Review: Pokémon Go (Launch Edition)

The latest “unless you’ve been living under a rock” craze of 2016 is a simple augmented reality game starring one of Nintendo’s most lucrative ensembles, Pokémon. Once it hit in selected markets, the rest of the world clamored to get it through any means necessary before it saw proper release in their market. It’s been the highlight of countless kids’ summer breaks, and pushed as many adults outside into the hottest temperatures of July.

Is the game any good? Not really. It’s actually bad in many aspects.

But that’s not what’s important here.

Fueled By Nostalgia

Growing up in the nineties I remember the way Pokémon swept through my elementary schools. I saw the little batches of animal-shaped pixels and colorful trading cards supplant the death-grip POGs had upon our school yard. Frankly, watching unexpected coworkers and acquaintances hunt the same creatures in the middle of my daily routine is very similar.

Back then, I asked for the Game Boy games as gifts; whether my parents had heard what a deep rabbit hole of cash it was, or we couldn’t afford them that year, or what, I never did end up joining in on the fad. I claimed I was too old for such a childish property to hide my outsider angst and peeked over the shoulders of friends and cousins when they battled gyms or sought Mewtwo in his lair. Later I caught up with the franchise on the DS and have since amassed a “living dex” in the current generation of games. So I approached this game with some interest: being Canadian I had to wait a week for the opportunity to play it legit, and I wanted to see what the hubbub was about.

After a week of playing it somewhat casually, I’m still not sure what it’s about. The game caters to the nostalgia of my specific generation while exploiting our dependence on our smartphones, or simply offers children something neat to do with a new technological experience. Once you’re hooked the compulsion to reach higher levels will push you to wander your neighborhood, catch stronger monsters, and challenge gyms.

Look past the gimmick and the mobile game hysteria, however, and you begin to see the game’s massive flaws. Players are forced to capture hordes of useless, weak, and undesirable monsters like Ratatas, Pidgeys, and Weedles just for the chance to capture slightly stronger clones of the same species, and maybe a rarer breed in the process. The actual battles are best played as frantic screen-tappers with the barest minimum of strategy. Team development is a joke, a tedious experience that shames many old school RPGs – catch monsters for candy, “transfer” monsters for candy, repeat.

And yet, despite this shallow gameplay, the world is hooked.

The Medium is the Message

It’s not the game itself that’s important; it’s the experience. Pokémon Go may shamelessly appeal to your inner child to lure you in, but it also fulfills the greatest daydream of those halcyon days – finding those monsters in your everyday life. You could find your beloved Charmander on your own front step, or Ponyta in your backyard, or the Magikarp you eventually evolve into Gyarados at your favourite real-world fishing spot. For many, it’s a childhood wish brought to life.

Debatedly, the most important feature is its teams. The war between the three coloured factions does so much to add incentive and replay value. When players aren’t playing, they’re debating which team is better and strategizing with teammates to take down local gyms.

The most tremendous thing it has accomplished is getting kids out and about. Older generations like to complain about how kids are glued to their smartphones and televisions, rarely leaving the house or engaging in the old pasttimes; now kids are glued to their smartphones outside, exploring their neighborhoods. I have seen such a dramatic spike in the number of kids outside enjoying the summer over the last week, like roaming packs of scooter-bound Pokémon hunters. Coworkers have marveled at the family time they’ve spent, walking 5-10km in a single night with kids who, a week prior, complained of boredom while refusing to do anything fun.

It’s the ultimate compromise between the old ways and the new, like a grand scavenger hunt, a turf war, and an MMORPG rolled into one package, played in the real world. Players are exploring the real world with a technological tool as a lens, and in the process enhancing their engagement with both worlds. The game itself may be a piece of trash in its current state, but it’s also so much more than the sum of its code; as an overall experience, it’s the most influential game in decades.

Acquisitions – Waterloo Video Game Swap, Fall 2015

A few months back I shared my experiences at past iterations of the Waterloo Video Game Swap, North America’s largest game swap event. That wonderful time of year has come round again and my collection got just a little bit bigger again.

I’ve stated my approach to collecting retro video games before – I like to go to an event or store with a particular focus and go from there. My library is pretty general compared to others; I don’t (yet) hunt for 100% complete packages, or for obscure consoles, so an event such as WVGS is open season for me. Loose cartridges abound, all kinds of rarities and oddities are available, and prices are negotiable, if not already exceptional. I could, funds provided, walk out with a stack of titles as tall as me and still have left things behind, so having a goal keeps me in line. 

I didn’t have much of a goal this time around, however. You could say moderation was my goal. After scouring the room a couple times (which could be compared to salmon swimming upstream), I set my eyes on Mario Kart: Double Dash (GCN), as I found it at three vendors for the best price I’ve seen for it, $40.

  
I missed this one when it first came out, for no real reason, and have been told repeatedly since that it’s the best in the franchise. Since I started filling out my once-embarrassing GameCube library, I’ve had my eye out for it. So, holes in the collection and in my gaming experience filled, two birds with one disc.

I have to admit, however, that there were fewer temptations for me this time. This is my fourth Swap and the first time I made my purchase decision so quickly. Afterwards I continued sweeping the tables for other gems (a couple of which I acted too slowly on), but I could have left after forty minutes.

Another goal I had was to trade a Bowser Jr Amiibo for something I’d prefer. Rosalina was the top of that list, but that was perhaps the only rare Amiibo I didn’t see there. Ultimately no one took me up on it, though I did nearly swap it for Shulk. My only other purchase was a couple stickers to swag out my rather plain-looking New 3DS.

  
It’s important for collectors to be able to show restraint. I could have splurged on some other titles, sure, but opted not to push the budget. If those extras weren’t high-priority gaps in my library or things I want to play in the short future, it’s just gratuitous.

Above and beyond the purchases, the event itself is so fun to attend. The chatter is entertaining, there are so many cool items to look at.

Supply & Diimand

Another wave of Nintendo’s Amiibo figures launched at the end of May, but if you walk into your local game store you might not see any confirmation of that. What stock was available was quickly decimated by savvy gamers and scalpers. (I had an opportunity to look for the Lucina figure about an hour after stores opened and there was hardly any new stock available, save the less popular options.)

If you’ve heard anything about these little plastic cash-sinks (on this blog, for instance) you should not be surprised. Nintendo’s supply has been laughable from the product line’s launch in November; every subsequent wave has been met with consumer frenzy; and opportunistic merchants have pillaged stores for eBay fodder. If you knew nothing about the figures and saw their display in a store, you might think Amiibo were only for the classic characters of the Super Mario franchise – not for lesser known characters appearing in Smash Bros, like the Animal Crossing Villager or Fire Emblem protagonists.

The situation is officially out of hand now.

I eventually found one off Kijiji, from a rare re-seller who didn't charge triple MSRP.
I eventually found one off Kijiji, from a rare re-seller who didn’t charge triple MSRP.

Organized Chaos

After the frustrations of the first launch, it was easy to point fingers at Nintendo for under-stocking retailers, or at a port strike in the US for clogging up imports. The Big N was simply following its usual business practices, however. It’s been a long-standing tactic to keep supply low in order to drive demand higher – it’s Business 101 executed immaculately. It worked for the Super Nintendo, it worked for the Wii, and it’s worked incredibly well for Amiibos.

I was disappointed in Nintendo at the start too. To undersupply consoles, or even games, is one thing; they sell at a higher price at a one-time-per-household rate. The Amiibo, however, are a much cheaper collectible item. The dedicated collector wants to obtain at least one of each (the obsessive might get two, one to use and one to preserve); the casual gamer who hops on the bandwagon probably wants two or three of his favourite characters.

It seemed, back in November, like a pretty big blunder. One of the hottest figures was for Marth, a staple of the Smash Bros competitive scene for over a decade, and his figure remains unattainable. I will forever kick myself for not buying one at the Smash Bros for Wii U midnight launch – but that’s the rub. “That figure looks cool, but I don’t need it right now,” I told myself. “I’ll try out the Link figure, and if these things are fun maybe I’ll grab him later.” Silly me for assuming a company would supply its product sufficiently, right? I’ve got a small cluster of Disney Infinity figures and have never had a problem finding a specific one. As Disney Infinity 3.0 producer John Vignocchi recently said, when asked if his game would be affected by the Amiibo craze:

There is never an intention to create a shortage of any [Infinity] figures. It is irresponsible and rude to your hardcore fans. They don’t want to create frustration or the hunt. So they will be stocking the shelves well!

This is what displays should look like.
This is what displays should look like.

Now, however, it’s important to remember this was (mostly) a deliberate move by Big N. In a way, the current sky-high demand for the plastic statues is ideal for them. The masses clamour and scour stores weekly in hopes of finding that elusive piece for their collection.  Once again Nintendo has smartly played the market – but it’s time to change strategies.


The Lunatics Run the Asylum

An Amiibo retails for $14 CDN. Ideally you should be able to walk into a store and pay $42 to pick up the Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer figures. Instead, look at the reality in this eBay listing:


Yup, these figures (called “the Holy Trinity” by some) as a lot go for nearly ten times the MSRP. If this seller paid retail price for them, he stands to make about $330 off the sale, by Canadian dollar standards.

And this is the problem with the ongoing Amiibo shortage. Demand is through the roof, certainly higher than even Nintendo’s most optimistic executive hoped, because of the artificial shortage – mission accomplished there. But now it’s not Nintendo making money off the product, it’s the legion of scalpers and hunters snapping up rare figures and exploiting others for insane profits.

Back in 1991, Nintendo could withhold Super Nintendos from retailers to ensure its subsequent shipments would be snapped up quickly without much interference from opportunists like this. The internet didn’t exist and scalpers could only prey upon people nearby. eBay and its ilk allow these sharks to exploit people all around the world nowadays.

Now, whenever someone sells a Marth figure for $100 or more, the bar is pushed a little bit higher. One shark sees another score that price and starts his auctions around the same price.

I’d wager that the vast majority of these opportunists aren’t even Nintendo fans, or at least have no interest in the actual application of the figures. So they score the figures at retail price and sell them back to dedicated fans or collectors for many times their investment – and now both fans and Nintendo are losing out. An incredible greed has accumulated around the entire Amiibo line, and it’s become little more than a cash-grab for opportunists.


Show Us Riispect

Nintendo truly needs to step up its production game now. The product is a great success in supply/demand terms, yes, but the company is no longer profiting from their own success. Those $330 profits aren’t coming back to them, or their retailers. Worst of all, there’s a wall of extortion between their dedicated consumers and their product. The Big N does itself and its customers a disservice. It’s past time to abandon the artificial shortages and get sufficient stock back on the shelves, or else scalpers will continue to exploit both supplier and consumer.

5 Must-Play Nintendo 3DS Titles

Last week Nintendo finally announced the North American and European release of their updated New 3DS system, alongside the hotly-anticipated remake of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and a host of other first-party titles. Maybe this news has finally convinced you to check out the handheld, or perhaps dust off that system you got years ago; or maybe you’re a StreetPass warrior like me who takes their Ambassador 3DS everywhere. Whatever the case may be, the 3DS has a great catalogue of titles worthy of your time – and if you’re wondering where to start, or if you’ve missed the best experiences it has to offer, I’m here to help.

Honorable Mention: Super Mario 3D Land (2011)

A Nintendo system without a Mario? Madness.
A Nintendo system without a Mario? Madness.

Can you imagine a Nintendo console without a main Mario title? These are mandatory experiences – you can’t own a NES without Super Mario Bros, a SNES without Super Mario World, etc. I can’t necessarily claim these are the absolute best experiences on their respective consoles in every case, but the fact remains that each Nintendo system has a Mario game worth at least a chunk of your time. In the case of the 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land is the one to try, superior to its followup, New Super Mario Bros 2 and its coin gimmick. 3D Land includes all the best features of the franchise and a lot of depth for completionists and perfectionists alike.

Honourable Mention: StreetPass Plaza (2011)

Shallow, perhaps, but a completionist's dream pre-installed.
Shallow, perhaps, but a completionist’s dream pre-installed.

This built-in feature from day one is simultaneously six games in one, and yet not a full game in its own right. It’s a glorified encouragement to carry your 3DS when you go out and about, to activate StreetPass and anonymously tag strangers without any effort. It offers two mini-games (and four others you can purchase), all of which take only a couple minutes to enjoy. StreetPass is a great way to spread some good karma and have a little fun – and it’s built-in to the system, so you might as well give it a try.

5) Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2013)

Never has simulated debt been so much fun.
Never has simulated debt been so much fun.

I’ve played every AC game since the GameCube original and I still struggle to define its concept or its appeal. On one level, it’s a life sim (or a debt sim, depending on your outlook): you move to a new city populated by anthropomorphic animals and are gently pushed to do certain mindless tasks to earn money to buy new items or repay your mortgage. New Leaf takes a better approach to the formula than its Wii predecessor, City Folk – this time you are made mayor of your new hometown (a fitting decision, since in previous games you do more to improve your town than the actual mayor). This brings a handful of new features that enhance the core gameplay instead of detracting from it.

This is perhaps the finest iteration of the franchise since the original. It adds new features that enhance the game in a way the other sequels didn’t – it makes gameplay more intuitive like Wild World (DS), and incorporates a retail district to every town in a more organic way than City Folk. Animal Crossing is truly at home on a portable system, since it’s so dependent on daily gameplay.

With Play Coins you can get random Nintendo pieces and let your fanboy flag fly. This was the beginning of the Nintendo museum in my basement.
With Play Coins you can get random Nintendo pieces and let your fanboy flag fly. This was the beginning of the Nintendo museum in my basement.

And yet, I still struggle to encapsulate what makes the game so fun. It would be easy to see the game’s tasks as menial and pointless – doing a host of chores daily, fishing, interacting with villagers that possess one of a small handful of personalities, collecting items, repaying massive debts on virtual homes… A pessimist could have a field day decrying the shallowness of the gameplay. But if you visit your town daily and sink 30-60 minutes into the game, you’ll be surprised by how much fun you can have. Suffice it to say: I got the game when it launched in June 2013, and didn’t miss a single day until October, when Pokemon X/Y came out.

4) Bravely Default (2014)

Alternate title, Final Fantasy: Bravely Default
Alternate title, Final Fantasy: Bravely Default

It may not be printed on the box, but this is a Final Fantasy game in every way. You’ll recognize the class system, the item names, and a host of other features, especially if you’ve played early FF games. In what I deem one of their biggest flubs in recent history, Square-Enix opted not to call Bravely Default a proper Final Fantasy game, but this did nothing to detract from its success.

Bravely Default is a more traditional JRPG – in my opinion, the best of its ilk on the platform, if not the best made in the past five years. You take your four-person party from city to dungeon to city, gaining experience and improving your items to progress further in the story. You know what to expect from the genre and Default delivers, but it doesn’t toe the line of cliche and unoriginality. Its story and gameplay throw enough curveballs at you to reinvigorate the genre standard, and man, is it ever a challenge sometimes.

The art style adds an even more whimsical layer to this traditional RPG.
The art style adds an even more whimsical layer to this traditional RPG.

Instead of simply selecting “Attack” or “Magic” from the battle menu, you need to make more tactical decisions using its Brave Point system – each action requires a certain amount of stockpiled BP to perform. You can unleash that big attack that costs 4BP on your first turn in battle, but that character will be forced to stand idly by until they regenerate back to 1BP; or you can stockpile from turn one by defending, and unleash hell on turn four. It’s a simple system that brings a lot of depth and tactical thinking – you need to budget your actions in battle as much as you need to plan your party outside of battle.

There’s also a host of features utilizing the hardware. You can call in your friends from the system proper or from StreetPass to help you out in battle, or even impart abilities on your party. For example, if you StreetPass with me early in your game, your Agnes will be able to borrow abilities from my much stronger version of Agnes from later in the game – and if you really get stuck in a nasty boss battle, you can tag me in for one particularly useful ability.

3) Resident Evil: Revelations (2012)

Let's be honest, a Nintendo library could use some Mature-rated games.
Let’s be honest, a Nintendo library could use some Mature-rated games.

As Bravely Default was a reinvigoration for Square-Enix and Final Fantasy, Revelations is a much-needed return to form for the Resident Evil series. A lot of fans, myself included, have been turned off by its recent deviations from the classic survival-horror formula of dark environments and dwindling supplies. Revelations brings all that back, minus the traditional zombies, and provides perhaps the most true Resident Evil experience since RE3: Nemesis.

You play as classic characters Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, along with a couple of newcomers who fit the franchise well, and explore a boat drifting at sea while fighting off the bizarre creatures who have overrun it. The enemies are zombie-like but unique, a nice return to form without recycling old ideas to death (or risking racial insensitivity like RE5). I was having flashbacks to RE2 and RE3 as I backtracked and scoured for ammo.

Inventory management and maps on the bottom screen, plus moving and shooting - a godsend for the series.
Inventory management and maps on the bottom screen, plus moving and shooting – a godsend for the series.

Granted, Revelations has since been ported to PS3, 360, and Wii U, but I think it works best on its original platform – the smaller screen enhances the sense of claustrophobia, and the optional gyroscopic features are natural with the handheld. And then there’s the StreetPass features, which provide unique missions in familiar environments and reward you with better items.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how awesome it is to move and shoot in a Resident Evil game. It’s a little wooden because Resident Evil, but my god, it was such a thrill to experience that for the first time.

2) Fire Emblem: Awakening (2013)

As in "Awakening to find you've played until your battery is dying."
As in “Awakening to find you’ve played until your battery is dying.”

Fire Emblem is perhaps the most under-utilized of Nintendo’s under-utilized franchises – like Metroid and F-Zero, it wasn’t brought to North America at all until the Game Boy Advance era, and thus most fans in the region had only been exposed to it via Marth’s inclusion in the Smash Bros games.

Awakening was perhaps the highest profile game in the series prior to its release, and was a tremendous success for the platform. It’s the same proven gameplay the series has boasted since the NES with modern sensibilities like flashy combat animations (which can be disabled or fast-forwarded, thankfully), and a deeper customization system. Its story may be a little derivative from other JRPGs or animes, but its the gameplay that will keep you truly enthralled.

I’ve rarely had this much fun pouring so much effort into training and retrainiing. Each unit is essentially a blank slate for you to paint as you please with enough proper training and a touch of breeding. You can pair certain party members and built their relationships until they wed and you earn a child unit with the best of their parents’ abilities – in fact, I could describe my party-planning process for my third playthrough as little more than eugenics, picking the perfect partner for each unit until I had a team of uber-powered super-soldiers.

There are so many ways to pair your characters and create super offspring, even if it is a bit of a contrived mechanic story-wise.
There are so many ways to pair your characters and create super offspring, even if it is a bit of a contrived mechanic story-wise.

Like many, Awakening was my first experience with the franchise, having missed the installments on GBA, DS, GameCube, and Wii, and it inspired me to see what I’ve missed – and yet I can’t bring myself to try the others, as Awakening’s features are so awesome that I can’t imagine playing the series without them. Things like the enhanced partnership system, which allows you to pair two units together for mutual stat boosts, or the Casual game mode where units don’t die forever. One of Fire Emblem’s hallmarks has always been permadeath – if your best archer falls in battle, it’s gone forever. Awakening is one of the first instalments to offer a bit of mercy on this front, and without it I couldn’t personally enjoy the game fully. I tried Classic and was punished too harshly to continue, but this may float your boat. Regardless, Awakening is an excellent strategy RPG with a ton of replayability and depth, well worth your time.

1) Pokemon X/Y (2013) or Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire (2014)

Fuel for the "Pokemon is out of gas" argument: mascots designed after letters.
Fuel for the “Pokemon is out of gas” argument: mascots designed after letters.

The eternal quest to catch ’em all continues on the 3DS in fine form. This is one of my guilty pleasure franchises, and I have to say, these are the finest entries in the series.

First, a note on the different games: X and Y are the proper main games of the series’ Generation VI, introducing a new batch of collectible monsters in a brand new region. ORAS, however, is a remake of the Gen III main games, Ruby and Sapphire, taking place in a familiar region but with all the modern features. I recommend playing XY first, as ORAS refines some of the new 3DS functionality, and I personally prefer the Y and Omega Ruby installments.

Tell me Groudon wasn't based on Godzilla.
Tell me Groudon wasn’t based on Godzilla.

Anyway. You know what to expect from a Pokemon game by now – you play a young person who embarks on a quest to see the world, catalogue its indigenous creatures, thwart the plans of a cliche evil group, and become the champion of the region’s Pokemon League. Storywise, neither game is doing much to shake up the formula – you’re still limited to your region, your enemies are still incompetent, you’re still going to encounter the legendary monster depicted on the game’s box. The same checkboxes are going to be checked.

What the game attempts instead is a shake-up of that checklist, especially in ORAS. You aren’t pushed as heavily to take on the Pokemon League; in a way, the story becomes open-ended once you best the Legendary creature, and the NPCs tell you you’re free to do what you want from there on – “do contests, take on the championship, fill your Pokedex, do whatever you want, see if we care.” Of course you haven’t truly beaten the game until you beat the League and then complete the epilogue chapter, Delta Episode, but for once you’re given a sense of freedom, even if it is illusionary.

For the first time in the main series, battles take place in full 3D – a feature formerly reserved for spin-off console games like Stadium. It’s hard to go back to even the most recent games like Gen V’s Black 2 after this jump forward. Speaking of 3D, the games make smart use of the hardware’s potential. Only battles and certain special environments are rendered in full 3D, if you have it activated at all, reducing the battery drain. It’s a smart decision and a nice touch.

Both games make full use of the 3DS’ hardware, except for the cameras, which are shoehorned in to a sub-feature within the StreetPass functionality. The dual screens are utilized well (even if they lack a bloody clock in the corner) – organizing your party and your storage boxes has never been more efficient thanks to the proper incorporation of the touch screen. Online features are a couple of touches away – no more need to boot the game up with these shortcuts activated as in Gen V, or to scurry back to a Pokemon Center anytime your friend wants to trade as in the first four generations, or travel to a certain location to use the Global Trade System. Special “apps” make training your party’s potential or bonding with your little monsters easier than ever, and ORAS adds handy tools for navigating or for collecting all the Pokemon in your current location. Your top screen is all spectacle, and the bottom screen is all utility – it’s a perfect synergy between hardware potential and fun gameplay.

Full 3D exploration and easy access to online features, but they couldn't sneak a little clock in there somewhere?
Full 3D exploration and easy access to online features, but they couldn’t sneak a little clock in there somewhere?

If there’s one feature criminally underused, it’s StreetPass. I expected being able to battle with people you pass, or at least being able to see what those people are using in their parties. Instead you get practically nothing but an additional form of currency with a horrible redemption rate for certain useful and rare items. So many games make such smart use of this cornerstone feature, it’s disappointing to see it reduced to so little in Nintendo’s most lucrative franchise.

Series veterans can, with the use of two separate apps from the eShop, transfer their banked creatures from the previous generations to the modern era. Some will even be updated to the brand new element/type, Fairy, which has done a lot to redefine the core gameplay – a long overdue rebalancing of the type matchups that gives some underused types more use and another overused type a big counter. Another franchise-rattling addition is the Mega Evolution system. Certain fully-evolved Pokemon, after a certain point in the story, can hold special species-specific items to “mega evolve” during battle, for the duration of that battle, into a new super-powered form. For some species, this opens up entirely new strategies, and for others it enriches current approaches. If nothing else, it’s a flashy new touch and a shakeup of existing formulas – many fans have long called for new evolutions of these established creatures, or for a “fourth evolution” level, and Mega Evolutions provides this without totally revising the franchise’s history.

There are many games that either offer a great experience or make full use of the hardware’s potential, and both Pokemon pairs do both exceptionally.

And really, this is just the cream of the crop, in my opinion. There’s a host of other options, from Nintendo staples like Zelda (including an original title and a Ocarina of Time remake, plus Majora’s Mask next month) and Kid Icarus to third-party gems like Kingdom Hearts. Whether you’re jumping on the bandwagon with the New 3DS or hopping back on, there’s a wealth of great experiences waiting for you on this platform. Few systems today can offer so many deep experiences and quality, unique titles in one place.

And for the record, here’s a taste of my most played titles:

Did I mention I've played this system a lot over the past four years?
Did I mention I’ve played this system a lot over the past four years?

Are Amiibos Worth It?

Since they launched alongside Super Smash Bros for Wii U back in November, Nintendo’s line of Amiibo figurines have been flying off store shelves as quickly as they can be stocked. (In fact, within three weeks 710, 000 units were sold, and for some retailers they’re outselling Skylanders figurines – an established, multiplatform series.) Dedicated collectors are shelling out crazy amounts of money for rare units like Marth or Little Mac, and the next wave of figures in February includes retailer-exclusive characters that sold out as soon as preorders opened.

It’s hard to refute that the Amiibo line is already a success for Nintendo, but are they nothing more than collectibles? What about their in-game use? Should you bother hunting down an army of plastic mascots? I’m here to walk you through it – ask yourself these questions:

Strangest army you'll ever see.
My current lineup of Amiibo soldiers.

1. Do you have the consoles and games that support them?

Currently only three Wii U games support Amiibo features – Super Smash Bros, Hyrule Warriors, and Mario Kart 8 – and of them only Smash utilizes the entire line in a real capacity. This number will quickly increase and include 3DS titles as well, but you’ll need to invest in either a portal for your old 3DS/3DSXL/2DS or a brand new New 3DS to that end.

2. Does the Amiibo-related content interest you?

In Smash, you can train an AI-controlled version of the character you’ve purchased to fight as your ally or your enemy. It’s a very comprehensive process, done right, and one of my favourite aspects of the game. By training and sparring against my quartet of plastic combatants, I think I’ve improved greatly as a Smash player (but still nowhere near the skill of tourney players). But what about the other games?
You can use Amiibos to get materials daily in Hyrule Warriors, especially with the four figures from the Zelda franchise (Link or Toon Link will unlock an exclusive weapon at first; Zelda and Shiek yield rarer materials). That’s the extent of it. If you’re collecting figures for other purposes and still playing Hyrule Warriors (for which I would not blame you – man, that game is deep), you’ll prosper, but I’d be surprised if anyone invested in a $14 figure just to get some materials in one game.
The Mii costumes you unlock by scanning an Amiibo into MK8 (once) are awesome tributes to the characters – but only a handful of figurines from prominent Nintendo-central franchises are included. All you really need is a friend who owns those particular figures to come by and tap them against your Wii U gamepad and you’ve achieved all you can with them.

Which figures work in which games, and what they net you.
Handy compatibility chart by Twitter user @moldyclay

3. Is there a character you like/use enough?

At launch, I grabbed Link because he’s one of my Smash mains and compatible with the three main titles so far. Samus followed a couple days later. Next was Pikachu, who is my wife’s favourite character, because I wanted to train an ally for her to help balance the scales when she obliges me and plays. And when I saw a local listing for a Little Mac figure, I snapped it up for rarity’s sake, and again, because I enjoy playing him. I’d love to do the same for Lucario, but chances are slim with its exclusivity.
All that said, I’m not interested in many of the figures – the Kongs, for example. I don’t use them in Smash, and the Donkey Kong franchise is one of my least favourite of Nintendo’s staples. (Don’t get me started on how much attention he steals from Samus.) There’s no incentive to get them in my case.
So ask yourself – are my mains in Smash Bros included in the Amiibo lineup? Do I yearn to race as a Mii version of myself wearing Captain Falcon’s trademark helmet? If you only use Bowser Jr and you’re not an obsessive-compulsive collector, Amiibos probably don’t have much to offer you right now.

4. Are the figures you want available?

This may be the biggest hurdle for many people: supply. There’s a reason Marth sold out quickly – his fan base, thanks to the tournament scene, is far bigger than the number of Marth Amiibos produced. Retailer-exclusive units like Rosalina and Lucario will be incredibly difficult to come by. You’ll have to rely on outlets like eBay to get the rare figures at this point – and please, for the love of the industry, do not oblige the scalpers and pay too much for these things. Frankly, as much as I like this new system, the figures are not worth much more than their retail cost, and scalpers are out of hand with all of Nintendo’s recent supply-and-demand shortcomings.

Allow me to illustrate. Below is the most expensive single item auction I could find on eBay for Marth at the time of this writing. By the Canadian prices, you could buy about 33 Amiibo figures for the same price as this single rare figure – and there are currently only 29 announced.

Seriously, fuck scalpers like this.
This little guy is selling for more than the retail price of all three waves of figures. Scalpers are a plague on the industry.

Mainstream, recognizable characters are readily available though, like Mario, Luigi, Link, Samus, Kirby, and so on. They may not be the top choice of tourney champions but they may be the characters who bear the most nostalgia for you.

If you answered yes to all four questions, I wish you luck in plucking your figure(s) of choice from the horde of rabid shoppers – and enjoy!