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Through February, video game sales in the U.S. were tracking ahead 11 percent. Oh what a difference a month makes. In one fell swoop, March wiped out the gains the industry enjoyed in the first two months. Total sales declined 17 percent to $1.43 billion (a slight sequential decline from February too), and first-quarter sales (at $4.25 billion) are now flat for 2009 as a result.

"While it might be tempting to jump to the conclusion that the sky is starting to fall on the video games industry given this months results, it's important to remember that two very big things are different this year than last. First, Easter fell in March last year whereas it fell in April this year, and last March included the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which went on to become the fourth best-selling game in 2008," commented NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

She continued, "You might not think that Easter is that big of a gift-giving holiday, but our consumer data shows that 8% of industry unit sales were purchased for the Easter occasion in March 2008, accounting for $121M of that months' sales. We expect that most of Easter sales this year fell into the April reporting period and we'll see that reflected in next month's data."

"This is very much like September of last year, which did not compare favorably to September of 2007 as the result of a huge game launch, Halo 3. Besides March 2008, this month's sales are 31% higher than the previous highest March which was March of 2007, so it was a pretty healthy month for sales, overall."

Video game hardware saw the biggest decline in March, dropping 18 percent to $455.55 million. Nintendo's Wii and DS continued to dominate the industry, selling 601K and 563K units, respectively. Microsoft's Xbox 360 sold through a decent 330K units, which made it the only console to see a year-over-year unit sales increase. Meanwhile, Sony's PS3 still found itself near 200K territory, selling 218K units for the month. The PSP and PS2 rounded out hardware with sales of 168K and 112K, respectively. NPD noted that sales of accessories also fell 15 percent to $185.67 million.

On the software side, total sales dropped 17 percent to $792.83 million. Capcom's Resident Evil 5 was the big winner, selling through 938K units on Xbox 360 and 585K on PS3. Nintendo's Pokemon Platinum (DS) also fared quite well, grabbing the second spot with 805K copies sold.

Here's the complete top 10 list (ranked by units sold):

1. Resident Evil 5 - Xbox 360 – Capcom – 938K*
2. Pokemon Platinum - DS – Nintendo – 805K
3. Halo Wars - Xbox 360 – Microsoft – 639K*
4. Resident Evil 5 - PS3 – Capcom – 585K*
5. Wii Fit w/ balance board - Wii – Nintendo – 541K
6. MLB '09 The Show - PS3 – Sony – 305K
7. Killzone 2 - PS3 – Sony – 296K
8. Wii Play w/ remote - Wii – Nintendo – 281K
9. Mario Kart w/ wheel – Wii – Nintendo – 278K
10. Major League Baseball 2K9 - Xbox 360 – Take-Two – 205K

* includes CE, GOTY editions, bundles, etc. but not those bundled with hardware