This month Nintendo is set to dive head first down the warp pipe from its regular world of virtual characters into a new era of physical toys.
The new Amiibo range arrives in the UK on 28th November, but Nintendo has a long-term plan for the NFC figures that stretches far beyond launch (when they will only interact with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U).
The company is developing the figurines as a new platform (Amiibo's development name was the Nintendo Figurine Platform) and as a range that will be continually expanded upon to work across multiple games and devices.
For example, each Amiibo has the capacity to interact in different ways with a range of Nintendo titles - a feature not found in rival franchises such as Disney Infinity and Skylanders. 3DS support for Amiibo will also arrive next year.
Nintendo is also leaning on the platform as part of its current drive to raise awareness of its rich library of character IP. Simply put, Amiibo will give Nintendo a huge boost in visibility on shop shelves this Christmas.
This is much more than just the launch of some new toys, then - and the pressure is certainly on Nintendo for them to succeed.
So it is disappointing to see that some of the figures have been altered from their original designs, shown off when the Amiibo range was first revealed in June at E3 2014.
Most of the alterations relate to how the figurines are attached to their bases. Each character has been captured in their pose from Smash Bros.' fighter selection screen, which means many do not have both feet flat on the ground.
Previously such figures were attached by a thin, translucent pole - but this has now been replaced by gaudy coloured plastic for characters such as Link and Fox (who hover over their respective bases) and by sludge-like lumps of frosted-clear plastic for others such as Villager and Wii Fit Trainer (who are attached only by one foot).
But other characters remain the same - for example Marth, Kirby, Pikachu and Yoshi, who already sit firmly on their bases.
A few other small changes have been made. Mario now no longer sports the detailed denim texture seen on the original figure - this has been replaced by a simple outline around the edges and straps of his dungerees. Peach's design has also been simplified - the pattern on her dress is now simply painted on rather than painted and indented.
To be fair, the earlier E3 designs came with the disclaimer that they weren't final - but Nintendo hasn't said why it has altered those in need of more leg support.
It is impossible to tell if the Amiibo's build material has changed (this is the first time that press have been allowed to go hands-on with the designs). Visually it doesn't seem as if the material itself has been altered.
The figures feel like they are made from a good quality plastic and do not feel in danger of easily breaking - but Nintendo is also known for going the extra mile when it comes to stress-testing its products. Perhaps even a small possibility of breakage could have prompted the changes - better that than the costly process of replacing broken figures the day after Christmas.
Apart from the changes above the figures appear much as intended. There's a good amount of detail on each character, and the colour and print quality on each is high. The metallic paint on Samus' suit and Link's sword and shield is especially realistic, as is the fur effect for Donkey Kong and Fox's bodies.
Away from the figures' aesthetics, the technology within Amiibo seems to work without issue. We tried out a number of figurines with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, where touching the Amiibo's base to the Wii U GamePad unlocked the character as a "Figurine Player". (The GamePad has an in-built NFC reader, although for 3DS you'll need to buy either the upcoming 3DS NFC adaptor or a New 3DS/New 3DS XL which have NFC-reading technology added in).
Figures work in two offline modes only - in regular Smash battles and the game's new eight-player Smash mode. In either option you can bring in your Amiibo to fight alongside you, fight against you, or even just fight against other Amiibo characters.
When you first buy an Amiibo you'll need to register it to a Mii character on your Wii U profile via an option in the game's settings. From here you can also work on upgrading your character - achieved by "feeding" it power-up items you find in the game's various modes. These then buff its stats (attack, defense, speed, etc.) and can increase the Amiibo's overall XP level (up to a cap of 50).
Smash Bros. is at its best when there are more than two players in a match, and the ability for two players to fight against each other with an Amiibo at their side - suddenly making it a four-player affair - livens up matches accordingly. Working on levelling your Amiibo also adds to the game's single-player activities. You'll need to tap in your Amiibo both before and after each fight so it can load the figure's data (stored in a chip within the figure's base) and update it after.
It's a little surprising that the figures can't be used in more modes - it'd be great to use them in the game's two-player Event Match for example, which throws tricky objectives at you at increased difficulty levels. But the figurines' use will increase when you can transfer your Figure Player from the Wii U to 3DS version of the game - and it's a neat way of providing a personalised support character for players who are less used to fighting game controls.
Amiibo support for Smash Bros. on 3DS will arrive next year, when Nintendo is also planning to patch in Amiibo support to Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors. Other upcoming Nintendo games such as Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Yoshi's Woolly World and Mario Party 10 will also support Amiibo in some way.
As a platform, Amiibo is just in its infancy - its inclusion in Smash Bros. is merely Nintendo's first step. It will be up to Nintendo collectors to determine whether they want to buy the figurines now simply for their looks - but with support for many more titles on the horizon it may soon become a much easier decision.
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