Forget Xbox One: 2014 could be Nintendo’s year

A sequel to one of the most successful consoles of all time -- what could possibly go wrong?

In late 2012, Nintendo released the Wii U console, the successor to the enormously popular Wii. The new console was more powerful, compatible with Wii games, and included a snazzy new controller with an enormous screen on it that could be used either to play the games when the TV was off, or used in conjunction with the games themselves.

The launch flopped.

Casual gamers failed to grasp what a Wii U was – was it a controller upgrade, or a whole new console? Also, unlike hardcore gamers who upgrade at every chance, many casual gamers were happy with their existing device, and saw no need to upgrade. In 2013, Nintendo’s sales figures in America have been dismal. Between March 2013 and March 2014, Nintendo’s goal is to sell nine million consoles. To date, the company hasn’t even reached one million.

With the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One just released, is Nintendo doomed to a crippling console failure? Or could 2014 be the turnaround year for the Wii U and for Nintendo?

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“We're feeling really good about our ability to compete,” Cindy Gordon, Nintendo's vice president of corporate affairs, told at the beginning of December.

Gordon has reason to be optimistic, as Wii U sales are beginning to climb. November’s sales figures are solid, and the company claims its numbers are up 340 percent month-over-month.

In the last few months, “Pikmin 3,” “Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD” and the sublime “Super Mario 3D World” have dazzled reviewers, nixing criticism that the Wii U lacks games.

On the price front, Nintendo also has the advantage. A current bundle will get you a Wii U, and “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD” for $335. Compare that to the PlayStation 4 ($400) and the Xbox One ($500), neither of which come with games.

“We’re standing apart offering variety and value,” Gordon said. “There's no question that we are the best offering for families this year and that Nintendo is the best choice for family gaming.”

Family gaming is where the Wii made its money, and it is certainly a strong selling point for the Wii U. While both the Xbox One and PS4 have next to no child-friendly games, almost all of Wii U’s top titles are family-friendly.

2014 should be a good year in terms of titles, with “Bayonetta 2,” “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze,” “Mario Kart 8” and “Super Smash Bros. U” all slated for release for the Wii U -- a strong lineup by any standards.

Meanwhile on the handheld front, the Nintendo 3DS has blown its sole competitor – the PlayStation Vita – out of the water with top-selling titles like “Pokemon X/Y” and “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.” Also, by releasing the cheaper non-3D version of the console – the Nintendo 2DS – Nintendo offers not only the best handheld, but the cheapest. Strong signs that 2014 will be Nintendo’s year at least on the handheld front.

In short, Nintendo finally has its ducks in a row.

2013 was such a bad year for Nintendo that many have already written the company off. Jason Rubin, cofounder of developer Naughty Dog recently called Nintendo “irrelevant as a hardware manufacturer in the console business,” while in a recent op-ed for, journalist Justin Towell called for Nintendo to “admit defeat and move on” from the Wii U.

The company clearly has ground to make up. But with a strong line-up of family-friendly games and a competitive price, Nintendo is not to be dismissed. If the company can keep it up, 2014 could be the year of Nintendo, and the Wii U may go from laughingstock to one of the biggest turnarounds in gaming history.

If there’s one company that can do it, it’s Nintendo.

Email Adam Shaw here and follow on Twitter: @AdamShawNY