The Wii U hasn't had a great year, to put it very mildly. Despite a smattering of absolutely sensational first-party software, Nintendo's machine has stumbled and struggled to attract customers thanks to a near-total dearth of third party titles, mixed messages and a release slate that's more gaps than games. With two next-gen consoles releasing next month, along with plenty of multi-platform titles for other platforms, it's tempting to suggest that the Wii U is going to have a lean old Yuletide. Standing outside the foreclosed orphanage, perhaps, clutching its frostbitten teddy bear.
But then again, miracles happen at Christmas.
We tend to see consoles as pieces of gaming hardware, a means to the end of playing fantastic games. That's our perspective as gamers, that's our context. However, in December, they transform into something else entirely, at least for the majority of consumers. Consoles stop being consoles... and become presents. Once you shift your context and change your perspective, barging through the crowds with bags in hand or racing to meet the last postage deadline, things are very different.
Be honest: have you started your Christmas shopping yet? I'm sure that some of you have, but trust me, most people aren't that organised. No, once the Christmas rush starts in earnest, the vast majority of us are going to be dashing about like mad things trying to get gifts for our partners, little Timmy and Nell, not to mention weird Uncle Frobisher and the rest of his commune. Just me? Huh.
Little Timmy and Nell want a console for Christmas, so let's face it, you're going to want to buy them a PS4. "You" being a strictly hypothetical thought experiment construct, of course, along with the non-existent Nell and Timmy. I've never met someone called Nell.
Sony's next-gen console is the real deal, in any sense of the phrase. Powerful hardware, a surprisingly comfortable controller, some neat boxed games AND plenty of F2P games that won't run you a penny? You'd be mad not to. Which is what everyone will be thinking. Meanwhile Sony is still facing a logistical mountain in manufacturing enough consoles to satisfy their pre-order demand, let alone flooding high street stores with bundles to spare.
I'd love to believe that everyone who wants a PS4 is going to be able to walk into a shop and buy one, a fortnight before Christmas. Gosh, that would be lovely. But can you see it happening? Really? There'll probably be a few knocking about on eBay, mind, marked up to insane levels.
Microsoft have pledged to get plenty of Xbox One consoles into stores in time for Christmas, and they probably will. Unfortunately the Kinect-enabled machine faces a very different problem. To be blunt: it costs £430, and that's the absolute bare minimum. If you want a game or two, perhaps an extra controller, an Xbox One will run you somewhere between £500-£600, and that's a lot of money at a very expensive time of year. Sure, some great parents and gaming enthusiasts will buy one for their kids (sorry: themselves, who are we kidding), but it's still a huge expense even if you got a decent Christmas bonus.
However, there is another option. An affordable option, budget even, that's practically guaranteed to be in stock. A console from a manufacturer you can trust, especially if you don't religiously follow gaming news and keep up to date with the latest. A console with brands you can trust, such as Mario, Pikmin, Zelda and Sonic (who people still have faith in, weirdly, hopefully Lost World will break the trend). For a fraction of the price of an Xbox One or PS4, you'll be able to net a relatively new games machine, GamePad, controller and some excellent extra games to boot, many of which will provide plenty of local multiplayer fun over the Christmas break.
In fact, where is the local multiplayer fun on Xbox One and PS4? There's FIFA, I suppose.
Remember, many customers and parents will just be looking for a console to put under the tree, a present, and the Wii U is both present and correct price-wise. With retailers already rolling out some phenomenal unofficial bundles to supplement Nintendo's own official offerings, the little black or white box has never been more tempting.
We're not suggesting that the Wii U is going to run rampant this Christmas and crush the competition. Let's not be silly. This is very much a next-gen party, while plenty of current-gen titles are enough to keep many gamers firmly rooted with their existing hardware. Plus, XCOM: Enemy Within is happening.
But it's likely that the Wii U will end up selling modestly well, and expanding its user base significantly over the Christmas break - even if it's just as an impulse purchase or last-minute compromise for those of us who aren't clued up on the latest news or particularly worried about specifications. With the likes of Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, X and Bayonetta 2 waiting in the wings, perhaps this was Nintendo's plan all along.
Then again, you could go ahead and buy a 3DS instead.