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What's going on with Nintendo's Amiibo figurines?

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When Nintendo first introduced its Amiibo figures, Bill Trinen, senior product marketing manager at Nintendo of America, said that the toys open "a whole range of potential new gameplay experiences" for players on a character-by-character basis. And he's not lying: The toys -- activated by an NFC chip that connects to the Wii U gamepad -- come to life in the latest Smash Bros. game, as well as unlock new characters, levels and other good stuff in various other Nintendo Wii U games. Want a new character or two in Mario Kart 8? Amiibo figures have you covered.

But maybe not forever. Why? Because certain Amiibo characters have already been discontinued less than a month after their debut. Or, maybe they haven't? Nintendo's flubbed the messaging here (again), saying one thing about the future of certain figures to one publication, and something fairly different to another. Confused? We are too! Are some Amiibo figures limited edition? Which ones? How about those yet to be released? We asked Nintendo to clear this mess up.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN


When the first wave of Amiibo were released on November 21st this year, users of popular gaming message board NeoGAF noticed there was a distinct lack of three characters compared to the rest: Marth from the role-playing series Fire Emblem, Wii Fit Trainer from Wii Fit and Villager from Animal Crossing. In the days that followed, people found that, unlike Mario and Link, stock wasn't refreshing on those. Some of the lucky souls who got their hands on the rare trio did (and continue to do) what anyone does with a limited-supply item these days: list them on eBay for ridiculous amounts of money. We're talking $85, or more, for an item that originally cost $13. That's more than a 500 percent markup. It's crazy.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Fast-forward to this week, when Nintendo issued a statement about availability to Wired. The statement says that due to "shelf space constraints, other figures will likely not return to the market once they've sold through their initial shipment." Other characters, like the explicitly mentioned Mario and Link, would "always be available" because of their popularity. There wasn't a hard "yes" or "no," but it seemed fairly clear that secondary and tertiary characters would be limited in nature. Heck, we even reported on it. End of story, right? Wrong.

While that statement was echoed in an email from Nintendo to GameStop employees (posted to Reddit), saying that the aforementioned three characters were discontinued, things got much more confusing very quickly.

Earlier this week, Nintendo's European office gave Gamespot a slightly different, similarly ambiguous statement:

"Nintendo of Europe would like to confirm that supplies of Amiibo are currently available in the European market. Amiibo have been very popular at launch and as such it's always possible that a few retailers may have sold out. We are continually aiming to always have a regular supply of Amiibo brought into the marketplace and there are many waves of Amiibo to come."

That can be read a few ways. One: There's no mention of anything about managing shelf space with retailers. In that case, hey alright! Amiibo figures for everyone! The other is that, like Gamespot notes, the wording hides a bit of hope that none of the plastic figurines are off the market.

Nintendo issued yet another statement yesterday that reads like the company was surprised by the negative reaction from fans and is trying to save face while still avoiding a definitive answer:

Some Amiibo were very popular at launch, and it is possible that some Amiibo in the United States, Canada and Latin America may not be available right now due to high demand and our efforts to manage shelf space during the launch period. Certain sold-out Amiibo may return to these markets at a later stage. We are continually aiming to always have a regular supply of Amiibo in the marketplace and there are many waves of Amiibo to come.

That final statement was what Nintendo gave us when we asked for clarification. Three statements in, and Nintendo still hasn't given a clear-cut answer about if and when certain classes of Amiibo will be reintroduced at a later date, or even which characters qualify as popular enough to "always" be around. Does Donkey Kong hold the same weight as Mario? How about Sheik compared to Link, given that both characters are from The Legend of Zelda series? Or the lovable, pink puffball Kirby? That's the problem: We simply don't know. And, seemingly, neither does Nintendo despite our asking as much. We asked very specific questions and were issued the statement seen above, with a promise for more in the coming days.

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While the company waffles about whether or not it actually has plans to produce a reprint of these figures, collectors and everyday folks (maybe even you!) have paid as much as $90 for a Marth Amiibo that originally sold for $13. Whether to round out a collection or because, hey, they really like Fire Emblem, consumers are getting taken advantage of while Nintendo sits on its hands. Had Nintendo communicated clearly from the outset that certain characters would be limited and phased out to make room for others, this probably wouldn't be the problem that it is right now.

With the second wave of figures due out in the next few days, and dozens of characters still to be released as Amiibo, this issue will only grow until Nintendo takes action.

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