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Coach Some Classic Characters with Nintendo’s amiibo Figures

The latest entry in the Smash Bros. series, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, hits stores tomorrow. But it won’t be alone. Nintendo is also rolling out a series of toys based on some of its most iconic characters that you can bring directly into the Smash Bros. mayhem.

Called amiibo, the figures are highly detailed and work like the ones made for the Skylanders and Disney Infinity series. There will be 12 amiibo available as of Friday, including Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Yoshi, Peach, and Pikachu. Six more — like Zelda, Luigi, and Diddy Kong — will be in stores in December, followed by another 11 in February. That’s them at the top of the page. For a closer look, check out this short announcement video:

Here’s how amiibo works: You load up Smash Bros., and once it starts you place your amiibo on your Wii U gamepad. Using the NFC (near field communication) reader built into it, your character is brought into the game and you can customize it, level it up, and then use it in battles.

But what separates amiibo from other toys-to-games characters is that you can use them in more than one game. When they become available on Friday, amiibo figures will work with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Mario Kart 8, and Hyrule Warriors. And according to Bill Trinen, Director of Product Marketing at Nintendo of America, more amiibo-friendly games are on the way: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse,Mario Party 10, and Yoshi'sWoolly World are just a few.

On Tuesday, Trinen spoke with SI Kids about amiibo, how they work with Smash Bros., and what exactly “amiibo” means.”

What was the process of making these and for Nintendo entering the toys-to-game arena?

Very early on when we were working on the Wii U hardware itself, we made a decision that we really wanted to be able to do something using NFC and the figures. That was why we made the decision to include the NFC reader functionality right into the gamepad. That way you don't need any additional accessories or portals. And what it means is that it becomes something every Wii U owner can enjoy and any game developer can use within their game without having to worry about the install base or what other accessories are needed.

So that was sort of where it started. And then I think from there we spent some time thinking about, if we're going to do something with these interactive figures like amiibo, what can we do that makes sense from a Nintendo standpoint? And obviously the game that makes the most sense in terms of launching the amiibo really is Smash Bros. because Smash Bros. is home to essentially characters from just about every single main Nintendo franchise. That gives us the opportunity to get a wide variety of characters out there from a lot of different franchises, which then opens up the possibility down the road of having additional functionality for those characters in different games. For us, it's not just about the character and how it works in one game. What we really want to do is create a connection between the player and their amiibo character and have them be looking to how they get to use that amiibo character in different games in the future. 

Where does the name “amiibo” come from?

“Ami” is something that in Japanese reflects the idea of friendship. So the idea behind the name is that these are really sort of friends that you play with. And that's kind of what the Smash Bros. team has really tried to create with the interaction: Something that will help to develop more of an emotional connection between you and your amiibo. And the way they work in Smash Bros., when you read the amiibo into the game it appears and it can fight alongside you, you can battle against it like a sparring partner, and in that process what you do is level it up and it learns how to fight from the way that you fight, and you can also customize its stats and its special moves. What it does is create a bit more of a connection to that character. What we've found is that as people begin to train up their amiibo and bring it into matches and watch their amiibo fight against others, they get really emotionally attached to it and they’re cheering it on and sometimes they're yelling at it and saying “Why are you doing that?!” and other times they're trying to encourage it. It creates this really unique dynamic between both the player and the figure. And that's sort of what the team was striving for and what the name alludes to.

How did you settle on the initial lineup for these characters? 

I think, obviously, if you look at the initial lineup and the list on the website, your first four — Mario, Link, Samus, and Kirby — are sort of four characters that have represented Smash Bros. And then what we start to do is gradually get into characters that are representative of all of the different franchises in Smash Bros., as well as, in that first wave, you do see a couple of the new characters from Smash Bros., in the Villager and the Wii Fit Trainer. So in terms of deciding which characters to go with when, it's really been, you know, kind of a looking at who are the main characters that we want to make sure we have at launch, who are the characters that are really representative of what's new about this particular game of Smash Bros., and then how do we engage with a lot of different fans of a lot of different franchises and get them interested in amiibo early on.

Seeing the Wii Fit Trainer made me wonder if the amiibo work somehow with Wii Fit.

We don't have any plans right now to do anything additional with the Wii Fit series and tying amiibo to that. But as we noted, the figures themselves will work with different games. So, for example, with a character like Link or Kirby you can scan those same Smash Bros. figures into Mario Kart and when Mario Kart reads that amiibo, what it does is give you access to a Mii Racing suit that's based on the character that you read into the game. So there's functionality there. In Hyrule Warriors, for example, you can use your Link amiibo and that will get you access to a special item for Link in that game. So with that in mind, there are plans for future games to take advantage of a lot of different characters from the Smash Bros. series, including Wii Fit Trainer. So this won't be the only game that Wii Fit Trainer works with.

And how crazy can you get with these characters? Just thinking about all the weird side characters and bosses that someone a little older, like me, might say, "Oh yeah, I'd love to see the dog from Duck Hunt!" I would imagine the sky's the limit. 

Yeah, well, I think initially for the Smash Bros. series what we're going to be doing is looking at the characters in Smash Bros. and looking to bring them out into amiibo form eventually. And even within the initial lineup, you can see that there are characters, like Fox from the Starfox series, Marth from the Fire Emblem series, and even Captain Falcon from the F-Zero series or Little Mac from Punch-Out!, and these are characters who really have never had anything in toy form before. So for us, we're looking at it as a great opportunity to not only have unique functionality within Smash Bros. but also as a great way to bring to life some of these characters that people haven't been able to enjoy as toys in the past.

Yeah, these amiibo are pretty great in that they take this really cool new gaming technology and merges it with this much older collectibles market.

We've had opportunities to show them to people who are just kind of toy collectors, and they've been really amazed at the quality and how detailed they are, especially the figures like Link and Marth. And then of course what we're finding is that when you add in the functionality within the games, then you've got this thing that is really intriguing for people who are Nintendo fans and collectors but also is exciting for people who just want them to use and play in the game as well.

Do you think you’ll have to say to collectors, "No no no, take these out of the packages and play with them and use them in the games. Don't just keep them on your self?"

We're going to find, I think, pretty quickly that you'll start with a collector who buys a whole set and maybe one or two of the others that they begin to train up. I suspect what's going to happen is that as people start to train up one or two amiibo, they're fairly quickly going to start realizing what's fun about that and how it ties back into the replayability of the game and encourages you to experiment playing in different ways to try to train up your amiibo in different ways. And that relatively quickly we're going to start seeing people training up more and more amiibo on a regular basis. So my thought is that even if collectors start off with putting some of them on the shelf and trying out just one or two, I think that pretty quickly they're going to start to understand the appeal of playing with them. And maybe then they'll have their sort of collection for playing with as well as their collection for keeping on the shelf.

Photos courtesy Nintendo of America

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