Impressions: Amiibo

Get the scoop on Nintendo’s new toys to life initiative!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 12/23/2014 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

“Toys to life” became a part of the gaming vernacular when Activision and Toys for Bob debuted their Skylanders series on an unprepared world in 2011. The concept was simple: a game where toys can be scanned in and used as playable characters. In the years since, that franchise has exploded into a veritable phenomenon, ensnaring both children and adult collectors alike with its signature interactive toys. Disney followed suit with its own Disney Infinity video game series, abiding by much the same blueprint, but using its own wealth of iconic characters (including Marvel and soon Star Wars), instead. This past November, Nintendo threw its own hat into the ring with its line of Amiibo figures, but as is often the case with the Japanese developer, the initiative is marching to its own drumbeat, and to great success.

Where Amiibo differs from Skylanders and Disney Infinity is its versatility. Unlike those other two lines of toys, Nintendo’s Amiibos have been made with maximum interchangeability in mind. While there is carryover functionality between the toys in Skylanders and Disney Infinity games, Amiibos are intended to be used across a wide range of Nintendo titles. Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors, and more games to come in the future are all compatible with Nintendo’s new toys. What’s more, Amiibo vary in function from title to title. In Smash Bros., for instance, Amiibos are used to create a custom fighter of a particular character, which can then be pitted against other players in actual battles. Mario Kart 8, however, goes a different route, instead using Amiibos to unlock new costumes for a player’s Mii racer. For fans, the investment in an Amiibo figure is more rewarding than with either Disney or Activion’s toys, because the sheer range of games that they can be used in is much larger.

Further sweetening the deal with Amiibo is that, as they’re being utilized by Nintendo right now, each purchase represents quite a bit of free DLC for the games that the figures work with. I’ll concede that the Amiibos cost money, so it’s not completely free DLC, but look at it this way-Nintendo could have made Amiibo function with Smash Bros. and left it at that. Instead, consumers are rewarded for buying Amiibo by being given content across multiple titles from that one-time purchase. A new Mii costume in Mario Kart 8 would be a $1-$2 transaction in similar games on other systems, but Nintendo is almost giving them away to fans as a thank you for buying its new toys. Whether this continues into the future indefinitely is unknown, but given that even third party titles are seeing similar free content dispersal and interaction with Amiibo, there should be plenty of motivation for fans to go out and buy the things.

Given the huge boost to the company’s finances from just the initial two waves of Amiibo figures, it’s safe to say Nintendo has a new hit on its hands. While Skylanders was a bit of a shock becoming so popular with predominantly unknown characters, Disney Infinity was easier to see the potential of with its rock-solid brand recognition in everything from Spider-Man to Frozen. Amiibo, though, comes with Nintendo’s beloved pantheon of properties, which are the most recognized and beloved in all of video games, so it came as little surprise that demand for the line would be as high as it has been. With my hands-on time with the figures, I can say that the hype is well-deserved.

Amiibos are meticulously made. They’re roughly the same size as their competitors, but strive for authenticity. Based on each character’s respective trophy in Smash Bros. on Wii U and 3DS, these toys look like they were ripped straight out of the games. I personally loved the synergy between the toys and Smash Bros.; honestly, who hasn’t at some point wished the Trophies in Smash Bros. were real? Amiibo has made good on the fantasies of many. Perhaps most important to many fans is the fact that not every Amiibo needs to be purchased. While Disney and Activision have done their best to coerce fans into a position of feeling obliged to buy every toy in order to best experience the particular games they’re used in, Nintendo has not.

Every title that Amiibo is featured in can be enjoyed without buying a single toy. Rather than make the line of figures the centerpiece of one particular game, Amiibo simply add content to multiple titles. As I pointed out earlier, Amiibo are DLC machines. When consumers buy one, they know that a handful of the games on their Wii U will be able to get in on the fun right out of the box. Not tethering Amiibo to any lone game gives consumers confidence that the toys will be relevant for a long time to come. With Nintendo continuing to reveal titles that can currently or will in the future take advantage of Amiibo, what’s already appealing to fans becomes even more so from that additional value. What’s more, given the adaptability of Amiibo, the toys aren’t limited to only unlocking costumes and weapons, either. As Nintendo’s designers play more and more with Amiibo, there’s a good chance fans will see integration of a more complex nature like in Smash Bros.

If I had one complaint about Amiibo, it would be the scarcity of some figures and the retailer exclusivity of others. It’s very disappointing having to travel to numerous different stores to get a particular toy. With the knowledge that some Amiibos won’t come back after selling out, for serious collector’s it’s a cringeworthy thought that they might miss out on a figure if a certain store is inaccessible to them. Beyond those two issues, I think Amiibo is a wonderful addition to Nintendo’s consoles. With the promise of figure compatibility coming to 3DS and New 3DS in the coming months, it doesn’t matter which system a fan calls home, Amiibo is something that every Nintendo gamer can embrace. The line is a conceptual improvement on its competition, and I hope that Nintendo can continue to find creative ways of inserting the toys into its games in the future.

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