Courtesy of Famitsu screens and Amazon France continuing its impressive record of product page blunders, some details have dribbled out recently for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. Much of the information has been relatively minor, but one potential detail - let's consider it relatively likely to be true at this stage - is that the game will have a specific area / dungeon that requires the Wolf Link amiibo. Quite how that area will work is unknown beyond the fact data will be saved to the figure, but it's certainly got plenty of people rather hot and bothered.
To summarise the criticisms in broad strokes, and avoiding the choice language that often follows comments online, some are very unhappy at the prospect of content and features in the game being locked behind the amiibo. Another issue, which has come up less frequently, is the idea that amiibo can perhaps affect core gameplay in Twilight Princess HD and make it easier - that's more of a side-concern, perhaps, as you can simply avoid scanning Zelda-franchise Smash Bros. amiibo if you wish. Much of the ire, as we've said, is focused on the prospect of the Wolf Link amiibo effectively unlocking a new area.
Part of the frenzy in the comments to be found here and around the web is perhaps reflective of the sentimentality around The Legend of Zelda as a franchise. This'll be the first game where amiibo can impact a core LoZ experience, and that can appear to be sacrilegious, especially in an industry where so many treasured franchises and brands across various platforms are now beholden to DLC, season passes and micro-transactions. So many early efforts in these business areas were poorly handled to the extent that many gamers remain - justifiably to various degrees - hostile to the concepts, and as consumers we're always trying to assess what represents good value for extra content and what is cynical business from publisher.
Nintendo itself has flirted with these lines, and even with established games like Splatoon, Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. it has swayed from generosity with free improvements, to well-priced DLC to other content that's rather expensive for the volume of extras on offer. Then we have amiibo - as it's a toys-to-life range it dances between being desirable as a series of collectibles, as figures or cards that add value to games, to slightly more aggressive practices of providing access to chunks of locked content.
Skylanders started this, explicitly locking areas behind pay-gates that require investment in toys, with Disney Infinity joining in and then LEGO Dimensions arriving in 2015 with particularly excessive amounts of locked-off areas. Way back in January 2013 this writer was scathing of the practice of on-disc DLC, as Capcom was one of the first to put launch day content behind a wall; the argument was that NFC toys are the same thing, yet were seemingly easier forgiven due to their desirability as collectibles. Just remember, on a technical level, that amiibo, Skylanders toys and so on do not have significant content on them beyond a tiny amount of memory to recognise software and store basic data - all of the content they unlock is already right there in the game.
What's interesting with amiibo is that, throughout the range's short history to date, Nintendo's been struggling with alternate desires to make it a fair and enticing deal for gamers, while at the same time seemingly scrambling to monetise it at every opportunity. The size of the range - in terms of figures and cards - is vast considering its limited time on the market, so the big N isn't shy of flooding the market and trying to tempt us to spend significant sums of money. On the one hand the figures are multi-use across plenty of games, which is good, and on the other hand more specific ranges are arriving to tie into one-off games, from those that accompany Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, to Chibi-Robo and the upcoming Wolf Link - the latter will apparently be usable in the next full Zelda game, too.
It seems like a tough balance, and one that will never satisfy everyone. Much depends on bundles, stock availability and value, for one thing. Splatoon may have had lots of free content, but its three game-specific amiibo were not only hard to find at a sane price for much of 2015, but also unlocked quite a lot of extras - each held the key to a number of challenge levels and special outfits. For some it was a case of going without, especially as there was no cheaper way - minus the figures - to simply buy those levels and outfits as DLC within the game. Is that an example of an overly cynical approach, where the toys can be regarded less as collectible figures with a smart bonus, and more as expensive DLC keys?
It's a point we recently raised with Yacht Club Games in an end-of-year interview. The Shovel Knight amiibo unlocks quite a lot of content, with Challenge stages, 'Custom Knight' options and local co-op for the Wii U version of the game. We think that's a lot of bang for buck, but of course the question then comes up is whether it would also work as conventional DLC. When we used the 'physical DLC' phrase - 'physical downloadable content' is a deliberate misnomer - the studio's Ian Flood and David D'Angelo were somewhat cautious about the term.
David: I don't think we saw it that way, and actually if we thought of it that way it'd be a loss for us. It's a ton of work, and if we were going to release DLC as a download for $10 we'd make a lot more money from it.
Ian: At the same time, I don't think the content we've done for the amiibo, such as Custom Knight, is something we would have done just as DLC.
David: Yeah, we built it with the hope that you bring the amiibo to a friend's house and show off your custom character, with the conversations around cool items and abilities, comparing figures and so on. It was very much a question of how do we make this figure and encourage you to take it places?
It's a weird way to do DLC, as we're making this figure and it costs a lot to make – it would have been easier to just have a normal toy!
If we set a line that says, for argument's sake, the Shovel Knight amiibo is a clever vehicle for some extra and unique entertainment, where does the potential use of Wolf Link lie? That's part of the debate raging online, with the censored version of plenty's views being that it's 'BS'.
In some respects the amiibo debate, the content it unlocks and how they're used in games comes back to similar issues that affect broader DLC. Are the extras good value, and is the core content sufficient to justify the game's standard price? As this writer argued while criticising the amiibo-cloner amiiqo in 2015, sometimes anger at locked extras is actually a rebellion against the idea of simply paying more. So much entertainment in modern life is free or inexpensive that all products - be they games, movies or books - are fighting a continual battle to prove that they have value and deserve to make a profit. We often pay X and expect a lot, and sometimes disagree when Y requires us to spend an extra $10 - we want X + Y for the price of X alone.
As for The Twilight Princess HD and its amiibo, retailers around the world are at different stages, but ultimately it seems that - unsurprisingly - the game and the figure will both be sold individually, even if Nintendo chose the bundle as the focus of its November Direct reveal. Prices are similarly up in the air, but with Amazon UK - as one example - selling the bundle at £44.99, it will likely sell the standalone game for about £34.99 (the latter's still unpriced at the time of writing). As has been typical in the market with bundles, the amiibo can add about £10 to the cost.
The question all consumers need to ask, then, is whether they're willing to pay that bit more to have every bit of content on the disc, along with the figure and a fancy box, or whether they'll pay less and go without. In some ways it's just simple commerce; we have the luxuries we can afford or are willing to buy, and go without those we don't pay for. Of course, in the loud debating hall of the internet it's not that simple - the very existence of paid tiers is angrily argued over.
From Nintendo's point of view, it seems like a catch-22. Assuming the Amazon France listing was right, it's adding a new area to Twilight Princess HD in addition to implementing a touchscreen inventory, a Hero mode that's available from the start, and more. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD took some minor criticism for not adding enough, so in a manner that's being addressed. Depending on pricing, Nintendo could put forward the argument that it's offering a definitive HD version of the game, along with a cool figure and extra content that's optional at a cost of $10-15.
Perhaps the backlash around this potential feature is, ultimately, less about the amiibo and more about the game it's potentially being implemented in, and depending on how this plays out with the public that could be an area for Nintendo to consider. Treasured franchises for Sony and Microsoft may have long been stuffed full of DLC, microtransactions or season passes, but the big N has been late to the party - it did add free extra content to The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, though. We have seen - however - amiibo and conventional DLC in Mario Kart and Smash Bros., and Super Mario Maker, so there's an air of inevitability to such things creeping into the Zelda franchise. That will be a sticking point for some dedicated fans, however you slice it, and the phrases 'DLC' and 'amiibo; perhaps aren't what many will want to see used in reference to the next full entry in the series.
Ultimately, though, we likely have to live with it. Nintendo can't - and won't - ignore opportunities to monetise and expand its games and franchises, and we as gamers have to accept that reality. What we can do, as always, is cast a critical eye over DLC, amiibo and any other extras thrown into games; the consumers will decide whether Nintendo's doing the right thing.
If legions of fans pick up a disc-only copy of Twilight Princess HD - or no copy at all - then they'll have voted with their wallets. This writer's suspicion is that, despite arguments over amiibo content in the game, many will buy that bundle anyway. If we want the 'classic' experience, we can just keep it in its packaging and well away from the GamePad.
After all, it's 99.99% likely to be optional content.
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