There's a decent indication that amiibo Tap: Nintendo's Greatest Bits (known as amiibo Touch & Play: Nintendo Classics Highlights in Europe) is considered a fairly valuable release - internally - by Nintendo. When highlighting the role of amiibo in an investor's briefing at the start of the year Satoru Iwata referenced the project by saying the following:
We are also planning a free-download app for Wii U in which you can enjoy NES and Super NES games with your amiibo in the first half of this year.
With this app, once you tap your amiibo on the NFC area of the GamePad, you will be able to play highlighted scenes of one certain title for NES or Super NES. You cannot play the entire game due to a time limit, but another tap of the amiibo will enable you to try another highlighted scene in the game. We hope that when you tap your amiibo, the quickly changing game scenes will pleasantly surprise you and make you feel as though you have just exchanged a game cartridge.
The concept certainly intrigued us, and seemed like a clever blend of promoting amiibo, usage of the GamePad and to introduce Wii U owners to classic games. Yet in a period when Nintendo's doing a good job of making amiibo fun, multi-functional and high-value toys, it's rather made a mess of this app. It is, frankly, a disappointment.
For starters, let's summarise how this free download works. Upon booting up with some slick presentation - rather like amiibo crossed with NES Remix - you're prompted to scan in an amiibo toy, assuming you have at least one: the app does, to be fair, emphasize that this is purely for amiibo owners, and that others need not apply. You tap your toy of choice and it recognises its nickname, and if you haven't used it previously you're taken to a simple screen to establish the 'owner' and name before proceeding. Though no data is saved to the amiibo - it's read-only - the app is tying that specific toy to a game, not simply concluding there's an amiibo and firing up a random demo.
Yet there's the fundamental issue. This app contains 30 demos of NES and SNES games, but each of your amiibo is randomly tied to one demo alone - the literature around the download has sort of always said that, but we didn't want to believe that was the case.
So, here's the thing, you need 30 amiibo toys to sample all of the games, as opposed to the app simply cycling through different samples regardless of the figure that's scanned. It's an app that, by that very requirement, best suits the company's biggest fans; yet we suspect anyone that's bought 30 of these figures is a big enough Nintendo gamer that they're familiar with or own these classics in some form. Or they've paid for the far superior and more fun NES Remix games, while picking up SNES favourites separately.
That's the muddled thinking here - this is an app that's perfect for introducing gamers to retro games, but only truly accommodates the most eager of supporters. It's a baffling contradiction right at the core of the whole app, and really damages its purpose; to give an example, your humble writer has seven amiibo toys, not a massive collection but still costing about the same as two retail games, yet was presented with demos of games he already owned. The software wasn't even clever enough to detect games already on the Wii U and avoid them, providing some utterly meaningless content locked to an amiibo; no, you can't simply switch the game that an amiibo is tied to.
Moving on from conceptual issues, the execution is acceptable but, oddly, a little below Nintendo's normal exacting standards with its Virtual Console releases. Each demo is split up into a handful of 'scenes', whether individual races in a game like F-Zero or the start of a level in Super Mario Bros.. Yet Nintendo's actually only set these scenes as a kicking off point in the ROM, not a particularly structured taster - in Super Mario Bros. you can blast through multiple levels in the three minute time limit, or in F-Zero finish a race and get about 10 seconds into a second before it kicks you out; ironically the second 'scene' may be the race you briefly started previously. As for games like The Legend of Zelda, they're simply not suited to this 180-seconds-and-you're-out approach, and if you topple a boss quickly - for example - you then wander around the world lost for a minute or so. They're snippets with minimal context.
One positive is that, pacing problems aside, there's a decent batch of 7-10 scenes per game, and you can quickly cycle through them by tapping the relevant amiibo multiple times. This does allow for snappy scene selection, and is one of the better implementations to be found.
All of the demos are single-player only and, due to the fundamental requirement of amiibo, unsurprisingly only control with the GamePad. Each demo is framed within a border and surrounded with touch-sensitive menus and information, so it's certainly the most intuitive to play right on the GamePad's screen. An eShop button takes you to the relevant store page, though the manual is rather phoned-in, with a link that takes you to a fairly plain web page with basic instructions on how to play. Again, this is rather un-typical of Nintendo, which normally wraps its instructions into games or in pleasing native e-manuals.
amiibo Tap: Nintendo's Greatest Bits technically does its job, and some will say that we shouldn't be so critical of a free app. Free or not, though, this download is supposed to have a clear purpose to promote amiibo and the Virtual Console, yet is fundamentally flawed in execution to the point that it actually portrays both products in a bad light. It 'shows off' retro game scenes that can be out of context and confusing to newcomers, and uses amiibo in a way that makes them seem like cynical low-functionality toys, which they typically are not.
None of these problems are irreparable, and Nintendo could issue an update that changes the way this app works. To be blunt, until it does so this is barely worth the space on your hard drive.
Have you tried amiibo Tap yet? If so what do you think, do you agree or disagree with out assessment? Sound off, as always, in the comments below.