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Amiibos: The Physical DLC Gimmick

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By Nelson Schneider - 05/10/15 at 04:12 PM CT

At this point in the 8th Generation, it has become quite obvious that Nintendo, once a paragon of the old console traditions and the last holdout in the face of updates and DLC, has given up and joined the rest of the console makers in adopting less-than-beloved modern business practices. With “Mario Kart 8,” “Super Smash Bros. U,” “Hyrule Warriors,” and the brand new “Splatoon” all featuring significant amounts of cut content later surfacing as an additional purchase, Nintendo looks right at home among the other DLC adopters, and will likely soon start with the microtransactions, once their partnership with DeNA bears fruit.

However, Nintendo as a company never seems satisfied to do something in exactly the same way as every other company. Thus instead of keeping DLC strictly in the digital realm, Nintendo has found a way to make it physical. Unfortunately this method of creating physical DLC has nothing to do with pressing updated game discs that include the DLC for free after the initial rush of sales has concluded. Instead, Nintendo’s physical DLC comes in the cute and disarming form of figurines modeled after the company’s slew of iconic characters.

Amiibos first debuted as a way to expand the gameplay experience in “Super Smash Bros. U” by allowing players to train an AI buddy that lives inside a figurine. While initially demonstrated as a trump card to pull out in overwhelming situations within Nintendo’s latest entry in their iconic Fighting series, Amiibos are actually incredibly limited in where they are actually allowed to participate in that game, as I mentioned in my review.

Existing “Super Smash Bros. U” Amiibos have been granted further functionality by Nintendo, allowing them to interact with other games to unlock cosmetic options (as is the case in “Mario Kart 8”) or hidden inventory items (as is the case in “Hyrule Warriors”). These kinds of add-ons wouldn’t look out of place in any other company’s online store as microtransactions. Yet Nintendo doesn’t sell these unlocks digitally – they are solely available via Amiibos.

What exactly are Amiibos? For those who have been living under a rock for the past few months, Amiibos are small plastic figurines with a small bit of flash storage inside. The electronic innards of an Amiibo interact with WiiU games via the NFC reader built into every WiiU GamePad. They retail for $15, but short supplies of many characters have lead scalpers to charge exorbitant amounts, which desperate Nintendo Fanboys are willing to pay, despite the fact that Amiibos are cheaply manufactured, non-articulated, and scaled so as to be incompatible with any type of tabletop miniatures game.

When Nintendo announced Amiibos in conjunction with “Super Smash Bros. U,” I shrugged, rolled my eyes, and scoffed at the idea of buying overpriced Nintendo miniatures that barely do anything. Thanks to fellow MeltedJoystick staffer, Chris, I ended up in possession of a Pikachu Amiibo, and have been decidedly unimpressed with its capabilities. I can’t imagine any reason why anyone would want the complete set outside of a collector’s mentality. Amiibo’s seem exactly like the old Franklin Mint ‘collectables’ that used to be advertised on TV in the 1980s, but with a modern technological twist. They aren’t intrinsically valuable and their gameplay value is likewise limited and questionable. While I initially thought Amiibos would turn out to be a Nintendo version of “Skylanders” or “Disney Infinity” figures, the sad truth is that Amiibo’s aren’t nearly as useful or cool.

The old “Super Smash Bros. U” Amiibos aren’t going to remain alone, however. With “Splatoon” and “Yoshi’s Wooly World,” Nintendo will be releasing a small series of Amiibos unique to those games. The “Splatoon” Amiibos will be required to unlock a significant portion of the game’s maps and weapons (which are key features in a multi-player arena shooter). The ‘Yoshi’ Amiibos are primarily causing a stir because they will be made of yarn, not plastic, while simultaneously allowing players the exclusive privilege of controlling two Yoshis on-screen at once. None of these bonuses is really worth the $15 price of an Amiibo, yet it is highly unlikely they will appear as traditional DLC/microtransaction options in the WiiUWare e-Shop.

Locking DLC to the purchase of a large collection of low-quality, high-priced toys isn’t doing anything to help Nintendo shake their ‘kiddie’ reputation among the self-proclaimed ‘hardcore’ gamers (e.g., tweens and teens who think they are mature because they only play M-rated games). Even worse, it’s not helping to earn the love on non-obsessed Nintendo fans who don’t want to track down a bunch of overpriced physical clutter just to have access to the complete content in their first-party Nintendo titles.

Yes, it’s neat that Amiibos allow DLC to live in the physical world, thus remaining viable long after a console’s natural lifespan has ended. But are these unspectacular figurines really the way to go about it? Nintendo started as a card company. Cards are cheap to make, extremely profitable, and take up very little physical space. Wouldn’t it have been more fitting to release a series of character cards with NFC chips to unlock content?

Regardless of the fact that rabid Nintendo Fanboys love them and are willing to spend vast amounts of money to complete their collections, I just cannot get excited about anything Amiibo-related. Pikachu sits on the shelf next to my GamePad dock collecting dust, since I’m essentially ‘done’ with the games he’s compatible with. I definitely didn’t get $15 worth of entertainment out of him, and I can’t fathom spending $15 on a different character for a similar limited experience. Maybe if Nintendo had the right game, some kind of sandbox mashup affair, where Amiibos were allowed to actually come to life on-screen and participate alongside the player in the full game experience, they could convince me that Amiibos are a valuable console peripheral. Until that day comes, I’ll continue to not buy Amiibos as vigorously as possible.

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Jonzor

Wrote on05/10/15 at 07:24 PM CT

1. $13

2. The plastic toy-into-video game thing is a double edged sword. If you do like Nintendo does and spread the uses around to many games, but never lock a whole game behind the figurines, people say they aren't worth it. If you put a TON of functionality behind them a la Skylanders, it's extortion just to get you to buy the toys before the game is fun. People will complain no matter what.

3. The good news is that Nintendo isn't done with Amiibo. They're selling enough that eventually I think Nintendo may find a good use or two, and get more adventurous with their uses. The biggest problem for me is that most of the best uses of Amiibo has been with figures you have to be Satoru Iwata to be able to find. With so many of them sold, if the Mario or Kirby ones start being as useful as the Splatoon ones or the Codename S.T.E.A.M. ones, then things may improve.

4. I can't believe how badly the launch and sale of Amiibo has gone. I don't know how to deal with stores selling them because Amiibo have the strange ability to make a company stop seeing money as a reward. When GameStop tried to sell Ness this last time, the ENTIRE company shut down due to Ness-related issues. It wasn't just a problem buying Ness, it was a problem buying literally anything at GameStop for nearly an hour. GameStop would rather not sell anything (including the Ness Amiibos) for an hour than miss out on Amiibo. And Nintendo has a product that is selling out before they even launch (and launch dates aren't even announced anymore) but can't do anything other than look at their fans and just shrug. "What do you want us to do, fans? Make more Amiibo so we can sell them and make more money? That's insane!"

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