What are Nintendo Amiibos?

These little guys are all over the place!

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 / WireImage / Getty

Amiibo is Nintendo's line of toys-to-life figurines that are capable of unlocking secrets and features in a variety of games across a number of different Nintendo platforms.

The figures are fun to collect, since they are faithful representations of beloved video game characters, but they are also functional. When you combine the right amiibo with its corresponding game, and a compatible Nintendo console or handheld, some very fun things can happen.

How Do Amiibos Work?

Each 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 is able to recognize which amiibo it is and act accordingly.

The specific effects granted by scanning an amiibo vary from one game to the next. Some games, like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, even allow players to store information on their amiibos. This allows players to customize their characters, store the data on an amiibo, and take it with them to play on any other Wii U or 3DS.

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

Are Amiibos Really Required to Play Nintendo Games?

Amiibos are designed to enhance Nintendo games rather than as a required peripheral. The only game that actually requires amiibos to work is Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival. Other games are enhanced, or made easier if you have the right amiibo, but amiibos aren't actually required.

For example, scanning a Mario amiibo when playing Super Mario Odyssey for the Switch grants immunity to damage for 30 seconds, while scanning a Princess Peach amiibo in the same game grants a life-up heart.

Another example from the same game is that scanning a Mario, Bowser, or Peach amiibo from the Super Mario Odyssey amiibo line unlocks special wedding costumes in the game. However, these costumes can also be unlocked by accomplishing specific goals while playing the game. Having the right amiibo handy can give you an advantage, but you won't miss out on anything if you don't.

What Nintendo Systems Work With Amiibo?

Amiibo was first introduced for the Wii U, but amiibos designed for the Wii U are actually compatible with any Nintendo system that works with amiibos. That means if you have a Mario amiibo from the Wii U era, you can scan it with your Nintendo Switch and it will work.

Amiibos aren't region-locked either, which means you can use amiibos from the Japanese, European, and North American areas regardless of the type of Nintendo system you have.

Nintendo consoles and handhelds that are compatible with amiibo include:

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

Additionally, other Nintendo platforms are compatible with amiibo 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.

What Games Work With Amiibo?

Figuring out exactly which games work with amiibo can be confusing, especially since some amiibo characters appear in multiple games. The presence of a character in any given game isn't a guarantee that a related amiibo will do anything with that game, so how do you figure out which amiibo to buy?

Here are some of the most popular Switch games that work with amiibo:

  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Zelda amiibo provide special Zelda-themed gear, while unrelated amiibos provide other free loot.
  • Super Mario Odyssey - Mario, Peach and Bowser wedding outfit amiibo provide the corresponding costumes in-game. Many other amiibos award outfits.
  • Fire Emblem Warriors - Any Fire Emblem related amiibo will provide in-game weapons and items. Chrom and Tiki amiibos 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 amiibos unlock illustration pieces and items.
  • Splatoon 2 - You can save data to any Splatoon series amiibo. Pearl and Marino amiibos unlock their outfits.

You can use this list to help you choose your first amiibo, or check out Nintendo's full list of amiibo compatible games to find something you're more interested in.

What Kinds of Amiibos Are There?

While most amiibos are small, collectible figurines, there are actually a lot of other types of amiibos. The NFC cards that are built into amiibo figurines are so small and so thin, that they can even be placed inside amiibo cards that are no bigger than a regular playing card.

Amiibos take the form of:

  • Figurines
  • Cards
  • Breakfast cereal boxes
  • Plush toys

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

How Rare Are Amiibos, and What Happens If You Miss out on One?

The rarity of amiibos varies from one amiibo to the next depending on how many were produced. Many amiibos are limited edition, which means that a set of amiibos is typically produced for a short amount of time before Nintendo moves onto the next set. That creates scarcity, and some amiibos are very expensive on the second-hand market.

Since each series of amiibo figurines is typically produced in limited quantities, collectors need to stay on top of each release. However, missing out on any given amiibo isn't something that the average player really needs to worry about.

For example, if a player missed out on buying a special edition Super Mario Odyssey series Mario figure, they would be unable to take advantage of a free unlock for the tuxedo costume in that game. However, it would still be possible to unlock the costume by achieving a specific goal while playing the game.

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 confers the same invulnerability bonus as scanning a Super Mario Odyssey series Mario amiibo.