The Wii U has finally broken 10 million units sold, and Nintendo says it’s thanks to a little game called Splatoon.
Splatoon is, of course, Nintendo’s latest IP: a whimsical ink-shooting game whose big attraction is multiplayer matches called Turf Wars, where players try to cover as much ground in their color of ink as possible. Splatoon sold 1.62 million units within the first month of its release. It “contributed to vitalizing the Wii U platform,” Nintendo said in a review of its financial highlights.
Sales for the Wii U have always been disappointing, especially in comparison with the success of the Wii, which outsold Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in early 2007. But when the next generation of consoles rolled around, the Wii U was sitting at 9.5 million units sold after two years on the market. In the year and a half after its November 2013 release, the Xbox One sold 13 million units.
PlayStation 4, ever an overachiever, moved 22 million units in that same time.
Neither figure made the Wii U look good.
Nintendo has worked hard to jumpstart Wii U sales with a string of high-profile releases to popular franchises. Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U both came out in 2014 and were credited with bumping Wii U sales. At the time, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said that it wasn’t new games that were bringing the Wii U’s numbers up. It was “the release of two classic multiplayer titles for Nintendo’s home console.”
Nintendo’s bread and butter has always been these family-friendly multiplayer games that rely on familiar faces like Mario to carry the brand.
Which makes Splatoon’s success all the more exciting. It’s a complete new property, and a new concept for Nintendo as well. As a neat bonus, the marketing for Splatoon focused largely on the female version of the player character.
“The design was centered on the girl at first, and then the design of a boy was thought of in comparison,” Splatoon designer Keisuke Nishimori told Famitsu magazine. This is an important step for Nintendo, which has struggled with representation of female characters in the past.
In the coming months, Nintendo will be relying on its upcoming releases to keep the Splatoon-effect going. Yoshi’s Woolly World and Super Mario Maker are slated for fall release in North America. Star Fox Zero is garnering a lot of buzz, and a new Zelda game, whenever it is released, will certainly help the Wii U out. Splatoon will also continue to receive new updates; the next big one comes out on August 5.
Despite the good news, there’s no reason to celebrate long-term. Compared to sales for same-generation consoles, the Wii U is irrevocably behind. Nintendo is certainly not putting all their eggs in one basket. “We expect to secure a new source of revenue from a gaming application for smart devices,” Nintendo says in the report. These are expected to ship by the end of the year.