Monday, 7 March 2016

Landfill Or The Sea: The Resting Place Of Amiibos?

This was originally written for Forces Of Geek on 26th February 2016. When I posted it on social media, I had an influx of comments and tweets about Amiibos and their kin. It was great to get so much insight into the how and why people invest in them however, I am yet to be converted and I'll probably never be. Hope you enjoy my thoughts on these plastic-y, overpriced toys and if not, well then hit me up in the comments section too! 



There are times when the notion of DLC content can inspire a burst of hadouken-like rage in me which causes me to rant at my friends, family and poor unassuming bystanders in my local Game store about the evils of capitalism.

Extra content angers me because despite some companies creating decent content, the majority of DLC is utter rubbish and adds very little worth to a game, save for a few new costumes or skins and one measly extra level which feels like it was originally cut from the game...for good reason!

Yet we suck it up because sometimes we have to and hey, these gaming behemoths are just trying to make a living and be successful at making billions and who are we to deny them our hard earned money?

I can (sort of) live with DLC existing, albeit begrudgingly, but what I detest most (especially as I have fallen into it's trap) is peripherals. Non-essential chunks of plastic that you fit onto controllers, use in place of controllers or are required in order to play the game at all.

I was one of the people who rushed out to buy a Wii on release day. I bought extra controllers, that in itself isn't a problem but as I began buying games for my Wii, all number of peripherals were touted at me. I avoided most, but I did end up buying the plastic gun attachment which was used for Link's Crossbow Training as well as investing in the steering wheel attachments for Mario Kart Wii, the Wii balance board for Wii Fit and various plastic guitars for Guitar Hero and later Rockband.

While the balance board and instruments were essential for their games and couldn't be played without them, Link's Crossbow Training along with the attachments for Mario Kart Wii and Wii Sports (which I resisted buying, thankfully) added nothing to the gameplay and really weren't necessary unless you wanted the 'aesthetic' of a tennis racquet to add to the realism...somehow.

'Toys-To-Life' not Toys-4-Lyf
Now the motion control bubble has burst, there is another contender for my hatred; 'Toys-to-life' games. I'm speaking of course about Lego Dimensions, Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Amiibos.

Twenty years ago the first Pokémon game was released and it was a huge sensation. Gamers were given an open world which was expansive and could be explored; within this world there were literally hundreds (well, 150) unique creatures and each iteration of these creatures could be captured, upgraded and once you had formed your top Pokémon you could battle them against your friends.

It seems to me that some clever corporate mind saw this formula and found a way to monetise it. Initially, sequels could be produced but as this was an adaptation of a card game the repeat purchase was next to zero. So how does one emulate the Pokémon-style "gotta catch 'em all" mindset out of the game in a physical/fiscal sense?

First of all, there was DLC, add-on packs, card packs and other such micro transactions which I have berated in the past. But with the global economic crash, belts were tightened and impulse purchases slowed. Suddenly the idea of paying extra money for an in-game sprite (specifically a new character) didn't seem as fiscally pleasing.

Sure they were still around but at an extremely low cost - after all, how much would you pay for one extra character in a game (fighting beat 'em up games in particular)? I own Injustice: Gods Among Us and while a few of the characters released seemed interesting, I didn't want to part with my money for someone like Lobo, let alone more money for Lobo in different clothes.

Sorry, Lobo...
Subsequently a new way to sell these add-ons was with the reward of a physical figurine; sadly not for Injustice, that might have made me buy one - but still not Lobo. But one toys-to-life figurine, assuming it's not a super rare Amiibo one, costs around £15 ($21). Consider how much money games are in the first place, paying additional money for toys that can improve the game or add whole levels to it is insane. If you're a completionist or collector then you're likely to be shelling out more than the cost of the game in the first place for a special release edition.

From what I gather, from friends who own them and also from being vaguely interested in Skylanders  (was a reboot of Spyro the Dragon, a game I absolutely adored in my youth!) when it was first announced, some of these toys-to-life games would integrate their characters extremely well.


Suped up Falco with a rocket launcher looks like fun.
Skylanders as the first of it's kind seems to me to have utilised this best, players can play through the game with whichever 144 characters they have purchased as each figurine unlocks a completely new controllable character that can play through the game. Not only that, but all of the Portals (the Portal shaped discs that the characters are placed on which, incidentally are interchangeable between consoles!) and the Skylander figures are all backward and forward compatible.

Sure, this game series has taken the Pokémon idea and run with it but there is something charming about this series, you don't have to spend that much to get a full enjoyment of the game. It is unlike it's imitators, in that you can play how you like, with whichever character you choose.

Lego Dimensions like Skylanders allows players to play as various characters in any of the worlds, in a cross contaminated pop-culture fuelled frenzy. Sounds pretty great right? I for one, love the idea of Gandalf meeting Batman or running into Doctor Who but then The Lego Movie already combined various characters from different worlds and did it well.

This game also includes a portal, though unlike Skylanders, it's not a solid piece because this is Lego we're talking about so of course, it's made of Lego and you have to build it (and it looks like a Stargate!). Admittedly, this is rather cool, as is the fact that all of the characters are actual Lego mini figures as opposed to mini-statuettes.
Lego Stargate!

Though, they are rather over-priced in my opinion. Mini figures usually cost around £3 ($4) and the ones that are compatible with the game come in "Fun Packs" which start at £15 ($21) and that includes one compatible mini figure and maybe one item/vehicle.

Another downside is that in all of the fun you can have crossing character worlds and combining franchises, there is a definite gap where Star Wars and Marvel should go (this was the same in The Lego Movie), of course this brings me to Disney.

The Disney toys-to-life series, Infinity, while it does feature Marvel and Star Wars, does not allow players to play any character in any level, if you buy and want to play as a Star Wars character, great! That's pretty cool right? Except actually, it isn't because you are restricted to Star Wars only levels. Individually, self contained levels with their own story. So, really, unless you purchase a character from each level you don't really experience the full game!

Anger? Yeah, that's me.
To make up for this, Disney offers a 'Sandbox' mode where you can play with friends, create your own games, level up your characters and unlock new items. Though in my opinion, this really doesn't make up for the fact that you can't live out your weird, cross-franchise fantasies of Chewbacca running about the Monsters University level scaring kids in the same way you can mash together characters in Lego Dimensions with hilarious consequences.

The only positive thing about Disney Infinity is that if you're a hardcore collector and don't like taking your little plastic figures encased in plastic out of their...plastic (and cardboard) boxes, then you don't have to! Each character has a specific code which will allow you to play as that character without letting the air hitting those precious, not yet worth anything figurines.

It's no surprise that Disney jumped aboard the toys-to-life train, they will always find new ways to make money and we will inevitably continue to give them ours, given that they now own almost every franchise of geekdom available.

Nintendo however, have their own hardcore fandom and they know it well because they exploit it over and over. They know that Nintendo merchandise is sought after because, unlike Disney, it's not as widely available (official merchandise anyway). Amiibos are just another in a long line of extras from the company who have offered us a robot, a glove, Gameboy accessories, motion control and a plethora of plastic peripherals that are sold as a way to increase your enjoyment of a game.

Like real life Super Smash Bros trophies
For me, the main problem with Amiibos lies in their necessity. Sure, you can play an Amiibo Wii U game normally without one but you'll be missing out on content and extra items. If you want to unlock a super bad-ass weapon in a new Zelda game for example, you can't just purchase it as DLC. No, you have to buy the plastic Link toy, only then can you unlock special weapons. The fact you are unable to acquire these perks without the toy is extremely frustrating for those among us who don't want a cheaply made plastic version of Link or in my case, already own plenty of less cheap plastic toys and simply have no room for these peripheral cash-in toys.

Sure you can also use some Amiibos in upcoming titles, but how do you know which new titles will be released? Unless you buy Link or Mario, there's no real point in holding out for multiple cross-game usage.

Also, when they were first manufactured, they looked unlike the shiny prototypes that were showcased at E3, collectors had to search through the shelves to find the best painted ones or the ones that didn't have weird defects. Some with defects even sold on eBay for ludicrous amounts.

Add to that the fact that the supply and demand was vastly miscalculated and Nintendo didn't announce at the beginning that many of their Amiibos would be limited in number.

Er...? Anyone want to buy this super rare beheaded Bowser for $5000? 
Had I subscribed to the Amiibo craze, I would be furious about this. Many players now trawl the web in search of rare figures and those that find what they want will undoubtedly be forking out large sums of money for what is essentially plastic.

Is this a bad thing?

Probably.

Is it the future of gaming?

Probably not.

At this point it's hard to tell, the only thing that really counts is your money so the more you spend, the more they'll continue to be manufactured. But it's no different from 3D, motion controls, the Power Glove, voice activated commands - they are shiny, delicious icing.

The cake can look as complex and intricate as you like but if it tastes like arse, you're not going to want to finish it. Analogy aside (and because I am hungry), core gameplay, character attachment, immersive story and cutting edge visuals are the bread and butter (still hungry) of the home gaming market.

Without them, we end up with flashy arcade experiences.

Admittedly some people like that and there will always be a place for those titles but if you think back to some of your favourite games/moments from decades ago (if you're fortunate enough to be old and wise enough to think back to decades, that is!) chances are they either had no expansions (except maybe The Sims), no additional content or the reason it was memorable was that something within the story captivated you.

Ultimately, toys-to-life games are the latest fad in gaming. They sell millions, yet I imagine, much like the Wii Balance Board they'll eventually be left to gather dust in an attic and be forgotten about until a wave of nostalgia hits and you decide to use them, realising (a decade later) that it doesn't compare to what we have now, some new vogue in gaming that is sure to be touted as the future and requires us to throw all of our money at it.

Maybe I'm bitter? Maybe I'm not in touch with the kids? Or just maybe, there is some truth in it? Let me know what you think in the comments section.

1 comment:

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