You don't have to look very far across the interweb to see pages and pages detailing the doom and gloom of the Wii U these days. Even here at Dealspwn we've been mixed in our opinions of Nintendo's latest console and it's future. But for all the naysayers and harbingers of misery there have also been many who point to a few AAA titles on the horizon that may yet save the floundering machine. And arguably the biggest of these flagship titles is Super Smash Bros.
But despite this franchise having legions of fans, and is almost guaranteed to be a sure-fire hit, could even this title be a double-edged sword for the Wii U? Could it potentially do more damage than good?
Why It Could Be Special
Let's start off with the more obvious, and indeed optimistic view of things. The Super Smash Bros' franchise is huge, it has sold nearly 23m units across it's 3 previous games, and when you consider that half those sales alone came from the latest installment on the Wii, it's certainly a franchise on the up.
Contrast this potential in terms of sales figures to the current Wii U's sales levels. At the turn of the year, Wii U sales were 5.86m units, which is less than both Super Smash Bros Melee sales on the GameCube and Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii. So it only takes a quick check on a calculator to tell me that there is plenty of opportunity for a significant shift in Wii U sales if the trend-line of the Smash Bros. franchise continues.
Another significant fact that is working in the Wii U's favour is that it's likely to be a good game. The last two aforementioned titles in the series - Melee and Brawl - both garnered overall scores on Metacritic of 92 and 93 respectively, and that shows (at least from a game critic's perspective) that these games were good. Given the development time, and the opportunity, and the skilled people over at HAL Laboratory, it's safe to assume that the next installment for Wii U is likely to be a quality game. Which is good, because it's often what the naysayers cite as a reason for not purchasing a Wii U - lack of top quality games - and the new Smash Bros title is likely to deliver in that department.
The exclusivity that this game will bring will also draw more people's attention to the Wii U. There's also no risk of a Rayman Legends-type incident here, and Smash Bros going multi-platform, and so the only place to play Smash Bros is on a Nintendo machine. That definitely creates customer pull, especially if the game lives up to the hype and expectation that has been swirling around it since launch.
The other major benefit of launching Smash Bros is actually what it can do for the Wii U subconsciously. Anyone who has read my end of year articles will have noticed that my biggest disappointment for the last two year's running has been Nintendo's Marketing Department. Or lack thereof. To put it bluntly, Nintendo are one of the worst examples of Marketing I have seen in videogames, if not the worst. And that's not because I'm a borderline Nintendo fanboy and expect the Earth. It's because I see plenty of examples of better marketing in this industry daily, and when Nintendo do pull out the big guns, it always feels lacklustre in comparison.
But fear not, this article hasn't suddenly merged into another rant about Ninty's lack of Marketing strategy. No, there's a reason for me bringing it up. And that is that Super Smash Bros as a franchise is the best Marketing Department Nintendo could ever ask for. You see Smash Bros doesn't just present people with cathartic opportunities to punch Mario in the face, it allows Nintendo to showcase it's glorious back catalogue with the world in a way that is accessible and enjoyable.
I remember back in the days of the original Super Smash Bros and I unlocked Ness for the first time. I distinctively remember thinking "Who the heck is Ness?" and feeling distinctively short-changed versus unlocking Captain Falcon and his uber-cool Falcon Punch! So what did I do? Well I looked into this Ness character, heard about this franchise I'd never heard about called Earthbound and was very intrigued. The same happened when I unlocked Marth in Melee, and I'm now a proud fan of all things Fire Emblem.
You see Smash Bros does something special, it sells Nintendo in a great way. And it creates demand for games and other franchises just by showcasing a character as an Assist Trophy or in the main roster itself. You like that character in the game, and you want to know where it came from. All Nintendo need to do is use this to there advantage with the Wii U version - i.e include characters from Wii U-specific franchises - and the result could be very fortuitous for the console.
Why It Could Be Disastrous
However. We like to be balanced here at Dealspwn, so let's take a look at the less obvious, and rarely-discussed scenario that Smash Bros could actually harm the Wii U. I'm not going to discuss the obvious and indeed unlikely outcome of the game being bad, as we've already discussed this is unlikely to be the case. It's likely to be a very good game, so what could go wrong?
Well first off you do get a sense of feeling with the Smash Bros series that there must be a ceiling to hit at some point. There's only so far you can take 2D fighting before it loses it's wow factor. In fact I would argue one of the biggest challenges the next Smash Bros games faces is to avoid the apathy of Smash Bros veterans, and the gaming industry in general. Nintendo have managed to breathe new life into old franchises before by trying new things, but what scope is there to do this to a game like Smash Bros? Obviously we all hope Nintendo and HAL have the answers in their next installment, but if all they manage to do is create a nicer looking version of Brawl with a few new characters, then it could be the beginning of the end.
Hype is a great thing, but with it comes great pressure and responsibility. Not only the hype for the game itself, but for it's chances of rejuvenating a spluttering console. If Smash Bros feels uninspired versus it's predecessors, and as such doesn't stir up excitement like it has in previous generations, it will also fail in it's thankless task of propping up the Wii U. And what then for the console? "If Smash Bros can't turn it round, then nothing can" will argue the masses, and with good reason. Nintendo know that with the relative unsuccessful launches of other key titles like Super Mario 3D World, that they're placing all their eggs in a Smash Bros shaped basket, and they could end up with said egg on their faces if it doesn't work.
But hype aside I would argue there is a very unique and huge problem Nintendo faces when it launches Smash Bros for Wii U. Something that could single-handedly ensure their console is redundant. And the name of that final nail in the coffin? The 3DS.
Nintendo has decided to launch a 3DS version of Smash Bros as well as a Wii U version, and this decision could have catastrophic ramifications for the latter. Nintendo's multi-dimensional hand-held currently sits at the top of the tree having shipped over 42m units at the turn of the year. That's 7 times as many 3DSs in the marketplaces than Wii Us. Now let's imagine for a moment that the latest Smash Bros game gets released and is the best game ever created - what every pro Wii U gamer wants. Now just think about those numbers. 42m 3DSs vs less than 6m Wii Us about the place. 42 is most definitely a bigger number than 6. Much bigger. And therefore it's fair to assume a 3DS version will be selling better than the Wii U one. If lots of 3DS owners buy their version and enjoy it, then why would you need the Wii U version? And then by extension why would you need the Wii U?
It's crude but it makes sense. If Nintendo can nail portable Smash Bros, it makes the Wii U's saving grace game redundant from day 1. And if up until that point people are still undecided about the console (fair to assume given current trends) then what is left to push it? The sad answer is a whole lot of nothing.
So What Needs To Happen?
So how can Nintendo help themselves? Firstly they need to not rely on this game. They need other games to generate consumer pull, games like Mario Kart 8, X and Bayonetta 2. They need to announce key titles at E3 this year which are far down the line of development to spread the anticipation about so that it isn't all on a particular games' shoulders. And to dispel the myth that the Wii U is about a few good games and nothing else.
And then they need to think very carefully of their treatment of the latest Smash Bros installment. Especially on Wii U. I'll eat my own hat if the 3DS version doesn't sell like hotcakes because of the large user base and the concept of handheld Smash Bros for the first time. The Wii U version however will need a helping hand. It needs to have meaningful additions not present in the 3DS version to encourage people to buy both versions (because if they go for one of the other, they are likely to go 3DS). And also, as mentioned earlier, when considering these additions, if they could tailor them to Wii U games either current or in development, that would help showcase and market the Wii U catalogue and potential in a way only Smash Bros can.
That way the game may have the desired effect and lift Wii U sales out of the grim depths that they are currently in, and get more people playing on Nintendo's latest console.
But what are your thoughts dear readers? How do you view the upcoming Smash Bros and the impact it could have on Wii U? Let us know in the comments section below.