Green Switch Palace: Seesaws and Trampolines

Nintendo’s down, Nintendo’s up.

By Marc N. Kleinhenz. Posted 12/02/2011 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Green Switch Palace masthead GSPSuper Mario 3D Land has sold more than 500,000 copies in just a little over two weeks. That makes it the fastest-selling portable Mario game of all time. Better yet, it helped triple 3DS sales for Black Friday week. At eight months old, the handheld has already reached the DS’s one-year sales milestone of 2.37 million units. Not too shabby for a system that was routinely ridiculed for the first several months of its existence.

And the news gets even better for the other has-been machine. Skyward Sword is the best-selling Zelda in the series’s 25-year-history, moving 535,000 pieces in just seven days, which helped give the Wii its strongest Black Friday showing yet. A half million consoles were sold within the 24-hour period, bumping the system’s lifetime worldwide sales up to roughly 85 million units– impressive, but still just a little over halfway to the PlayStation 2’s phenomenal 150 million tally.

It’s a topsy-turvy story for a company that has consistently taken the twisting, winding, often-recursive path for all of its 34 years as a videogame developer. The story of going from the unprecedentedly popular NES and SNES to the fatally flawed N64 and GCN is one that is, of course, seared into the nerdy minds of gamers all over the world. And the dips and turns and reversals of the Wii era are enough to match all of the previous four consoles’ combined: Nintendo was doomed and the Wii was a last-ditch effort borne of desperation, sure to fail; the company was spectacularly insightful and made a machine to draw in thousands of non-gamers, forcing its competitors to play motion catch-up; the system is drawn out and tired and collapsing under the weight of its own bloated library of gimmicks and party games. Up and down, up and down, up and down– all in five years. Wii is quite the trampoline.

Now it seems like the big N is up again, and up in a very big way. Given its constantly-revised-down sales goals for the remainder of the year and its dismal stock performance— prices are down 50% compared to this time last year, making it a five-year-low– the news is ludicrously welcome for its executives, investors, and, of course, its fanboys. The last year of the Wii’s lifespan is being salvaged, 3DS is (finally!) being vindicated, and the impending Wii U is looking more like a stroke of organic decision-making instead of maniacal scrambling.

But like the political scene as of late, when the seesaw teeters, you better believe it’s going to totter, and do so in an exponentially compacted timeframe.

“We know that Black Friday and that entire week is a key selling week and it is important for products like ours to have a jump in momentum, and we were fortunate to see that,” Reggie Fils-Aime, president of NOA, said. “For us, it really was driven by unique and powerful software, and what gives us confidence is that we still have more software to launch in the balance of this holiday period.” But what that remaining software amounts to is… Mario Kart 7 for 3DS and Fortune Street for Wii. And that’s it.

Reggie may think the latter will “do quite well for us during the holiday,” and he probably is completely correct, but it still does little to offer a compelling and diverse array of choices for all the millions of console owners (or much make up for the lack of Xenoblade Chronicles here in the States). And it’s even more depressing when Q4 ’10– just one year ago!– is taken into account, when Wii Party, NBA Jam, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, GoldenEye, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Epic Mickey, and Super Mario All-stars were all released. There’s just no comparison.

At this rate, with Nintendo at the top of the world, it’s going to be at the lowest of the lows again by New Year’s, rally in spring (when the PS Vita doesn’t do as well as hyped or expected [a parallel to 3DS which is an entirely different story all its own]), and drop back down again to the next all-time nadir just a few weeks later. And then Wii U will launch, beginning an even more compressed series of wins and losses in an even more volatile arena of public perception.

It is unknown what effect this will ultimately have on the industry as a whole, but on the micro level, for a Nintendo enthusiast, it’s just another day in the park.

Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered gaming for over a dozen publications, including Gamasutra and TotalPlayStation, where he was features editor. He also likes mittens.

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