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Nintendo pushes video game industry positive in February

Thanks to its most successful portable Zelda game ever, the Japanese game giant led the industry in software sales last month.

Nintendo's 3DS portable game system was the best-selling piece of hardware in the month of February. Sarah Tew/CNET

For Nintendo, February brought some much-needed good news.

The Japanese game maker's latest big release, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask for its 3DS portable game system, was the best-selling portable game in the franchise's history, according to industry watcher the NPD Group.

Majora's Mask grabbed the the No. 1 sales spot last month ahead of large console releases, including the shooting sci-fi game Evolve in the No. 2 spot and survival horror game Dying Light in third.

The retail video game industry grew 8 percent in the month of February from the same time last year thanks to a healthy 10 percent boost to hardware. Nintendo, again, takes credit for that with the 3DS beating out Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One for best-selling hardware device of the month. Nintendo launched a new, larger version of the 3DS in North America last month, helping the growth.

Last month marks a sign that Nintendo's business is beginning to regain some health. The company's followup to the best-selling Wii -- the Wii U, which launched in 2012 -- has chronically missed sales expectations, leading to ever-widening quarterly losses. That's put an immense amount of pressure on the company's 3DS handheld, which had a rocky launch but is now considered a buoy for the otherwise struggling company.

With the launch of Zelda and a select number of other titles in Nintendo's storied catalog, including a new Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U last fall, Nintendo is finding more solid footing. Sales of the Wii U increased by 20 percent last month from the same time last year, the company said Thursday.

Though the 3DS isn't pulling as much weight for Nintendo as it has in the past, it propped up the rest of the hardware industry last month.

Console sales dropped 5 percent in February from the same time last year due to a decreasing sales of the older Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Those consoles, released almost a decade ago, are on an eventual march to obsolescence next year when Sony and Microsoft suspend support of the platforms.

Overall sales of physical games from retailers grew 6 percent, bucking a consistent industry trend of slumping game sales since the launch of new devices in November 2013.

"This is the first time since the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One that the top 10 console software SKUs were all from eighth generation consoles," said Liam Callahan, an analyst with NPD. The shift, Callahan said, is "a sign of consumer's further transition away from seventh generation consoles towards the new console generation."

In online marketplaces, such as Sony's PlayStation Store, Apple's App Store and Valve's Steam marketplace for PC titles, total spending jumped 2 percent year over year, to $995 million, in the month of February, according to competing industry watcher SuperData Research.