We're still waiting for a North American announcement - which we hope is just a matter of time - but we were rather pleased about confirmation today of a Super Mario Maker Wii U hardware bundle. It's coming to Europe on the same day as the game (a simple but important requirement) and certainly qualifies as a particularly smart option from Nintendo. Neat packaging and the inclusion of the special edition version of the game - with that lovely amiibo - make it a rather desirable arrival.
Of course, we've had nice bundles before, with standouts including those for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and Mario Kart 8, and they do have the potential to boost momentum for the console. It wouldn't surprise us if the prominent position of Wind Waker HD on the eShop best-selling charts wasn't due to the bundle, for example, which came with a download code for the remastered adventure.
So, can Super Mario Maker and - to a degree - this hardware bundle make a notable splash on 11th September? It's all relative, of course, as we're looking at modest targets here. We're past the days of talking about vital periods to transform the Wii U's fortunes, and priorities are very much on hitting humble sales goals and keeping the system on store shelves, even in a reduced capacity.
So, here's some context - Nintendo's aiming to sell 3.4 million Wii U units this financial year, which would actually be an increase on the 3.38 million it shifted last year; remember that 3.38 million figure is from a year that brought both Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, among various other releases. If Nintendo hits that target it'll have taken the Wii U past some notable figures to a smidgen under 13 million, moving well beyond the Dreamcast, for one. The GameCube's lifetime number of 21.74 million is looking a little distant, however, based on Nintendo's targets.
We know that Splatoon has done well, and titles such as Star Fox Zero and Xenoblade Chronicles X - along with various others - can all contribute, but with The Legend of Zelda on Wii U still undated we're probably looking at Super Mario Maker as the potential biggest Wii U seller up to the end of the financial year (31st March 2016). It will surely have to do the most to help attract some new Wii U owners.
Part of the challenge is shelf space, with retailers no doubt constantly evaluating their stock and considering scaling back on struggling Wii U inventory. The positive is that Super Mario is a winning brand, even when working within lowered expectations on flagging hardware, and the visual appeal of the Super Mario Maker editions and amiibo is obvious. This is clearly an area that Nintendo's put much thought into, and while the motivations for developing neat amiibo figures and hardback books may have been anniversary celebrations, an extra bonus is that these are products that will look desirable on store shelves.
That applies to the European hardware bundle packaging, too, so there's sure to be some thought from retailers at sacrificing shelf space to Super Mario Maker. PS4 and Xbox One may be the hottest tickets in general, but Mario still has an appeal to both Nintendo diehards and more casual, on-the-fence fans.
Of course, a big threat to Super Mario Maker is simply earning attention against the usual batch of multi-platform big-hitters and other system exclusives. The release date chosen is fitting for tying in with the actual 30th Anniversary of Super Mario Bros., but August may have been better in an ideal world. Though August will bring a new Madden game - which always dominates in the US - along with titles such as a Gears of War remaster on Xbox One and Disney Infinity 3.0 (with Devil's Third in Europe, too), September looks to be full of competition in comparison.
In the family market the end of September will bring both Skylanders SuperChargers and LEGO Dimensions, while FIFA 16 will sell a gazillion copies in Europe as always. The two toys-to-life titles - plus Disney Infinity from the month before - will put a strain on many parents' and enthusiast's wallets, though Nintendo will no-doubt hope that the Bowser and Donkey Kong Skylanders tie-ins will perform well.
As for threats in the first half of September, around that release on the 11th for Super Mario Maker, we have Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Xbox One exclusive Forza Motorsport 6. The positive is that these clearly target very different audiences, yet nevertheless there'll likely be a number of multi-console owners making tough decisions between Nintendo's exciting level creator and some very different - but enticing - offerings elsewhere.
To take the optimist's view, the brand-power and promise of Super Mario Maker can battle it out against this competition, even if the timing of three pricey toys-to-life experiences - in particular - isn't ideal. Nintendo will have a battle, however, getting good marketing and advertising space with these assorted and varied behemoths scrapping over the same release period. As for press coverage, we'd hope that the Wii U title will fare well by virtue of its rather unique offering - this is a game that lets gamers create their own 2D Mario stages, after all, a concept that should get some attention in the mainstream.
Getting ahead of October and November makes sense, in any case - the gaming world will be jam packed with marketing and hype for the likes of Halo 5, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, Fallout 4, Star Wars: Battlefront and more from October onwards. Frankly, we fear somewhat for Yoshi's Woolly World and its October arrival in North America.
Ultimately, we suspect Nintendo didn't care a jot about rival line-ups when deciding on its Super Mario Maker release dates. Its target was to match up - as close as possible - with the 30th Anniversary, and all of the related potential that brings. A key strength this title has is that it'll be able to riff on nostalgia and also pitch itself as an exciting modern Mario experience - all of that online sharing is just the sort of feature expected in current gaming trends. Nintendo has its biggest IP and potential marketing gold to target gamers of all types; the biggest challenge is getting the game to soar on hardware that's had a difficult near-three years on the market.
Considering Nintendo's sensible targets for the Wii U, we're pretty confident that Super Mario Maker can be a driving force in squeezing out necessary hardware sales. Lovely packaging and a hardware bundle will play notable parts, but the concept and charm of the game itself will surely be key to its success.