When the first wave of Nintendo's fan favorite figures launches in late November they will only be compatible with one game - Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Nintendo has assured us that they will also work with future titles such as Captain Toad, Mario Party 10, and the already released Mario Kart 8. But what exactly do they do?
Unlike cash cows like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, Nintendo's second foray (See Pokemon Rumble U) into the world of physical DLC doesn't actually unlock any additional content. At least that we know of. When I purchase Captain America for Disney Infinity 2.0 I'm unlocking a playable character and some in-game extras for my Toy Box. When I put Gearshift on my Skylander Trap Team portal I am bringing her to life within the game. There is usually no other way to do this in games such as these. The figures are important and engaging because they represent a part of the game that I want to experience and only they can unlock.
Amiibos don't do this in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, which is both good and bad. It's good because people would have blown a gasket if they had to drop $12.99 to play as Mario in a Smash Bros. title. It would seem like the greediest move in gaming history. It's nice that the roster of Smash Bros is not affected in any negative or positive way by the number of standees you have huddled on your Wii U Gamepad. What Amiibos actually do, at least in Smash Bros., is the bad part. As far as I can tell and as far as Nintendo has said you're basically buying a personalized CPU opponent.
But they already have CPU opponents in Smash Bros., don't they? Of course they do. They've been available in-game since the series introduction in 1999. Friend and enemy to the sociable and unsociable alike. Amiibos don't unlock extra custom moves (as far as we know), they don't unlock new stages (as far as we know), and they don't really do anything other than exist as a glorified, uncontrollable mirror of your favorite character.
But damn they're cool looking.
Nintendo toys have been around for a long time (I mean like a really long time), but many franchises present in the Smash Bros. roster don't get a lot of love in the world of retail. You'll find a fair share of Mario and Yoshi figures, plushies and (unfortunately) K'NEX littering the shelves of your local toy aisle, but I've never seen Star Fox. I've never seen Marth. I've never seen Pit. These are characters that have legions and legions of fans, but rarely get official merchandise. Finally gamers will have the chance to add their favorite characters to their shelf. You know, like Wii Fit Trainer. Seriously, she's awesome.
One of the greatest aspects of collecting in the Super Smash Bros. series comes from unlocking various trophies. There's a reason those trophies look exactly like these Amiibo figures. Nintendo has pulled a switcharoo on us. Instead of collecting these trophies in a digital world we've been given the chance to add them to our real life shelf alongside the games they were born from.
I don't think Nintendo will have a hard time selling Amiibos from the start, but if they really want people to invest in multiple figures or whole sets they need to prove to everyone that they actually do something, aside from look pretty on top of your bookcase. The collector in me wants them all for what they represent, but the gamer in me is skeptical that they're actually worth the price.