What are Nintendo Amiibo?

Amiibo combine the worlds of gaming and toy figurines

what is amiibo
Amiibos are small figures that look like video game characters and hide the ability to unlock some fun surprises in many of your favorite Nintendo games.

Daniel Boczarski / Getty

Amiibo is Nintendo's line of toys-to-life figurines that can be used to unlock features in many games for several different Nintendo platforms.

The figures are fun to collect, as they are faithful representations of beloved video game characters. But they are also functional. With embedded tech, amiibo toys can interact with supported video games, allowing data to be transferred to and from a variety of gaming systems, including Nintendo Switch, Wii U, and new Nintendo 3DS.

How Do Amiibo Work?

Each amiibo (plural: "amiibo") is sculpted to look like a character from a video game and includes a hidden radio frequency identification (RFID) chip. When a player scans the RFID chip inside an amiibo with a compatible Nintendo system, the system recognizes which amiibo it is and acts accordingly.

The specific effects vary from game to game. Some games, like Super Smash Bros., allow players to store information in their amiibo, allowing them to customize characters, store data, and take the saved content with them to play on friends' consoles.

Most games and amiibo interact in a read-only capacity. That means the console scans the amiibo and tells the game which kind of amiibo it is, but it makes no changes to the amiibo. In these cases, scanning the amiibo will typically unlock a character, skin, level, or grant some type of special effect.

Are Amiibo Required to Play Nintendo Games?

Amiibo are designed to enhance Nintendo games but are not required. Some games may be made easier if you have the right amiibo.

For example, scanning a Mario amiibo when playing Super Mario Odyssey on the Nintendo Switch grants immunity to damage for 30 seconds. Scanning a Princess Peach amiibo grants a life-up heart. Scanning a Mario, Bowser, or Peach amiibo unlocks special wedding costumes. (These costumes can also be unlocked by completing in-game goals.)

Having the right amiibo handy can give you an advantage, but you won't miss out on anything if you don't. The only game that requires amiibo to work is Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival.

Which Nintendo Systems Work With Amiibo?

Amiibo was first introduced for the Wii U, but the platform is compatible with any Nintendo Switch, Wii U, or New Nintendo 3DS. That means if you have a Mario amiibo from the Wii U era, it will also work with a Nintendo Switch.

Amiibo is not region-locked either, which means you can use amiibo from Japan, Europe, or North America regardless of the type of Nintendo system you have.

You can find amiibo scanners for each compatible Nintendo console in the following locations:

  • Wii U - On the GamePad.
  • Nintendo Switch - In the right Joy-Con and also in the optional Pro Controller.
  • New Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL - In the lower touchscreen.

Older Nintendo systems can be made compatible with the addition of a near field communication (NFC) reader accessory:

  • Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL - Requires a wireless NFC reader that can be purchased separately.
  • Nintendo 2DS - Uses the same wireless NFC reader as the 3DS.

Which Games Work With Amiibo?

Here are some of the most popular Nintendo Switch games that work with amiibo. You can use this list to help you choose your first amiibo, or check out Nintendo's full list of amiibo-compatible games.

  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Zelda amiibo provide special Zelda-themed gear, while unrelated amiibo provide other free loot.
  • Super Mario Odyssey - Mario, Peach and Bowser wedding outfit amiibo provide the corresponding costumes in-game. Many other amiibo award outfits.
  • Fire Emblem Warriors - Any Fire Emblem related amiibo will provide in-game weapons and items. Chrom and Tiki amiibo provide special rewards.
  • Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Wolf Link, Zelda 30th Anniversary, and Breath of the Wild amiibo all give special rewards. Other unrelated amiibo give lesser rewards.
  • Kirby Star Allies - Select Kirby, King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Waddle Dee amiibo unlock illustration pieces and items.
  • Splatoon 2 - You can save data to any Splatoon series amiibo. Pearl and Marino amiibo unlock their outfits.

The presence of a character in a given game is not a guarantee that a related amiibo will work with that game.

What Are the Different Kinds of Amiibo?

Most amiibo are small, collectible figurines, but some take different forms. In fact, the NFC cards found in amiibo figurines are so small they can be placed inside playing cards.

Amiibo take the form of:

  • Figurines
  • Playing cards
  • Breakfast cereal boxes
  • Plush toys

Regardless of the form an amiibo takes, they all use the same RFID technology and function the same way.

How Rare Are Amiibo, and What Happens if You Miss out?

The rarity of amiibo varies from one to the next and depends on how many were produced. Many amiibo are limited edition, which means they are produced for only a short amount of time, creating scarcity and a vibrant second-hand market.

While avid collectors may keep tabs on amiibo releases, average gamers do not need to worry about it.

If a player misses out on buying a special edition Super Mario Odyssey series Mario figure, she will be unable to take advantage of a free unlock for the Mario tuxedo costume. However, it will still be possible to unlock the costume by achieving an in-game goal.

In many circumstances, a game will allow the player to scan any version of a specific character and receive the same benefit. For instance, scanning a Super Smash Bros. or Classic Mario amiibo in Super Mario Odyssey offers the same invulnerability bonus as scanning a Super Mario Odyssey series Mario amiibo.