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Can Amiibo toys make Nintendo matter again?

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With technology that's quickly being eclipsed by the latest consoles from Microsoft and Sony, dwindling sales and a heavily hyped touchscreen controller that failed to capture fans' imaginations, Nintendo has been sliding down a very steep slope the last few years. The one-time king of video game consoles (seriously, who didn't own a Wii?) couldn't make lightning strike twice with the Wii U, and despite decent sales, the industry perception has been that the company's best days are behind it.

In desperate need of turning things around, Nintendo is taking a page out of Skylander's playbook with the launch of a new play system called "Amiibo," which features a collection of real-world figurines that can be plugged into your console and instantly appear inside your favorite games. Amiibo figures require no new hardware aside from the figures themselves, interfacing directly with the near-field communication sensor in the Wii U controller.

Will this strategy be enough to return Nintendo to relevancy? Or will it appeal only to the faithful? Nintendo has at least a good shot at regaining customers, because it's going about it very smartly. Rather than relying on the latest hardware trick like motion control or virtual reality goggles, Nintendo has co-opted a concept that leverages what works best about its brand: its stable of beloved characters. The first batch released is expected to include old school favorites like Mario, Link, Samus and Yoshi, but look closely at that image and you'll see modern additions like a Mii and a female Wii Fit enthusiast.

Nintendo hasn't yet revealed how much Amiibo figures will cost, but we can make an educated guess based on the fact that Amiibo figurines appear to be smaller in size than Skylanders or Disney Infinity figures, but still much larger than Angry Birds Telepods. The latest Skylanders characters sell for $11-$17, while Infinity figures run about $14. It's a safe bet that Amiibo figures will be $10 or less.

One aspect of Amiibo that Nintendo fans will particularly enjoy is that unlike other NFC figures, these will work with more than one game. The first Amiibo will launch in time for Holiday season 2014 alongside Super Mash Bros. Wii U, but other games are planned for 2015 that will support Amiibo, including Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Mario Kart 8, Mario Party 10 and Yoshi's Woolly World. Amiibo won't be exclusive to Wii U games, either; an adapter is coming in 2015 that will allow figures to work with compatible 3DS games. Nintendo will initially offer 10 Amiibo figures, but more are on the way in 2015.

Nintendo fans will also appreciate that Amiibo characters are able to be leveled-up according to their own tastes and play styles, which will make no two Mario or Link figures exactly the same. What's more, customization data is stored directly on the figurine, so they'll keep their level stats when moving from game to game.

Exact release details have not yet been revealed, but Nintendo is expected to make those announcements in the near future.

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