Nintendo has entered the interactive figure genre with its line of NFC (Near Field Communication) equipped character-figures called amiibo. Or is it amiibi since we’re referring to them as a plural? Either way, amiibo are Nintendo’s answer to Activision’s Skylanders and Disney’s Infinity line of figures. Like the competition, each amiibo stands atop a base containing a NFC chip, but unlike the competition, Nintendo’s amiibo figures don’t require any additional peripherals because the Wii U’s GamePad has a built-in NFC reader. The inclusion of the NFC reader in the GamePad makes getting started with amiibo extremely affordable and encourages gamers who normally wouldn’t buy an interactive figure (like me) to try amiibo out.
The first wave of amiibo figures includes some of Nintendo’s core characters such as Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, Peach, Yoshi, Samus from Metroid, Pikachu, Kirby, Marth from Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing Villager, Wii Fit Trainer and Fox from Star Fox. I purchased Mario, Yoshi and Peach to start. The figures come packaged on a blister card with full-view window. Each character has unique card art on the front and back of the packaging. The packaging is branded for Super Smash Bros., which was developed around the amiibo concept and is considered the launch title for amiibo. As a means to prevent theft, Nintendo has included a sensor below the NFC chip that blocks communication to the GamePad reader, which I’m very happy to see.
The amiibo figures stand between two to four inches tall, depending on the character. The figures do not have articulation, which makes them more figurines–a term I’d never thought I’d ever use–than figures. This means when your grandmother says she likes the figurines on your shelf, she’s technically right. The paint applications on the figures is good overall. There are a few lines that aren’t as crisp as they could be, especially between the green and white transitions on Yoshi, but the details that matter like the ornate pattern on Peach’s dress or the M on Mario’s cap, are perfect.
Using the figures is super easy. When a game starts, there’s a notification in the game’s menu that shows you if it is amiibo compatible. If it is, you simple press the associated button indicating compatibility and touch your amiibo over the bottom left part of the Wii U GamePad. There’s a square painted on the GamePad that shows you were the figures need to be placed. Once the figures are held over “the spot” they’re instantly recognized. I tested my three figures out with Mario Kart 8. While Mario Kart 8’s amiibo integration isn’t anything mindblowing, it’s a good introduction to anyone getting started with interactive figures.
Each amiibo compatible character in Mario Kart 8 includes a unique race suit that can be equipped when racing as your Mii. Some of the suits are bland. Others suits like the Yoshi and Peach suits have some cool details on the helmets that makes them entertaining to race with because they give your Mii some personality. With the suits I’m actually using my Mii to race, where I’d normally never do so. In Mario Kart 8, the amiibo figures are essentially a gimmick to unlock additional content, but as more and more games integrate with the amiibo figures, they’ll play a bigger role in gameplay that will go beyond unlockable content. A game like Super Smash Bros. for example, will allow you to level your character up and Hyrule Warriors will give you additional weapons to complete your quest.
As someone who has watched interactive figure gaming with an interest, albeit from afar, Nintendo’s simple integration with its Wii U GamePad sold me into trying the format. The cost to try amiibo is as little as $13–the price of an amiibo figure–and I”m not stuck with any expensive peripherals that may or may not use in the future. With Nintendo committing to amiibo in upcoming games such as Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Yoshi’s Woolly World and Kirby and The Rainbow Curse I’m certain the integration with gameplay will only get better, as will Nintendo’s creative take on how the figures interact with the games.
If you’re like me and you’ve been interested in the Disney Infinity or Skylanders games, but didn’t want to commit to the upfront cost of a game format you’re unsure if you’d like, amiibo is a good way to get your feet wet in the genre. I see the potential for the format and, although a gimmick, it opens the door to additional game play opportunities and promises to keep games fresh with content updates. While I’d personally like to see collector quality figures like Bandai’s S.H. Figuarts figures include with an amiibo option, I’m fine getting my feet wet with Nintendo’s first batch of amiibo figures and seeing where things go from here.