Before we dig deeper it's good to answer one question: What is Amiibo?
Nintendo's Amiibo is a lineup of figures with built-in NFC chips. These figures represent characters from Nintendo's considerable stable of games, with each one having a standard retail price of $12.99. When you bring an Amiibo figure in contact with your Wii U Gamepad or new 3DS XL, this figure will unlock special characters, items, and game modes within specific titles. It's part statue collecting, part microtransactions. A software update for older 3DS systems will allow Amiibo functionality once Nintendo releases its planned external NFC reader (summer in Japan, unknown in the U.S.).
Nintendo is also looking to expand the line in the future with card-format Amiibo.
What's the Current State of Amiibo?
I received an email today from Walmart that my Mega Man Amiibo is finally on its way, causing me to do a little dance around my office. The truth is that collecting some of Nintendo's new Amiibo line up is painfully hard, to the point that average consumers in North America are completely shut out of certain characters. In Wave 3, unless you were online ready to pre-order, Rosalina, Shulk, Lucario, Mega Man, and Ike are completely gone. Nintendo might as well not even put those characters on promotional material.
Here at USgamer, we've covered the fact that Nintendo has an Amiibo problem and our theory why. Strike that. We've covered why casual Nintendo comsumers have an Amiibo problem, because the line has largely worked out for Nintendo. The company sold 5.7 million Amiibo figures worldwide through the end of 2014. 63 percent of those figures were shipped to the United States and Canada, with 23 percent going to Europe, 11 percent to Japan, and 3 percent to Australia. Of those shipments, 70 percent of stock was sold-through (as in consumers bought the figures) in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Europe, while Australia hit a 90 percent sell-through rate.
The best-selling Amiibos differ from region to region. In the chart above, you can see that the dark horse three - Marth, The Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer - sold-through the most in the U.S. and Canada. In contrast, Australia joined the Amiibo game later: their best-sellers include Wave 2 and 3 figures like Ike, Mega Man, Sonic, Little Mac, and Rosalina. The differences have led to a strong second-hand market for many of the figures, largely due to the lack of communication Nintendo has in certain regions when it comes to restocking.
"It is difficult for us to promise to continuously ship all of the Amiibo figures," said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata in a recent investors briefing. "We will, however, consider additional production in cases such as when an Amiibo figure sells out shortly after launch, an Amiibo is indispensable to play a certain game, and when we receive a lot of requests for an Amiibo figure from consumers and retailers."
Those latter conditions apply to most of the Amiibo outside of the main Nintendo characters: Mario, Princess Peach, Link and Yoshi, for example. Nintendo's got a lot of work ahead of itself in understanding figure distribution and providing adequate supply.
With all that business out of the way, let's talk about the Amiibo figures themselves.
Which Characters are Available?
Amiibo characters are released in waves: we're currently up to Wave 3, with two more waves waiting. Four waves have been built around Nintendo's Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS, while one wave has a Super Mario Bros theme. I'm separating each wave into three Tiers: Tier 1 are the figures that you can usually find at standard retail price ($12.99) online and in-store. Tier 2 figures are harder to find, but may still be available online or in-store at one or two retailers. Tier 3 figures are rare, meaning you'll pay over standard price, either through second hand markets or importing.
Smash Wave 1 - Released November 2014
- Donkey Kong
- Wii Fit Trainer
You can still find the first six online at standard price on Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Toys R Us, but the next two (in bold) have more sporadic stock. It's best to check online or in-store at all four locations. The last four are impossible to find online or in-store at standard price; you'll either pay high second-hand price or have to import the figure from other regions. (Amiibo figures are regionless, so you can use a Japanese Amiibo with no problems.)
Smash Wave 2 - Released December 2014
- Diddy Kong
- Captain Falcon
- Little Mac
Luigi and Zelda are Tier 1 and pretty easy to find at Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Toys R Us. Diddy Kong is the lone second-Tier character in Wave 2; you'll find him at standard price online at Amazon and Target and he might be in-store at Toys R Us and Best Buy. Captain Falcon, Little Mac, and Pit laugh at you from the darkness. They're all Tier 3, so you'll be paying a scalper's price or importing.
Smash Wave 3 - Released February 2015
- Toon Link
- King Dedede
- Mega Man
- Rosalina (Target)
- Meta Knight (Best Buy)
- Lucario (Toys R Us)
- Shulk (GameStop)
Wave 3 covers the most-recent releases and is the first Wave that includes retail store exclusives. Unfortunately, the exclusives are even harder to find; most retailers were out of their specific exlcusive when pre-orders went live in December. Treat each and every one as Tier 3. Bowser is your Tier 1 here; there's tons of stock and he's easy to find. Tier 2 is a bit fuzzier. Toon Link is available online at Amazon and Toys R Us, and you're likely to find him in-store at the four brick-and-mortar outlets. Shiek may be in-store at Target, Walmart, and GameStop; try your luck. King Dedede, Mega Man, Sonic and Ike are Tier 3. Most of the stock out there was sucked up by pre-orders. Ike in particular is pretty hot because after Marth's sellout in Wave 1, there's a strong interest in Fire Emblem characters.
Mario Wave - Coming March 20, 2015
- Mario (Gold Edition, Walmart)
- Mario (Silver Edition)
This is the first wave not related to Super Smash Bros. Instead, we're looking a Mario-themed line with new designs for Mario, Peach, Luigi, Yoshi, and Bowser, and the new addition of Toad. These figures also feature red bases, instead of the black ones for previous waves. This wave is already available for pre-order at Target and Walmart. I'm guessing Toad will be the Tier 3 figure for this wave, as he's no longer up for pre-order at GameStop. Mario is also missing from the pre-orders for some reason. The gold Mario looks to be exclusive to Walmart alongside the release on Mario Party 10, which also releases on March 20. There's no word on the silver edition's release yet.
Smash Wave 4 - Coming April 24, 2015
Following the Mario-themed wave, we're back to Smash Bros again. Wario and Charizard are my picks for Tier 1; I expect they'll be plentiful on store shelves. Pac-Man I'm throwing into Tier 2 because I don't know how popular the character will be. Ness, Robin and Lucina will probably all be Tier 3. Ness is in the tier because Earthbound fandom is strong, while Robin and Lucina are there because of the aforementioned problems with Marth and Ike. All the Fire Emblem Amiibo figures are compatible with the upcoming Codename S.T.E.A.M for 3DS, which may increase purchase desire.
What Games Are the Amiibos Compatible With?
Unlike Skylanders or Disney Infinity, Nintendo's Amiibo figures are compatible with a wide variety of titles. The figures are either Read/Write compatible, meaning they unlock additional game content and the game saves data to the figure, or Read-Only, meaning the figure just unlocks in-game content. (M) denotes characters from the Mario wave, that already have figures in the Smash waves.
Super Smash Bros (Wii U, 3DS)
Amiibo figures unlock AI sidekicks that you can train within Super Smash Bros. Warning: These Amiibo fighters are absolute monsters, so they're best used to fight against each other, not other players.
Read/Write: Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, Peach, Marth, Yoshi, Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, Pit, Zelda, Luigi, Captain Falcon, Diddy Kong, Little Mac, Bowser, Toon Link, Sheik, Ike, Lucario, Rosalina, Shulk, Sonic, Mega Man, King Dedede, Meta Knight, Mario (M), Peach (M), Luigi (M), Yoshi (M), Bowser (M), Robin, Lucina, Charizard, Wario, Pac-Man, and Ness.
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
The compatible Amiibo figures unlock special costumes for Mii racers in Mario Kart 8.
Read-Only: Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox, Donkey Kong, Peach, Yoshi, Luigi, Captain Falcon, Toon Link, Mario (M), Peach (M), Luigi (M), Yoshi (M), and Bowser (M).
Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
In Hyrule Warriors, there are different tiers of figures. Link and Toon Link unlock the unique Spinner weapon. Zelda and Sheik can be activated once per day to get a random weapon rated 3 stars or higher, while any other figure offers a random weapon 3 stars or lower.
Read-Only: Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, Peach, Marth, Yoshi, Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, Pit, Zelda, Luigi, Captain Falcon, Diddy Kong, Little Mac, Bowser, Toon Link, Sheik, Ike, Lucario, Rosalina, Shulk, Sonic, Mega Man, King Dedede, Meta Knight, Mario (M), Peach (M), Toad, Luigi (M), Yoshi (M), Bowser (M), Robin, Lucina, Charizard, Wario, Pac-Man, and Ness.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (Wii U)
Kirby, King Dedede, and Meta Knight all activate special powers with their Amiibo figures. Kirby lets you use Star Dash whenever you want, King Dedede gives you two extra health bars, and Meta Knight lets you fast dash.
Read-Only: Kirby, King Dedede, and Meta Knight.
Mario Party 10 (Wii U)
Another tiered game. The Read/Write Amiibos unlock game pieces in the new Party mode and character-specific game boards. Any other figure lets you play Scratch Bonus to win Mario Party points.
Read/Write: Mario, Donkey Kong, Peach, Yoshi, Luigi, Bowser, Rosalina, Mario (M), Peach (M), Toad, Luigi (M), Yoshi (M), and Bowser (M).
Read-Only: Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox, Pikachu, Marth, Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, Pit, Zelda, Captain Falcon, Diddy Kong, Little Mac, Toon Link, Sheik, Ike, Lucario, Shulk, Sonic, Mega Man, King Dedede, Meta Knight, Robin, Lucina, Charizard, Wario, Pac-Man, and Ness.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Wii U)
This game only works with Toad, which is fine because Toad doesn't do a lot in other titles. It unlocks a special hide-and-seek challenge in each stage.
Codename S.T.E.A.M. (3DS)
Using any Fire Emblem Amiibo allows you to add them to your team in-game.
Read-Only: Marth, Ike, Robin, and Lucina
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D (3DS)
Activating the Amiibo gives in-game tokens to unlock music and 3D models.