While Nintendo must have been dismayed with the Wii U failing to capitalise on a near 12 month advantage over its next-gen rivals, it can revel in the boom their amiibo figure series has become. No doubt about it, toys of popular Ninty characters were always going to sell, but the sheer scale and rarity of the figures driven by worldwide under-shipments were a financially welcome surprise for the gaming giant.
The amiibo range continues to grow, both in figures available and in compatible games, but it must not be forgotten that Nintendo are looking forward to the NX. With Dragon Quest X and XI already announced for the system, and the announcement that the newest home-console Zelda game with see a simultaneous Wii U/NX release, the Wii U isn’t on the way out just yet, but is certainly aware of its available exists.
Which raises the question, should Nintendo’s amiibo be integrated into its upcoming system? They provide a massive boost to Wii U support, and capitalise on the ‘living toy’ market as only Nintendo could. If Skylanders can make an entirely new world out of the toys, and Disney break out the juggernaut that is the Disney Infinity world, why shouldn’t Nintendo with its diverse range of characters? It seems like a no-brainer, until you consider the speed at which they’re being produced.
There are currently more than 50 amiibos on sale. Many more are on the way, with all of Super Smash Bros’ combatants each getting one, although once you’ve worked your way through the more prominent of Nintendo’s alumni, it’s hard to see how other characters can contribute to the compatibility the toys showcase. Being able to use the figures across multiple games is a perk that Nintendo can safely enjoy over both Disney and Skylanders, but what can the likes of Duck Hunt Duo and R.O.B. really bring to a game? Amiibos certainly can’t keep coming out at the rate at which they presently are as they’d run the risk of oversaturating their own market with a surplus of the same characters.
Currently, amiibos most frequently give players new costumes and skins for the likes of Mario Kart and Yoshi’s Wooly World. Some franchise-specific perks can be enjoyed, such as tapping a Link figure in Hyrule Warriors to unlock better weapons, though largely the benefits are aesthetic. This is nothing to sniff at, as it’s certainly impossible to integrate every character into every game, and there is still the novelty of being able to purchase a well-made, reasonably priced figure of your favourite Nintendo characters in Western markets that lack a proliferation of gaming characters in their toy stores (after all, I purchased the yarn Yoshi figure because it’s adorable, not to actually use in Wooly World).
Super Mario Maker seems set to make the first move in amiibo integration, utilising its intentionally retro graphics to substitute other characters into the platforming fun. I have no doubt that their functionality will continue to be improved upon, but where will this leave us when the NX comes out?
It’s naturally difficult to say, given that we don’t know the NX’s specifications, though we do know that Nintendo is looking to make the NX and much bigger departure from the Wii U than the latter proved to be from the Wii. With amiibos serving as something of the saving grace of the Wii U, Nintendo seem forced to make the toys part of the NX’s functionality. That, or face one of two terrifying prospects: 1) The backlash from fans as their collection is nullified by a new piece of hardware, or 2) an even greater backlash from fans when they’re asked to by a new ‘NX’ compatible range. Lord only knows how many Mario variants will be available by then.
If amiibos are to be part of the NX experience, more pressure will be placed on the big N’s launch games, which were seriously under fire at the Wii U’s launch. A lack of a bonafide system seller cursed the Wii U to squander its lead over the PS4 and Xbox One. Amiibo functionality could provide a boost with players using their amassed library immediately from launch, or it may prove a hindrance as the NX is immediately forced to create games not only with new hardware capabilities in mind, but also with content accessible from figures spanning the entire Nintendo franchise.
The amiibo range has given Nintendo a solid creative avenue for it to build on a games library that many saw as quite thin. Having the NFC pad located on the Wii U gamepad itself meaning every user instantly has amiibo access gives players a solid reason to stay put, though when Nintendo releases their next console, this may become problematic. Should they let their current, sprawling range seemingly dictate game content for the NX from launch? Or should they shift functionality into a separate peripheral, keeping the figures active, though without the immediacy the Wii U has enjoyed? Nintendo has, for a long time, been a solid supplier of backwards compatibility, but the figures may have serious launch-day ramifications for their next home console offering.
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