History of the Amiibo Metagame

To a certain extent, amiibo training has always been a niche subset of Super Smash Bros. The idea of pouring hours of time into training a CPU character was offputting to some – not to mention the $12.99 price tag of each figurine. Over time, amiibo training became much more than an overlooked niche: the dedication of several amiibo training websites as well as the sheer quantity of high-profile tournaments helped shape the well-defined metagame we play today.

What made amiibo training special was the opportunity to discover. In addition to mastering each fighter’s unique moveset, we also had to explore several new mechanics, many of which applied exclusively to amiibo training: stat points, bonus effects, custom moves, and artificial intelligence. There were so many wonderful intricacies to learn about, and it felt like we learned something new every day.

But now, it’s 2018. We’ve learned just about all that there is to learn about amiibo training. Not only is the metagame winding down, but the Wii U itself is a dead system. So why do players continue to train amiibo? Is it still worth the time and effort? What made it so great in the first place? As we ask ourselves these questions, we must look to the past for answers.

The Beginning

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and the first wave of amiibo figures were released in November 2014. Unfortunately, amiibo training started off somewhat slow: most (if not all) day one amiibo purchases were to complete a collection or to pay homage to a favorite character. At first, very few were truly dedicated to amiibo training: those who were posted nothing more than short and concise notes.

From the very beginning, expectations of amiibo training were…unrealistic, to say the least. A great many assumed that an amiibo could become just as potent as a human player, to the point of learning combos and reading opponents. These trainers were disappointed when their amiibo failed to pick up on these strategies. As you might expect, this didn’t sit well, and a good number of players simply lost interest in amiibo training. They failed to realize that their vision of insane combos, taunting, and disrespectful plays didn’t line up with each amiibo’s programmed behavior.

Those who stuck around took a different approach to amiibo training and quickly realized that amiibo were not meant to mimic human behavior. Instead of preparing them to face human opponents, trainers primed their amiibo to fight other amiibo. From this, the metagame began to take shape. Over time, small tournaments were formed, but they were far and few between due to a lack of exposure and the fact that there was no way to use amiibo online.

Things changed for the better when Amiibo Dan came around. Dan was one of the first amiibo training content creators. He successfully unified a community around amiibo training, and brought important guides and videos to the masses. But Dan’s biggest accomplishment was introducing the concept of online tournaments – with his help, an online amiibo metagame became feasible. Trainers could use an NFC-compatible Android device to send their amiibo to Dan, and he would bring them to life on his Wii U to stream real-time tournaments. His commentary was silly, but was entertaining and brought much-needed hype to the metagame. These tourneys were a highlight of amiibo training history, and we have Dan to thank for the metagame’s continued activity.

A Developing Metagame

Thanks to Amiibo Dan, trainers now had an easy way to enter tournaments. Now that accessibility was less of an issue (as online play was unavailable prior to Dan’s contributions), it was time for players to develop the metagame and discover the best strategies.

That being said, even with Dan’s guides available, players did not know how to “properly” train their amiibo, or how to tell if it was good enough to submit. People needed a dedicated and experienced amiibo trainer to help set the standard. The first person to take on this role was Glenn, who ran Amiibo Trainer (now defunct), which was the first amiibo training website (which doesn’t count Dan’s YouTube content). Glenn is credited with establishing many fundamental facts and strategies, including:

  • The notion of aerials being harmful to an amiibo’s success
  • The notion that defense is an amiibo’s best playstyle
  • The notion that every amiibo character has potential to an extent
  • Many stat spreads and bonus combinations (Rock-Paper-Scissors, Overload, etc.)
  • Bowser, Ganondorf, and Little Mac as the top three amiibo
  • Villager, Samus, Yoshi, and Fox as less potent characters

If you have had experience with the amiibo metagame, then you’re probably familiar with the stigma against aerials and aggressive play. Glenn was the first to introduce these philosophies, and he was the first to apply them to his amiibo. With these beliefs in mind, he went on to win a grand total of five tournaments.

Refining the Ruleset

An indeterminate time after the metagame “began”, many trainers began to take issue with two specific bonus effects: Critical-hit capability and Explosive perfect shield. Both were eventually banned for separate reasons:

  • Critical-hit capability granted its user a 20% chance of landing a critical hit (which equates to triple damage and scaled knockback). This would lead to unfair comebacks that were often disputed within the community. It was also argued that Critical hits made matches too reliant on RNG.
  • Explosive perfect shield, hence its name, allowed its user to create a damaging explosion just by blocking. With this bonus allowed and encouraged, the metagame became a boring-shield fest. Trainers didn’t like this, as it meant that players with a lower skill level could gain an unfair advantage.

Character Progression

At this point in time, things were looking good for the amiibo metagame. Players had the means to participate, the rules were fine-tuned, and there were excellent training strategies at their disposal. With these two criteria met, online amiibo tournaments began to explode in popularity, and before long, a preliminary tier list was formed.

  • Little Mac was quickly established as the best amiibo in the game. With 200 points in attack, a single uncharged forward smash could shatter any fighter’s shield. A well-trained Little Mac amiibo was capable of tearing opponents apart, ending 2-stock games in a minute or less. Little Mac was eventually banned from the amiibo metagame due to his undeniable dominance.
  • Bowser became top-tier primarily due to his side special, Flying Slam. Since amiibo are always grounded in a neutral situation, Flying Slam was an excellent option. A proficient Bowser amiibo could rack up damage and eventually KO opponents with Flying Slam alone.
  • Ganondorf’s strong attacks and heavy weight made him an extremely resilient fighter and a popular choice among new trainers. Ganondorf’s amiibo sold quite well, so he was (and still is) quite common.

In spite of certain characters rising to the top, Glenn insisted that less common characters like Pac-Man and Sonic were still viable. He encouraged trainers to pick up seldom-seen characters to keep the metagame fresh.

Defying the Tier List

As players continued to pick up wins with Bowser and Ganondorf, trainers became tired of seeing the same outcome time and time again. Rather than winning, some amiibo trainers decided to truly prove themselves by winning a tournament with an unexpected character:

  • Ness was slept on at first, but his PK Fire chains, potent smash attacks, and powerful back throw eventually warranted him a high spot on the amiibo tier list. As you might know, the Amiibo Dojo was primarily responsible for Ness’ rise to fame, which most notably won Dan’s third Amiibo World Tournament.
  • Marth was always good, but his tipper mechanic made him tough to train. A trainer by the name of Blue picked up Marth – and that Marth became dominant, winning several tournaments and rising his position on the tier list.
  • Pac-Man was initially seen as the worst amiibo in the game. In 2016, Critical hits and Explosive perfect shield were banned from the amiibo metagame. These changes helped Pac-Man pick up several tournament wins in a row, with a few different trainers aiding in his representation.
  • Donkey Kong is perhaps the greatest story of zero to hero in the amiibo metagame. At first, he was seen as a horrible fighter. But as trainers spent more time training him, they realized that his cargo throw ignores the effects of Improved escapability (the most commonly-used bonus effect). This carved Donkey Kong his own niche.

This is why many players enjoyed the amiibo metagame so much – unlike competitive Super Smash Bros., in which you generally need to play as the best character to win, the amiibo metagame gave a fair chance to every fighter. There was always a discovery to be made, or a secret quirk for a character that we didn’t know about before. And to this day, that same sense of discovery remains fresh in our minds.

By now, you might be wondering why the Amiibo Dojo has been so scarcely mentioned – and, well, that’s because I didn’t contribute as much to the metagame as Glenn or Dan did. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of successes, but that’s mostly because I’ve inherited the standard that they established. I think the Amiibo Dojo’s role in amiibo training was more along the lines of getting the word out – I was able to attract more players to the metagame, which did go a long way to increase its longevity. But what I’m saying is that Glenn and Dan quite literally built the metagame by creating its foundation – I just continued it.

Regardless of all of that, there’s a reason people continue to participate in the amiibo metagame, and there is a reason people continue to enjoy it. It’s 2018. You might think that amiibo training is dead. The metagame might be winding down, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had. There’s still time for you to establish yourself as a great trainer. All that’s left for you to do is to take the first step.

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