Amid the confusion regarding amiibo figures apparently being discontinued (and then not) and the scarcely credible defected models we've been seeing, it's easy to miss the fact that Nintendo's new "toys to life" range has been a storming success — so much so that the insatiable demand has clearly caught the Kyoto veteran napping.
The amiibo concept has gotten off to an encouraging start, and twinning the launch with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was a master-stroke. Being able to train up your character in the game means that those 8-player Smash contests are a little easier to organise, even when you lack the full compliment of human participants. However, with some users already complaining that their amiibo has reached its maximum level, it's clear that Nintendo has to keep the momentum going with more titles and new ideas.
It has already been confirmed that amiibo will offer some interactivity with future games like Mario Party 10, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker will see support added retrospectively, but if our experiences with the likes of Hyrule Warriors and Mario Kart 8 are anything to go by, these titles could end up offering very limited connectivity.
Mario Kart 8 allows you to unlock additional costumes, but the amiibo interaction is a one-time event — you only need to link the toy once to gain the outfit. Connectivity with Hyrule Warriors extends to linking your figure each day to gain rewards, but these aren't exactly unique or exciting, and if you're anything like us then you've probably already stopped bothering with them. This minimal level of interaction isn't going to be enough to keep people interested in pretty but inanimate lumps of plastic, so Nintendo really needs to provide something else in 2015 to keep amiibo in the public eye.
There's a chance that already-announced titles like Splatoon, Star Fox and The Legend of Zelda will offer amiibo support, and in the case of the first two games this could potentially could extend to a Smash-style system of training figures up. Splatoon is, as we already know, largely a multiplayer affair, admittedly with a 'Hero' single-player mode; perhaps we will see a small wave of new figures based on the squid-like characters from the game, and you'll be able to train these up by taking part in online battles? Given how popular the four-player dogfighting in Star Fox 64 was, we may see a similar mode in the new Wii U Star Fox — again, amiibo figures could be placed in the game as rivals, learning new techniques and skills as you play. To be fair, this concept could be added to any game which offers multiplayer, and we're actually kind of surprised that Nintendo hasn't retrospectively added the ability to add amiibo racers in Mario Kart 8. Given the existence of a Mario amiibo prototype with a chequered flag base design — viewable on Nintendo's official site, no less and still included in press assets from November — perhaps that is on the cards for 2015 as well?
Of course, Nintendo has made no secret of the fact that one of amiibo's biggest selling points is the fact that the characters "learn" alongside you — it even says so on the back of the packaging; so it's almost a given that the company has plans to replicate the Smash Bros. setup in other titles. This is one of amiibo's greatest strengths when compared to the likes of Disney Infinity and Skylanders; while those toys can be used across all versions, they're still limited to a single franchise. Nintendo's amiibo concept is looking to reach across the company's portfolio, keeping these figures alive for months to come.
Even so, we'd be very surprised if Nintendo isn't already working on a grander application of amiibo, more along the lines of Disney Infinity or Skylanders. The track record of these titles proves that they sell, and Nintendo won't be blind to this. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a game that is enriched by amiibo but doesn't rely on it; what would really push the concept forward is an amiibo-exclusive release which requires the figures to play. This might sound like a regressive step given that Nintendo's aim has always been to improve on the "toys to life" model, but how long will players realistically be entertained by simply training up pieces of plastic or unlocking one-time rewards?
When you think about it, the prospect of Nintendo beating Activision and Disney at their own game is tantalizing. How about a Super Mario 3D World variant where amiibo characters are used in unique and inventive ways? Or an action RPG where your team is made up from the toys you own, and each amiibo has its own back-story and personality? So far, Skylanders and Disney Infinity have followed a pretty regimented method of putting toys into their respective games, but we're sure that Nintendo could come up with something fresh and new to take the concept to the next level.
Of course, there's the issue that you can only have one helping of read/write data on an amiibo at any one time, which means when titles with deeper interaction do come along, you'll have to erase the data on the figure and start afresh. Seeing as Smash Bros. is the only game with read/write capability available right now, it's not an issue, but when the time comes Nintendo could potentially expand the amiibo settings menu on the Wii U to allow for data backups. We already know that Smash Bros. "stores" your amiibo's data in-between fights before transferring it back to the figure (we've already experienced some failed NFC exchanges which resulted in corrupted data, requiring the amiibo to be restored automatically by another tap on the GamePad) so it's clearly possible to retain this information and reload it back onto the figure at any time.
After the mixed fortunes of the Wii U and slowly decreasing global sales of the 3DS, amiibo could well be Nintendo's biggest commercial opportunity going into 2015. As many predicted all along, the popularity of the company's massive cast of characters is enough to put even the likes of Disney in the shade, but that can only last so long. To keep amiibo fresh and exciting Nintendo needs to deliver titles which offer deep interaction with the toys, and possibly consider exclusive releases which take that interaction even further by requiring amiibo to function.
Another avenue which could potentially be explored is opening up amiibo to other developers and publishers. The fact that both Sonic and Pac-Man exist with the initial amiibo range (thanks to their inclusion in Smash Bros.) proves that deals can be done, and although the following tweet was possibly made in jest, it nevertheless creates a pretty exciting picture of what amiibo's future could be like:
Now that you've had time to see how the first wave of amiibo toys connect to existing games, what are your own hopes for the future of the concept? Are you happy with the figures simply unlocking little bonuses from key releases, or would you rather Nintendo create software which is built around amiibo from the beginning? Do you think Nintendo should open up the amiibo line to third party publishers and developers, allowing them to include interaction in their own titles, and perhaps create unique amiibo figures? Vote in the poll and share your thoughts by posting a comment.
Are you happy with the level of amiibo interaction so far? (383 votes)
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Do you think Nintendo should create amiibo exclusive titles, like Skylanders and Disney Infinity? (384 votes)
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