[When I’m not playing games or writing about games, I’m often thinking about games – thinking about what would make a cool idea for a game, or how I wish a certain game was different, or what I’m hoping for in a sequel. So, to share some of these ideas, I’m starting a new occasional column called Here’s an Idea. Basically, it’s game design fan fiction.]
Nintendo’s line of collectible, game-connected figures has so far been a huge success for the company. In the six months they’ve been out, Nintendo has shipped 10.5 million units and is scrambling to get more product on store shelves. This is, in one sense, perfectly understandable: similar products, like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, are hugely successful, and Nintendo has a stable of popular characters like Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and… Wii Fit Trainer. Why wouldn’t they be popular? But in another sense, the success of Amiibo is a little weird, because unlike, say, Skylanders, they don’t really do anything.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. They do some stuff. But what they do is a vague and inconsistent. The most robust Amiibo support is found in Super Smash Bros., where Amiibo become NPC companions/opponents that you can level up and customize. This is the closest Amiibo come to having Skylanders-type functionality, where you bring your character into the game, upgrade and/or customize it, and save the stats to the figure rather than the console hard drive, allowing you to bring your character to a friend’s house. But in Super Smash Bros., you don’t get to play as the character, just alongside it or against it.
Meanwhile, Amiibo support in other games is pretty limited. In Mario Party 10, a new “Amiibo Party” mode lets you tap your Amiibo to the gamepad a bunch of times to do things that could easily be done with a button press, and then save the powerups you earn to your figure. In all other Amiibo-compatible games, functionality is limited to read-only effects, in most cases involving Amiibo unlocking things like extra costumes or consumable in-game items. Of course, the fact that one Amiibo can be used in multiple games – though limited to one read/write game per figure – is a nice bonus, regardless of how limited the features are for those additional games. But what is lacking is a really great killer app where Amiibo feel really essential to the gameplay. So far, they kind of feel shoehorned in. Continue reading Here’s an Idea: An Amiibo Killer App