What are you, little figures? Are you toys? Are you a gaming peripheral? Are you a strange hybrid of DLC that caters to people's impulses too collect everything they see in front of them? The answer is yes to all of these questions. And also, no. What do these little byte-sized gaming toys do and what does the future hold for them? Let's discuss.
It's been a couple of months now since Amiibo have officially hit the market. The first series was characters from the Wii U and now 3DS version of Super Smash Brothers. Followed by it's second series with the Mario Party 10 themed Amiibo. Nintendo's grand "new" idea to save it's slumping sales was to go back to its roots and create a toy that is also a video game. Yes, I just said that.
By utilizing a built in Near Field Communication (NFC) chip, the figures can be placed on a Wii U game pad or New Nintendo 3DS touch screen. From here the figures can either be brought into games as characters or unlock different types of content depending on the games. That's the gist of these little figures. Granted it's not really a "new" concept. Skylanders and Disney Infinity have already been utilizing NFC figures for sometime with a good amount of success. The difference is Nintendo has the feature built into it's newer systems without the use of an extra peripheral and the market already understands the concept.
Let's talk about what works about Amiibo:
+ Addictive to collectors and gamers alike
If you like Nintendo and you like collectible figures, than there is no way you won't like these. Especially, because...
+ The price is right
¥1,200 ($12) figures that also act as a kind of DLC that works across multiple games and series, for first and third party, on both types of new Nintendo hardware.
+ Interactive toys
They do more than just sit there on the shelf. They can be used to play together with your kids in person and in the game. They look and feel great as far as figures go and they are surprisingly durable too.
+ Always in stock
Nintendo promises to keep the core "popular" characters in stock.
What doesn't work:
- Never in stock
Despite Nintendo's best efforts these things are beyond hard to find as they are being bought up at a break-neck pace. Collectors raid shelves before most moms and kids even have a chance . Japan was slow at first. It was easy to find the first wave of figures. But once the U.S. started to have shortages of "unpopular" characters, folks bought them up here to resell online. Hard to get wave 3 Smash Brothers Amiibos were gone from all shelves here in Japan in less than a week. They have never been restocked. Which leads me to my next point...
- The price is wrong
If you can't get them on day one, good luck getting anything but a Mario or Peach figure for the ¥1,200 price tag. Prices on Amazon range from ¥3,700 ($30) for basics like King Dedede and Star Fox to almost ¥10,000 ($85) for Villager. I recommend doing a quick Amazon or eBay search just for fun. This leads me to my next next point...
The figures really don't unlock anything of importance. Because, chances are Nintendo knows you probably won't be able to get them. This means most of the content unlocked is minor or is accessible in other ways. Thus the exclusive unlocking nature behind the figures is lost.
- Neither Toy, nor game peripheral
Unfortunately, they are not interactive enough to warrant constant use. So like most figures they just sit on the shelf collecting dust most of the time. If you plan on using them with your portable New Nintendo 3DS, good luck carrying them with you and looking like an idiot pulling out your Marth Amiibo as you smack it against your 3DS on the train.
Here's a beat-sheet list of games I've played with my Amiibo and what they can do in each one:
Smash Brothers (Wii U & 3DS)
You can train them and fight with them. That's it. You can't fight as them. Because of this you really don't feel very attached to your Amiibo character. It's fun, but it's too limiting as you can't bring them into most other parts of the game. It was good for Nintendo to use Smash Bros as a launching platform for the Amiibos since it features so many Nintendo characters. But, if you were to buy every figure for the game, you would spend far more than the cost of a Wii U and 3DS combined.
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Tap once for a handful of characters to unlock themed costumes for your personal Mii characters. Kind of a let down. Also, most of the costumes are just ugly.
Codename S.T.E.A.M. (3DS)
You can tap in any of the Fire Emblem Smash Bros figures like Marth, Ike, Robin, or Lucina. They become fully playable characters within the game that battle in your team. They can not be customized and must be tapped again if they die. They can only be added with the Amiibo figures. There is no other way to access them. By far, this is the best use of Amiibo, in my opinion.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy+ (3DS)
Tap a few select figures to unlock special planes and skins. Planes are significantly more powerful than the base starting planes. The special content can be unlocked manually within the game though, making the Amiibo just a lazy way out of acquiring it. Which is not particularly hard to get otherwise. It's just a matter of flying into a Mario mystery block during certain stages.
So what does the future hold for Amiibo? Nintendo has mentioned using them to unlock demos of series classics on the Wii U. They also mentioned making NFC cards of the the characters which eliminates the hassle of keeping figures with you on the go. All of these sound interesting, but fail to do anything new or interesting. I know getting a hold of them will always be hard. This is the first issue Nintendo needs to really fix. The next is making them truly fun and interactive within the games.
Give players choices. I would much rather have my Marth Amiibo carry my personal stats like a mini memory card instead of being a merciless A.I. god that brings down the unholy wrath upon me when I fight it. Perhaps the Amiibo could remember how I play as I play as it, and it becomes more like a digital ghost that fights like me. On the note of storage, we should be able to use them to carry unique content from figure to system. An Amiibo style street-pass system where you can tap on other friends systems to bring back content to your own Amiibo game. Or perhaps unique mini-games that are actually on the figures themselves that can only be played from the figure.
Maybe these are all things Nintendo has already thought about. I don't know. All I know is I'm very enticed and intrigued by Amiibo, but I have yet to think they are anything new or actually necessary. I see a brave Nintendo going out on a limb to mix up the market but I also see a Nintendo making the market grovel at its feet controlling the market for something mediocre that it doesn't really need. Nintendo has made Billions on the Amiibo so far. It doesn't look like they are going anywhere. I just hope they can figure out what Amiibo really are so we can justify paying that steep price tag on eBay for more than just unlock-able costumes. They represent all that is great and fun about Nintendo and everything that is old, idiotic, and unchanging about Nintendo. But I guess that's just Nintendo.