Dr. Mario, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Amiibo

Dave Irwin

Dave Irwin


on December 21, 2014 at 2:25 PM

Films have tried to impart that one day robots will take over the world, wiping out the human race. They’d break Asimov’s laws of robotics and begin to shatter everything we know. From Terminator to I Robot, the future looks bleak for mankind. Increasingly though there has been concern about A.I. itself becoming more and more sentient. Professor Stephen Hawking said in an article with the BBC earlier this month that, “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” He’s essentially saying that a nightmare scenario similar to the tragedy that occurs in 2001: A Space Odyssey is more in line with humanity’s fate.

However, as I discovered this week – his fear that humanity will eventually create A.I. that could potentially surpass human ability, has already happened. Its name is Amiibo and we should be cautious.

Activision have been pioneers of the use of NFC technology in their Skylanders franchise – a new vehicle for the likes of Spyro the Dragon among many other original characters. It has its fans, but it wasn’t until Disney got in on the act with Disney Infinity that the potential was realised. The House of Mouse has taken a golden opportunity to reinvigorate the market of toys with readable chips that save data when played with. This year saw Disney incorporate their Marvel wing into the mix, expanding the potential to even greater heights. With the company now the owners of the Star Wars franchise as well, we could well see a tie-in of proportions so epic that hardly anyone would be able to compete…

… unless they happen to be Nintendo. With the launch of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the NFC potential of all Wii U gamepads has now been implemented with their new Amiibo figures. But while Disney Infinity and Skylanders put their figures into one game, Nintendo have cleverly unlocked the potential for all of their NFC figures to have uses in multiple games. Already we have three of this years’ big releases use the Amiibos to great effect. Mario Kart 8 uses a select few to unlock new Nintendo themed costumes for your Mii racers; Hyrule Warriors allows players to unlock new weapons for their characters; only Super Smash Bros. for Wii U uses them as a new way to play the game.

Since I recently acquired a Wii U, I decided it was time to test out the potential of NFC by purchasing one Amiibo figure. A word of advice if you do go out and buy one: do the research! Some Amiibos aren’t compatible with certain games. Marth – the hero in Fire Emblem, is not compatible with Mario Kart 8, but is compatible with both Hyrule Warriors and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. No indication is given on the packaging on which figures are compatible with which game. If in doubt, the mainstays of Mario, Link, Pikachu, or Fox usually work out well.

When first uploaded to Smash Bros., you can customise the look of your FP fighter and give him/her perks related to stats and special conditions. For example, my Marth FP can heal himself when crouched and doesn’t lose the Final Smash ability if hit once, but this is only scratching the surface. In order to actually train your FP to become a better Smasher, you need to spar with it.

How does it work? Well, when you launch into a match, your Amiibo fighter will be a punching bag at level 1. It will make some movement and try to attack, but it’s relatively basic A.I.. What it will do is learn how you fight. For the purposes of my test, I sparred with Marth and his palette swaps Ike and Lucina, all of which have the same moves. My aim was to make it a counter master, hence my decision to get Marth, where it could in theory attempt to predict when something would attack. It would mix it up by attacking, shielding, and roll dodging, but the general aim was to make it tough to land hits.

As it learned how I played more and more, it would go after Pokéballs, Assist Statues, and Final Smash symbols. There was a small setback where the level 75m from Donkey Kong was randomly generated, forcing me into dodging and avoiding everything. The Amiibo’s response in the following level was to run away from me at all times, hording items, and generally being a major pain to hit. On the plus side, it is now more often than not hitting the Final Smash attacks, taunting as I go off the screen. It’s also now reasonably good at recovering from being sent flying, and most importantly countering, though I could get it to practice a little more on the timing. My next big agenda is to get it to go for the opponent with meteor smashes when they’re recovering before making it back to safety.

Advancement of technology is either a beneficial or scary proposition. A.I. that can learn from human behaviour is unsettling; especially when it eventually triumphs over a human player thanks to all that it has been taught. Stephen Hawking’s warnings gave me food for thought at the time, but I never assumed that I could ever see that possibility come from using NFC. Given what I’ve taught my Amiibo to do so far, I can see that the potential is far closer at hand than I thought possible; but as long as the A.I. doesn’t go too far beyond merely learning what we do into learning how to be better than us, we might be fine.