TIME Video Games

Everything You Need to Know About Nintendo’s Skylanders Amiibo Deal

How (and why) Nintendo and Activision joined hands to bring some of Nintendo's most beloved characters to Activision's multibillions toys-to-life franchise

Nintendo’s Amiibo are about to rescue Activision’s Skylanders! No, not Activision’s epically successful $3 billion toys-to-life franchise, which is doing just fine on its own — but some of its perennially embattled in-game heroes. Let me explain.

The House of Mario just revealed that it turned not one but two of its iconic characters over to Activision to use in its upcoming annual Skylanders installment, Skylanders: SuperChargers. It’s a move you could comfortably call historically unprecedented.

I spoke with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé and Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg a few days ago. Here’s what they told TIME about the deal.

Activision and Nintendo have been talking about this deal for years

“All the way back when we were developing the first Skylanders game, about four years ago, Nintendo was one of the first groups outside of Activision that we shared Skylanders with,” said Hirshberg. “As early as all the way back then, this was in that space, and so it didn’t take too long for people’s imaginations to go there. It’s been discussed from both perspectives for a while, but it wasn’t until last year at E3 that it got more concrete, as Nintendo revealed its Amiibo plans, and that’s when we got more specific with it.”

Nintendo did none of the coding

Nintendo creatively consulted on the new figures, Skylanders developer Vicarious Visions told me during my demo, but all of the hands-in-the-code development for the new Bowser and Donkey Kong hybrid Amiibo/Skylanders was handled on the Activision side.


The biggest challenge was figuring out how to make the Amiibo figurines work in both games

“The one element that had a few rounds of creativity was switching between Skylanders and Amiibo functionality,” explained Hirshberg. “I think we wound up with a very elegant solution that’ll be intuitive to kids, which is just that simple twist of the base, which determines whether it’s a Skylander or an Amiibo.”

It was a genuinely collaborative process

“The bulk of the creative process, and this was very much a collaboration between the two groups, was figuring out how the characters should come to life in the game,” said Hirshberg. “Our team approached that as both an opportunity and a responsibility. We wanted to get it right, to honor these characters and have it be a great homage in addition to nailing the gameplay. Interestingly, the Nintendo team met us more than halfway, with equal admiration and collaborative spirit, because in some of the meetings, it was Nintendo saying ‘But is that right for a Skylander?’ So I think each team was very protective of the others’ characters.”

“As Vicarious Visions would be thinking about how should Donkey Kong move, how should Bowser move within this Skylanders environment, our developers were thinking about the history of the various Skylanders games,” added Fils-Aimé. “And so when Vicarious Visions would suggest a move set, or a set of experiences, our developers were always challenging and saying, ‘Is that the way a Skylander would do it? Is that the way it should be in this environment?’ And it was that type of discussion that led to the characters you’ve seen, which look so natural and the way it should be.”

It’s not a violation of Nintendo-first principles

Nintendo guards its IP like no one else in the video game industry, but Fils-Aimé said Nintendo’s collaboration with Activision is in keeping with its modus operandi.

“First and foremost, we’re an entertainment company,” he explained. “We exist to make people smile, to have people enjoy our experiences. And it’s with that thinking that the collaboration with Activision happened. It’s not us letting go of our IP, it’s us collaborating with a team that has such a respect for and knowledge base of these franchises, that it was easy to collaborate to create something that’s never been done before.”


You still call them Amiibo…sort of

“It’s true that Skylanders are still Skylanders and Amiibo are Amiibo in terms of their functionality,” said Fils-Aimé “But in the game, this is a special Donkey Kong and a special Bowser with special abilities and special moves, and that’s the way it exists within the Skylanders environment.”

“When you play the entire game through, you’ll also see that there’s an elegant piece of fiction where the Skylanders are on the ropes against Kaos’ most evil weapon yet,” added Hirshberg. “So they put out a clarion call across the dimensions for any assistance they can get, and Donkey Kong and Bowser come to their side, so it makes sense why they’re there.”

The new Amiibo work as you’d expect in existing Nintendo games

“Donkey Kong will work as a Donkey Kong Amiibo and Bowser as a Bowser Amiibo, whether we’re talking about Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, or in Mario Party 10,” says Fils-Aimé.

It’s the first time Bowser’s been playable in a 3D game

Nintendophiles are probably saying “What about Smash Bros.?” And granted. But the distinction lies in how you semantically define “playable.” In the Smash Bros. games, 3D Bowser is limited to motion along a 2D plane. Skylanders: SuperChargers marks the first time he’s been maneuverable unfettered by that stricture.


It’s not (yet) clear if the figurines employ multiple NFC chips

When asked how the tech works, Hirshberg (laughing) replied, simply “There’s magic in these figurines.”

The new Skylanders Amiibo are only available on Nintendo platforms

Skylanders: SuperChargers will be on pretty much everything when it launches this fall, but the new Nintendo Amiibo will only work with the Wii U, Wii and 3DS versions of the game.

“Our franchises live on our platforms,” said Fils-Aimé. “That’s what we do. And certainly we are experimenting with smart devices, so that might be an added element, but the core concept of our character showing up on competitive gaming platforms is just not something we believe in.”

The new Amiibo figures and vehicles are available in special starter packs

You can get Hammer Slam Bowser and Turbo Charge Donkey Kong in special starter packs priced at $74.99 each (for the Wii and Wii U versions), or $64.99 for the 3DS.


Nintendo and Activision hope to have plenty of the new figurines to go around

No promises, but both Hirshberg and Fils-Aimé indicated that they’re expecting high demand for the new figures, and hope to have enough to go around when the game and new figures debut on September 20. Nintendo ran into trouble when it launched its Amiibo figurines last November, in part due to a labor dispute that stalled cargo coming into the U.S. for months.

And the future could lead anywhere…

“As I’m sure you’d anticipate, we’re here to talk about this collaboration today,” said Hirshberg. “But you know, we’ll see what the future holds. We’re both every excited about it and feel very positive about it, and so we’ll see what happens.”

TIME Video Games

Watch Brand New Footage of Nintendo’s Next Star Fox Game

New Wii U title hits shelves during holiday 2015

The upcoming Star Fox game is going to place a big emphasis on vehicle variety.

Star Fox Zero, set to debut on Nintendo’s Wii U console by the end of the year, will let players transform Fox McCloud’s famous Arwing into a walking mech with the press of a button. The functionality was a feature in the never-released Star Fox 2 for the SNES, now resurrected for the new title.

Players will also be able to drive Fox’s landmaster tank and a gyro-wing copter in the new game, which appears heavily influenced by the on-rails dogfights of Star Fox 64.

The game will also make heavy use of the Wii U’s gamepad. Players will see a cockpit view of the action on the gamepad screen and a more cinematic, third-person view on their television screen. Aiming will be aided by the gamepad’s gyroscope controls.

Check out Star Fox Zero in action in the new footage above.

TIME Video Games

Watch Conan Get Dominated in Halo by the Stars of Silicon Valley

Conan is on the red team, of course

No one has gained as much notoriety for being terrible at video games as Conan O’Brien.

The late-night talk show host has taken his tongue-in-cheek celebration of the medium to a new level in a recent segment in which he (poorly) attempted to play the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. Conan, along with Andy Richter and Aaron Bleyaert, squared off against Silicon Valley stars Thomas Middleditch, TJ Miller and Zach Woods in a multiplayer bout of the new first-person shooter.

Conan was predictably awful, spending one round trying to shoot out a pane of impenetrable glass to release a shark that’s actually just there for decoration. At one point the warring factions call a truce, only for Conan to “accidentally” take a potshot against one of the Silicon Valley stars.

Check out all the antics in the video above.

TIME Video Games

Watch Nintendo’s E3 2015 Event Live Right Here

We'll learn more about the company's plans for the year

Watch live video from Nintendo on www.twitch.tv

Nintendo is set to announce new games and other big news at its E3 2015 event Thursday starting at 12 p.m. ET. Expect new details about its upcoming Zelda and Star Fox titles, and perhaps more specific information about Nintendo’s plans to make games for mobile devices.

There’s a long shot chance we could hear about Nintendo’s next gaming console, currently referred to as the Nintendo NX, as well. But it’s probably not going to make an appearance.

Stay tuned to TIME for more E3 video game news as the week goes on.

TIME Video Games

Here’s the Coolest Way to Play Minecraft Imaginable

On a coffee table, in three dimensions

Microsoft offered another mind-bending demonstration of the HoloLens augmented reality headset at E3 on Monday, firing up a holographic version of Minecraft on a real world coffee table.

The demonstration showed how one player roaming through the game on an ordinary touchscreen would be visible to another, much luckier player wearing the HoloLens and looming over the landscape like a giant. The audience cheers as the HoloLens player pinches and pokes the landscape with his fingers and leans in for a peek inside of a house.

Microsoft built an entirely new version of Minecraft for the company’s HoloLens headset, company reps said during the demo.

[Via Kotaku]

TIME e3 2015

One of the Best Games of All Time Is Getting a Remake

Not re-released. Not re-mastered. Remade from the ground up

Square Enix’s classic role-playing game Final Fantasy 7 is getting a remake for the current-generation PlayStation 4. Sony announced the game during its E3 2015 press conference June 15. Final Fantasy 7, originally released for the first Playstation, is widely considered one of the greatest RPGs of all time, and remains a critics’ pick.

In an announcement trailer, Square Enix named some of the staff working on the iteration of Final Fantasy 7, including Yoshinori Kitase, who is producing, and Tetsuya Nomura, who will direct. The game will come out on Playstation 4, though it may eventually come to other platforms as well.

Porting or upscaling old games and re-releasing them as “ultimate” or “high-definition” editions has become common practice in the games industry. Last year, Square Enix released a version of Final Fantasy 7 for Playstation 4 that was an upgraded port of the PC version.

This Final Fantasy appears to differ significantly as it is a “remake.” Fans of the Japanese series have longed wanted Square Enix to make such a move, ever since the firm showed a technology demonstration featuring characters from the game running on a PlayStation 3.

No release date was announced.

TIME e3 2015

Here’s Everything Sony Revealed During Its Blockbuster E3 Keynote

Sony outed three of the most anticipated games, maybe ever, at its E3 2015 showcase

Rounding out Monday’s barrage of E3 gaming pressers, Sony’s midyear celebration of all things PlayStation got off to a rousing start with one of the industry’s most anticipated—and repeatedly delayed—games on any system.

That’s right, The Last Guardian is still a thing, and as the show’s surprise opener, it was every bit as weird and gorgeous as I’m sure Sony intended, at once highlighting the dreamlike artfulness of creative lead Fumito Ueda’s peculiar mental-scape, as well as the game’s partner-focused environmental puzzles.

Over the course of the demo, a boy (controlled by you) and his giant sphinx-like companion worked their way through vast, precipitous, architectonically elegant backdrops. I guess that’s the thing that still stands out for me as much now as it did when I first saw the game in action years ago: the way the game manages to convey just how massive the creature is, capable of bridging a chasm, say, but with almost ungainly, lumbering movements.

As in The Last Guardian‘s predecessor, Ueda’s Shadow of the Colossus, you can cling to all aspects of the creature, tip to tail, clambering around its feathered bulk, and the connective tissue between ICO and Shadow of the Colossus was visible throughout. We have, in that sense, seen all of this before, but then we’ve seen so few games, indie or otherwise, that match Ueda’s gift for all but telepathically conveying sophisticated gameplay concepts using subtle and ingenious design cues.

MORE: Here’s Microsoft’s Crazy New Xbox Controller

“You don’t know how long I have waited to introduce The Last Guardian, with the first ever gameplay footage on PlayStation 4,” said Sony CEO Shuhei Yoshida at the demo’s close. And we finally have, if not a release date, at least a release window: Sony says we can expect The Last Guardian to hit PlayStation 4 sometime next year.

The rest of the show was a medley of unexpected and predictable revelations, the latter including a Black Ops 3 debut multiplayer trailer, a new Destiny expansion dubbed “The Taken King” where you battle some giant batwinged creature, an Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate callout to the game’s alternate female lead and a very pretty but ultimately kind of boring Uncharted 4 closer.

We saw a bit of gameplay from a new Guerrilla Games (the Killzone series) post-post-apocalyptic action-adventure titled Horizon: Zero Dawn, which with its cast of robo-dinosaurs and low-tech, archery-adept heroine had me thinking Transformers: Beast Wars meets Vikings. Square Enix teased its new long-in-development Hitman installment, followed by Media Molecule (LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway) unveiling something unusually artsy (for a mainstream game, anyway) that it’s calling Dreams, which it pitched as “using the PS4 controller to collaboratively create moving paintings,” adding “Now you can literally create anything you can dream of, a game, a play, a performance, all from scratch.”

Firewatch, a game about a volunteer fire lookout officer circa the Yellowstone fires of 1988 that’s been turning heads for its singular visual style, got a surprise nod. And Sean Murray of developer Hello Games ran through a gameplay demo of No Man’s Sky, the literally infinite space exploration whatchamacallit Sony’s been hyping for two years. Though I’m sure the latter demo triggered skipped heartbeats, it did nothing to allay my growing fear that the whole affair is going to be this incredibly gorgeous, unfathomably sweeping, but in the end ultimate patina of a game that scratches away too soon (let the record state that I want nothing more than to be dead wrong about that).

But the show’s biggest two reveals were sandwiched unceremoniously in the middle: a bona fide Final Fantasy VII remake is coming, as is a Yu Suzuki-led Shenmue 3, assuming the latter clears its $2 million Kickstarter goal (which, by the time you read this, will probably have happened).

About Final Fantasy VII, we know next to nothing, save that the teaser trailer suggests a remake that’s more of a spiritual reimagining than the sort of tediously literal remake (of a now ancient combat system, and in hindsight often juvenile story) that I trust no one really wants.

As for Shenmue 3, which Suzuki says will be a sequel to the first two games and “the story you’ve been waiting for” if it achieves its funding goal, I have mixed feelings about the revelation venue. Is it kosher to launch your Kickstarter at one of the most watched video game conferences in the world? Visibility is paramount to any crowdfunding project. Say what you will about Sony’s unwillingness to fund the project outright, then think of all the other arguably as or more worthy game projects that’ll never have access to a platform as spectacular as the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena under Sony’s floodlit and meticulously choreographed spell.

TIME e3 2015

This Is Destiny‘s Next Huge Expansion

Looks intense

Destiny, the popular massively multiplayer online shooter for consoles, is getting another expansion. The expansion, called The Taken King, was unveiled during Sony’s E3 press conference on June 15. Developer Bungie said the title would be released Sept. 15.

Sony said the game had the most successful launch of the current generation of consoles. Nevertheless, Bungie’s sci-fi romp generated mixed reviews. At the time of its release, TIME games critic Matt Peckham wrote:

Whatever else you want to say about its hackneyed story or over-easy enemies or worshipful replication of Halo gameplay fundamentals, I keep coming back to play a little more.

TIME e3 2015

Here’s Microsoft’s Crazy New Xbox Controller

Looks great but it's pretty pricey

At its annual E3 press conference June 15, Microsoft unveiled a raft of new games and features for its Xbox One console. It also took the wraps a newly redesigned controller, dubbed the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller.

The new design adds four bumper pads under the grips, hair-trigger locks for more precise control and an unusual textured rolling pad in place of a standard D-pad. Additionally, the new controller will feature hot-swappable parts depending on users’ preferences.

The new controller is expected to be released this fall and will cost $150.

TIME e3 2015

Here’s a Closer Look at Tom Clancy’s Gritty New Series

It's coming out in early 2016

The Division, the next big release under the Tom Clancy video game umbrella, is going to be released on March 8, 2016. The game’s publisher, Ubisoft, revealed the date at a press conference on June 15 during E3.

The massively multiplayer shooter will come out on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. The company also said it will host betas to iron out early kinks on all three platforms early next year.

Ubisoft showed off a trailer during the announcement (above) that demonstrated player-versus-player zones in the game. The so-called “the dark zone” is a contaminated area in the middle of Manhattan. In a twist, teammates can apparently double-cross one another.

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