The Advent of Amiibo Graveyards – Think Piece

Wind your clocks back to 2014 with me. Back to a time of innocence when Nintendo was struggling mightily to sell Wii U consoles and the industry, for a short while, wasn’t quite as interested in peripheral gaming devices. Virtual reality was on the way with its gleaming white sword to save us all from our couches and controllers (which it didn’t), but Nintendo was interested in a far more…novel peripheral.

Coming in at about 4 inches high each and resembling classic characters in detailed, plastic form, Amiibo would come to dominate gaming conversations for months. For years, actually. Yes, small plastic toys with microchips that were just fancy memory cards put Nintendo right back into the mainstream conversation for video game dominance.

Granted, this wasn’t the kind of dominance Nintendo was used to. Before Amiibo launched, the Big N has been decidedly mundane and predictable with their out-of-game merchandising opportunities. McDonalds and Burger King toy tie-ins certainly hit their heights, especially with the first wave of Pokemon fervor in the late 90s. But as far as first-party, character-driven merchandise that Nintendo directly produced, it was all fairly by the book.

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Which still, surprisingly, happens in an Amiibo world…

In fact, Amiibo stands as one of the largest examples of an industry trend that Nintendo acclimated to very enthusiastically, but wasn’t the first to do so. Even as industry trailblazer extraordinaires, it took the company a very, very long time to catch onto this trend and adapt it to their own.

The very first credited game as being “toys-to-life”, as the genre is known, was called U.B. Funkeys in 2007. Mattel made these toys as PC-only pieces for a game that required a portal for the figures to be integrated inside a digital playground. That caught Activision’s eye and lead to Skylanders, which ironically nearly came to Nintendo out of the gate. The first Skylanders released in 2011, effectively proving these types of titles and accessories a success in the industry.

Nintendo, never to be out original-ed, took away the portal and the single-series locks when Amiibo were revealed. Super Smash Brothers for Wii U and 3DS may have been the catalyst for such a massive plastic roster, but it became clear early that these little collectibles were going to become a light touch in many, many games moving forward.

The numbers support this integration in spades. To date, Nintendo has reported selling approximately 46.4 million physical Amiibo figures and 15.1 million card versions – 61.5 million all together.

Amiibo
A playful depiction of solid gold.

That’s 4 times as many units as Nintendo sold with the Wii U. That’s nearly twice as many as the Wii U and the current amount of Switch units sold. That figure is more than the number of games sold for the Wii U between 2013 and 2016 combined; the success of this number when compared to Nintendo’s other moves of the time cannot be overstated.

By creating what amounts to a Nintendo loyalty program hidden in different physical skins, the company continues to fly with Amiibo despite every other competitor dying on the branch. This is the Nintendo a lot of us are used to seeing where their formula, despite seeming odd up front, somehow survives Darwin’s test and becomes an inexplicable staple moving ahead.

Like their handheld market, Amiibo are likely now seen as too big to just die in the company’s eyes. That’s likely part of the reason that we have 8 new figures coming later this year and early next to keep stringing along this lucrative bus for as long as possible. It makes complete sense, after every other forge in the world has shut down, for Nintendo to keep chugging those gears right along until their entire library of characters has a plastic twin.

Not unlike popular video games that overproduce just a little too much though, a new trend has begun to form in department stores, electronic sections, and even the ever-loyal Gamestops. Now that the main crest of Amiibo has come and gone, the ships are abandoning their supplies over troubled waters. Worse yet, graveyards have become frozen in time with the leftovers of a popular fad now having to refocus after its prime.

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Accessories are still on the rise.

There are now, unbelievably, 132 different Amiibo in the wild. This doesn’t count the cards, the cereal tie-in, or the 8 extra on their way. For each to be pulling their weight, each model would have to sell approximately 353,031 (selling each individually, which I know didn’t happen but roll with it). I’m here to recount and indeed eulogize those that simply could not pull any more weight in the Amiibo graveyards I’ve found.

This being a trend I noticed off-hand before moving 2,500 miles across the United States, I have some regional lines to draw. Some of the observations happened in Ohio, others in California. Between the Cincinnati area and basically-downtown Los Angeles, Amiibo tendencies thankfully appear to be pretty much the same. Of all the weird similarities to have…

But given how disparate the zones are in every other way, I can walk out onto a limb to say that the following Amiibo are likely hallmarks of your local department graveyards.

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Falco – Original Release: Feb 2015

This wingman from Star Fox was in the seventh main wave of releases, sandwiched between DLC characters and the main roster as the literal last character in. To make matters worse for the flying falcon, he was locked to Best Buy. A lot of the characters on this list come from this 2015 dead period as Nintendo seemed to hit the accelerator a little too hard on new Amiibo ideas to flood the market without another huge, Smash Brothers-level release.

Rosalina and Luma, who were Target-locked, had plenty of leftovers as well with them not being as widely known to be available. Unsurprisingly, these are the only two that I’ve seen as not selling out of every single figure from the original Smash Brothers roster.

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Kirby (Kirby Series) – Original Release: June 2016

At the height of that miscalculative time within Nintendo wherein every new release seemed to receive new Amiibo featuring the same characters, Kirby’s Planet Robobot released with its own. The problem was that both Kirby and King Dedede already had other figures in the Smash Brothers line-up, leaving Kirby specifically out in the cold this time around.

Altogether, there are technically a whopping 17 series of Amiibo with a growing number of copycats. Thiers were always going to be the first plastic bodies to fill these graveyards.  

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Animal Crossing (Mostly Tom Nook) – Original Release: Nov 2015

One of the largest series, especially if you include the cards, is Animal Crossing. With 16 figures and many more cards, Nintendo wanted to drum up excitement for this series to match its mobile entry. Unfortunately, it became very rare for me to walk to an Amiibo section and not see an Animal Crossing representative dusty on a hook.

Tom Nook seems to be the worst casualty as his morose face seemed everywhere I looked. It seems like a complete waste to me to market the Animal Crossing characters in this way because of how homely and unremarkable they’re intended to be. If they made noises or something when the NFC figure touched, I could see an instant appeal. As it stands, this huge series is a huge part of my Amiibo eulogy.

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Link Horse (Breath of the Wild) – Original Release: March 2017

Of the small group of Amiibo that released the same day as the Switch, this one seems to be left in the cold more out of blandness more than anything else. Link is a character that had been represented, by this point, in three seperate series. The Zelda representation and the creepy guardian figure, also having released on this day, were nowhere to be found due to their popularity and, likely, visual originality.

Which is a great bridge to…

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Princess Peach and Mario (Super Mario Odyssey series) – Original Release: Oct 2017

More of the same, but this time, in wedding outfits. While I’ve seen some Bowsers as well, he seems to be the de facto popular pick due to the fact that he just looks so damn dapper in that suit.

Mario, as you might expect, had been done to death in plenty of different poses by then and Peach, while popular, didn’t seem to add any personality with this figure. She was just in a wedding dress that, without the game’s context, likely just looks odd to children and their parents.

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Waluigi – Original Release: November 2016

Can this character ever fail upwards? Of all of the characters in the Super Mario Series, Waluigi is one of two to not be a playable character or a villain in any main Mario title. Ever. Despite being the enemy of Luigi, who now has an anticipated re-release and sequel even. What is this world?

This speaks to a lot of Nintendo’s decision making process as opposed to Waluigi’s ability to carry a game with his obnoxious personality. The sustained roar behind him not being on the Smash Brothers roster, as well as fan games, art, and more, is proof to that end.

Funnily enough, his counterpart in the Super Mario Series rounds out this list with her name being…

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Daisy – Original Release: Nov 2016

With a vague mist surrounding her at all times, Daisy is pushing up daisies as well. Who is she? What is her main character trait? Does she even exist? Is she dating Birdo?

For all the guff the rest of the series regulars receive for being rather unmotivated tropes, Daisy serves as the epitome of listless character design. Her sole abilities seem to revolve around being slightly more aggressive than Peach in sports games – if we’re realllyyyy stretching for traits.

I’m apparently not the only one looking for answers either because her form is crowding a crazy amount of shelf space with no discount too great.

Amiibo

I love Amiibo, both as a cheap alternative to massive statues and a way to Nintendo-up just about any game that comes to their consoles. Their functionality is, as ever, debatably mainly for Smash Brothers and perhaps a bit too close to an ongoing physical season pass for some, but their goodwill hasn’t run dry yet for me.

My collection stands at 18 Amiibo high, down from something like 30 last year (I’m an adult, let me live my life!). I’ll gladly look for more on the way, especially Ridley and maybe even a Shovel Knight add-on, because they’re instant splashes of semi-permanent color to every room and lend me a deeper appreciation for the many forms of craftsmanship that Nintendo is capable of.

That small splash of positivity aside, the deafening silence of the Amiibo sections can be felt as I walk by. Their recent announcement to re-release every single Super Smash Brothers Amiibo seems like a Monty Python plague doctor’s callum to bring out more dead. They’ll sell, of course. So very many will sell and make out heads spin in the process.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be blood. Amiibo blood and plastic slivers everywhere that will go untouched for months on end if not years. That’s the pain of noticing what’s plain as day. Amiibo, something I love and adore, are alone and go untouched for holiday seasons and longer, and I just can’t muster up a f*ck to do anything about it.

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