Coming off three years of losses and facing two well-funded competitors with hot-selling new consoles, video game veteran Nintendo needed to do something at this year’s E3 convention to show it’s still relevant. Its solution this morning: Announce lots of sequels to some of its most beloved franchises (always a sure bet) and a foray into the emerging game sector that uses figurines with embedded computer chips to add functionality and characters to game play.
Amiibo, as it will be called (the name is a play on the Nintendo convention of Wii and its online avatars called Miis), is similar to the massively successful Skylanders series from Activision (which just announced a new set of characters as part of the Skylanders Trap Team) and Disney Infinity. Unveiling the company’s entry in what he called the “toys-to-life category,” Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime mentioned both Skylanders and Infinity. The computer chip in each figure can be activated by touching the toy to the Wii U console’s gamepad, importing character data into a game such as the next Super Smash Brothers title, which Fils-Aime also announced. Communication between chip and gamepad is two-way. “You can send information back to the figure,” Fils-Aime said. “The figure’s data changes as you play. The character will not only appear in the game but also evolve. It opens the door to new kinds of game play.”
The figures can also be imported into multiple other titles, depending on which developers add the functionality into their game. The recently released Mario Kart 8 and three other soon-to-arrive Wii U games initially also will work with Amiibo. Nintendo also said it will introduce a peripheral later in the year that can beam the character data into its handheld Nintendo 3DS devices.
The bigger news for hard-core Nintendo fans might be announcements of new versions of some of favorite franchises, including a new Legend of Zelda (Hyrule Warriors); two new Pokemon titles (Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire); Yoshi’s Woolly World; Bayonetta 2 (packed in with the original); and Mario Maker, a 3DS game that allows players to tweak and change levels of a platformer featuring that iconic plumber. One particularly interesting (and non-violent) original was Splatoon, a team-based game where the two sides compete to cover the walls with splatters of their team’s ink.
For Nintendo fans starved of new games to play on the Wii U, which has been a major cause of the company’s continuing financial woes, the new franchise entries should sell more consoles. Whether Amiibo and those tried-and-true characters are enough to overcome Sony and Microsoft’s challenges won’t be known for some time. All that said, the Twitterverse seemed pretty excited at the prospects, or at least in the very different approach to videogaming that has always made Nintendo unique:
The console scene has become SO bald white FPS soldier dominant, Nintendo just BEING Nintendo feels like a radical act
— Bob Chipman (@the_moviebob) June 10, 2014