Sitting down to watch Nintendo’s Digital Event from 2014, I didn’t know what to expect. We were excited to see Zelda, we were eager to see new characters for Super Smash Brothers, and we were hopeful that Nintendo would finally prove the GamePad was a unique and necessary innovation in the world of gaming. We got all of those announcements in some form; Epona in a lush field of green, Lady Palutena shedding her role as a supporting character and joining the fray, and the wonderful Wii U creation tool in the form of Mario Maker. E3 is a time to unveil and unleash the biggest and best new games to the public – but the announcement that stood out the most wasn’t a game at all.
Enter the world of amiibo: Nintendo’s answer to the rise of the toys-to-life genre. I had somehow managed to buy a total of zero figures from Skylanders or Disney Infinity, the already established toys-to-life franchises, but I knew that would change when the Nintendo bigwigs unveiled the shiny, sleek Smash Bros. figures for the first time. Attempting to avoid getting sucked in, I pre-ordered none. I told myself not to get obsessed over those things. But, when November 21st, 2014 rolled around, I picked up Smash Bros. Wii U, a GameCube adapter and a Mario amiibo. I got home and looked at every inch of my new statue, and I was blown away by the detail of the figure. Still, I told myself to just stick to my favorites.
First it was Mario. A week later, Link. Then Kirby. Next, Samus, Donkey Kong and Zelda. I was spending $12.99 nearly once a week to get all of my “favorites.” Maybe it was because they were so rare I felt the need to get them. Maybe it was because the guys on IGN’s Nintendo Voice Chat talked about them non-stop. Maybe it was because Smash is my favorite franchise. Maybe it was because the figures just looked so cool. It was on December 14th, 2014 that I finally discovered why it was so addicting.
I walked into my local Fred Meyer store in the early hours of the morning to do some Christmas shopping. Ever since November, it had become routine to check the amiibo display at any and every store I walked into. It was there that I saw three Little Mac figures glowing on the shelf. At that point, I was still in denial that I was going to collect all of these pieces of plastic. I told myself “no,” finished my shopping, and headed home. That night I had a breakdown of sorts. I thought, “What if I never see Little Mac again? What if I never finish the set?” I immediately rushed back to the store, only to discover they were all gone. It was then and there I realized I was all in. The thrill of the hunt is what kept me going back, and that’s exactly what’s kept me in the hobby up to this point.
I never pre-order amiibo because I’ve come to realize that my favorite part about owning them all is the memories associated with finding them. Whenever there was a new launch day I would create a game plan; what stores was I headed for first? What are all of the retail exclusives? The night before a hunt I was glued to the amiibo subreddit, hoping to see some news about stock in stores or length of lines. For the first four waves, obtaining amiibo did not feel like shopping; it felt like hunting. The disappointment of not finding what I was looking for time and time again was worth it when I felt the satisfaction of tracking down a figure I had been seeking out for ages.
Wave 4 was my personal favorite.
It was a sunny morning in May, and I was standing in line outside of my local GameStop. I was surrounded by five complete strangers, all there for the same purpose. We started talking about the one thing we all had in common: games. For the next two hours, we talked and laughed about our favorite Nintendo memories – topics like our favorite Zelda game, who we main in Smash, and how our amiibo collection was going. And now, when I look at the figures I bought that day, the memories of hanging out with fellow gamers come to the front of my mind. Most of my friends are sports fans, not gamers, so it was refreshing to have people to talk to about one of my greatest passions in life.
It’s difficult for me to admit that I’ve been losing interest in the amiibo hunt lately. The lines have died down, the internet rage has subsided, and heading to a local retailer has begun to feel like any other shopping trip. I haven’t impulsively checked the amiibo subreddit in months. It’s all too easy to waltz into a store, pick up the new figure, pay the $12.99, and walk out. While most would argue the supply should have been plentiful right at the start, a part of me will always long for the feeling in the gut I got on a launch day, or the joy of connecting with other gamers in line. I miss the days of waking up early to hit the mall, not knowing what I would walk out with. I have every figure from the Smash Bros. line of amiibo, but the last few purchases simply don’t carry the same meaning as the first did. It might sound corny, but I can look at each amiibo from the first few waves and associate them with a memory. I got Bowser the day the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots. I ordered Palutena off Amazon while sitting at the beach in Seaside, Oregon.
As time has gone on and the figures have become easy to acquire, every purchase has been less special – to the point where it almost feels like routine. Once the Smash Bros. line concludes, I will hang up my hat and gracefully bow out of the hunt. My shelf will be filled to the edge with little pieces of plastic that each represent a moment from the last two years of my life, $12.99 at a time.