In the beginning, there was physical media. When digital media came along, we were more than happy to move the clutter from our shelves to our hard drives, where it was easier to transport and didn’t require dusting. But recently, things have come full circle. Purchasing digital content in a physical form to again clutter our shelves seems completely contradictory to the ease and convenience behind the digital movement, yet gamers are clamoring for it.
If you’re unfamiliar with I mean, after you’ve crawled out from under your moss-covered rock, head to the closest video game retailer and you’ll see them: toys implanted with NFC (near field communication) chips. Through these chips, a digital version of the toy character can be “imported” into their respective game. Initially popularized by Activision’s Skylanders series in 2011, the idea has since been appropriated by Disney for their sandbox title, Disney Infinity, and most recently, by Nintendo in the form of “Amiibo.”
True to the spirit of the company, Nintendo added their own unique spin on the concept, integrating various forms of Amiibo functionality into multiple Nintendo titles. Unfortunately, not all Amiibo are created equal. While Nintendo’s known for creative gameplay innovation, it’s also known for dragging it’s heels in speedy development. Currently, only a small handful of Wii U games feature Amiibo functionality, a majority of which are only minor content additions, like character skins and item unlocks.
Currently, the only title to make full use of Amiibo is Super Smash Bros for Wii U. Instead of allowing players to play as their Amiibo, it acts as it’s own digital entity that can be trained, leveled up, and pit against other Amiibo. It’s the digital equivalent of having your own Padawan if, you know, the Jedi Council didn’t frown on making them fight each other for your own amusement.
The most apparent draw of the Amiibo (and other NFC implanted figures) is that they’re more than just physical toys that kids (and yes, adults) can play with. When connected to their game, they seemingly come to life, fulfilling the ultimate fantasy of any toy owner. Even if you aren’t inclined to literally play with these toys (at least when other people are watching), it’s important to never underestimate the power of great design and aesthetic appeal. The visual pleasure derived from a bookshelf full of DVD cases is inevitably outweighed by the ever-decreasing amount of storage space in a home.
However, it’s impossible to deny that Amiibo and their like are innately compelling to the eye and simply more enjoyable to look at than a block of lifeless game cases or completely invisible hard drive data. Plus, if some ‘adult’ ever makes a snarky comment about your growing toy collection, you can always explain how they’re actually the latest technology in video game content!
Its collection of licensed characters may be small compared to Disney’s ever-widening cast of characters, but that may actually help Nintendo in the long run. Because of Disney’s popularity and the enormous following that their recently acquired franchises (i.e. Marvel and Star Wars) have gained, the toy market’s flooded with Disney merchandise – so much as to say it’s over saturated. Amiibos, in short, are like gold and all the more valuable for it.
Aside from the more popular Mario game characters, officially licensed Nintendo merchandise is’t easy to find. Samus Aran action figures were an expensive rarity found only online while an entire 14-piece Spiderman bathroom set is available for $15.00 at any Walmart. Just forget finding any licensed Nintendo merchandise for slightly more obscure, but no less beloved characters like Earthbound’s Ness. An Amiibo offers fans the chance to finally own these official toys with an added bonus of digital integration.
Nintendo obviously didn’t create the concept of infusing digital content with physical toys, but it does stand to perfect it. However, if Nintendo wants to harness the true potential of the Amiibo, it needs to act fast. More titles with better Amiibo functionality need to be released pronto, before the public loses interest and these little plastic figures end up in Nintendo’s pile of forgotten gimmicks, next to the Power Glove, Virtual Boy, motion controls, and 3D screens.