Going a bit off topic with this post to talk about Amiibos. For those that don’t know, they are plastic figurines of various characters from Nintendo games. Each has an NFC tag in its base, which can be read by the player tapping it on their Wii U gamepad.
On tapping one, whatever game the player has open will do something depending on which amiibo is tapped. This kind of technology really excites me, and there are a world of possibilities for games to use the interaction with a physical object to make the game more exciting.
Sadly, it seems amiibos don’t actually do much, at least as far as I can tell. Admittedly, I only own one amiibo, a Splatoon squid figure,which unlocks some bonus missions. Those missions in turn give some nice extra items, but having already played a lot of online battles, I’ve pretty much got my gear set up the way I want. Furthermore, the missions consist of doing the same single player levels I’ve already done, only against the clock this time.
It’s still cool as an extra thing, and in my case, the amiibo came bundled with the game at launch for a very reasonable price, so I’m happy with what I got. The problem is not every game comes with an amiibo, so any content seen as core or critical to the game can’t be tied to owning one. Otherwise people would complain that they were being sold short – there’s nothing more disappointing than getting half way through a game only to find you need to pay to play the rest of it when you thought you’d bought the whole thing.
What makes amiibo different from other similar games is that they work across a range of Nintendo games, rather than just the title they were bought for. At least in theory. In practice, not every amiibo works with every Nintendo game, and at this point, not with any 3rd party games on the Wii U (those made by companies other than Nintendo).
In fact, of the games I own on Wii U by Nintendo, two don’t support amiibo at all (Bayonetta 1 and Wonderful 101), and Mario Kart 8, which does support amiibo, my squid amiibo isn’t amongst the 19 amiibos it caters for.
Herein lies the second part of my issue with amiibos. There are too damn many! Maybe 30 or 40? I’ve totally lost count at this point, and they’ve been out not even for one year. Some such as Mario sport several different varieties and special editions.
That’s great for people who love collecting stuff, and also for lifelong Nintendo fans who have always wanted a figurine of their favourite character. I’m not one of those people. Wii U is my first Nintendo console and I consequently have no idea who the heck Marth or Lucas or Little Mac are. They certainly aren’t characters from games that I can buy for the Wii U and they’re not especially cheap either.
One of my big gripes with Nintendo fandom is how it’s stuck in the past. Splatoon was like a breath of fresh air, but now Nintendo and their fans seem to have reverted to type and there’s nothing on the horizon that isn’t a sequel or decade plus old franchise that I can really get into and feel that I have a stake in. Amiibos very much play into that feeling and it’s a real turn-off.
Amiibos had the potential to be precisely the opposite. Bind me into the Nintendo ecosystem and make me invested in the games and figurines: Suppose that each figurine worked with every Nintendo game, and offered something unique in those games. Mario Kart 8 offers only alternative outfits for my racer, themed to match the amiibos it supports. Suppose that my squid amiibo let me change the colour of the ink-splat powerup in that game. Or let me unlock a new power-up that was squid or Splatoon related in some way. Or let me add squid decals to the side of my kart.
Then I’d be inclined to see what cool stuff other amiibos unlocked in the game. And once I have 2 or 3 amiibos, then buying a new Nintendo game means I’ll anticipate being able to unlock extra stuff in that. I’d be getting even more value for money as I’d have already sunk the cost of the amiibos. And so it becomes a virtuous cycle.
Instead, there are now so many amiibos that Nintendo will never be able to create content for all of them. New Nintendo games coming out won’t guarantee support for the particular amiibos I already have, meaning I either miss out, or have to buy an amiibo just for a specific game.
I’ve been told Super-Smash Brothers is the game that makes amiibos really worthwhile, as it supports the majority of them and in more than just a superficial manner. Maybe when I buy it, my amiibo experience will pick up. Till then, or till Nintendo add more amiibo functionality to my existing games, amiibos will remain something that just isn’t made for me.