With Skyward Sword HD just around the corner, Nintendo recently unveiled a Zelda & Loftwing amiibo. It’s a real beauty, but it comes hand in hand with an ugly business practice. As the reveal trailer explains, this amiibo unlocks a new fast travel feature, letting players instantly teleport from the surface to the sky and back again. It’s a move that’s drawing criticism on social media, and for good reason. It’s a frustrating decision that doesn’t bode well for future Nintendo remakes and remasters.
Amiibo have been used for many years to unlock gameplay features, which essentially amounts to physical DLC. They’re often used in simple ways, such as granting players a stash of minor items. Other games have incorporated them in more meaningful ways, like how Smash lets you train and fight your amiibo against each other. Understandably, this practice brings out mixed feelings in players. Generally speaking, the more an amiibo-exclusive feature impacts the core gameplay, the more likely it is to draw the ire of players. Especially if that amiibo is rare or expensive. Skyward Sword HD and the Zelda & Loftwing amiibo have come together to form a perfect storm of anti-consumer amiibo nonsense.
The value of a remaster
Let’s be real: Skyward Sword HD is a $60 remaster of a game that cost $50 ten years ago. That’s already a steep ask, but Switch is a juggernaut, so we’re used to it. Nintendo justified a similar price hike for the Link’s Awakening remake with a totally revamped graphics style, a new dungeon-builder mode, and a variety of quality of life changes. The controls and items were reworked in minor, but extremely effective ways, and numerous fast travel points were added to the map to make exploration more convenient. It’s these kinds of user-friendly improvements that made the game accessible to a wider, modern audience.
So what is Skyward Sword HD bringing to the table? It features improved graphics (though not on the scale of the Link’s Awakening remake) and some new control options, which is a good start. But we’ve yet to see any new content. And when it comes to overworld improvements… well let’s just say it could really use some. The game’s rigidly linear progression and the segmented world led to excessive backtracking and all but eliminated exploration from the formula. This drew a lot of criticism, eventually prompting producer Eiji Aonuma to “rethink the conventions” of the franchise. Instant fast travel isn’t a perfect fix, but it’s a great step in the right direction. And Nintendo is locking it behind a $25 toy.
The Zelda & Loftwing amiibo
Charging $25 for what should be a free feature is bad enough, but the scarcity of amiibo exacerbates the problem. The Zelda & Loftwing amiibo immediately sold out at many stores, which means most people simply won’t have the chance to buy it, even if they want to. And you just know that many of the people who do get their hands on one will have to pay scalper prices.
What’s puzzling is that I don’t understand why Nintendo felt they needed to do this. It’s not like amiibo made for special events like this have any problem selling out. They’ve infamously had the opposite problem. The Zelda & Loftwing amiibo could give you nothing but a single rupee, and it still would have sold out in the blink of an eye. They’re decreasing the value of Skyward Sword HD to increase the value of a toy that frankly doesn’t need the help.
Nintendo anniversaries and remakes
I hope Nintendo reconsiders and gives every player this new fast travel ability. But I’m not holding my breath. This isn’t the first time Nintendo has exploited anniversaries and remasters in slimy ways. This situation reminds me of Pokémon: Let’s Go celebrating the series’ 20th anniversary in the West by locking Mew behind a $50 accessory. And more recently, Nintendo celebrated 35 years of Mario with a bundle of low-effort remasters (upgraded ports?) with an expiration date meant to generate FOMO.
Nostalgia is an incredibly powerful tool, and Nintendo loves wielding it. Skyward Sword HD and the Zelda & Loftwing amiibo are just the latest examples, and they likely won’t be the last. As long as fans keep giving in, Nintendo’s going to keep pushing those boundaries. And I can’t help but be concerned about what that might mean for future “celebrations” of beloved games.