Nintendo's Amiibo toys live in the physical and digital worlds

At E3, Nintendo introduces Amiibo, a line of action figures that come to life inside video games. 

Jae C. Hong/AP
French television reporters look at Amiibo characters for Wii U at the Nintendo booth during the Electronic Entertainment Expo on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Los Angeles.

Nintendo took aim at competitors today at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) by introducing Amiibo, a toy line of popular game characters that bridge the gap between real-world action figures and in-game digital heroes.

As with Skylanders or Disney Infinity, these toys wirelessly connect to video games, allowing the character to exist in both plastic and pixelated forms.

Much like a smart phone that can transfer a photo or other data when tapped against a compatible device, Amiibo toys can pass along data through the Wii U's controller.

This feature is thanks to a near-field communication (NFC) scanner in the Wii U’s tablet-like controller, the GamePad, which will be able to read and write data from the bases of each of the toys.

Therefore, you and your friend may each buy your own Mario or Samus Aran Amiibo figure, but they will not be identical in game play because you can customize its moves and stats.

Also, each individual Amiibo gains experience in battle, evolving as a character.

“We’re not only releasing the game you’ve been waiting for [Super Smash Bros.] but also a new way to play [via Amiibo],” says Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime during the event Tuesday.

Amiibo will work with the Wii U version of Nintendo’s fighting game Super Smash Bros., but won’t immediately be compatible with the handheld 3DS system.

According to today’s E3 Nintendo event and follow-up broadcasts, a peripheral for the 3DS that can similarly download and upload data to the toys is planned for release sometime next year.

The company notes that Amiibo will play into different games in different ways as the toys continue to develop.

For example, the recently released Mario Kart 8, upcoming Mario Party 10, and announced Yoshi’s Wooly World will each integrate the toys in ways the company isn’t yet ready to share publicly.

Because these toys are intended to work not only in the owner's house, but also at friends' houses, Mr. Fils-Aime says gamers might want to take extra care to remove the toys from pockets before they hit the wash and dryer.

Also, since the figurines are identical in appearance, Nintendo might want to think about player tags or skins for the toys. Until then, a Sharpie will have to do to prevent players from taking home the wrong Bowser.

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