Why Nintendo Patches Amiibo AI

by Doc – Owner, Founder, Humiibo Doctor

This was originally posted on June 21, 2021

“AI Love” is a common phrase in the competitive amiibo scene. It means that Nintendo has shown some “love” to a particular character by making its amiibo AI very smart, and by giving that AI some built-in follow-ups that are complicated or unique.

The Joker amiibo Brought “AI Love” to the Masses

The most common misconception that I see about the amiibo tier list is that it’s wrong, and that the Joker amiibo must be an S tier amiibo because he has several combos and built-in tricks that other amiibo don’t have. This is a common idea for a few reasons:

  1. The Joker amiibo is unique in that it was the first amiibo to receive a massive amount of “AI love“, as we call it. The Joker amiibo does have a lot of humanlike combos (namely its Up Air chains), and it still has one of the most expansive built-in AIs of any amiibo, although many other amiibo received some patches before its release. Somebody unfamiliar with Amiibo Doctor content would see that their Joker has all these incredible combos that another amiibo doesn’t, and could easily conclude that, since Joker is a high tier character in human play, it must surely be incredible in amiibo.
  2. The Joker amiibo is one of the most common and popular amiibo. It’s a bestselling amiibo, having already received multiple reprints. Many people were introduced to amiibo training through the Joker amiibo.
  3. Youtubers saw that Joker videos were receiving a lot of attention, and produced significantly more “Strongest amiibo” videos as a result. This brought a lot of attention to amiibo, but specifically to the Joker amiibo, so many more people bought into the Joker amiibo hype.

Joker is obviously not S tier in any amiibo meta whatsoever – he’s light, has minimal KO power without Arsene, and can only rarely punch above his weight depending on specific matchups. A Joker amiibo must have Arsene on effectively 100% of the time if they want to hope to break A+ tier.

What’s important to know is that Joker received a lot of “AI Love”, where other amiibo previously hadn’t.

But Is a “Good” AI a Good Thing?

However, since the release of Joker, “AI Love” has become a much more common thing. Terry, Banjo and Byleth all received a large amount of built-in combos, such as Terry’s jab-jab-Powerdunk, Banjo’s dragdown Neutral Air, and Byleth’s Down Tilt follow-ups. Many already-created amiibo AI received more AI Love as well, and it seems that in every major update, more amiibo are adapted.

These patches only go a few ways – they occasionally fix major glitches (such as Young Link and the Ice Climbers no longer having SD glitches, or at least not as frequently), but mostly just add in new follow-ups to the AI that humans often do. Fox is a great example of this. Fox was given a lot of tools out of Dash attack, particularly Forward Air, and Up Air. The utility in this from the perspective of a human player is obvious – a Fox player could use Dash attack to secure a KO with Up Air.

This isn’t how amiibo operate. Because amiibo don’t modify behavior based on percentages (we’re excluding times when percents modify hitboxes, like with Lucario’s Rage), you’re just as likely to have Fox using Dash attack to Up Air when the opponent is at 0% as when it’s at 100%. But if Fox tries that setup when the opponent is at 0%, he’s going to get smacked around like an Italian man in 1950s California. That’s not helpful at all.

Basically, this “AI Love” is rarely something that actually helps the amiibo in competition. It’s usually not something that’ll disrupt the meta – giving a low tier with bad AI different AI that’s just bad in a different way doesn’t do much – but it is indicative of what Nintendo’s real goal is by patching low tiers. And it’s not amiibo competition, although a few patches certainly fall in line with what the meta needs.

No, it’s much more creative. Creative enough that only a marketing department could come up with it.

How to Sell Amiibo Training

I think Nintendo quietly noticed something early in Ultimate’s lifespan, and pivoted their marketing strategy for amiibo as a result.

Towards the end of Smash 4, Alpharad’s first “Strongest ______ amiibo” videos came out. They made a reasonably-sized impact, but weren’t popular enough to dominate the amiibo “conversation” – after all, other games were still receiving amiibo at the time, particularly New Leaf, so going back to Smash 4 to train amiibo was at the back of most collector’s minds. The Smash 4 amiibo market was irrelevant.

However, the Strongest _____ amiibo videos suddenly began to control most of the amiibo content on Youtube when Smash Ultimate came around. It wasn’t just Alpharad anymore, either – other, smaller content creators found they could scoop up large amounts of viewership by taking part in the trend as well. Captain Kidd practically built his channel on the backs of the Strongest amiibo trend (with significant help from Alpharad, of course). Never mind that it’s the exact same premise over and over (“this amiibo is just so strong!”), casual Smash fans clearly wanted amiibo to be interesting.

I think this was when Nintendo realized that they could appeal to the massive Smash Ultimate fanbase, and decided to start putting a bit more work into amiibo as a result. You’ll notice that amiibo reprints started to hit shelves at the same time that the amiibo Tag Team Tournament happened (depending on your region). Then a few months later, Nintendo released the 8.0 patch, the first patch to make major changes to specific amiibo’s AI.

It seems to me, given the occurrence of large amounts of amiibo training attention on Youtube, followed by the reprints that happened at the same time as the beginning of AI Love, that Nintendo is making amiibo AI seem much smarter so that more amiibo content is produced, and more amiibo are sold. They want amiibo to seem like an amazing opponent so that the demographics who watch these videos and learn about amiibo training are more likely to buy amiibo. And, conveniently, amiibo reprints place amiibo fresh on the shelf.

Hey, I could be wrong. But I can’t think of another reason why Nintendo would suddenly care about amiibo AI.


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