Update: If you are choosing between Super Smash Bros. and Super Mario versions of Mario, Peach, Luigi and Bowser this video (above) offers a comparison from an 11 year old collector.
It can seem like one toy craze is much like another. The huge popularity of crossing video-games and collectable toys has spawned a variety of experiences. Amiibo is Nintendo's big entrance into this space, but there is much more going on here than meets the eye.
Firstly there are similarities. It uses the plastic toy figurines to access particular characters in the game. As you play progress is automatically saved back to the toy figure ready for the next time you use them.
For families this is a big difference. In the Super Smash Bros. example the amiibo version of Mario would be used to fight against, team up with or battle other in-game characters. Using the character in this way would increase its attack and defense stats and let it learn new fighting tactics, all of which are then saved automatically back to the figure.
Rather than requiring the toys to unlock characters in the game, amiibo offer additional content that is tailored to your collection and how you have developed each character.
Another big difference about the amiibo ecosystem is that you don't need a separate Portal to access the figures on the Wii U. It uses technology already built int to Wii U game pad. This should certainly keep the costs down for families.
Each amiibo figure stands on a base that matches the game to which they relate. The current crop of figures each have a Super Smash Bros. logo on their stand. This not only demarks which game they came with but opens the door to multiple collectable versions of the same character for different games.
So far we are expecting 10 figures for Super Smash Bros. (Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Pikachu, Princess Peach, Samus Aran, the Animal Crossing Villager, the Wii Fit Trainer, Yoshi and Link) with four more seen on the official website (Fox, Marth, Pit and Zelda). In an interview with IGN, Takahashi has stated that there are plans for every Smash Bros character to have an amiibo although not details on when they will be available at retail as yet.
In addition to Super Smash Bros. these figures will be supported by Mario Kart 8, Yoshi's Wooly World, Mario Party 10 and Captain Toad Treasure Tracker. Whether those games will each get their own related collectable figurines remains to be seen, but seems likely.
This cross-game compatibility is another significant distinctive for amiibo. Having a single figurine that enables you to bring a companion character in to multiple games not only means you don’t have to buy as many toy figures but also makes the toys more significant. There can be a flow of upgrades and abilities between different titles via the amiibo characters.