Nintendo is taking a cue from Skylanders and Disney Infinity.
The Japanese gaming giant unveiled a toy figure line called "amiibo" that will work in tandem with its video games like the toys-meet-games franchises from Activision Blizzard Inc. and the Walt Disney Co. The announcement was made in an online video released Tuesday by the Nintendo Co. during the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the industry's annual trade show.
For the second year in a row, Nintendo opted against hosting a flashy E3 presentation and instead streamed videos showcasing the "amiibo" figures and other upcoming games.
Similar to Activision's Skylanders and Disney Infinity, the characters' virtual histories will be stored on the plastic figures and transmitted through the Wii U GamePad, the controller for its slow-selling Wii U console that features a touchscreen and near-field communication capabilities.
"There's a special chip that's embedded in every figure," said Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. "Any Wii U system will recognize the figure by touching them on the Wii U GamePad, and when that happens, they spring to life in compatible games in cool new ways."
The first lineup of figures, due out later this year, features 10 characters from well-known Nintendo franchises: the Villager from Animal Crossing; the "Wii Fit" trainer; sword-wielding Link from The Legend of Zelda; intergalactic solider Samus Aran from Metroid; Pikachu from Pokemon; iconic gorilla Donkey Kong; pink shape shifter Kirby; and Mario, Princess Peach and Yoshi from "Super Mario Bros."
The company said the figures would be compatible with the upcoming Wii U fighting game Super Smash Bros. and would eventually work with other games, including the recently released racing title Mario Kart 8 and the forthcoming platformers Yoshi's Woolly World and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
Bill Trenin, senior product marketing manager of Nintendo of America, said the company was working on a peripheral reader scheduled for release next year that would connect the figures to its handheld Nintendo 3DS system. He said other "amiibo" figures and games are "in the works." The price of the figures wasn't announced.
"Combining 'amiibo' with our games opens up a whole range of potential new gameplay experiences," said Trenin. "It's one of the most exciting things that Nintendo is announcing at E3."
Wii U and 3DS lineup
Nintendo also hyped several upcoming games due out later this year for the Wii U and 3DS, including The Legend of Zelda battle game Hyrule Warriors, hack-and-slash sequel Bayonetta 2 and the Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire installments of the Pokemon series.
Other games teased for release in 2015 included the Super Mario level designing game Mario Maker, online paint shoot-'em-up Splatoon, sci-fi role-playing game Xenoblade Chronicles X, cutesy platformer Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and a Legend of Zelda game for the Wii U set in an open world.
Nintendo could use a boost from new toys and games. Sales of Nintendo's Wii U console have lagged behind the newer PlayStation 4 and Xbox One systems released by Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp. last November. Nintendo has sold 6 million consoles since the Wii U was released in 2012, while Microsoft and Sony have respectively sold 5 million and 7 million units in the past six months.