By Jared Cornelius
If you've been paying any attention to Nintendo over the last year you've no doubt heard about Amiibos. The small plastic figures are riding high off the "Toys-To-Life" craze, created thanks in part to companies like Activision and Disney flooding the gaming aisle with child friendly monsters and recognizable superheroes. If you're unaware, Amiibos, are Nintendo themed inaction figures more akin to vinyl toys than anything else. The figures contain a near field communication chip that wirelessly talks with Nintendo's Wii U gamepad, placing the toy into the game. On the surface it sounds like a really cool idea, as a child of the NES era I would've gone bonkers to know that I was playing my own customized Mario in Super Mario Bros. However Amiibos aren't all they're cracked up to be, in fact, I'd like to tell you why they're a waste of money and how Nintendo is succeeding despite itself.
Amiibos on a whole aren't a bad idea, just the opposite, they're a great idea. Nintendo has one of the most beloved and recognizable cast of characters outside of Disney and it's no accident. Nintendo has been publishing amazing titles under their home banner for over 30 years now. Titles that revolutionized gaming like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart, and Punch Out with new classics like Pikmin continue to be produced to this day. Nintendo's legacy is so strong developers still cite the mechanics found in those games for inspiration in their own titles. I could never take credit away from Nintendo for their storied history, but Amiibos fly in the face of everything that made the company great.
However the problem started when these figures were announced without a real purpose. Sure the figures could be used with Super Smash Bros. but the collect them all kid friendly "Toys-To-Life" concept doesn't really fit the same demographic with Smash's hardcore audience. Surely Nintendo wouldn't make Smash fans buy individual Amiibos if they wanted that character in the game, would they? Fortunately that didn't turn out to be the case, but it also turned out to be one of the biggest problems for Amiibos. Instead of producing a specific game for the toys to work with, Nintendo wanted Amiibos to work across a variety of games, which sounds good, until you really think about it. One of the big wins for Activision's Skylanders series is the simplicity, figure goes onto portal, and the figure pops up on the television. It's a devilishly simple system that even Disney Infinity didn't get right. In moving the figures across multiple games it sets Nintendo up with a series of problems.
The idea of having a solid game concept to go along with the figures is paramount to the toys succeeding. If the game is fun and uses the figures in an interesting, well integrated way, you've got a moneymaker on your hands. Nintendo to the contrary created the toy line with seemingly little vision or direction. The idea of using these figures with Super Smash Bros. is fine, but they ultimately end up being 14 dollar memory cards for one character, with one customized save per toy, meaning families can't share characters. Amiibo's have all the functionality of a virtual pet twenty years after they were relevant. But hey Nintendo can right the ship, what about the other titles that Amiibos work with?
Oh, those three other games currently available right, well the Amiibo functionality for those three games involves costume and item unlocks. "So hypothetical me, you paid 14.99 for downloadable content across three games how do you feel?" Underwhelmed if you ask me. While we're at it, which characters work with which game? Can my Mario work with Hyrule Warriors? Does Pikachu work with Mario Kart? Well I don't really know, but here's an info graphic to show what figure works with what game, simple ease of use, right Nintendo.
The disappointing functionality aside Nintendo's also created a cutthroat secondary market for these figures, with seemingly unwanted characters like Animal Crossing Villager and Wii Fit Trainer selling on EBay for two to three times the original price. With Nintendo cutting exclusive deals with retailers and mail order services like Loot Crate, they've created a collectors nightmare. Nintendo has responded to the customer demand by stocking shelves with the same six figures in almost every shop, giving fans of particular characters little to no hope other than paying inflated prices online.
This is to say nothing of the scattershot quality of the figures themselves. Characters like Samus and Zelda actually seem really detailed and well done, with characters like Link and Captain Falcon having to be propped up. In Link's case by an awful clear yellow plastic stand, why even pose him like that if you're going to attach such a garish piece of plastic to him? In stark contrast to the competition the figures feel cheap too, with little heft, they're closer in feel to the old flesh colored Muscle Man figures.
Now after a few months to take in the success of Amiibos, Nintendo still can't grasp at what should be fun about them. Take the recently announced Mario Party 10, a game that would be perfect for Amiibo support. The long running Mario themed party/board game would be an amazing use for an Amiibo, just put your favorite figure near the Wii U gamepad and use it as a piece in a virtual board game. Except Nintendo says you have to delete the data that's already on the Amiibo to use it in Mario Party 10. So you've spent countless hours leveling up your Luigi in Smash Bros. and Mario Party comes along and wants to use the toy, but can't unless you're willing to dump your characters Smash Bros. progress in the trash.
The frustrating thing is that Amiibos are succeeding despite Nintendo with sales numbers having outpaced Super Smash Bros. The company has no vision for these expensive plastic figures other than make money and it's a shame. These figures could have amazing integration with a console that's driven by the hardcore gaming audience. I just can't shake the feeling that if they'd have created a specific game for these figures, Nintendo would be selling consoles, along with its Amiibos. It's no secret that this generation Nintendos' been in a bit of a slump, with month after month of subpar console sales. Where last generation Nintendo had been raking in the cash early on thanks to the casual audience, they seem to have reached out to the hardcore gamers as a means of transitioning between consoles. That being said, I don't expect Nintendo to hand me anything wonderful, I don't expect Nintendo to listen to every fanboy who thinks they know better, I just want them to think. They're making millions when they could be making tens of millions and they do it despite themselves.
I don't want anyone to think I'm unfairly picking on Nintendo, I really do have a soft spot in my heart for the makers of some of my most beloved games, but gamers and fans deserve better. Nintendo has a corporate problem of dipping its toes in the water but not wanting to commit to jump in. The idea of Amiibos is sound, but without a solid vision to back them up, it's the vitality sensor, the e-reader, and multi-link games all over again and they profit while the fans suffer with a subpar product.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from the Jersey coast who's still playing with toys. If you'd like to tell him your favorite toy contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis