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Many players have complained that because the figure unlocks the ability to fast travel between the game’s sky and ground sections at any time – rather than at set locations as in the Wii original – Nintendo is deliberately locking a ‘quality of life’ enhancement behind a plastic paywall.
While there are undoubtedly arguments for and against this decision, I personally think the more pressing matter is that these days Nintendo just isn’t using amiibo in an interesting way, certainly not like it used to.
As someone who currently owns an unhealthy 198 amiibo and am just 4 away from a complete collection (damn you Capcom for not releasing the Gold Mega Man in Europe), I feel that I’m qualified to comment on this, mainly because I’ve made use of the amiibo functionality in almost every game that’s offered it since they first launched seven years ago.
It’s become clear to me that over this time the functionality of each amiibo figure has become increasingly pointless, compared to some of the things the figures did back in the early days. I also appreciate that there may be good reasons for this, but I’ll get to that.
The argument surrounding Skyward Sword HD is that people are angry they’re being asked to pay for a cheat code. Call it a ‘quality of life’ improvement if you think it’ll make you feel better, but the original game was designed to only let you travel to the sky at certain points, so unlocking the ability to do it whenever you like is a cheat code in my eyes.
“The argument surrounding Skyward Sword HD is that people are angry they’re being asked to pay for a cheat code… and it’s not the first time this has happened.”
It’s not like this is the first time this has happened. It’s not even the first time it’s happened this year. The Bowser’s Fury game which featured in the Switch port of Super Mario 3D World included sections where every so often Fury Bowser would come out of the sea and blast a torrent of flame at you.
This was actually beneficial at times, because some of the game’s collectible Cat Shines were trapped behind blocks that could only be broken by Bowser’s flames. Normally, you’d have to hang around and wait for Fury Bowser to appear, but if you had a Bowser amiibo you could scan that to make him appear instantly.
That’s no different from Skyward Sword HD, when you think about it – by scanning an amiibo you can save time by triggering Bowser / travelling to the sky right away instead of having to wait / head to a specific location.
Are they both useful? Absolutely. Are they both essential? Not in the slightest, you can play the game without them. Are they boring? Compared to what amiibo have done in the past, you’d better believe it.
Allow me to take you on a tour of some of the cool things amiibo have done since that initial batch launched in 2014. Since they were originally released to coincide with Super Smash Bros for Wii U, that was the first game to make use of them. By scanning a character you would spawn an AI version of them, who you could train and level up over time. Did you forget that you can save data back to an amiibo? Nintendo has, it seems.
Code Name S.T.E.A.M. was a bizarre turn-based strategy game on the 3DS which was a bit dull at launch but got much better with a post-game patch that let players speed the game up when it was the CPU’s turn. You could scan Fire Emblem amiibo into that one to make them part of your team, allowing you to pair up Marth and Ike with the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Tom Sawyer.
Sometimes scanning amiibo unlocked bonuses that were purely aesthetic. Mario Kart 8’s bonus Mii costumes, Bayonetta 2’s special Mario-themed outfits and the special Nintendo plane designs in Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ were all great touches and genuinely fun bonuses.
“By scanning a character in Smash Bros. you would spawn an AI version of them, who you could train and level up over time. Did you forget that you can save data back to an amiibo? Nintendo has, it seems.”
Other times an amiibo would unlock special features or stages. Picross 3D Round 2 had some unique puzzles you could only get by scanning certain amiibo. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle gave each character an amiibo-exclusive weapon. Breath of the Wild let you spawn Epona and Wolf Link.
You might not realise it, but there are actually over 100 games across Wii U, 3DS and Switch that have amiibo functionality, and naturally, the quality of both the games and the functionality varies by title.
In recent times, though, most of the amiibo features have been a bit disappointing in first-party releases, either offering something underwhelming or simply providing a time-saving mechanism. Skyward Sword HD’s fast travel and the ability to insta-spawn Bowser in Bowser’s Fury are just the latest examples of this.
Scanning certain amiibo in Super Mario Odyssey unlocks special outfits for Mario, but they can be unlocked through normal gameplay anyway. Same deal with Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, which just gives you access to the new Odyssey-themed stages early (as opposed to unlocking them through the main game).
Given that there was an actual Kirby series of amiibo released, it’s a bit disappointing that full-price platform adventure Kirby Star Allies just gives you a bunch of random power-ups. Same deal with 2019’s fun Smash Bros spin-off Super Kirby Clash.
Granted, there have been a couple of exceptions. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe added a bunch of extra Mii costumes to the ones already featured in the Wii U version, Splatoon 2 adds some exclusive gear and Miitopia, which is out tomorrow, has about 25 Nintendo-themed costumes to unlock with certain amiibo.
But there can be no doubt that in the grand scheme of things, Nintendo has treated amiibo functionality with far less importance than it did last generation.
There are direct comparisons that can be made to show this. Yoshi’s Woolly World on Wii U had an astonishing 50 unlockable amiibo costumes, supporting almost every amiibo released to that point.
Each amiibo unlocked a different pattern for your yarn Yoshi, allowing you to dress them up like Captain Falcon, Dr Mario, Sonic or whoever you wanted. The Switch sequel Yoshi’s Crafted World, however, only had around 10 costumes based on typical characters – Mario, Luigi, Peach and the like.
Far more disappointing was the ‘downgrade’ in the Super Mario Maker series. The first game let you scan practically any amiibo and unlock them as a Super Mario Bros sprite, complete with their own flagpole music and everything.
This gave players a huge variety of new possibilities when creating stages. If you wanted to create a fire stage where you played as Charizard, or make a difficult level that would give the Wii Fit Trainer a proper workout, you could do this and more.
When Super Mario Maker 2 launched on the Switch, not only were all of these characters removed, the game had no amiibo support whatsoever.
There are a number of reasons why Nintendo may be putting less emphasis on amiibo. One reason may be that as the number of amiibo rises the decisions that have to be made regarding support become increasingly more complicated.
The options now when adding amiibo support to a game more or less boil down to three options: only support a certain number of figures (disappointing those who own different ones), release a new figure to coincide with the game (leading to the ‘paid DLC’ argument) or support a majority of figures, which would potentially require committing a large amount of development resources to a feature that not every player will have access to.
It could also be argued that since some amiibo are now extremely scarce, games that previously had exclusive amiibo-only features have now realistically lost those features. That is, unless players are willing to pay an extortionate amount on the second-hand market (or seek less scrupulous means to unlock them, such as bootleg NFC cards).
“Since some amiibo are now extremely scarce, games that previously had exclusive amiibo-only features have now realistically lost those features.”
A shining example of this is Metroid Samus returns on 3DS. Nintendo released a squishy Metroid amiibo to coincide with the game’s release, and when players completed the game they could scan the Metroid to unlock a special Fusion difficulty level and a Fusion Suit for Samus.
This amiibo now regularly sells for anything from £35 in the UK to up to $100 in the US, which is quite a fee to pay if you’re only interested in unlocking a new difficulty level and a cosmetic upgrade for your character.
So what happens next? Well, for the time being Nintendo seems content to continue down the path its taken by making amiibo functionality less of a selling point than it was in the Wii U and 3DS days, and simply making each major game release an excuse to release a new collectible figure to accompany it.
Ultimately this may not be a terrible idea from Nintendo’s perspective as a business. The Skyward Sword HD fast travel shenanigans may be the big internet ‘scandal’ of the week, but in the grand scheme of things it’s a drama being made out of not much.
Two days ago, before the amiibo was even announced, nobody was asking for fast travel, and now that it’s optional the consensus seems to be that its ‘removal’ is a disgrace. It’s certainly not as big a deal as the much-requested option to play without motion controls, which the remaster thankfully offers.
Realistically, then, it’s not going to result in many lost sales, because it’s not a big enough feature that will have players voting with their wallets and refusing to buy the game unless it’s reinstated. The price point is another matter, but that’s for another article (and this one’s long enough as it is).
It’s interesting that in both Skyward Sword HD and Bowser’s Fury, amiibo serve as a way to make the game less frustrating, which is perhaps more a comment on the game itself than the amiibo’s role in alleviating its issues.
Going forwards, it seems the ideal solution is for amiibo to either offer cosmetic bonuses that are exclusive but throwaway (such as character-themed costumes), or meatier rewards such as modes or new stages that can still be unlocked in-game by players who are skilful enough or willing to put the time in.
Ultimately, though, the reality is that the majority of people who collect amiibo do so because they’re Nintendo figures, and one would assume that even if they had no functionality whatsoever fans would continue to buy them. I know I would.
It’s an interesting dichotomy that even though recent amiibo unlocks are less impressive than they used to be, what they do unlock is proving more controversial. If Nintendo had just stuck with adding a bunch of comedy costumes so you could dress Link up as Waluigi nobody would have batted an eyelid, despite the fact it would still be locked content.
However Nintendo decides to handle this going forwards, I hope the continued backlash – justified though it may be in this case – doesn’t result in the company drawing a line under amiibo altogether. There are still so many brilliant characters that have never been given the plastic figurine treatment and deserve to do so (I’m still waiting for a new Star Fox game, mainly so I can get Slippy Toad and Peppy Hare amiibo to go with my Fox and Falco ones).
When amiibo were first revealed in 2014, a dream scenario quickly built in my head of a sort of all-star Nintendo game where you could scan them in, much like Disney Infinity or Skylanders, and have various Nintendo and third-party characters working alongside each other.
In the seven years since it’s become clear that my hopes for amiibo were drastically more ambitious than Nintendo’s plans, and essentially what we have now is a series of (admittedly brilliant) figures that are rewarding players with increasingly less exciting bonuses as time goes on.
While I don’t necessarily believe that the Skyward Sword HD debate is as outrageous as some seem to think it is, then, I do still feel that this marks an important crossroads for Nintendo and how it handles amiibo going forwards. Is it happy to concede that they’re mainly bought to sit on fans’ shelves, or does it plan to give them more importance and prominence again in the future?
It’s something they’re going to have to figure out. Pun always intended.