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Nintendo's Ready for Commitment, Amiibo

R.O.B., the Power Pad, the Super Scope, the N64 Transfer Pak, the GBA-GCN Link Cable, the Gamecube Broadband Adapter, Wii Speak, AR Cards, the Circle Pad Pro, the 3DS Stand.

I predict that sometime in the next 20 years it's going to come into vogue to make indie games that only function using one of the many, many, many abandoned Nintendo peripherals. Until then I have a very large TupperwareTM container brimming with what can only be described as a techno-orgy of things that plug-into/receive-signals-from/augment other things; knotted cables reaching outwards like so many branch roots finding purchase in soil, begging to be relevant.

I imagine the life of a Nintendo peripheral is a tragic one, full of ups and downs. Showcased for the first time at a trade event with all of your possibilities laid bare. So much potential. Seeing your preview in the latest Nintendo Power accompanied by screenshots and images of the final hardware. 

Then the slow descent as hype fades, a launch come and goes, an article or two is written about you and then the trickle of content that supports you comes to its end and your legacy is nothing more than a heap of slightly discoloured plastic in the local game store's bargain bin. I still love you, Wii Zapper. Don't let anyone tell you you're not beautiful.

I have a feeling that amiibo might be different. When it comes down to it there's too much riding on the figure line's success for it not to be. But let's take a look back at its closest cousin, the GBA's e-Reader line, for a reminder of what can go right, what can go wrong, and where amiibo can rise above the ashes of its lost brother.

e-Reader

What the e-Reader Did Right

Collectability

e-Reader cards looked rad. They were quality pieces with nice designs and artwork. Doing double duty as trading cards like the Animal Crossing-e and Pokemon-e lines definitely help stoke that collecting flame. I'm still on the search for some of my favourite AC villagers in card form. No doubt children and awful adult humans like myself the world over are feeling similar pangs from Wave 1 of amiibo. 

While the quality has dropped a fair bit from what we saw in the prototype phase, these are still good-looking figures. Not to mention we're seeing merchandise for series that otherwise might never have been represented. Wii Fit isn't exactly fertile ground for marketing figures (Oh gosh, except a Wii Fit Trainer figma would be amazing!).

Expandability

Nintendo was basically dealing with DLC long before anyone uttered the phrase. Few people will debate that Super Mario Bros. 3 is a complete game in its own right, but along came the GBA port with extra levels and powers - for a price. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire and Animal Crossing also allowed for extra content to be transferred through the use of cards. 

Again, these are games that no doubt feel like complete experiences, but these little bonuses for people who went the extra mile felt like a treat and a way to revisit a game that might have been sitting on the shelf for a few months. That sentiment might be ringing a bell for anyone that has dipped back into Mario Kart 8 or Hyrule Warriors recently.

Multi-functionality

For a brief period of time the Pokemon TCG became the Pokemon TCG-e. All of a sudden the card game you were already collecting could be used on the Game Boy Advance that you already had. Sure, I'm speaking from experience and represent a pretty niche crowd, but I'll be damned if the prospect of using something I already owned for another purpose didn't help justify a lot of booster pack purchases. 

We're seeing the same approach with amiibo that work with more than one game. I own Hyrule Warriors, Mario Kart 8 AND Smash Bros. All of a sudden that Link amiibo is looking like some mighty fine bang for my buck.

What the e-Reader Did Wrong

Cost

If that Link amiibo is bang for my buck then the e-Reader is the whimper. Let's forget for a second that to unlock content on any given game required 2 GBAs, a GBA link cable, an e-Reader and the proper card/s. The e-Reader alone had an MSRP of $79.99. Even in a pre-Virtual Console era I find it hard to believe anyone was chomping at the bit to shell out nearly a hundred bucks to play Urban Champion on the go.

These kinds of prices for content nowadays are reserved for only the most sinister of mobile and free-to-play games (and Assassin's Creed Unity). The cards themselves were inexpensive but the hardware itself proved to be too much for most consumers. Amiibo, on the other hand, requires nothing beyond what is built-in to the Wii U. Time will tell if Nintendo ever releases the NFC reader for 3DS or even the NFC-capable 'new' 3DS in the west.

Complexity

To imagine that in a few short years after the e-Reader's debut Nintendo would release the most user-friendly console the world has ever seen boggles the mind. Plug your game into GBA 'A', plug e-reader into GBA 'B', connect GBA 'A' and GBA 'B' with GBA link cable, access obscure menu item (that may or may not need to be unlocked with a secret password) on game in GBA 'A', begin scanning cards in correct order on GBA 'B', repeat 'Klaatu Barada Nikto' until desired effect, lather, rinse, repeat.

Needless to say there was a barrier of entry inherent in the e-Reader experience that few were willing to commit to. Amiibo use consists of a button press and relatively simple act of grabbing a thing and then putting that thing in a place. If there's one thing we're happy that the Wii's design philosophy eliminated, it's daisy-chaining hardware.

Little Mac amiibo

So amiibo has broken down barriers of entry, it's entered the marketplace at a decent price, and it's proven to be a dream for collectors of Nintendo merchandise. There's only one key component we need to see to make sure the amiibo train doesn't go the way of the e-Reader or the other poor souls listed at the beginning of this article: commitment.

If Nintendo can keep making games that support these figures and keep adding more and more value to this line we might be getting plenty of use out of these little guys. Otherwise we might end up with another Gyromite situation on our hands. Or Battle Clash... or Crystal Chronicles... or Kid Icarus: Uprising... or Perfect Dark GBC...? Did that thing work with the Transfer Pak? What about the DS Rumble Pak? What did that work with? Metroid Prime Pinball, I think? Elite Beat Agents? Defintely Elite Beat Agents. Oh, man. What a great game that was. I'm gonna go play Elite Beat Agents.