Not to be outdone, Nintendo's decided to get in on this whole 'toys-to-life' bandwagon and it is hitting the pavement hard. Called 'amiibo', the plastic Nintendo toys are a little different than the competition - they're not made for a single set of games, but are made to interact with a variety of Wii U or 3DS titles in a bunch of different ways. If you're wondering what they do or which characters to buy, this beginner's guide should give you a decent crash course in what to expect.
What is it? Plastic toys based off a wealth of beloved Nintendo characters, from the popular (Super Mario) to the obscure (Wii Fit Trainer).
Who is it for? People who adore Nintendo's characters and own a few compatible Wii U/3DS games
What do the toys do? amiibo is a bit of a strange case. There isn't any one particular game that really requires amiibo (well, other than the lackluster Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, anyway). Instead, dozens of games on the Wii U and 3DS support various amiibo figures, unlocking content or providing bonuses you otherwise wouldn't get. Here's the official list of every compatible game.
How many different characters are there? Tons. There are characters based off of the Super Mario Bros. series. There are a set of squids and kids from Splatoon. There's a whole line based off of Animal Crossing. The most varied set of amiibo is from the Super Smash Bros. franchise, as Nintendo is producing a plastic toy based on every single current and future DLC character in its lineup, which includes characters like Mega Man and Little Mac from Punch-Out, and eventually, characters like Ryu from Street Fighter and (most likely) Cloud from Final Fantasy 7. There are even amiibo trading cards - the first set is for Animal Crossing, while additional sets for Pokemon and other franchises are likely in the works.
What should I buy? Honestly, it's up to your own personal preference with amiibo, since the compatibility is based entirely on which games you have. In order to use them, you need a Wii U, a New Nintendo 3DS (which comes with built-in amiibo support), or an NFC Reader/Writer for your older 3DS handheld, as well as a game that they're compatible with. Other than that, it's really just down to which characters you like.
Are they rare? It depends. Certain classic characters are incredibly plentiful and easy to find, but good luck getting your hands on Fire Emblem's Lucina or Earthbound's Ness at retail. You'll have to dig into the second-hand market for many of the rare figures, though Nintendo is trying to restock certain hard-to-find characters.