Toy-based gaming is not only alive and well, but it's also expanding to more franchises. This time it's Nintendo's turn: Following in the footsteps of games like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, Nintendo announced the Amiibo, which are plastic figurines that you scan into your Wii U by holding them on the GamePad. As soon as the toy is scanned, its corresponding character -- Mario is a primary example -- appears in the game with its own unique score, experience points and skills. The point of doing this is so you can either partner with or fight against these virtual characters. Additionally, the more the Amiibo fights, the better it will become. The toys, which were shown off for the first time at E3, will initially be available for (and compatible with) Super Smash Bros. this holiday season, but more games will be compatible later on, such as Mario Kart 8 and Mario Party 10.

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Nintendo NFC figurines

The Amiibo's secret sauce is Near-Field Communications (NFC), the same short-length wireless communications standard used for mobile payments and Bluetooth pairing. Each action figure -- which is just a hair taller than the average human finger -- is embedded with crucial stats that get transferred into the game as soon as you pair it with your GamePad; conversely, once you're done playing, any new experience points, tactics or abilities you received during gameplay will be saved onto the Amiibo. These enhancements to your Amiibo's profile can come either through battle or training, and thanks to the large number of customized moves and skills that you can rack up, you won't have to worry about two Mario Amiibo figures being exactly alike.

There are a few different ways an Amiibo can be used in battle. You can have them fight other characters, team up with them, use them to take on your friends or go up against the Amiibo yourself. And according to Nintendo, going head to head against an Amiibo in Smash Bros. is more challenging and rewarding than if you were to fight the regular computer, since they'll level up faster.

No prices have been announced, nor has Nintendo released details on how the figures will be utilized in upcoming games. For the holiday season, however, keep an eye out for Mario, Link, Princess Peach, Pikachu, Samus Aran and around five other characters who will be available at launch, with more planned for later. Nintendo also plans to come out with an NFC peripheral pad next year that will make it possible to use Amiibo with a 3DS.