E3 had a few new game announcements, but in reality it was mostly showing us gameplay or cinematics from games we already knew about. One of the items mentioned during the Nintendo digital conference piqued my interest though, and that was the reveal of their new line of figures releasing for the upcoming Smash Brothers. Amœbo figurines make use of near field communication technology built into the Wii U gamepad to bring the character to life on the big screen. A peripheral for the 3DS, due out next year, will give the device the same functionality.
My first thought upon seeing these figures used in Smash Brothers was “why use models to put characters into a game that already has the available?”. This was a reasonable thought, because each of the first series of Amœbo figurines are already playable in Smash Brothers. Nintendo eventually explained that each model could be developed into an unique character by the player, containing the spirit of the character they represent, but differing radically from those already found in the game. Every time they fight, their stats will increase a little bit. Over time they will also learn tactics to become more formidable opponents, offering a more challenging opponent than the existing characters.
Activision and Disney both already have their own line of NFC figurines for Skylanders and Disney Infinity respectively. Like Amœbo, both game series store information on their statues so they be taken to a friends house, or in the case of Skylanders, used in one of the sequel games. What makes Amœbo different from the competition is that Nintendo are planning to have the figurines supported across multiple games, including Mario Kart 8, Mario Party 10, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and Yoshi’s Wooly World. Typically the Kart and Party franchises only contain characters from the Mario games, so it will be interesting to see if the figurines actually add new racers into the games. As for the other two games, it is still not known how the statues will interact with games given that they seem to heavily feature a lead character.
While the first series of figurines will feature fourteen Nintendo characters, more are planned to be released during 2015. The are no details on who will be in the next set, but it is possible that alternate poses of existing characters will be available. Who knows, maybe fighters from Smash Brothers who are not owned by Nintendo will start making an appearance further down the line. Series two could include Mega Man, Pac-Man, or even Sonic. Now that I have started speculating on what could come next, let us take it a little further. We all know how bad Nintendo is at using the internet on their devices, so what if Amœbo figurines become their way of selling DLC for first-party titles? Release a new series of statues, then force the user to patch the game so that a new round of characters can be added into games.
The possibility could even be taken further. Skylanders and Disney Infinity already require the player to fork out cash to play different characters, so why would that stop Nintendo? In a nightmare world, they could make the next Smash Brothers game a free-to-play title that requires figurines to even play the game! Other game modes could be added into the game via different NFC-based components that would be bought separately. It is a scary thought, but character lists for some multiplayer games are becoming quite bloated now, and without a good way to display every character on the screen at once it could occur to someone to try it.
Now that we are all up to speed on the new figurines, let us take a look at the negatives. Shelf space in most games shops is already at a premium, so how many more sets of statues can be released before shops decide not stock them, or only have the four or five most popular models available. I can see parents deciding to purchase a single brand of NFC toys and ignoring the rest, solely due to the cost. As the third player into the market, Nintendo will have an uphill struggle convincing parents they need to buy a new set of toys. Even though their characters are iconic, Disney are also trading on this with their own range. Activision may not have the iconic characters, but the setup of Skylanders practically requires the purchase of at least eight new figures with every game to explore all of the content.
To make matters worse, Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes will be out on Wii U before Nintendo has their own range out the door. Adults will remember the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong and Link from their youth, but the Marvel heroes will equally evoke a sense of nostalgia that the other Disney characters would not in most gamers. Launching second is never an ideal prospect, especially when one does not have the upper hand in the market. Or third, if one includes Skylanders: Trap Team.
So, there they are. Mario Kart 8 was very popular, but do you think people will buy Amœbo figurines for that game? Do you think that they will they help to sell the new Smash Brothers game? Do you think these models will be popular enough to get a second series? Let me know in the comments!
[The spelling of Amœbo has been corrected to comply with the Lusipurr.com ‘House Style’ guide. -Lusi.]