Review: amiibo

Nintendo games and toys? It figures.

When Activision released Skylanders in 2011, people wondered if Nintendo might get in on the action with a similar line of their own. When the Wii U GamePad was released with its own built-in NFC functionality to read such signals as those emitted by the Skylanders, people continued to wonder, and Disney throwing their hat into the ring with their vast line of properties with Disney Infinity in 2013 only led them to wonder further.

Now, in the holiday season of 2014, people need wonder no more as Nintendo’s answer, amiibo, is here!

With the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U came the first wave of amiibo figures, with more to come in the weeks and months ahead, primarily designed to capitalize on its companion release now and expand further in the future. In fact, some amiibo functionality has been retroactively added to two titles, the latest of which came just last week to Hyrule Warriors (hence the decision to delay this review).

Of particular note is that I have been given one sample to review: The Mario amiibo. I hope to get more (or all) of them in the future, but for now, Nintendo’s mascot is my lone companion in this review, though I will acknowledge what I can about other figures as necessary as we go along.

amiibo-mariosmallThe Packaging

Each amiibo figure comes individually packaged on a standard retail blister cardback, much like most regular-sized action figures, as well as those from the aforementioned similar toy lines. Of the two, it seems to hew closer to the Disney Infinity 2.0 packaging, with large, square plastic blister/bubbles glued to a card which focuses exclusively on the character within, color scheme and all. This makes searching pegs for a particular figure much, much easier, as you can tell what each contains at little more than a glance, unlike many a Transformers or Star Wars figure.

The back gives similar priority to the character contained within, showing the character being used with the Wii U GamePad and promoting its interaction with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. There are no cross-sells for other figures on the back, though, so you’re on your own insofar as keeping track of who has been released in each wave goes.

Similarly, and even surprisingly, there is no mention of the figures working with any other games on the back. In a case such as Yoshi’s Wooly World, which hasn’t been released yet, or even Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, which won’t receive the necessary update until next year, it’s completely understandable. In cases such as the already-released Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors, though, the lack of any mention is a bit of a mystery, and one would think that could only serve to undersell the value of the figure put forth to less savvy consumers.

It’s worth noting that while the packaging is similar to Disney’s, the functionality is not. In some cases (which will be touched on shortly), only a quick one-time tap of an amiibo is needed to get any value out of it. This is in stark contrast to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, which relies on repeated usage, or the Skylanders/Disney Infinity games, which require constant contact with the reader. As such, while the latter titles have boxes which allow the figures to be read on demo units at retail, the amiibo do not share that trait, thanks to a small metallic strip placed inside the box to prevent the sensor from being read.

This becomes an issue, particularly to some collectors, as keeping the figures mint in box while taking advantage of the game features they offer is impossible. The figures cannot be read in box, nor are the packages designed in such a way that the figure can be easily replaced and put back on display. A choice regarding your investment will have to be made, and whether you intend to keep the item mint in box, or you want to take advantage of the amiibo’s features.

As some hardcore toy collectors may know, there are some workarounds to the package issue, but as far as your base options go? It’s one way or the other.

The Quality

Some controversy has arisen in recent weeks, as some websites have taken note that many of the figures in the amiibo line do not mirror the promotional images and early test shots we’ve seen down to the last detail. Link, for instance, has a yellow/amber stand in place to support his promo art-inspired pose. For longtime toy collectors, this should come as no surprise, as mass retail releases often tend to differ from the prototypes to some degree. I even noted on a recent Dinosaur Dracula article about toys from a Sears Wish Book that the picture of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Thrower differed from the final product I had as a kid. It happens all the time.

That said, the bulk of changes seem to affect the more realistically-proportioned figures with changes to help make them more stable (the thicker stands; remember, these are for kids, too) or efficient to produce at the cost (such as, if I remember correctly, some of Princess Peach’s dress details being painted on instead of molded in). More cartoony characters, such as my Mario, seem to have received less change.

You can see images of my figure above. The sculpt is good and true to the game’s promotional art, even replicating the fabric-like texture of Mario’s overalls in some fashion. The paint on mine seems to be spot on, as I’ve noticed no particular smudges, unpainted details, or errant applications. Nonetheless, if possible, you may want to inspect the figure as best as you can in-store; mistakes do occur sometimes, such as Kirby’s with off-center eyes or, in a best-case scenario, finding a Samus with two arm cannons.

In terms of detailing, though, the manufacturer has done a good job. Cheetimus, a toy customizer who does many repaints and touch-ups for Transformers and other figures, has expanded into the amiibo business as well. While he is used to touching up other figures in order to bring out the details left unpainted at the factory, he notes that his amiibo works have primarily been straight repaints, with little (if any) need to add further detailing.

The quality of the plastic seems pretty solid as well. They’re likely nothing you want to slam around harshly, particularly those with thin limbs like the Wii Fit Trainer, but as long as you’re not outright abusive towards them, they should hold up well. The only thing I’ve been slightly concerned about has been the flexibility of the fireball on Mario, which has a little bit of give to it– likely so that it won’t simply snap off with the application of pressure.

The Gameplay Applications

In addition to getting a lineup of extremely rare (as the franchise goes) Super Smash Bros. merchandise to display on your shelf, desk, or other areas, the main attraction for the amiibo is how they work in Nintendo’s games.

As noted before, they only work with three games at the moment, with more to come in the future. How amiibo work in future games will be handled as best as possible in future reviews, but for now, I wanted to look at everything amiibo has to offer us today.

amiibomariokart8

First up is Mario Kart 8, which is currently capable of interacting with the following amiibo figures: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Link, Captain Falcon, Kirby, Samus Aran, and Fox McCloud. By placing the amiibo of one of these characters to the GamePad sensor one time, you’ll unlock a special racing suit which corresponds to the amiibo character you used (Mario-themed for Mario, etc.).

Fortunately– at least, in the case of characters already in the game, of which there are a few– this isn’t straight-up cosplay. Rather, it’s a racing suit themed towards the look of the character, but specially designed as a racing outfit. They run from pretty straightforward (Captain Falcon, who hails from a racing game, looks much like his normal outfit) to the abstract (Kirby completely engulfing your Mii’s head) to the stylish, such as Link’s green and gold helmet with racing goggles.

These are good if you want something besides your Mii’s main/favorite color on the outfit, and it changes the color of karts that are similarly coordinated as well. As such, Mario allowed me to go from an orange racer to a red version. The outfits don’t look like corners were cut, either, as the shiny helmet my Mii now adorned seemed to reflect the light really well, giving it the appearance of a nice, hard plastic.

With the Hyrule Warriors update now live, I can review this. Well, sort of; there are three different types of amiibo readout currently in the game.

If you tap Link’s amiibo, you’ll get the Spinner from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to use as a new weapon. Tap Zelda’s amiibo to the sensor, and you’ll receive a weapon rated three stars or higher. Finally, there’s everyone else. Tapping any other amiibo, such as my Mario, once per day will get you a weapon rated at three stars or lower, bonus Rupees, or bonus crafting material.

What’s interesting is that one person has stated they received the Spinner from tapping another amiibo (Mario) as well, but only after they’d already done so with Link; as such, whether it comes to random chance with another amiibo is unknown. Interestingly, it was also a “five star six slot Triforce spinner,” two stars above what non-Zelda series amiibo are supposed to drop.

In any case, you can tap most amiibo (not sure about Link) once per day for rewards, and it’s been said (but I’ve not been able to confirm) that you can only do five per day. I recorded my five attempts with Mario from the time the update went live: First day, I got a Giant’s Knife. Second day, a Holy Hylian Shield. Third day, a single Rupee. Fourth day, a Dragonbone Pike. Fifth day, a single Rupee again.

Interestingly, I’ve seen on some forums accounts of people with multiple amiibo getting a single Rupee from each for several days before getting anything worthwhile.

key-art

Finally, there’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Scanning an amiibo puts that character in the game, and you can train it as a teammate or a rival up to a level 50 skill level. In addition, you can customize its moveset according to what you’ve unlocked, pick a color scheme for it, name it, and even “feed” it power-up items in-game to raise its stats even further.

The artificial intelligence on display is more fascinating than that seen in the game, as it learns from those it fights. For example, using a lot of projectiles can influence the amiibo’s own use of projectiles, or defending against them. It learns quickly, too, and seems to level up at random times (such as while simply walking during a match). Mine went up a few levels after I pit it in an eight-player stock match against computer opponents, and it really cleaned house once it got its hands on a baseball bat. After that and a few matches with myself, it had already reached level 18.

As noted, you can work with or against the amiibo, or even pit it in matches against friends’ amiibo. They’re said to learn even faster when used on a Wii U belonging to someone else. It’s fascinating to see at work, and makes one wonder what other applications there are for this… such as training one’s own Pokemon for real.

On a side note, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U‘s menus make the simple prospect of changing their colors or owner seem more difficult than it ought to be. In fact, it took me a while to realize it was even possible after having given up on it, as you have to press a button on the loading screen that comes up shortly between scanning your amiibo and the custom menu appears.

What’s disappointing here, however, is that the amiibo don’t function in a way that many people had hoped– that is, for example, I cannot upload my custom Mario with his specially selected moves and power-ups into my amiibo and take it to a friend’s house to use. You’re still going to need a Nintendo 3DS and a copy of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS in order to pull off such a relatively mundane task.

amiibo

In the end, amiibo are probably not going to appeal to everyone. First and foremost, at the moment, they’ll appeal most to those who love Super Smash Bros. and/or the characters therein, and want more merchandise of them. To that point, it does provide a much, much cheaper alternative for those who just want a figure of certain characters at an affordable price (try to find a Pit figure for less than this. Go on, I dare you).

The gameplay additions are nice bonuses which certainly add value to the figures going into the future, but at the moment, none but the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U functionality seem like they’d be worth buying a figure for. On the other hand, it’s up to you to decide how much Captain Falcon racing threads or the Spinner weapon are worth to you; perhaps then the figure is the nice bonus?

Personally, I like these and I want more (read: all). Of course, I’ve long craved some form of Super Smash Bros. merchandise, and moreover, I want to have my own figures of such characters as R.O.B., Mr. Game & Watch, and the Duck Hunt trio (fingers crossed on those three, though Nintendo has said they plan to do the full roster) to decorate my desk with, among others. The gameplay additions those bring are just a nice, welcome bonus.

So Nintendo has finally delivered what people wanted, though perhaps not quite in the way they expected it. That just leaves the question of whether we might see a game more closely in the vein of Skylanders and Disney Infinity.

amiibo-mariosmallThe first wave of the amiibo figure line was released on November 21st, 2014 at a price of $13.99 each.

A review sample was provided by Nintendo of Canada.

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About the author

David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.