A New Toys to Life Challenger Appears

Nintendo has revealed some new details about their entry into the budding Toys to Life genre. Keeping with the companyís odd naming convention, the amiibo even approaches the product from a slightly different direction than weíve seen before.

Where Activisionís Skylanders and Disney Infinity focus on putting out a game on multiple systems with figures that work cross-platform, the amiibo only works on Wii U and 3DS, but across multiple games. As for how a particular amiibo is leveraged in a game, that is the gameís choice.

The first title to support amiibo figures is the new Super Smash Bros. game coming out later this year. When an amiibo is touched to the NFC area of the Gamepad, the figureís stats will be imported into the game and players will be able to fight and customize their fighter. That data is then saved back to the amiibo and you can either bring it to a friendís house or play with the character in another amiibo compatible game.

From what we understand, those stats, at least as they are in Super Smash Bros. include: Attack, Defense, Speed overall level and which four special moves it can use. What we donít know is how those values are used in other games. For instance, amiibo figures are going to work with the already released Mario Kart 8, but we arenít sure if the racing game will somehow interpret the attack level as some other value that makes sense for the racing game, or if Mario Kart 8 will somehow have a different game-specific profile loaded onto the figure. If thatís the case, and given that Nintendo has announced that the figures will be compatible with at least three other titles, we have to wonder just how much can be stored on the little figures. At least with Skylanders and Disney Infinity, the toys store a single set of values and its up to the game to interpret that for its own uses.

I see two potential pitfalls that Nintendo will have to overcome with the amiibo line. One is that there is no game that requires the player to get these figures. From what I can tell, each of the currently announced games have the amiibo as an added cost for non-required gameplay features. Sure, the idea of picking up a Mario, Samus or Kirby figure is appealing and a lot of people will collect them, or at least some of them, just to get them, but without some kind of serious incentive, I find it hard to believe that gamers (both young and old) will rush to the stores hunting for figures that they really donít need in order to 100% a game. Besides the collecting aspect, thatís a main purpose behind my own cross-city Skylander searches. I need to unlock every level, get every collectible, and explore every path, and I canít without all of the characters.

The other hurdle I foresee is third-party buy-in. Itís no secret that the best games on a Nintendo product are Nintendo games. Sure, the heavy hitters out there also come out for the Wii U, but in general, people will pick up those titles on the beefier machines. The way Nintendo usually entices players to pick up their consoleís version of a their product is to get Nintendo-centric exclusives on their versions. In the past, weíve seen Link in Soul Calibur, and this E3 we even saw that the Wii U version of Bayonetta features a Peach and Samus suit. The question is, if amiibo is truly intended to be a cross-game Toys to Life figure, how is it going to be used by the third party publishers? If so, will the third party game support all amiibo figures, or just the ones that would fit into the particular game? Of course, dealing with non-Nintendo licenses could go the other way. Maybe a Commander Shepard figure can be made for use in the amiibo-compatible titles. Either way, I feel that not reaching out to third party game publishers and getting them to interact with these figures will both be hard for Nintendo to do, and a major step in ensuring the success of the product.

Besides Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8, the amiibo figures will be compatible with Mario Party 10, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Yoshiís Woolly World, but exactly how those games will use these figures is yet to be announced. As for 3DS compatibility, Nintendo has announced a peripheral in development that will mimic the NFC area of the Gamepad. Of course, the requirement of yet another additional device could make the buy-in on the portable system even less than what we will see on the console, but who knows, if the amiibo garners a strong following, maybe the NFC area will be built into the next Nintendo hand-held.

The first wave of amiibo figures is slated for release in October alongside Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U. The current known figures include: Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Link, Princess Zelda, Pikachu, Mario, Samus, Princess Peach, Kirby, Fox McCloud, the Wii Fit Trainer, Fire Emblemís Marth, Kid Icarusí Pit and Animal Crossingís Villager. What we donít really know is if all of these figures will be released at once and who or what is slated to be released in the future. Also, Nintendo wasnít clear if Mario Kart 8 was already compatible with the amiibo line, or if an update would be needed at some point to support the figures.

I am a fan of the Toys to Life genre. The idea is solid (and at this point proven), and the more companies throwing their hat into the ring can only help fuel innovation. I like the direction Nintendo is going with their version. After all, they have the iconic characters and recognition to support it. What I fear is that their particular approach wonít have enough support from gamers to help make it grow. It all depends on how the different games use the figures and what will compel the players to go out and complete their collections.