’s not working (and coming off kind of sad), is that it’s not even that important that people get it.

What’s important is selling people on games. Let’s leave older gamers out of the equation for a minute and just focus on the kids who are asking their parents for this system, because that’s the kind of situation this marketing is meant for. Older gamers generally know what the Wii U is all about, but a lot of parents are confused.

Unfortunately, since it’s too late to change the name, color, and entire branding of the system, this confusion is always going to exist, and Nintendo would do better to just forget about it and focus on marketing the games. Not to sound like a broken record, but taking brand loyalty out of the equation, since that hasn’t gotten Nintendo very far this time, great games are what sell systems.

If kids are telling their parents they need a Wii U to play a game (and yes, kids know these things), their parents will go to the store and buy the Wii U whether they understand what it is or not. My mother certainly didn’t understand the N64′s controller, but that wouldn’t have stopped her from buying me one if I hadn’t been old enough to be told I had to buy it myself.

The gimmick isn’t working. It’s time to get over that and focus on what can work.

 -

Again, I don’t buy the line of thinking that poor Wii U sales mean Nintendo is doomed. Even though it’s still selling less than Nintendo hoped, the 3DS is a force to be reckoned with despite the rampant proliferation of mobile gaming on devices people already own, which is impressive. I just want so badly for them to succeed that I think it’s time for them to take a good hard look in the mirror and make some changes.

Maybe they got drunk on the success of the Wii and didn’t realize that it wasn’t something that could be repeated with an oversized, graphically superior DS, but there’s still time to turn things around. Of course, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say, “Man, you guys should really just come up with an entirely new game that has never been done before and becomes an instant classic. Easy, right?”

That doesn’t change the fact that, even if I don’t personally know what that game should be, that’s what Nintendo needs to do if they want the Wii U’s sales to turn around. No Dynasty Warriors: Zelda Edition—er, sorry, Hyrule Warriors is going to fix things. (Come on, we all know that’s the most dated collaboration ever, right?) Who knows? Maybe this is the wakeup call Nintendo needs. I’d love nothing more than the Wii U’s poor sales causing Nintendo to suddenly start coming up with brand new game ideas that I can’t live without.

(image via Nintendo)

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