E3 2014: Nintendo Needs to Avoid Crossing the Line with Amiibo

E3 2014: Nintendo Needs to Avoid Crossing the Line with Amiibo

In going "full Skylanders," Nintendo needs to be keenly aware of the line between enhancement and requirement.

From the moment that Activision introduced Skylanders, Nintendo became a prime candidate for the "toys to life" category.

Nintendo's stable of characters is rivaled by approximately no-one in the industry. Even Disney has a tough time competing with the sheer appeal of Mario, Zelda, Pikachu, and everyone else. Turning them into toys that work with Nintendo's games is such a no-brainer that I'm surprised it hasn't happened already. But for all that, I find myself surprisingly ambivalent about the decision as well.

Some of it is personal preference. I've largely avoided Skylanders to this point, in part because its aesthetic and marketing largely excludes adults, and in part because I'm just not as interested in toys anymore. The past few months for me have been an ongoing battle against the plastic debris that has filled my house over the years. I still like Nintendo-themed trinkets, but I'm no longer as interested in them occupying every available space in my office.

Granted, that's just me. I know a lot of people who would love to have more Nintendo-themed toys. I may even pick up one or two myself. The only thing that worries me is where Nintendo will end up taking the oddly named Amiibos in the future.

As currently constructed, Amiibos are designed to enhance games like Super Smash Bros. by introducing a special character that has its own unique attributes and skills. They can be placed on a co-op team or function as an AI opponent; and over time, they grow and earn new abilities. As of right now, Nintendo is planning to introduce Amiibo to Mario Kart 8 as well as Super Smash Bros.

My first thought is: "Oh god, please don't let Game Freak get ahold of these things." I'm sure their pupils are dilating even now at the thought of the revenue that could be generated by Pokemon Amiibos (719 of them!). The worst thing that could happen would be for Game Freak to market Pokemon Amiibos with special abilities, effectively splitting players into those willing to buy the toys and those who aren't. More likely, they would use them to augment the existing Mystery Gift feature, allowing players to purchase legendary Pokemon a la carte without having to wait for an event.

Hopefully, both Nintendo and Game Freak will be smart about how they decide to introduce what amounts to paid DLC in their games. I'm sure that they're aware of the negative effect that a "pay-to-win" economy can have a game's balance and its reputation. Hopefully they'll the good sense to avoid going over to the Dark Side; because the second that happens, I'll be out on Nintendo and their games.

Outside of that (admittedly unlikely) scenario, the introduction of the Amiibo is good for Nintendo. Their existing characters are ready-made to take advantage of the Skylanders-style toy economy; and with some of the best designers in gaming on their side, they should bring some interesting new ideas to the space. Shame those new ideas will require purchasing a hunk of plastic with a microchip embedded inside it.

As with Skylanders, I suppose that "Amiibos" aren't really meant for me. I expect that Nintendo more had my ten-year-old cousin in mind when they designed them, which is perfectly fine for me. Nintendo has long drawn its strength from its appeal to children who are too young to play Uncharted or Halo, but plenty old enough for Mario and Pikachu (and plastic Mario and Pikachu toys). My main concern is that they avoid crossing the line from enhancing their games with Amiibo to more or less requiring them. So long as that doesn't happen, I'm more than happy to welcome our plastic Pokémon overlords.

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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