Out of the Frying Pan? Nintendo 3DS Sells 4 Million Units in U.S.

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Welcome back to the land of happy press stories, Nintendo: The company says it's now sold four million 3DS game systems in the U.S., adding that its no-glasses 3D handheld has so far sold "more in its first nine months than the Wii did." Altogether, Nintendo sold 12 million total hardware units — Wii and 3DS sales combined — in the U.S. in 2011.

A couple last minute sales blockbusters probably helped: Super Mario 3D Land (released November 13) and Mario Kart 7 (released December 4) each sold over one million units in the U.S., says Nintendo, becoming "the fastest-selling titles in the history of their respective franchises."

The 3DS, which debuted in Japan in February and the U.S. in March, was slow off the block, due in part to a lackluster software lineup, prompting Nintendo to slash the price of the system in mid-August, dropping it from $250 to $170 — an unprecedented move for a system not six months old at the time. Nintendo also attempted to placate customers who paid $250 for the system by offering them 20 free downloadable games from the Nintendo eShop.

The 3DS's four million U.S. sales figure brings the system in line with Japanese sales estimates, which also topped four million at December's close. I'm not sure how the gaming demographics work out in either country in terms of who buys what, but it's worth noting the population of Japan is slightly more than one-third of the U.S.'s, making the Japanese sales figure theoretically more impressive.

For Wii-watchers, Nintendo says the Wii sold 4.5 million units, and that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword also broke the one million units sold mark, though that number's actually kind of dullsville given the Wii's install base and Zelda's pedigree. Even if Nintendo included worldwide sales, they'd pale in comparison to numbers like Modern Warfare 3's, a game that topped 6.5 million copies globally during its initial 24 hours on sale. Nintendo adds that Mario Kart Wii reached 11 million units sold, and that New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS had reached 10 million units sold.

Nintendo says its install base in the U.S. is now 39 million for the Wii and 51 million for the DS family. The latter aggregates fundamentally different systems to come up with an impressive figure, but that's branding for you — Sony used to mask the PS3's poor sales by adding up everything PlayStation branded (PS3, PS2, PSP), too.

Is Nintendo back? We'll see. The company took a significant $927 million loss in October 2011, double the loss figure it predicted last summer. One lesson Nintendo's hopefully learned: You need great games to sell a system, especially when its prime feature — glasses-free 3D — tends to be touch and go (move your head or the system as little as an inch or two and the 3D effect's ruined).

Fingers crossed for Kid Icarus, Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid: 3D Snake Eater, all due soon.

[Update: A previous version of this story listed Mario Party and Pokémon as upcoming 3DS games, but Nintendo says PokéPark 2 and Mario Party 9 will be coming out for the Wii this quarter, not the 3DS.]

For more, have a look at our Nintendo 3DS review and our look at eight of the system's first games.

Find Matt on Twitter at @mattpeckham, Google+ or Facebook.

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