Something weird is happening in the world of video games. That thing is called Amiibo.
If you’ve missed these, they can be summarised quite quickly thus: Skylanders for Nintendo. But what do they really mean? Well, frankly, a huge hole in people’s wallets. Amiibos are simply small physical 2″ tall models of in-game characters that can either sit on your shelf looking cool or interact with certain titles on the console and save the development progress of your character, opening up RPG elements to games and also special features and DLC in other games.
Eighteen months ago, Nintendo was in serious trouble. Whilst their handheld console the DS (and the 3DS and 2DS and the XL versions and everything else) was still going strong, their latest home console – the Wii U – was sinking fast. On the shelves for a year, the console was still lacking a really strong title they could legitimately use as a selling point. Probably their best game was either New Super Mario Bros U, which is an 8/10 at best and only on a par with its predecessor on the Wii, or Nintendoland, a 12-mini-game compilation whose main purpose was to show off the functionality of the console’s new controller.
So they came up with a mini-masterplan:
– December 2013: release Super Mario 3D World, the best all-round multiplayer platformer ever released.
– May 2014: release Mario Kart 8, the best ever iteration of their über-successful racing franchise, along with an extremely tempting free game offer where people got a code for registering their game online, which could be used to download any of ten titles already released on the console.
– October 2014: release Super Smash Bros simultaneously on the Wii U and 3DS platforms, along with the first wave of Amiibos, just in time for Christmas and designed to milk dry the pennies of anyone willing to start collecting them.
It was a fantastic plan and this triple-whammy of excellent must-have games has pulled the Wii U back on track and places it as the only current-gen console with several games worth investing the time and money in. There’s only one thing that sells video games consoles and that’s video games, no matter how much the “entertainment system” side of things is sold to us.
Not content with three games flying off the shelves and a first set of twelve characters (including Mario, Pikachu, Donkey Kong, Link, Fox McCloud, Kirby and other huge franchise favourites) Nintendo decided to release more and more waves of Amiibos, seeing the desire of the completionist in both the children with rich parents and the 20- and 30-something gamer with more money than sense. What happened next was probably way beyond their expectations.
What we are seeing now is that whilst the first wave was in plentiful supply, the subsequent waves have been less available. A mixture of poor predictions of popularity from Nintendo, a frenzy of excitement about new waves and, strangely, an issue with a port strike in North America has led to a serious under-supply of many of the more recent models. Bearing in mind the RRP for the models is £10.99, a quick look at Amazon has returned the following:
– Rosalina £49.99
– Captain Falcon £29.95
– Shulk £84.99
– Meta Knight £57.97
– King Dedede £57.97
– Little Mac £44.99
The fun doesn’t stop there. Plenty more are simply out of stock and unavailable, including those up for pre-order in Wave 4 at the end of March. Ridiculously, one man has bought $10000-worth of Amiibos out of spite because he doesn’t like certain characters. People are going on wild-goose hunts when a rumour surfaces online that a particular Toys “R” Us has got a stock of Toon Link (I made this one up but it probably happened). It has all got quite out of hand.
The terrible thing is that having read stories online about them, I don’t think it’s kids that are after them. The people buying Amiibos are fully-grown adults, usually men, trying to complete a set. Think about it… even if you’ve managed to get them all at face value, you’re still going to need to spend over £400 before you’ve thought about a game. I’ve got friends who bought Super Smash Bros. and picked up a couple of Amiibos to try them and have decided it isn’t for them… because they don’t really do much. They’re just nice to haves. I thought we were in a recession!?
The worst story I heard was about a man going in to buy all of a particular store’s stock on release, then walking out past a child and refusing to part with any of them, even as the child begged him for just one of the toys. So not only are you buying up toys (they’re not models really, they’re toys), you’re also now breaking the hearts of children. Way to go.
I don’t own Super Smash Bros., so I don’t see much point in investing in any. If I had one of the games that they are useful for, I might consider buying one or two, but only if they’re cheap. By the sounds of things, Nintendo won’t miss my business!