In February, Nintendo announced that the Wii classic The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword would be coming to the Switch as a high definition remaster, slated for release on July 16, 2021. During that initial reveal, it was announced that it would include amiibo functionality, which often indicates that at least one exclusive amiibo would be releasing as well. It wasn’t until this past Wednesday that we received confirmation of this assumption in the form of the character Zelda with a crimson loftwing creature.
Amiibo figures have proven to be largely popular for Nintendo, selling more than a combined 60 million units in physical toys and cards. This particular amiibo however pushes the figures from simple collectibles that offer minor in-game bonuses to obvious cash grab, sullying the enjoyment of owning these toys in the first place.
Now, I want to say that I really enjoy collecting amiibo. I have roughly 150 of the toys-to-life figures with plenty more still to obtain. They debuted in 2014 with an electrifying trailer showing then Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime fighting against the late, great Satoru Iwata, and if this presentation didn’t make you at least interested in owning one of the small statues, then you must just hate fun.
These finely crafted toys don’t just allow you to display classic video game characters such as Mario, Sonic, and Pac-Man, but also come with a tiny chip that connects with a variety of games on the 3DS, Wii U, and Switch. The amiibo figures were part of a craze in the early to mid-2000s of similar toys-to-life figurines, such as Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and Lego Dimensions, but where the others have since shuttered production, Nintendo’s amiibo continues to go strong.
As awesome as they can be, amiibos haven’t been without criticism. Supply issues have been abundant since before they even launched, with pre-orders of the first batch selling out so quick that President Iwata expressed genuine surprise during that year’s fiscal earnings meeting. Many of the toys have been exclusive to only some retailers as well, making it much harder for consumers to get their hands on the elusive products.
The content that amiibo unlock has also been a major ire of criticism. Some have claimed that the toys are essentially a way for Nintendo to offer more expensive downloadable content (DLC) for its games in the form of a physical product. Often, amiibo scanned in a game will unlock something benign. Yoshi’s Wooly World, for example, had additional costume designs for Yoshi to sport after the player scans certain amiibo figures. Sometimes though, much more beneficial content can only be accessed by using one of these statues. The Switch version of Diablo 3 was compatible with the GameStop exclusive treasure goblin amiibo, and using this figure would spawn one of the rare creatures into the game, allowing players to reap major rewards from it. The Wii U game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD also had an amiibo made for it, this time being the protagonist Wolf Link accompanied by his partner Midna, and with it the player could unlock a new challenging dungeon that provides astonishing rewards.
Nintendo’s latest figure goes even further, so much so that it threatens the casual nature of collecting these toys, and sullies the experience many gamers will have with the end product.
For starters, the Zelda with Loftwing amiibo is marked up in price from $15.99 USD to $24.99 USD. Fans wanting this new figure will have to pony up nearly 60% more just to have it on their shelf. This isn’t the first figure to do this: the gigantic Detective Pikachu amiibo was twice as much as normal, but it also was at least twice as large as most figures, too.
This wouldn’t be such an issue if the amiibo didn’t provide such a substantive feature. This amiibo allows the player to instantly warp to the town of Skyloft and back to where they were simply by scanning the amiibo’s base. This feature directly rectifies many criticisms of tediousness that were levied at the original Wii release, and immediately changes the way in which many will experience the Switch HD remaster.
In the original game, the player begins in city in the sky called Skyloft. Here, the player can make upgrades to their gear, purchase new items, rest up, and generally prepare themselves for adventure in the world below. Often while exploring the wilderness beneath the clouds, especially in labyrinthine dungeons, the player may find need to return to Skyloft. Perhaps they have found rare materials that can make their equipment stronger. Maybe they have run out of potions, and need to refill. Whichever the case may be, returning to Skyloft requires the player to backtrack considerably in order to call their loftwing bird companion. Once business if finished in Skyloft, the player must then trek back to where they were, again putting themselves in harm’s way.
The need for backtracking often worked as a deterrent for me when I originally played, making me question if returning and using all that time and losing some progress that I had made was actually worth it. Now, by utilizing the Zelda amiibo, I don’t have to worry about backtracking. I can seemingly go to Skyloft after I collect any item if I felt the need, and being able to return to exactly where I left off allows me to just keep on adventuring. There is no risk, only reward. The strategy of the game is completely changed.
This feature may increase the fun, this may make the game flow better, it may make gathering materials easier, but in any and all of these areas it alters the way the game will be experienced. Players are expected to spend ample time in the wilderness below, risking life and limb for materials and treasure, and returning to Skyloft only when it was necessary and convenient. With the Zelda amiibo, it makes every time convenient, and most all situations no longer necessary.
I am also concerned about the availability of the Zelda with loftwing amiibo. As stated before, amiibo accessibility in stores has been a constant issue. At the time of this writing, preorders for the figure are already sold out on Amazon, Best Buy, and Gamestop’s websites. Now isn’t the time to panic; most assuredly, Nintendo will replenish stock in time, but who’s to say that the figure will still be available months from now? Should Nintendo not keep up with demand, then… well… you’ve seen what’s happened with the Series X and PS5.
Availability wouldn’t be as big of a problem if Nintendo offered a secondary way to obtain the content that the amiibo unlocks, but they don’t. Listing the feature on the Nintendo digital eShop, even for the same exact price, would make the availability a moot point. Anyone wanting the feature would be able to obtain it without having to resort to third parties. As it stands now, players wanting to return to Skyloft in a flash likely need to act sooner rather than later, or risk never having that ability at all.
What’s more confusing to me is that this Zelda with loftwing amiibo is the only amiibo functional with Skyward Sword HD. In 2017, Nintendo released a figure of Link from this game, yet this statue reportedly does nothing for the Switch game. Allowing this already released toy to perform the same action would alleviate some of the stress of an inventory shortage, but alas it is only the Zelda amiibo that has any function.
The $24.99 USD price tag becomes even more alarming when one of the main criticisms of the Switch version of the game has been that Nintendo will charge a full price of $59.99 USD for a nearly 10 year-old game. When it released on the Wii in 2011, it was only $49.99 USD, the retail price of most Wii games at that time, so it’s now even more expensive than back then. The game does have some upgrades in addition to the amiibo support that Nintendo is using to justify the rise in price: updated controls using the Switch’s improved joycons as well as more traditional controls that don’t involve motion; HD visuals; and of course running on newer hardware, undoubtedly making the game perform more smoothly. Still, Nintendo is asking players to pay full price for a game that came out almost a decade ago, at a higher price than it originally released, and in addition $24.99 USD for a much asked for feature. Players wanting the full Skyward Sword experience will be expected to put forward roughly $85 USD before taxes.
Nintendo will undoubtedly make money on this scheme. It’s unquestionable to me that Skyward Sword will sell extremely well on the popular Switch, even better than it did on the Wii, and the Zelda + loftwing amiibo will too add to the video game developer’s billions. It’s a great move business-wise for them.
But as consumers, as fans of Nintendo and Zelda and amiibo, this figure continues a dangerous trend of withholding meaningful content behind an expensive, limited paywall. Although not entirely DLC, this practice comes with the same perils.
I am conflicted on this figure. I look upon my shelf, knowing that without this figure my collection will never be complete. I can envision a spot in which she and the crimson bird would perch amongst it’s other Zelda brethren. And yet, by buying this toy, I am telling Nintendo that I support this practice. I am saying that it’s ok to tie quality of life improvements to an expensive physical figure. By giving them money, I am actively encouraging Nintendo to do this again-and-again in the future, perhaps even keeping even more substantive content behind even pricier figurines.
I don’t want that. As an impassioned fan of both video games and amiibos, Nintendo should not make owning one so much a necessity that not owning it impacts the overall game play. These are meant to be fun, simple toys that reward the biggest of fans with a little something extra; this figure sullies that innocent charm. It exposes the video game industry, and all the merchandise tied to it, for what it really is: unequivocal, ruthless, capitalist greed.
Josh Cornett has gone by the alias of “Block” ever since getting the nickname in college. He reviews a wide variety of games on his Youtube channel, and talks about all things gaming related on his Twitter and Facebook pages.