The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a game that is fondly remembered by only a few, myself included. It most often gets criticized for its motion controls, tedium, and fetch quests. Unlike immeasurable exploration given to us by Breath of the Wild, Skyward Sword is filled with backtracking through the same areas and completing dungeon after dungeon without much of a break. This can get time-consuming and irritating, a notion that Nintendo seems to agree with as they’ve finally included the option for you to fast travel from anywhere—only it’s locked behind a $25 plastic figure. Admittedly, for those like myself who already collect Amiibo, this is just a cool perk you get in addition to buying the figure, but there are millions of players who don’t want to shell out more for extra features.
The gorgeously designed plastic figure makes it so that when you scan it, no matter where you are in the world (even in a dungeon), you can return to the sky. This makes it easier to complete side quests, collect resources, and drive the story forward. Then, you just scan the Amiibo again and you’ll be transported back to exactly where you were on the surface. This is an amazing feature… that really should have just been included in the base game. This is like if Wind Waker HD’s faster sail was locked behind a King of Red Lions Amiibo. Nintendo seems to be having an identity crisis with these figures—they want to justify their cost by adding cool perks, but by including in-game unlocks with the Amiibo, they’re adding a physical DLC paywall that not everyone is willing to pay. Or worse, some people can’t pay for it. Video games are an expensive hobby, and they’re an investment. Adding a $25 figure (not to mention the $69.99 Skyward Sword Joy-Cons, if you want to go all out) just makes these games more difficult to access.
As frustrating as this is to Legend of Zelda fans, this is not the first time Nintendo has locked in-game features behind some from of DLC, not even including Amiibo. Breath of the Wild locked Hero Mode behind their $20 DLC package, so this isn’t really a new precedent, but it’s one that’s frustrating nonetheless. Paid DLC is one thing, but through Amiibo, Nintendo has found a way to monetize collectibles and make these features even more difficult to unlock. Amiibo have a shelf life, and it’s never long before you see scalpers online selling these figures for twice the price or more. Skyward Sword is just another link in the chain of physical DLC that Nintendo has chosen to develop, rather than bake more rewards into the base price of the game. For a company with mascots as recognizable as Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong, it’s no wonder why they’d buy into this type of marketing…
Nintendo Has Always Leaned Into Toys & Collectibles
Even before video games became a mainstream pastime, Nintendo was a playing card company that managed to stay relevant since 1889 by adapting and creating collectibles that people wanted. Now that they have a whole cast of characters from recognizable franchises, they know their biggest salespoint is their exclusives. That’s why Nintendo, in their current form, will never develop a first-party title for a third-party console. They might make Legend of Zelda and sell it for $60, but they’re really selling you a console where you can only (legally) play that Zelda game.
There’s always been a draw among Nintendo fans to physically own Nintendo products. That’s why so many Nintendo fans still purchase cartridges for their Switch. Nintendo has most recently partnered with Build-a-Bear for Animal Crossing stuffed animals, and they’ve sold Zelda and Mario figures for years. Releasing a collectible item is not a new game for Nintendo; Amiibo just added another layer of frustration to the forced scarcity of their products when you’re trying to enjoy a game to its fullest but can’t get the piece of plastic that allows that. This is as true today as it was in 2014 when Amiibo first launched.
Super Smash Bros. and the Amiibo Craze
Nintendo introduced Amiibo alongside the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS. Very quickly, Amiibo became coveted amongst those who collected them. At the time, these figurines didn’t really unlock anything super substantial in game. For Super Smash Bros. specifically, you’d get a fighter that you could train, level up, and save to the Amiibo. It added a bit of an RPG element to the game, but not something that was super crucial to gameplay or story. That comes later.
As Amiibo became more and more difficult to find, Nintendo announced more figurines, and new games would often launch aside new Amiibo. This was true for Splatoon, Breath of the Wild, Super Mario, Pikmin, Metroid and more. Even years later, Super Smash Bros. continues to be the largest source of Amiibo with a massive roster of characters that all get figures. Even at dedicated stores like Nintendo New York, you’ll only find a handful of the latest figures, making it impossible to score years-old figures at retail prices. Breath of the Wild came out in 2017, and yet the Super Smash Bros. Amiibo that launched in 2014 could be used to unlock Epona. If you didn’t have that Link Amiibo already, it’s unlikely you’d find it without paying a scalper for it.That’s one of the most frustrating things about Amiibo: You don’t really know what you’re paying for at the time.
A game could be released years from now with crucial Amiibo functionality tied to that figure, and with a community of collectors dedicated to swiping up each and every one, it’s not as easy as walking into a GameStop and buying one. You need to be vigilant with preorders and even have alerts set up to know when they go on sale, or hope you get lucky the day of launch. Even though Nintendo has always leaned into the collectible nature of their IPs, they typically didn’t lock game content behind figures or DLC, but that has clearly changed.
Nintendo Was Resistant to DLC… Until It Wasn’t
While other companies have been offering paid DLC for nearly two decades, Nintendo was resistant to this trend until more recently. When a Zelda game would launch, you could be pretty confident you were getting the full game. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Systems like the Nintendo DS have offered downloadable content for their games for years, but that DLC was either free or limited in scope. Nintendo really started to heavily lock features behind DLC during the Wii U age, specifically fighters in Super Smash Bros., in addition to cosmetic items like Mii costumes. But these were still digital purchases anyone could buy if they had the rupees; Nintendo wasn't locking these characters behind an Amiibo that may or may not be easily obtainable.
Games like Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, and Pokemon Sword and Shield continued this trend, offering expansion passes at a premium. But the core of the issue is what content should be included with the game, and what’s passable as extra perks if people want to pay for them? Maybe another game mode or a standalone side story you can play through that took extra time and resources to develop (like Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion), but a difficulty setting or a quality-of-life improvement should be accessible from the start. Especially with The Legend of Zelda series, which has historically included all game content up front, Nintendo is becoming more and more comfortable with launching companion Amiibo figures with key game content locked inside them, and that means not every Nintendo fan will be able to enjoy the game in its entirety even if they want to.
Combine this with their forced scarcity marketing tactics, and you’ve got a whole lot of people who can’t enjoy some basic features of a game. It all boils down to an international company gatekeeping important game features behind a physical piece of DLC that they’ve marketed as Amiibo.
Since the launch of the Switch, Nintendo has enjoyed some of their best success, and sales are showing no signs of slowing down. By adding DLC options to the Amiibo, they’re adding more value to that figurine, but they’re also creating a buying war among collectors and people who just want the content that the figure unlocks. And that’s exactly their plan. Nintendo knows what they’re doing, and so long as people keep buying DLC packages and Amiibo figures, there’s no reason for them to stop, especially when other developers offer paid DLC all the time. Nintendo seems to be getting away with it because they’re able to offer a cute toy in addition to in-game unlockables.
Looking at Amiibo sales and popularity, Nintendo will continue to develop and make these figures. As a collector, I love that, but I don’t think people should be punished for not purchasing the plastic figure along with the game. There need to be alternatives to including or unlocking these options in game. With the Resident Evil 2 Remake, Capcom gave players an option to either unlock extra weapons and infinite ammo by accomplishing challenges in the game, or they could pay for the DLC pack that unlocks everything at once. Gamers deserve options, and the concept of Amiibo makes things unnecessarily limited. That being said, it would be ridiculous to sell a game like Skyward Sword then have a $25 digital DLC pack to enable fast travel in that game. I’m all for Amiibo for for them being compatible with their games, but these figures shouldn’t lock a key quality-of-life setting behind them.
With preorders sold out, who knows when or where you’ll be able to get your hands on a Skyward Sword Amiibo anyways? How do you feel about Nintendo’s latest announcements about Amiibo and unlockable features? Did you manage to grab one of the limited Skyward Sword Amiibo preorders? Let us know in the comments!