Nintendo Smartphone Game
Nintendo is expected to announce its first smartphone game Thursday, and it could use a hit like Pokémon. AFP

With the 2015 holiday season firmly upon us, every video game console manufacturer is gearing up for the busiest sales period of the year. Though this year’s holiday gaming lineup is a bit light overall, one of the kids is coming to the party without much in the way of new content for its big system -- Nintendo.

While Nintendo’s 3DS dominates the handheld gaming marketplace, the WiiU has continued to lag behind the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One throughout 2015 despite a few sales peaks (Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, and Super Smash have each sold over a million copies). WiiU sales have finally crested 10 million, lagging behind the Xbox One’s roughly 15 million and PlayStation 4’s dominating 30 million units sold.

The holiday season is one of the best opportunities to drive sales, and the manufacturers know it. Microsoft and Sony have lineups populated by IPs like Tomb Raider, Halo, Call of Duty, Need For Speed, and Just Cause and every sports game imaginable, even if most titles are on both consoles. Nintendo’s only released one of note in the West: Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Although Xenoblade Chronicles X is excellent , it’s not the kind of title that will have the masses depleting the stock of their local GameStops. The latest Mario Tennis received lukewarm critical responses, and November’s Animal Crossing game isn’t winning hearts or dollars. Barring those, you have to go back to October for Yoshi’s Wooly World, and another month for Super Mario Maker. Originally fans had expected the new Star Fox and Legend of Zelda games this year, which would have drastically strengthened Nintendo’s holiday games list, but both were delayed to 2016.

Then there’s the nifty problem of the NX , the WiiU’s successor. Nintendo has said that the NX, whatever it ultimately is, will not be a successor to the Wii and WiiU line. The writing's on the wall for the WiiU . To this point, it’s sold about half of what the Gamecube did, and that console was considered a failure. Its successor, the original Wii, introduced a revolutionary concept (motion controls) and sold 100 million units.

Xenoblade Chronicles X Skell
Xenoblade Chronicles X's "Skells" are massive, transformable mechanic armor suits that transform the way you move around the world and how you approach enemies. But be forewarned that it will take you upwards of 40 hours to get your first Skell. Nintendo / Vincent Balestriere

So, where does Nintendo go from here? Not rushing the NX, for starters. “It’d be a mistake for them to launch [the NX] in 2016,” said David Cole, CEO and Founder of DFC Intelligence, a firm that tracks digital entertainment. “It would be rushing something out to market.” That’s the same mistake, Cole said, that Nintendo made with the WiiU.

“But the real question is: Did [Nintendo] learn anything from it?” Cole said. “They didn’t even market it properly. Nobody knew what a WiiU was .”

Nintendo is not a company that takes a beating three generations in a row, so perhaps the NX will be turn the table. Nintendo has been here before, but it took a set of revolutionary ideas to climb out of the hole the company had dug for itself.

Before the Wii came out in 2006, Nintendo was under duress; the Gamecube was a complete flop and the GameBoy Advance had stagnated. But then Nintendo released the Wii and DS, which created the wave they rode to the WiiU. They’re still on that wave thanks to the multiple 3DS iteration, but they’re far past the crest. The Wii and DS proved how valuable the hardware business is for Nintendo, and whatever succeeds the WiiU and 3DS will likely be just as pivotal.

The NX, whatever sort of console/portable hybrid it might be, has the potential to bring Nintendo back to the top of the hill as long as Nintendo doesn’t repeat its mistakes. But until Nintendo says otherwise, the NX isn’t coming anytime soon. Until then, we just have the WiiU, and whatever Nintendo’s cooking, the WiiU won’t have much space on the menu. The holiday season just highlights the small selection.