With the boom in figurine based games over the past couple of years, it’s no surprise that Nintendo has jumped on board with their amiibo line, which turned out to be a massive success even compared to it’s peers. It also has an interesting backstory of its own.
What are amiibo?
amiibo(the “a” specifically uncapitalized) are primarily plastic figurines based on characters that appear in Nintendo games. These figurines have an NFC (near field communication) chip in their bases that allows them to be scanned by the NFC sensor in the Wii U GamePad, and thus have different effects depending on the game and amiibo scanned. In essence, they are considerably similar to the Disney Infinity and Skylanders series of figurines, only with a wider range of compatibility and, naturally, feature Nintendo characters.
Precedents to amiibo
It’s an often overlooked fact that Nintendo, prior to being the video game juggernaut it is today, was an ordinary toy company. A notable example amongst these toys is Nintendo’s brand of playing cards, seeing as amiibo cards are becoming widespread beginning with the Animal Crossing line and was suggested by the late CEO Satoru Iwata as a possible solution to amiibo shortages, which we’ll get into later.
Jumping a few decades into the future, while amiibo is Nintendo’s first major success with the toys to life concept, it’s a well known fact that it wasn’t their first attempt. Back in 2011, Nintendo was offered the chance to partner with game company Activision on their new IP, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, which was an RFID based project that included toys coming to life. Nintendo was reportedly interested, but turned it down, according to Skylanders developer Paul Reiche:
“[Nintendo] spent a long time looking and looking,” said Toys for Bob co-founder Paul Reiche. “They were just like ‘We have never seen anything like this before.’ I’ve always wondered about the full meaning of that comment [laughs].”
But Nintendo ended up passing. “We have no idea why,” said Reiche. “Clearly they have got properties well suited to this world. Why it is that they didn’t rush in here will probably haunt them for the rest of their days.”
The last sentence is particularly ironic considering Nintendo currently holds more success with amiibo than Activision with Skylanders.
Even still, prior to amiibo, there were figurines that used the NFC functionality. Pokemon Rumble U, a downloadable title from the Nintendo eShop, incorporated the function by allowing use of Pokemon figurines in the game’s art style with a level up feature, very similar to how current day Super Smash Bros. amiibo are used. These were very limited, however, and are very difficult to find as of current.
Differences between Skylanders and Disney Infinity
amiibo are comparable to the Skylanders and Disney Infinity lines in basic functionality, but amiibo have enough differences to make them stand out. Both Skylanders and Disney Infinity figurines are solely used to summon characters in-game depending on the figure; while amiibo do this as well, their use is more varied, varying from unlocking game modes, levels and special items to simply granting bonus currency across most amiibo. It’s a far cry from what the former two figurine lines do given their limited use to one series of games and function.
amiibo use is divided into three categories: special unlocks, character summoning and minor bonuses.
Special unlocks are provided if the amiibo scanned is franchise-specific to the game in question, but does not involve a character summon and the unlock is exclusive to the amiibo. For example, using either Link amiibo in Hyrule Warriors unlocks the Spinner weapon for use in said game, Toad amiibo unlock special challenges in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and all three Splatoon amiibo unlock special challenges based on campaign levels that reward the player with cosmetic gear and weapons once completed. Games such as Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ and Mario Kart 8 have specific skins for vehicles unlocked by scanning amiibo as well, with compatibility varying by game.
Character summons are exactly what they sound like, if varying by game. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS / Wii U summons a playable fighter based on the amiibo scanned(if compatible), which levels up based on how much it fights and was the first game to use this feature. Super Mario Maker creates a skin for the character scanned which can be used in the 8-bit format when grabbing a Mystery Mushroom, which turns Mario into the character in question with unique physical attributes and sounds, but still controlling like Mario. Mario Party 10 and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash work akin to Super Smash Bros. in their respective play modes, but are limited to the Mario Series amiibo. Codename S.T.E.A.M., meanwhile, is only compatible with the current four Fire Emblem amiibo created for Super Smash Bros., but summons the character in question as a playable unit for a squadron. And finally, Yoshi’s Woolly World, when used with Yarn Yoshi amiibo, creates an AI partner to assist in gameplay.
Minor bonuses typically happen with amiibo that are compatible with a game but not tied to any exclusive bonus. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker grants 1-Up Mushrooms with any non-Toad amiibo, Hyrule Warriors grants a weapon rated 3 stars or lower, Rupee bonus or crafting material bonus with any non-Link amiibo, Mario Party 10 grants a Scratch Bonus with non-Mario Series amiibo, and Chibi Robo! Zip-Lash grants currency with any non-Chibi Robo amiibo. A unique case of this is Xenoblade Chronicles 3D: despite Shulk being the only compatible amiibo, it only unlocks three in-game tokens with each scan(once per day) that can be used on extras such as character models and music.
A notable outlier to the character summon and minor bonus categories is Shovel Knight. Being a third party amiibo, it is(currently) incompatible with any of the current amiibo supported titles with the exception of it’s source game, Shovel Knight for 3DS and Wii U, where it falls under special unlocks: across both versions it unlocks challenge stages and character customization, while on the Wii U version it unlocks co-op multiplayer.
The amiibo Gold Rush
amiibo are notorious for being a constant victim of shortages due to supply not meeting demand. Rather early on in the lifespan of the brand, Nintendo noted that their expectations for amiibo sales had been “smashed”, referring to the impressive results of the Super Smash Bros. line of the figurines. Later on, however, problems with the line regarding stock became apparent in light of this news. Most notably, less popular figurines tend to become discontinued in favor of the ones that sell better, which means that those discontinued become very rare and thus expensive on other markets. There are external factors out of Nintendo’s control as well, such as a port strike that dealt a huge blow to amiibo shipping in the West. Nintendo does seem to be improving on this aspect as time goes on, but it’s still not perfect.
Where is amiibo heading?
Disclaimer: this section is partly speculation/opinion.
With the developments amiibo has made over the past year, the potential for expansion is quite large. Most notably, Nintendo announced a developer program for indie games with amiibo support shortly after the Shovel Knight amiibo was unveiled, making the potential for amiibo limitless. On Nintendo’s side of things, we know a Shadow Mewtwo amiibo card will be distributed with first runs of Pokken Tournament and several amiibo such as Wolf Link+Midna and an exclusive Gold Mega Man amiibo are due next year for game tie-ins.
But why stop there?
Many games have the potential for amiibo support should it be implemented, and there are cases of games in progress where desire for amiibo support has been talked about by a developer, such as the upcoming Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Even for already released games there is the potential to patch in support. I think that the upcoming Wolf Link+Midna amiibo is likely to be compatible with Hyrule Warriors in the same way the Smash Link/Toon Link amiibo are. Likewise, with Fire Emblem Fates already supporting all four current Fire Emblem Smash amiibo, there’s a possibility that Roy and the eventual Corrin amiibo could be patched to work with the game in some fashion. If you want a third party example, adding support for Minecraft Wii U Edition would be a smart move; unlocking skins in the vein of Super Mario Maker would be a great addition to the game, seeing as there isn’t any exclusive Nintendo content in the game as of this writing.
And yet, there are many, many more examples due to the versatility of the figurines. It’s amazing how amiibo took the collecting world over by storm in the span of a year.
Let us know your thoughts on amiibo in the comments below!