It’s 2019, and amiibo are totally still here. It feels a bit different these days than it did back in the Wii U era, though, both in terms of the figures themselves and how (and perhaps if) people use them.
Nintendo’s line of RFID-equipped collectibles was born in the heyday of toys-to-life games, and though Nintendo never seemed to decide how exactly it wanted to implement it, it initially sold the figures on the strength of their in-game functions. Whether it was building Figure Players in Super Smash Bros. or unlockable boards in Mario Party, the focus was on being a functional piece that happened to also look cool on your shelf.
With Switch games, it feels like things have shifted. There’s still support, nominally speaking, but it seems like these are much more about selling cool-looking things to you, then figuring out some ancillary justification for there still being RFID chips in them. Oh, look! You can… um… praise the sun with one! Another will unlock a feature an hour or so before you’d normally unlock that feature! These aren’t exactly compelling use cases.
But Nintendo hasn’t slowed down its efforts to make and release amiibo, so it isn’t a simple matter of abandoning an idea that is past its prime. And that makes sense, when you think about how amiibo were still somehow successful when the Wii U wasn’t, and the Switch offers a much stronger player base to target with these quasi-accessories.
Much of the success of amiibo has been attributed to the hobbyist mindset. Much like collectors of Star Wars figures, amiibo fans loved assembling full sets and displaying them proudly on shelves in a satisfying, uniform way. Most of them never intended to open them, much less use them! That’s why the initial batch, which offered lots of copies of popular characters like Mario but not so many of more obscure ones like Fire Emblem’s Marth, was followed up by releases in much more even numbers. If people wanted any of them, they likely wanted the full set.
Which is what makes the current approach so weird. Outside of the continuing slow trickle of the remaining Super Smash Bros. figures, modern amiibo aren’t always part of larger sets. A shelf filled with all of Splatoon’s Inkling variants and the occasional in-game host doesn’t look that impressive or great. There are only four Fire Emblem or Kirby releases, two for Metroid and a smattering of one-offs like Detective Pikachu, Diablo’s Loot Goblin and, yeah, that Solaire of Astora from Dark Souls.
Not to mention the ones that aren’t even figures! You could justify the original sets of Animal Crossing cards as a fun thing to collect and assemble into binders or something, but lately we’re getting weird ones that, if they’re not there to be the cheapest way to get someone the RFID needed to activate something in-game, really don’t justify their existence. Like the Mario Sports Superstars cards, which had a marginal use in one Mario sports game and then were never functional again. Or the so-called “Delicious amiibo,” which was literally a cereal box. (That one could be fun to put on a shelf, but you may have to adjust the height of yours to get it to fit.) And if you’re truly an amiibo completionist, you have to do things like preordering the import-only Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball five times at five different Japanese stores. It’s getting very expensive, and at the end of the day, your set starts to look a lot less satisfying than a line of figures in matching packages.