When Super Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U was first revealed, I was thrilled to see a new iteration of one of my favorite childhood games. My true skill in video games lies in other genres, but in the midst of all the hype, I decided to research the competitive scene, learn about top players, and made it my mission to be half-decent at the game when it finally came
out. But along with a slew of new challengers and inevitable changes to the metagame came a series of companion figurines known as Amiibo. I consider myself “casually competitive”, and honestly never thought I’d ever buy a figurine to go with a video game. Yet here I am, staring at Mega Man, Pikachu, Diddy Kong and Yoshi, all smiling at me from my shelf.
I’m addicted to these little guys, but I’ll be honest – when they were revealed, I truly thought of them as a giant waste of money, a toy that parents will buy their small children who have no idea how fun Smash can be outside of “Classic Mode”. I wanted the developers’ focus to be creating a fun and balanced game, not a way to sell toys and compete with Skylanders, or Disney Infinite. Nintendo always finds a way to stay appealing to their younger fans, which occasionally makes competitive, serious gamers feel neglected. But it turns out, these figurines can and do appeal to all types of Smash fans.
Are they a brilliant marketing scheme? Sure. Do they actually help you get better? …Maybe. Either way, I now have four to play with and expect that more will be added to the collection soon. It started as a joke – my roommate bought me a Diddy Kong Amiibo on a whim. Naturally, I had to turn the joke back on him and bought him a Yoshi. Then he got me a Mega Man, you know, as a joke. I bought him Pikachu because, of course, we’re totally still joking and not at all having genuine fun with our Amiibo friends at this point.
Credit must be given where credit is due. Nintendo has created an intelligent AI that actually learns your habits and tendencies, then counters them appropriately. While it’s commonly understood that no practice against AI can ever prepare you like practice against another human, it is refreshing to see a “computer player” actually fight back and evolve. Instead of the difficult but drab level 9 difficulty setting on computer players, Amiibo figurines progress to level 50 by learning from fights against you and other Amiibo figurines. “Did you say other Amiibo?” Why yes I did, oh reader mine, but I’ll get to that in a bit. I want to talk about how these goofy little toys that touch your Gamepad and somehow come to life on the screen can actually enhance your gaming experience.
What further separates the Amiibo characters apart from the standard computer players is the fact that each Amiibo can be named, and given upgrades as well as different stats. That’s where the love comes in – as soon as you give your Amiibo a name, they become your buddy. A sparring partner, or teammate. So when I named my Diddy Kong “Monkeytown” and gave him a cool purple shirt and a huge boost to speed, there was suddenly a different element in all of my Smash battles. I was proud to see Monkeytown hit level 15 and dodge-roll my endless Captain Falcon grabs, and amazed when he hit level 50 and was suddenly grabbing and throwing me into a downthrow-up air combo. Maybe not for the pros, but for a guy like me, these things are tough! I still struggle to beat Monkeytown in a 1v1, but I love how difficult it is.
When the gang grew in number, we started entering 8-player Smash battles and teaming up against them. My friends and I would square off against four Amiibo figurines, and honestly, we lost more than we won. These things were vicious and it was hilarious to lose to them. Af
ter an hour of battling and falling to these plastic paper weights with minds of their own, we decided to mix it up and discover what happens when you put four level 50 Amiibo characters in a free-for-all battle of survival. So when “Monkeytown” the Diddy Kong, “Torrance” the Yoshi, “Petey” the Pikachu and a Mega Man named “Brother” landed on Hyrule Temple, there were four human friends cheering from the couch, with nigh a controller in hand. When it was all over and Torrance remained the last Amiibo standing, we cheered and laughed, and then laughed some more at the fact that the most exciting Smash battle of the day came from four AI characters.
When Duck Hunt, Bowser Jr. and a few other highly anticipated Amiibo toys become available in September, you bet I’m looking forward to another little figurine joining the gang. I take a lot of games seriously, but sometimes you just need to goof around and watch Petey the Pikachu get beat up by Brother the Mega Man. Of course, all my future Amiibo purchases will be done as a joke, obviously.