Nintendo's Strange 'Super Smash Bros.' Release Strategy

Apr 9 2014, 10:17am CDT | by

Nintendo's Strange 'Super Smash Bros.' Release Strategy
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Yesterday, Nintendo devoted an entire forty minute Nintendo Direct presentation to this year’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS. It was the largest, longest look at the game yet, and full of information about new characters (Greninja!), returning ones (Yoshi! Charizard!), along with new game modes, items and stages. The official press release can sum it all up better than I can, and is honestly a bit more concise and clear than the Direct video presentation format in many ways.

The biggest bit of info we were hoping to receive during the presentation was a release date for the game, and we almost got one. Rather, we were given not one, but two release “windows” for the upcoming brawler. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS will be out sometime this summer, while Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (these are the official titles, remember), will be out in winter 2014.

Yes, Nintendo is splitting up the release of the two versions of the game, and by quite a wide margin at that. It’s a move I can’t quite understand, and it really does seem like exceptionally odd strategy on Nintendo’s part.

The 3DS has outsold the Wii U about 40 million to 5 million at this point, and therefore Super Smash Bros. will likely a be a huge hit for the handheld. But Super Smash Bros. is the single most anticipated title for the Wii U by a mile. Breaking up the release dates like this and forcing the Wii U to go second seems like a poor way to drive sales of the console.

Released on the Wii U first, Smash Bros. would dramatically increase sales of the console as it will indeed be a system seller to some degree. Release both the Wii U and 3DS version at the same time, and both will sell well, with the Wii U still getting a bump.

But to release the 3DS version anywhere from four to seven months ahead of the Wii U version is…strange. Many Nintendo devotees either have both the 3DS and Wii U, or the 3DS by itself already. I’m sure Super Smash Bros. will be great for the 3DS, but great enough where these players will pick it up for their 3DS on day one, and still be itching to buy an entirely new copy for Wii U (or buy a Wii U itself to play it) half a year later? Even if the Wii U copy will be the “full” version, they could end up being similar enough to make people rethink a double purchase.

I know that Super Smash Bros. has more replay value than nearly any other title in the industry, but I worry about it being “second fiddle” to the 3DS version in terms of release scheduling. This is the most anticipated game for the struggling Wii U by far. Why allow a different version of the game to come out months earlier for a different platform? Not to say Super Smash Bros. won’t sell well on Wii U whenever it comes out (can’t beat that local multiplayer), but this weirdly staggered release will certainly take a bit of the wind out of its sails. When Super Smash Bros. finally does arrive, presumably in December, even if the version is deeper than the 3DS variant, it’s going to carry a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe with it if fans have been playing a version of it on the handheld for months.

Once again Nintendo seems to be struggling with proper marketing, this time in terms of scheduling. Perhaps there are technical issues that are forcing the Wii U version to be finished later than the 3DS version which is the only thing that makes sense to me, but if that was the case, I’d delay the 3DS copy rather than stagger them awkwardly like this. Everyone was expecting the two versions to be released together, or even the console copy to come first. To have the 3DS be the lead-off makes it seem like Nintendo isn’t trying to do everything possible to spur Wii U sales. The 3DS doesn’t need nearly the same level of help the Wii U does at this point, so giving it first crack at Smash Bros. (by a wide margin at that) seems misguided.

Furthermore, with Nintendo saying winter 2014 as the “window” this far out, I’m worried the Wii U copy might even miss that mark when all is said and done. With how soft they’ve been with deadlines, I could easily see that turning into early 2015, creating an even more enormous drought of quality Wii U games. One major title every eight to nine months is just not enough to warrant the purchase of a system, especially when up against Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One which have legions of third party games to bolster their rosters. It’s certainly a great philosophy to make sure a game is top notch before release, but Nintendo seems to be moving at an increasingly glacial pace as of late, with simply too many in-demand franchises to keep up with. This year, the Wii U needs Super Smash Bros, and it would be helpful if the 3DS didn’t threaten some level of cannibalization with a much, much earlier release.

The game will likely be great on both the Wii U and 3DS, but again, Nintendo seems to operate in their own little bubble of head-scratching decisions, even as they produce solid content.

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