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The Success of 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' Underscores How Badly Wii U Flopped

To many people, it's like 'Mario Kart 8' never existed before last week. Nintendo would be smart to take advantage of this.

by Patrick Klepek
May 1 2017, 9:16pm

Image courtesy of Nintendo

It's easy to forget this in light of Switch's early success, but it's worth remembering: no one bought a Wii U. I don't mean nobody, but in the grand scheme of things, nobody bought a Wii U. It helps explain how a souped up (but still excellent) port of Mario Kart 8 broke a franchise record last week, selling 459,000 copies in a single day. That's more than Mario Kart Wii's debut, 433,900 copies. Take a breath before predicting Switch will be a phenomenon in the same way Wii was, but it does underscore how much of a sales dud the Wii U proved to be.

I loved my Wii U, though, and poured hundreds of hours into its best games. Between Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Maker, Bayonetta 2, Splatoon, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker alone, a Wii U was well worth owning, a machine with a slate of console exclusives rivaling any other.

In a sense, both of Switch's first major games are Wii U ports. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was meant to be a Wii U release, but it eventually straddled both machines, just like Twilight Princess. But whereas Wii's gimmicky motion controls to swing a sword did little to enhance Twilight Princess (arguably the opposite), Switch's portability made Breath of the Wild a better game. My wife became so used to having me in bed as she went to sleep—I'm usually sneaking in an hour with games after she's out—she was bummed when I finished Breath of the Wild.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a great example of Switch's dynamic portability, too, but it's also an enhanced version of a Mario Kart game that a bunch of people never had a chance to play.

(Thanks to Nintendo insider Emily Rogers for sparking the idea for this piece.)

Nintendo isn't the first company to embrace re-releases. When PlayStation 4 launched, Naughty Dog and Sony quickly decided to port both The Last of Us, a game that came out at the end of PlayStation 3's lifespan, and the first three Uncharted games. Sony noticed that "a huge proportion" of people playing The Last of Us on PlayStation 4 were entirely new to the game.

This was true for Uncharted, too.

"We did a lot of research and discovered that about 80 per cent of the people that own a PS4 have never played Uncharted, period," said Naughty Dog community strategist Eric Monacelli in an interview with MCV from 2015. "That was one of the reasons why we thought remastering it would be a good idea."

Image courtesy of Sony

There was another big number driving Sony's decisions: per an interview with Kotaku, nearly 50% of people who were buying a PlayStation 4 early on hadn't owned a PlayStation 3, either because they owned another console in the last generation or skipped out on a console. A huge audience had no exposure to games like The Last of Us or Uncharted. They might as well have not existed.

My gut tells me the gap's even wider than 50% for Wii U and Switch. The hardest of the hardcore showed up for Wii U and no one else.

A big difference between PlayStation 3 and Wii U, however, is that while PlayStation 3 stumbled out of the gate because of a series of misguided and arrogant decisions by Sony, they turned the ship around. PlayStation 3 became a success, competing toe-to-tie with Microsoft by the end of the generation. Microsoft might have captured the mindshare of players early on, but after being humbled, years of hard work had Sony on solid footing before PlayStation 4.

This never happened for Wii U. Nintendo decided to axe it and move on.

The cynical way to look at Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is that it allows Nintendo to fill their release calendar with "new" games without actually releasing a "new" game. (To Nintendo's credit, they added new characters and tweaked the game's much criticized battle mode. It's a better game.) The cynics can be right and Nintendo can still be smart for releasing a game like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, all while the company works on brand-new games (ARMS) and needed sequels (Splatoon 2).

It won't be a surprise if Nintendo rolls out a similar strategy for other games, either, notably for Super Mario Maker and Super Smash Bros. I don't think it means they aren't working on proper sequels to any of those games, either. It buys time.

If anything, my own appreciation for the many Wii U games that went unnoticed by friends, colleagues, and the wider gaming public has me hoping Nintendo will re-releasing more of the machine's best games on Switch. I'd kill for a portable version of Super Mario 3D World, one of the most underrated of the modern Mario games. It'd be a great way to tee up the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey.

You, like me, might have played Mario Kart 8 already. But you're also reading a website like Waypoint, and mostly likely follow video games enough to know Mario Kart 8 was already released. There's a good chance most people picking up a Switch don't know—or don't care.

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