Since the 1980s, Nintendo has always seemed to be the “family-friendly” choice in video games. With wholesome characters such as Mario and Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and Toad, and bad guys that make you laugh more often than they scare you (except for Bowser in the original Super Mario Bros. game on NES—he was straight up scary), Nintendo has always given off a welcoming, family-friendly vibe, with games available for kids of all ages, and systems and controllers that are intuitive rather than intimidating.
Despite knowing this—and being a Nintendo fan my whole life—it still caught me a bit off-guard when Nintendo announced that it would be launching amiibo, which are action-figures designed to connect and interact with compatible games. “By holding the amiibo over your Wii U GamePad, you’ll open up new experiences within each corresponding game,” reads the Nintendo website.
The play pattern and the product itself are actually a great fit for the Nintendo franchise, the characters of which are so visual and well-known already. Both older collectors and young kids are sure to be all over amiibo when it hits retail this holiday season. But what surprised me was Nintendo’s decision to utilize a play pattern that is not altogether new and different, since the company is known for introducing original concepts, from the Power Pad of the ’80s to the Wii and the Wii U game controllers.
The “toys-to-life” category that melds action figures and video games has rapidly expanded since Activision launched Skylanders in 2011. Disney Interactive’s Disney Infinity followed suit last year, and has also seen much success. Nintendo’s amiibo will be the third player in this arena, which is either boosting the toy industry’s action figure category or taking dollars away from it, depending on whom you ask. (Seeing as The NPD Group considers these items as part of the video game category, rather than the action figure category, action figures are taking a bit of a hit.)
With the launch of amiibo, Nintendo is making a statement. The company remains committed to bringing video games to kids and families in a fun and friendly manner. Further proof of this promise was yesterday’s news that Nintendo has launched the colorful and kid-friendly Play Nintendo website, at play.nintendo.com. At the site, kids can learn about the characters, play games, take quizzes, watch videos and game trailers, and more. In fact, I just learned from the site that Toad will be setting off on his very own adventure, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, for the Wii U—and it looks really fun. The whole site seems like something I could sit and enjoy with my 4-year-old, but that could entertain an 8- or 9-year-old as well.
Most interesting is the Parent’s section of the website. Whether parents want to learn more about the characters and how to have fun playing video games with their kids, look for appropriate games for beginners, or find advice on balancing screen time with outdoor play, it’s all here for parents to explore.
Nintendo seems to be thinking like a toy manufacturer rather than a video game manufacturer, and that’s okay with me. As long as the company can keep up the good work on the video game end, I’m interested to see where the company is headed. Welcome to the toy industry, Nintendo!
Check back regularly for more commentaries from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!