Opinion – The Amiibo Use In Metroid Goes Too Far

When Nintendo introduced Amiibo, its little plastic figurines representing an enormous library of characters, even the company seemed confused about their use. Aside from making money, the Super Smash Bros. line of Amiibo did not really accomplish much, primarily serving as a storage locker for A.I. routines. Their success lead Nintendo to push Amiibo as an initiative, something to be paired with nearly every game it releases. Since then, Nintendo has struggled with how Amiibo should be used in games, and whether it makes sense to essentially enforce scarcity for what amounts to downloadable content. 

Unfortunately, with Metroid: Samus Returns on the 3DS, Nintendo has decided that Amiibo use will replace traditional unlocks, seemingly locking entire modes away behind a player's ability and desire to purchase Amiibo.

Last week, Nintendo revealed plans for Amiibo usage in Samus Returns, using two Amiibo made for the game and two from the Smash Bros. series. Each figure has a different use during the game, and a separate use after initially finishing the game. Beating the game and scanning the Smash Bros. variant of power-suited Samus, for example, unlocks concept art for the player to peruse. While this is not ideal, concept art is at best tangential to the overall experience and can be easily accessed in the modern internet age. The far more egregious use is the Samus Returns-specific version of the titular main character, tasked with unlocking the Fusion suit and the harder Fusion difficulty upon completion of the game. 

Hard mode has been in previous Metroid games such as Metroid Prime, Metroid Fusion, Metroid: Zero Mission, and others. In no Metroid game before Samus Returns has a harder difficulty required an extra purchase. In locking this content, Nintendo has laid bare its own problem with Amiibo: in order to sell the statuettes, players must be compelled to own them. One way to make them compelling is to make them necessary to the fans who want to play a hard mode and who are likely to purchase merchandise around the series.

Nintendo benefits greatly in the gaming community from their Aw Shucks attitude, and it often gets the benefit of the doubt that it merely does not understand why something looks bad. This issue may seem small, but this move with Metroid Amiibo is exploitative, grabbing an extra $ 15 from players in addition to the already full price game. A few months ago, Brian Shea argued that Breath of the Wild's Amiibo usage is the best Nintendo has done so far, because it encouraged discovery. Amiibo unlocks were added but unnecessary benefits that made the player feel good about scanning the toys. Samus Returns' Amiibo are the exact opposite and feel like begrudging necessities more than fun additions. 

After the poor sales of both Other M and Federation Force, I imagine this is Nintendo panicking about Metroid more than it is panicking about Amiibo. The series has been on ice for many years because Nintendo has been unable to find a way to make it sell well enough to justify new games. By making the Amiibo compulsory to hardcore fans, the ones most likely to buy the game and want a harder difficulty, Nintendo is giving up on higher sales in exchange for more profit from existing buyers. Perhaps worst of all, it all feels deeply cynical, and that is not something I want to associate with Nintendo.

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