History of amiibo

history of amiibo alt


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. 

Some of the images from this post come from Before Mario. Definitely check them out! (Image Source)

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.

You know what’d be funny? If Nintendo distributed amiibo cards like this, in fancy boxes.  (Image Source)

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.”

“Hey, we turned down that opportunity you gave us once…can we stick our characters in your game, make crossover figurines and make up for that?” 🙂 (Image Source)

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.


So unbelievably coveted at the time to the point that a truck full of these was stolen for some reason. (Image Source)

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.

Feeding equipment to amiibo is only recommended for anyone who enjoys making nigh unstoppable AI controlled characters and/or wants to make their enemies suffer. (Image Source)

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.


And people thought this meant Shovel Knight was in Smash. Looks nice, at least. (Image Source)

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.



Sold out faster than Yooka-Laylee got funded. Somehow. (Image Source)

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!

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  1. The low stock numbers at first were probably from them underestimating how many people would buy them just to have merchandise of characters they liked that don’t normally get merchandise. Willing to bet a lot of Smash players picked up/are trying to find an amiibo of their main!

    Speaking of which, can we get a Robin restock any time soon?

  2. I am absolutely obsessed with amiibo… I started off with Link, got one more here and there, and was eventually like: “whatever, I’ll just get them all.” My collection now includes the entire base roster for Smash plus Mewtwo (and both R.O.B.s), all the Animal Crossing ones aside from Isabelle and Digby (waiting for individual releases), Toad, Chibi-Robo, Inkling Boy and Girl (planning on getting the squid soon too), classic 8-bit Mario, Metal– err Silver Mario, the three small Yarn Yoshis, and Shovel Knight.

    It’s easy to see why amiibo are so successful… unlike Skylanders (aside from Spyro), there are beloved characters immortalized in amiibo form, and unlike both Skylanders and Disney Infinity, amiibo can be used for multiple games (pretty sure all of them except for Shovel Knight can be used for at least two games in the special unlocks or character summoning categories.)

    Aside from looking amazing, the best part about amiibo is getting a new game and discovering the amiibo you already have work for it. When I got Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, I was surprised to learn that not only do you get Moolah as mentioned in the article, but most amiibo also unlock special “character pose” figures, which has Chibi-Robo posing in a manner similar to the scanned figure. From what I remember, every Smash series (and by extension, Mario series) amiibo aside from the Pokemon and the Splatoon ones grant a character pose figure.

    Now that the Smash roster is finalized, I really want to get 3D prints of the veterans that didn’t return in amiibo scale… >_>

  3. Although amiibo are Nintendo’s key to success, there is one thing that some people couldn’t understand, and that is the Mario amiibos. Smash Bros. amiibos are reaching to their final destination for DLC characters, while Animal Crossing is bringing more figures and cards for both Happy Home Designer and amiibo Festival, and possibly they’ll bring more for other Nintendo characters too, but we haven’t heard anything about the Mario amiibos since then. Although we have both Mario amiibos based on the original and Smash Bros. version, while Toad is the only new one, we haven’t got any more characters like Wario, Waluigi, Daisy, Donkey Kong, Bowser Jr., Toadette, Rosalina, etc. We’ve thought we’d get them due to the release of Mario Party 10 and Ultra Smash, but we haven’t got anything since then, and Nintendo haven’t explained what was going on. Why the stop of that series? Did they discontinued it because both Mario Party 10 and Ultra Tennis wasn’t doing any good at all? Or are they holding it until they get more profit to build one since they’re focusing on Smash and Animal Crossing? Nintendo need to explain it soon or later, because I do see many fans (especially Daisy fans) are being so upset about it…

    I do think FE:Fates will get a patch update for both Roy and Corrin amiibo. However, I don’t know how the Corrin amiibo will work on Fates, as I wouldn’t think they’re gonna bring 2 Corrins in the game. Or maybe they’ll bring an opposite gendered Corrin for some reason? Also for Code Name S.T.E.A.M., I don’t know if they’ll make a patch update for that game to bring Roy and Corrin too, as we don’t know if that production is already over either.

    But amiibo is doing a great job. I hardly collect amiibos since I don’t have much money, but I am collecting the Smash Dream Team which is Mario, Sonic, and Pac-Man, while I’m still looking for Mega Man, and maybe planning to buy Ryu, Cloud, and Bayonetta. I also have both Inkling girl and boy, and also collecting Animal Crossing cards for the Happy Home Designer. I hope they’ll bring in other 3rd party amiibos too, like Sonic amiibos. It’ll be an interesting one since Sonic will be having his 25th anniversary, while we don’t know what game it’ll be.

  4. Amiibo had the best timing to be released. If it was last generation, people would have been tired of it quickly, similar to Wii. The toys are shaping up to have more functionality but there’s more to be discovered. I want to know what would happen if ammonia were to be launched at the same time of Wii U.

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