Every week we check the UK chart results, and typically Nintendo has a few titles scrapping away - at the very least - in the bottom half of the top 40. Yet this is now the third consecutive week where not a single Wii U or 3DS exclusive has made it into the all-format top 40. What's going on?
It's worth starting out with the observation that the UK appears to be one of Nintendo's weakest areas in terms of major markets, at present. It's been highlighted as such through investor briefings on a few occasions in recent years, and success stories in the country are often more modest than elsewhere. Yet the recent trend of a top 40 absence is alarming considering the relative value of the UK market, in a European context, and reflects a tough period in which Nintendo will need to reassure and regain the confidence of the retail sector.
Missing the top 40 on three consecutive weeks - with only Just Dance 2016 on Wii squeaking into the single format results - is a grisly statistic, especially in light of the fact that the chart is largely composed of long-established games. New releases have been almost non-existent in the last few weeks, so it's the usual batch of triple-A releases returning ever-decreasing results. The top five consists of Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Grand Theft Auto V, FIFA 16, Star Wars Battlefront and Tom Clancy's Rainbow 6: Siege. Annoyingly the Xbox and PlayStation versions of Minecraft can be found in 10th and 11th place; while the Wii U Edition merrily tops the eShop charts, the slow arrival of a physical version - which is apparently coming - does nothing to help the Wii U's fortunes in stores.
What this exposes is something that all current Nintendo fans know, at least on an instinctive level. That Wii U and 3DS are somewhat separate from the multi-platform scene, with LEGO, toys-to-life and Guitar Hero Live being among the only multi-platform titles to come to the big N's systems in recent times. There are various reasons for this, but that's the reality. Somewhat troubling is that a number of exclusives - on which Nintendo has to place its hopes - have only performed modestly. Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and some others did rather well for Nintendo UK in 2015, yet others didn't set the charts alight. Some games deserved better, but undoubtedly some others were rather disappointing and failed to ignite the public's interest.
It's not all doom and gloom, of course, outside of the UK. The US market brought some decent results last year, though Nintendo of America didn't exactly end 2015 shouting about its results from the rooftops; it got by, is perhaps a fair summary. Nintendo is still leading the way in Japan, too, a market that's entirely different in its make-up than those of most major Western countries. Nintendo's been dominant in hardware - largely with 3DS but with the Wii U on a solid run - and in software, with Yo-Kai Watch and Monster Hunter X (Cross) joining the likes of Splatoon and Super Mario Maker as enduring success stories that have dominated the top five. Nintendo is doing rather well in its home territory.
As for the UK, though, the past three weeks have shown that the bottom has fallen out of key ever-green releases that did much of the heavy lifting in 2015, with the Holiday season releases of Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. having little to no impact on the wider retail scene. Xenoblade Chronicles X delivered pretty much what was expected; a strong launch week with keen fans jumping on board, but its niche status ensuring that it fell away shortly after.
We're hopeful that some relief is coming with major releases in the next two months, and curious to see how the UK market reacts. Considering the struggles of some recent releases an improvement in momentum is needed in order for games like Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, Hyrule Warriors Legends, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, Pokkén Tournament and more to back up strong launch sales with some evergreen consistency. Then there's Star Fox Zero, still officially due in April despite what a single French retailer thinks, so there are some quality games on the way that could, potentially, bring a boost to performance in the UK.
We just hope they sell in reasonable numbers in the country, in the process giving retailers - online and on the high street - enough reason to maintain their stock and consider the next generation from the company as worth investment and trust. We may stroll into stores in the UK and bemoan the limited Nintendo stock, yet it's hard to blame businesses that are shy of putting money down for products they then struggle to sell.
2016 could be an exciting year for Nintendo fans; we just hope the wider public in the UK, those still reliant on shop shelves and online store placement for information on what's hot and what's not, are aware of the great games waiting to be played.