By now, most people are aware of NFC figurines: the cute and collectible plastic figures that act as wireless memory cards for games like Skylanders and Disney Infinity. In a move that surprises almost nobody, Nintendo's entering the market later this year with its own line of NFC figurines, which it calls "Amiibos." Nintendo has a massive stable of games and characters at its disposal, and with a little bit of effort, Nintendo can make the success of Skylanders look like a flash in the pan, and potentially reverse its current trend of declining revenue.
Nintendo's gaming legacy reaches back to the early '80s, and it's created some of the industry's most recognizable characters. Series such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid are icons of our industry, and their character rosters have earned the lasting adoration of millions of people. The Skylanders series was an undoubted success, but its cast of monsters doesn't hold a candle to Nintendo's stable of familiar faces. Skylanders had the advantage of being the first offering in a new and unexplored market, and though Activision found a diamond in the rough, there's no reason that NFC figures can't strike gold twice; especially if Nintendo's the one looking for it.
To be fair, Nintendo's initial plan for Amiibos doesn't instill a lot of confidence in the brand. Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U will probably be a success for Nintendo, but it won't be because of Amiibo integration. In order for Nintendo to hit a home run with its figurines, it has to make a new game that could only exist alongside Amiibos, and it has to be part of a recognizable series, too. Nintendo's ace up its sleeve can only be one series: Pokémon.
The smartest thing Nintendo could do is to link Pokemon and Amiibos as soon as they have a game that offers something new to budding Pokemon trainers and established masters. A new Pokemon game that mixes the showcase battles of Pokemon Stadium and the training aspect of the Game Boy and 3DS games is the obvious solution, and it could even be free to play, with Amiibos acting as the entry fee.
When I look at my nephew's collection of Skylanders figures, I see a mishmash of crudely designed monsters in a box. He values them for their in-game avatars, with seemingly little attachment to the objects themselves. What if he had a box of Pokeballs? Unlike in Skylanders, you play the role of a trainer in Pokemon, which are essentially pets that you care for and raise. Pokemon Amiibos in physical Pokeballs can easily enhance this relationship by bringing it into the real world. Digital Pokemon as they are today are convenient, but Pokemon Amiibos that you store in actual Pokeballs will inspire fans' imaginations to run wild, especially the younger audience.
If Nintendo manages to recapture the imagination of Pokemon fans with Amiibos in this way, Nintendo could experience a windfall of income. Whether or not it will make up for the Wii U's troubles is another matter, but there's almost no question that Nintendo can make Amiibos a success if it plays its cards right.