I have been collecting video game merchandise since I was old enough to hold a Nintendo DS. So, over the years, I’ve assembled a ridiculous display of things with little purpose beyond looking pretty. So if I can get my hands on something collectible that also benefits my gaming experience somehow, I’m all in. Naturally, then, I was a sucker for Amiibo.
Back in 2014, following the launch of Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS, Nintendo released Amiibo figures, and the small plastic statuettes had one primary purpose: to unlock in-game content. At the base of each statue sat an NFC chip you could scan with your console to unlock a new character or some exclusive content like an outfit, skin, or hairstyle. At first, these statues were exclusively released for the Super Smash Bros. series. But, as years have passed, Nintendo released Amiibo figures and cards for loads of its games, meaning there is now an abundance of figurines available – and even more on the way.
I bought my first Amiibo five years ago – Animal Crossing’s Isabelle, if you must know – and have picked up around 20 since then. Between several house moves, student life, and a change of heart, it’s hard to keep track of the final number. Once, these figures made my favorite Nintendo games better, but now they lie dormant in a box in an attic, waiting to be displayed. And yet, despite my graveyard of Nintendo figures, the announcement of the new Sephiroth and Kazuya Amiibos has my finger hovering dangerously close to the pre-order button.
What’s the point?
When I started collecting Amiibo, they were a key to unlocking my favorite games. This key just happened to be a cool figure, which justified the expensive price tag. But over time, Nintendo’s inconsistent use of Amiibo has made it more and more difficult to work out which ones are worth buying.
For example, Splatoon Amiibo, for the original game, opened new modes you could only access with the corresponding figures. However, Splatoon 2’s Amiibo only unlocks a few cosmetic items – making them significantly less rewarding than the previous game’s figures. In other games, though, Nintendo has locked key quality-of-life features behind Amiibo. If you wanted to fast travel in Skyward Sword HD, you had to pick up a Zelda & Loftwing Amiibo.
It’s a difficult balance because, on the one hand, locking game modes and characters behind an Amiibo paywall is frustrating, especially if the cost or availability of the figurines means you’re forever locked out of that content. And, while quality-of-life features, such as fast travel, aren’t essential, locking that behind an Amiibo is a little Scrooge-like. But, making Amiibo only unlock cosmetic rewards makes more recent figures seem comparatively less valuable than the older statues.
From unique and useful to purposeless plastic
There are now over 200 unique Amiibo figures, alongside five series of Animal Crossing-themed Amiibo cards featuring over 400 villagers and NPCs. While having exclusive in-game content is a perk of the figures, they’ve become little more than glorified collectibles. A few can unlock a new depth to some of Nintendo’s classic titles on Wii U, 3DS, and Nintendo Switch, but the majority do little more than look pretty on a shelf.
But there’s something about Amiibo figures which makes me want to keep buying them, even when my shelves are filling up, and I’ve no reason to keep collecting, and it's because they feel limited. Some of the more popular characters like Luigi, Mario, and any stereotypical ‘poster’ character for Nintendo will have a constant stream of merchandise and figures, but for a more niche character like Diablo’s Loot Goblin or indie darling Box Boy, it’s hard to find decent merchandise. So I’ll pay any amount of money for them regardless of whether or not they do anything.
I might have started buying Amiibo, telling myself that it’s because I really wanted that Splatoon mode or that Super Smash Bros character, but now I just have to figure out the fact I really want a Breath of the Wild Guardian statue on my shelf.
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Kara is an Evergreen writer at TechRadar Gaming. With a degree in Journalism and a passion for the weird and wonderful, she's spent the last few years as a freelance video game journalist, with bylines at NintendoLife, Attack of the Fanboy, Prima Games, and sister publication, GamesRadar+. Outside of gaming, you'll find her re-watching Gilmore Girls or trying to cram yet another collectible onto a shelf that desperately needs some organizing.