Amiibo: A Story of Love, Frustration and Slight Addiction

Many thoughts rush into the minds of gamers when they hear or read the word “amiibo”: Awesome collectibles, Skylanders ripoff, children’s toys, a cool alternate form of extra content for Nintendo games, expensive, insane fans. You are not wrong for thinking any of those things. I fall under the group of fans who are crazy enough to pursue as many of these darned things as possible.

In case you have been living under a rock with no Wi-Fi, amiibo are the latest branch of products to come from Nintendo, which are essentially toys. The figures are modeled after Nintendo’s biggest mascots, from Mario to Link from The Legend of Zelda and much, much more.

They serve as more than a toy or collectible, however. They double as a form of various extra content for Wii U and 3DS games. This is done by tapping amiibo on the GamePad, the New 3DS’ touchscreen or the upcoming NFC adapter for the regular 3DS systems. The content can be simple things such as extra Rupees in Hyrule Warriors, a costume for Miis in Mario Kart 8 or a computer to train and level up in Super Smash Bros. There’s an enormous list of everything each amiibo can do at Nintendo’s site if you’re curious.

There are multiple reasons why I absolutely love amiibo and collecting them. For starters, I’ve been an on-and-off collector of various things my entire life: Pokemon cards, Hasbro’s Star Wars figures, those darned Funko Pop! Vinyl figures, anything related to Batman, and yes, even foreign currency for a brief period. I guess you could say this derives from my inner completionist when it comes to games. If a game has any kind of “percent complete” or a progress bar, you bet I will do everything I can to see that coveted 100 percent number or platinum trophy – though I admittedly don’t have many of those. One time, I even went as far as trying to collect at least one of every object in Fallout 3.

Second, the majority of amiibo models/designs are based off Super Smash Bros. characters, which I recently realized is my favorite Nintendo franchise, with The Legend of Zelda as a close second. It’s a special series I hold near and dear to my heart, to the point where I could easily write a separate post about it. This combined with my collecting habits doesn’t help.

Did you ever think we would be seeing some of these Nintendo mascots in figure form? There are a gajillion different Mario figures and plushes out there, sure, but we are now in a time where we are getting figures for characters such as Ness, Captain Falcon, Pit, Little Mac and even the Duck Hunt dog. While characters from these franchises aren’t on the mainstream side of gaming, they certainly deserve recognition, and I’m glad amiibo are giving the spotlight where it’s due.

Who knows. The popularity of these amiibo could show Nintendo that people still care about their more overshadowed properties, leading to the creation of more games. Just one example is how the last F-Zero game released 11 years ago exclusively in Japan. I think Mario Kart 8 is great fun and all, but let’s face it: 200cc mode doesn’t compare to the break-neck speeds of an F-Zero machine.

I actually like Nintendo Land, but this is not the same thing, not even close.

I also immensely appreciate how Nintendo is not following the Infinity and Skylander business model. Each new Infinity and Skylanders game, which releases annually, requires at least one toy to play the game, but even that only grants so much access. The full package requires mandatory figures, locking away much content behind the money gate.

I remember watching a video from IGN a few years ago talking about the original Skylanders back when Spyro was in the title. When the series first launched, it costed more than $300 to experience the full game. That cost has risen more and more over the past few years thanks to the growth in number of games and figures in both series.

Unlike Infinity and Skylanders, amiibo are purely optional. The only game where they have edged the boundaries of locking game-shifting content is in Mario Party 10 with the amiibo party mode, but from what I’ve heard, I’m not missing much from the tenth Mario Party experience anyway. The most you will miss without amiibo is minute content such as an extra costume, but it’s not ample enough to shift the experience of a game.

However, if there is one thing Nintendo should take from Activision and Disney, it’s meeting demands of the customers. Actually, let me rephrase that: Nintendo of America needs to learn their ways. Nintendo in general has always been a company where they truly do things their own way. Sometimes they shoot themselves in the foot; other times they have the safety on. It somehow works out for them in the end because while their ship has some large holes, it hasn’t sunk, but the American branch has been borderline blind to its fans throughout this amiibo debacle.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U released on Nov. 21, 2014, along with amiibo. Shortly after this time, people began realizing characters such as Villager, Wii Fit Trainer and Marth were rare, and from there, armageddon among collectors, fans and scalpers began. For months, it’s been a chore for fans to get their hands on figures of the Nintendo icons they adore, while greedy scalpers sell the toys online at more than double, and often times triple, the price. No one should have to import the same figure from the opposite side of Earth for the “cheapest” price.

I went to one of my local Toys “R” Us stores on the morning the Greninja amiibo went up for in-store pre-order, as I was blindsided a few weeks prior when the damned thing went on sale at 3 a.m. despite Toys “R” Us telling everyone it would go live several hours later. I thought I was being slick by getting there at 8 a.m., two hours before the store opened. I coincidentally had the day off from my now former job outside Analog Addiction. These signs pointed to the amiibo gods smiling at me. That was until I pulled up to Toys “R” Us to discover at least 13 people in front of me.

I don’t know if this person was crazy, but the first customer showed up at either 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. the day before the store opened, meaning they waited 15 to 16 hours in the unofficial line. The sad part is I wasn’t sure if this person had serious dedication, or they had to take a ridiculous detour to Safety Road to make sure they could secure a pre-order because of Nintendo’s slack.

Despite showing up a couple of hours early, I missed my chance to pre-order Greninja, as there were only 10 figures available. It’s insane that people should have to show up to something so early. Adding insult to injury is the bountiful supply of amiibo everywhere else in the world. For example, take a look at these pictures of the amiibo supply in Germany.

It wasn’t until May 5, five and a half months after the initial amiibo released, that Nintendo of America finally addressed the shortages and lackluster communication in some way. I would love to know what finally made them think “You know what? We should probably do something about this.”

When wave five amiibo launched this past Friday, I showed up at Target around 4 a.m. to ensure a good spot in line. While I got the amiibo I came for, which were Jigglypuff and Silver Mario followed by a trip to a Toys “R” Us for Greninja, and I’m certainly happy with my purchases, I’m mostly glad I was able to – luckily – pre-order Robin and Lucina prior. Thirty to 40 people showed up by the time Target opened its doors, and nearly everyone was there for at least Robin and/or Lucina, of which there were four to six of each figure. This was the same situation at other stores as well.

It seems like Nintendo at least doing something about the problems with demand because there were around two dozen Jigglypuffs and a staggering 60-plus Greninjas, but Nintendo should have stopped being, well, Nintendo, and done something about it sooner. While four to six Lucinas and Robins are a fair number, it was clearly less than what fans were demanding.

As I write this, I can’t help but look at those pictures from Germany and wonder what in the world is going through Nintendo of America’s head. I’ll put this further into perspective: Europe is a continent with more than twice the population and around half the land when compared to the U.S., yet Nintendo of Europe has little to no problems giving their fans what they want and then some.

Without the support of fans or investors, any business would collapse. I truly respect Nintendo for sticking to their guns on their fundamental beliefs in the video game industry, but there would be no industry were it not for passionate fans. They are the most important factor in all of gaming, and Nintendo, the time to listen to them about amiibo was yesterday.

The thing is, I want Nintendo to have my money. The Wii U has become my favorite console in this generation so far – and the 3DS is fantastic as well – because of one simple reason: I know their games will work when I play them.

It is inexcusable to release games clearly not ready for the market. I never fret over reviews with good scores, whether I’m the one who wrote one or not, but it pained me to give Master Chief Collection a 7.5 because of how much I was anticipating it and what it could have been. Sadly, The Master Chief Collection is a strong reflection of this console generation, one that has games releasing riddled with bugs and broken online components at launch. We shouldn’t have to get patches in the gigabytes to fix a game afterward, which may not fix the problems anyway.

With that said, I am happy to “give” my money to a company who makes quality games and systems such as Nintendo, even if the Wii U doesn’t have what you may call solid sales numbers, or the quirks of a “next gen” console. To me, buying and collecting amiibo is saying “Keep up the good work, and keep going,” but they aren’t doing good work and can’t keep going in the direction they are in with amiibo.

We can only hope the voices of fans will reach Nintendo soon, perhaps at E3, and maybe, just maybe, the U.S. can see shelves as full – if not fuller – than those in Germany.