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Mario and Zelda drive big Black Friday wins for Nintendo

Plugged In

There's life in the old mascots yet.

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo)

Nintendo's top two franchises propelled the embattled publisher's sales to dizzying heights during the holiday shopping frenzy, with Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) racking up over 1 million units since their respective U.S. launches.

According to Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime, Skyward Sword has sold 535,000 copies since its Nov. 20 launch, making it the fastest-selling Zelda game in franchise history. And Super Mario 3D Land isn't far behind, selling over 500,000 units itself since launching on Nov. 11. That makes it the fastest selling portable Mario game of all time.

It's not a moment too soon.  Nintendo's numbers have been slipping for much of 2011 , and there were high hopes that the latest Super Mario game would drive flagging sales of its 3DS handheld, which has been criticized for a high price and a paucity of must-have games.  Skyward Sword, meanwhile, has been seen as a last hurrah for the aging Wii console — it's the first Zelda game designed explicitly around the WiiMote controller.

Both titles garnered strong reviews, and drove further sales on their respective platforms: last week's 3DS sales were up 325% compared to the week prior to the Mario release, while the Wii had its best Black Friday ever, moving 500,000 units.

Fils-Aime believes upcoming titles like Mario Kart 7 (Dec. 4, 3DS) and Japanese hit Fortune Street (Dec. 5, Wii) should keep the momentum going, though it's hard to compare such titles, popular as they are, with big guns like Super Mario and Zelda.  Either way, it's safe to say some executives in Japan are breathing a big sigh of relief.

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