So maybe 2011 wasn't the best year for the normally jovial gaming giant.
Its new 3DS handheld console needed a price drop right out of the gate to get sales going. Its Wii sales faltered despite the release of long-awaited titles such as Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. More troubling, however, was that its market share among both mobile devices and consoles dwindled as Apple (AAPL) iOS and Google (GOOG) Android smartphones and tablets stole its thunder while Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) and Sony (SNE - Get Report) co-opted its motion controls. That all contributed to nearly $1 billion in losses for Nintendo worldwide last year.
But it's a new year: a mushroom-powered big year for Mario and company. Nintendo will release its first new console in six years when the Wii U arrives in late 2012. It has touchscreen controllers that turn into portable devices when the TV is off, high-definition graphics finally worthy of the HDTVs they're being played on and downloadable content and third-party support previously unheard of for a Nintendo product.It's the kind of event that could get dormant casual gamers excited about playing Mario Kart again. It's the kind of event that could vault Nintendo back into the lead among game manufacturers and help the company fend off both hard-core gamer critics and competition from devices such as Sony's upcoming Vita handheld. It's the kind of event that screams for Super Bowl commercials -- perhaps for both the Wii U and 3DS. But those commercials aren't coming, which is as frustrating as someone nailing your kart with a blue shell just as you're about to eke out a win. The competition is only getting more intense as game manufacturers face pressure from cheaper games and more integrated devices. A Super Bowl commercial would have been an easy way to generate big excitement and remind people why consoles matter. Instead, as other companies draw traffic to their sites or attention to their iPhone apps, Nintendo hides under a Koopa shell hoping consumer nostalgia will be enough to float its newest console. C'mon, Nintendo, get in the game.