Earlier this year Nintendo announced plans for a figurine platform that worked with the Wii U GamePad’s NFC sensor. I was more than a little dubious about its potential for success. I felt the Wii U needed more games, not toys.
Eight months on and I am scrabbling around the internet like a feral dog, sniffing out any potential Amiibo availability. I’m a grown man behaving like a twelve-year-old who needs the last few stickers to complete a Panini album. Yes, it’s a little embarrassing.
The truth is that for anyone other than Nintendo I wouldn’t care. But like Marvel, Disney and Star Wars, Nintendo’s characters have a cross-generation appeal that make fanboys of us all. And when you have played their games for as long as I have, it’s hard to resist.
It certainly seems to have paid off financially for Nintendo. According to recent reports 700,000 Amiibo have been sold in the US alone. With stocks running dry worldwide Nintendo can sell as many figures as they can manufacture right now.
The reason for their success is easy to explain. To start with, they are exceptionally well made. They are detailed, solid, colourful and beautifully textured. The only drawback with the build of certain figures are the disgusting props and leg braces that some characters are forced to endure. Some are worse than others; Fox’s blue leg prop fades away, whereas Link’s pole of urine detracts from the figure completely. But, all in all, they are beautiful and due to their high quality… the more you get, the more you want. Damn you Nintendo.
The use of Amiibo in Nintendo’s tentpole fall release, Super Smash Bros, is also commendable. It’s a subtle integration in many respects but there is something very satisfying about gradually levelling up your Amiibo. It might be smoke and mirrors, but they genuinely appear to build up their skills, becoming better and better. This level of personalisation makes them much more interesting than your typical CPU controlled character. They feel tangible and personal. They are fun to fight against, but also team up with. Add in friends with their own trained Amiibo and you have a recipe for success.
So far the only drawback is that you can’t play with them online. If Nintendo could patch that in, it would be the perfect implementation.
In addition, there some small but fun hooks into others games including Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors. All things considered, Amiibo appear to hold a longer lasting value than their Skylanders equivalents.
So far, so good.
But then we come to the biggest problem with Amiibo. Supply.
Maybe they were more successful than Nintendo imagined, it’s something hard to anticipate I’m sure, but the fact is that it’s become incredibly hard to find Amiibo anywhere. The second wave of figures arrive in the UK this week and the likes of Little Mac and Captain Falcon are already sold out.
It’s hard not to lay the blame for this with Nintendo. Ever since they told Wired that certain figures would be discontinued supply has dried up everywhere.
Judging by the amount of figures being listed on Amazon and eBay, it appears that re-sellers have swiftly moved in, buying figures to make a quick profit. The knock-on effect is a sense of panic, with people buying any figure they can find, just to have something.
The result is that Amiibo will sell and sell, making Nintendo a healthy profit this Christmas. And well done them. If Amiibo can help shift the perception of the Wii U from an also-ran to a worthwhile purchase, it will be mission accomplished. Although it is a shame that Nintendo’s own excellent software was unable to do the same.
The matter of software also asks questions about the continued success of Amiibo. Once the excitement around Super Smash Bros dies down what will be the next game that uses them in a meaningful way?
Using Amiibo to unlock items and character skins is nice, but not a huge selling point. Perhaps it’s time for Nintendo to create a new game series that integrates them at a fundamental level.
And of course, there is always the possibility of doing something with the Pokemon franchise. It’s a scary thought, but one that I am sure is been considered.
In the meantime, it’s back the web I go. And if anyone wants to swap a Little Mac for a Samus, I’m all ears.