It’s been almost half a year since Nintendo first unveiled their initial wave of near-field communication (NFC) character figures, called “amiibo,” making clear their intentions to claim a share of the market currently dominated by Activision’s Skylanders franchise and Disney’s Disney Infinity games.
With the first wave of amiibo figures set to release on November 21st alongside Nintendo’s big holiday title, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the company is providing members of the media with hands-on looks at the figurines a few weeks ahead of their release, and I recently got to check them out for myself.
There are 12 figures in the first wave of amiibo, representing a variety of iconic (and a couple not-so-iconic) Nintendo characters: Mario, Link, Kirby, Pikachu, Fox, Yoshi, Samus, Donkey Kong, Peach, Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer. All of these figures can be used within Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in the form of “Figure Players” (FP), AI-controlled versions of the characters that learn and grow according to the fights they take part in within the game.
Players can feed their amiibo equipment earned within the game to power them up in different ways and bestow upon them different abilities, and amiibo differ from typical AI-controlled CPU characters in that they literally learn from what they “see” and are exposed to in battles. For example, amiibo can be trained up to level 50 and become very efficient AI-controlled fighters, but if you always play with items off, your amiibo will never be exposed to items, and thus it will have no idea what to do with them should it take part in a battle in which items are present. In these ways you can customize your amiibo, training and powering them up in your own unique way, ultimately fighting alongside or against them in battles. You can also have multiple amiibo face off with one another, and your amiibo will even bring you “presents” it finds during battles, which ultimately translates to yet another way to earn equipment, custom special moves, trophies, and gold in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. So while amiibo certainly are not a required component of the game in any way, there is a tangible in-game benefit to using them (though none of the game’s locked content requires the use of amiibo to access, an important point).
At the press event I attended, Nintendo demonstrated the process of scanning an amiibo into the game, feeding it some equipment to power it up, and having it train in battle. When you first see the amiibo technology at work, there’s a real “gee-whiz” factor to it; simply touch the amiibo to the Wii U GamePad’s NFC sensor and the figure scans into the game almost immediately, and it’s impressive just how quick and seamless the process it. You can scan amiibo into Super Smash Bros. for Wii U at a specific amiibo screen or at the character select screen, and in the latter’s case, amiibo are added to roster of participating players instantly, which left me confident that amiibo will never be a chore to use or something that you have to go out of your way to utilize. The whole process really is impressively seamless.
I also got the chance to play against some high-leveled amiibo during the demonstration; in this case, I faced off against a level 33 Mario and a level 50 Wii Fit Trainer. So how did I fare? Well, I’m a very experienced Smash player and I can say with certainty that, without items, it would have been fairly difficult (but not impossible) to beat them. (As it stands, I played my matches against them with items on, and even the mightiest amiibo can’t stand up to the combined assault of a Golden Hammer, Lightning, and Final Smash… but then again, neither can most human opponents.) Both Figure Players – especially the Wii Fit Trainer one – demonstrated surprisingly high-level play and tactics. It doesn’t compare with playing against an experienced human opponent, of course, and at first glance may seem indistinguishable from a typical level 9 CPU character, but the differences are there, however subtle they may be.
So the tech definitely works as advertised and I couldn’t help but be impressed by seeing the “magic” at work right in front of me, especially in terms of how fast and seamless it all is. That said, I can’t help but be a little skeptical of how long the appeal will last. As interesting as the tech itself is, there’s simply not a whole lot to do with your amiibo in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U from a gameplay standpoint — what I outlined above is really just about it. In light of the recent revelation that many of the game’s typically single-player modes like Classic and All-Star will have co-op support in the Wii U version, it would be awesome if you could fight alongside your self-trained amiibo in these modes when real-life friends are unavailable, but Nintendo representatives unfortunately told me that they didn’t think this was possible, though they did stopped short of outright confirming that.
That said, while the gameplay appeal of amiibo within Smash may ultimately be fleeting, their appeal as collector’s items for gamers and hardcore Nintendo fans is undeniable. We’re talking about some of the most popular, iconic characters in gaming here, so the draw of displaying them on a shelf as figurines is obvious. However, there have been concerns recently about the disparity between the gorgeous prototypes Nintendo showed off at E3 and the final designs of the figures; many feel that the design quality of the figures has been downgraded significantly in the mass-production process in order to comfortably hit their $12.99 price point. This was something I made sure to take a close look at while at the press event, and while I can say that the actual build quality of the figures is excellent — they’re light but resilient and don’t feel cheap or fragile — it is definitely true that some amiibo have fared better than others in terms of their final design.
Some of the amiibo are just gorgeous and, impressively, look just like the character they’re based on. Kirby, Pikachu, and Yoshi have fared the best in this regard, and fans of those characters are in for a real treat. Fox also looks particularly great, especially considering all the little details on his equipment and clothes. Mario and Donkey Kong are solid and look good; Donkey Kong in particular has a little heft to him, which is welcome and feels authentic when you consider that he is physically the largest of all the characters in the first wave. Meanwhile, Samus isn’t quite as impressive but she generally looks pretty good and fared better than I expected her to, given how complex her Power Suit’s design is. While I can’t help but wonder how popular the Wii Fit Trainer amiibo will actually be, her figure also looks good, save for the unfortunate inclusion of a cast-like piece of plastic around her standing leg, which brings down the overall appearance. Unfortunately, while the Villager figure should have been one of the easier ones to get right in theory, it hasn’t turned out that way; his eyes oddly have differently-sized pupils, which throws off the whole design and makes him look a little bit like a cheap knock-off rather than an official figure. Finally, we have Peach and Marth bringing up the rear. These figures have undoubtedly fared the worst in the transition to mass production and look much worse than their prototypes, coming in closer to the quality of a pack-in toy you’d expect from McDonalds than an official figurine you’d buy at retail. Peach’s face and the details on her dress look particularly cheap, while Marth’s design is really just unfortunate all around, with his goofy face and flimsy sword making him look more like a pirate knockoff and not at all like the refined prince he’s based upon.
But don’t take my word for it; see for yourself! I snapped pictures of each amiibo described above, and they’re included right here in this article. Unfortunately, the Link amiibo at the event was being used for a demo during my time with the figures, so I didn’t get a picture of that one or even a good look at it.
So overall, the majority of the first wave of amiibo pass muster in terms of their final design in my opinion, with a few of them really looking phenomenal. It’s a shame there are a few stinkers, but on the whole I’m quite happy with the quality of most of the initial wave of amiibo.
To recap, the first wave of amiibo is releasing on November 21st in the US alongside Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and consists of Mario, Link, Kirby, Pikachu, Fox, Yoshi, Samus, Donkey Kong, Peach, Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer. Meanwhile, the second wave consists of six additional figures – Luigi, Diddy Kong, Zelda, Captain Falcon, Pit, and Little Mac – and will release sometime in mid-December.
Additional upcoming amiibo-compatible games include Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Mario Party 10, and Yoshi’s Woolly World, while Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors, and the Nintendo 3DS will be patched with amiibo support sometime in the future. Certain amiibo will also be compatible with multiple titles, thus eliminating the need to buy separate figures for each game; Nintendo has yet to release details on any of this, however.
When Nintendo makes more details available regarding current and upcoming amiibo, we’ll be sure to let you know!