The DS era is left behind
The biggest release on DS in 2012, and surely the runaway winner of practically every Game of the Year award specifically tailored for the older handheld, were the Pokémon Black & White 2 titles, tied together for the purposes of simplicity. Yet its announcement and release on the platform surprised a number of gamers who wondered why a sequel was being released on Nintendo's last-generation handheld. The answer was simple, because it would make a bundle of cash, but its release also reinforced the continuing legacy of the original DS family that was clinging on and, arguably, being a bit of a nuisance and distracting some consumers towards older systems above the shinier alternative — let's not forget that DS models outsold 3DS equivalents in the recent US Black Friday sales. Today's announcement of Pokémon X & Y will leave no such doubt, with its October release ensuring that the 3DS will now pick up the mantle for the main series.
Of course, anyone reading this article will know that 3DS is backward compatible with DS games, but it was nevertheless strange — despite practical reasons — to see one of the biggest releases of 2012 arrive on DS over 18 months after its successor hit the market. Nintendo itself stated — in its second quarter financial briefing — that Black & White 2 "raised the sales level of the Nintendo 3DS hardware", which no doubt helped towards a 3DS hardware sales total for that quarter (April to the end of September) of just over five million worldwide. They were good but not monstrous figures, yet it's surely the case that many with a good-old DS who were on the fence about upgrading to 3DS happily snapped up the new entry without a thought to upgrading. Backward compatibility is great, but with DS being the biggest-selling gaming system of all time there are enough of them in the wild to play a new DS game, without that purchase choice between the veteran system and the newer handheld being an issue.
What's truly extraordinary, however, is the recorded sales figures that we know about for Pokémon Black & White 2. If anything was going to test the enduring popularity of the franchise, surely a sequel on a system long-since replaced would do just that. If you're not bothered about figures, just know that the title performed brilliantly, though as would be expected not to the level of the original which was released while DS was still in its pomp. Here are the figures though, so skip to the next paragraph if this bores you. Up to the end of September 2012, with the game out in Japan since late June 2012 and yet to arrive in the West, Nintendo reported a total of 4.26 million sales — 2.84 million in Japan and 1.42 million in other territories. That means that over 1.4 million pre-orders were clocked, while New Super Mario Bros. 2 had equivalent figures of 1.31 million sales in Japan and 1.95 million in other territories. That combined total is 3.25 million, just over one million short of the Black & White 2 figure despite the fact it had been out in Japan — within those quarter's results — for two months and in other territories for six weeks; those are solid sales, no pre-orders to be added.
Some may say "so what, Pokémon out-performed Mario in that period", but it's an interesting comparison between two numbered sequels. Black & White 2's release on DS could also be argued two ways; it arrived on an ageing handheld that has been replaced, but that also meant it had the user-base of two systems to tap into. Mario's adventure had only one platform to shoot at, while there were undeniable murmurings from some within Nintendo gaming communities that it was perhaps a disappointing entry, though plenty also enjoyed it. In a face-off a last-generation Pokémon sequel was winning, and the admittedly sketchy current figures on VGChartz suggest that sales at the end of 2012 were roughly 6.14 million units for Black & White 2, 30% of which were in North America.
It's against this context, and evidence that Pokémon may be usurping Mario as Nintendo's most bankable franchise — currently second behind the plumber in terms of all-time sales on the big N's systems — that today's announcement of Pokémon X & Y is such a big deal, potentially, for the worldwide fortunes of the Nintendo R4 R4i 3ds. While the handheld has been enjoying an exceptional period of success in Japan, sales elsewhere have been quiet in terms of big headlines; an earnings update at the end of January from Nintendo should reveal third quarter results, and we expect solid but unspectacular figures for North America and Europe. Yet a full-on main series Pokémon entry, as the excitement here on Nintendo Life and the hype around the web is showing, is big news to gamers of all nationalities, not just those in Japan. From our brief glimpse so far we can see that it moves the series into a 3D environment, after rigidly sticking to a top-down viewpoint on more restrictive hardware, while the potential of utilising the 3DS' various features promises exciting connectivity and sharing opportunities.
When you consider the western releases of Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Fire Emblem: Awakening, with games such as Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate also on the way, we're starting to see a line-up poised to boost the 3DS outside of Nintendo's homeland. The presence of Pokémon X & Y and Monster Hunter 4 will likely see to the handheld's continued decimation of rival systems in the Land of the Rising Sun, but we're possibly seeing the start of a big worldwide push for the system in 2013. Perhaps most refreshing for those that feel a certain mascot was over-exposed in various guises in 2012, none of those hot titles mention the name of Mario. Other franchises are coming out to play.
The Pokémon franchise could be exactly what 3DS needs, as it progresses from being the shiny new handheld on the scene to an established market presence. Nintendo needs sales and enthusiasm worldwide to at least approach the equivalent buzz in Japan, and today's announcement not only brings a hugely popular series into an era of fresh possibilities, but could lead to a new dimension of popularity for 3DS in Europe and North America.