The lights are on
We've reached that point in the platform cycle where a Nintendo device is selling poorly and everyone is making hasty funeral arrangements for the Japanese behemoth. We went through similar prognostications with the DS and 3DS. Both platforms got off to a slow start. Each eventually righted the ship and raked in huge sales. Now it's the Wii U's chance to spit in the face of death. To get the console back on track, we have a few suggestions for Nintendo.
1. Build New Worlds
Nintendo still employs one of the best game designers in the world, the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto. The mind that brought us Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, F-Zero, and Pikmin is still the company's development lynchpin, but he recently admitted that the first thing his team does after coming up with a gameplay innovation is figure out which pre-existing franchise it could possibly benefit. This approach explains why Mario has proven so resistant to franchise fatigue, but why make the mustachioed plumber do all the heavy lifting?
Everyone loves Mario, Link, and crew, but nothing would be a bigger system-seller than a brand new title from the world's most decorated game designer. The old franchises can hold down the fort while Miyamoto explores new ideas and worlds to create another group of characters that could eventually stand alongside Nintendo's formidable stable of iconic faces.
2. Spend On Exclusives
Whenever Nintendo hits a rough patch, I often hear journalists and fans respond by saying, "don't worry about Nintendo, it has a huge war chest." What good is Scrooge McDuck's pool of gold coins if you don't spend it? Landing Sega's Bayonetta 2 and Sonic: Lost World as Wii U exclusives was a step in the right direction. Now Nintendo needs to match every Titanfall or The Witness console exclusivity deal with a coup of its own.
Nintendo has one feather in its cap that neither Sony nor Microsoft can claim: a deeply embedded sense of nostalgia. The company could leverage this powerful marketing tool by spending the money to lure third-party franchises that made their mark in the 8- and 16-bit eras. If the Wii U was the only place you could play Mega Man, Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, and Contra games, chances are it would be much more appealing to the hardcore gamers who have thus far stuck with their pre-existing consoles or put their money down on an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 pre-order.
A retro gaming renaissance is raging right now in the indie space, and if Nintendo were smart it would sign more small dev teams to Wii U exclusive deals as well. The GUILD series on 3DS would be a great model for Wii U development.
3. Bring Back Beloved Franchises
If third parties aren't going to offer full-fledged support for the Wii U until the install base grows, it's up to Nintendo to draw gamers to its platform. When exploring potential catalysts, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to look beyond the Mario games and point to the treasure trove of franchises lying dormant.
Nintendo's laziness in delivering a new 2D Metroid game is inexcusable, and should be corrected immediately. We'd also love to see what developers could do with F-Zero, Star Fox, and Punch-Out in the online space. Another title begging for (official) resurrection is Eternal Darkness, one of the best games of the GameCube era.
4. Fix The Online Experience
The aforementioned titles would make for perfect online games, but there's one problem - the Wii U online experience sucks. Whether Nintendo wants to believe it or not, online connectivity is the future. The Nintendo Network is vastly improved over the company's previous online offerings, but there is still work to do. Nintendo needs to double down on the Wii U infrastructure to provide a universal friends list that lets you send game invites directly from the list, introduce cross-game chat, and make the eShop the centerpiece of the console with a strong stable of indie titles. Doing so will allow Nintendo's flagship franchises to grow in new ways (Super Smash Bros. online? Yes, please), ensure that third party juggernauts like Call of Duty continue to support the platform, and convince indies that they will get enough visibility to be profitable.
5. Don't Forget Grandma
The Wii outpaced the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 because Nintendo figured out a way to tap the non-traditional gaming market. Convincing soccer moms and senior citizens to embrace its platform was a huge win for gaming in general, but the low software attach rate suggests that many of these Wii Sports fans simply shoved their consoles in the closet after the fad faded.
This doesn't have to be the case. If Nintendo can demonstrate the allure of the GamePad as a primary input device and offer unconventional experiences that appeal to people otherwise intimidated by the many buttons on a traditional gamepad, it could continue to expand the demographics for the interactive entertainment industry. It's no small feat, but Nintendo has done it before and reaped the benefits.
Those are our suggestions. What are yours?
Email the author Matt Bertz, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.