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The ongoing debate over amiibo in Zelda speedrunning

And amiibo in future Nintendo games

Breath of the Wild’s Guardian amiibo is fairly inauspicious. It spawns a chest full of goods and a few crates — the kind that can be magnetized or frozen in time with a trusty flick of the Sheikah Slate. It’s an easy way for players to muck around with the game’s famously untethered physics. Want to drop a payload on a wayward Bobokin? Scan in your Guardian and let the good times roll.

The amiibo hobby is built on compulsive fan service, like how the Smash Bros. Link statue summons the iconic maple-brown steed Epona, so to many a bevy of metal boxes and vendor loot might seem a little underwhelming. But the Breath of the Wild speedrunning community rarely takes a throwaway mechanic for granted, and over the past few months the Guardian amiibo has become an agent of chaos. Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is about the size of Manhattan, and speedrunners have discovered that — with a little bit of finesse — they can turn these ordinary crates into homemade catapults.

Breath of the Wild’s Guardian amiibo

They call it “stasis launching,” and the methodology is pretty simple. Dump a bunch of inertia into an object suspended by Link’s stasis ability, grab onto the side before it blasts off, and suddenly you’ve significantly cut down on the long journeys between waypoints. With the Guardian amiibo’s ability to spawn launchable crates regardless of where you are on the map, suddenly a $40 toy — as is the going rate these days — becomes a crucial ingredient for anyone trying to minimize their time.

“[The Guardian] really opens up the game, because the mission statement of Breath of the Wild is ‘anything you see, you can go to,’ But with the Guardian amiibo, you can go anywhere you see, fast,” says Kaitlyn “Orcastraw” Molinas, a speedrunner who currently holds 5th place in Breath of the Wild’s All Main Quests category on “You have the ability to stand on top of a box and shoot it up high and just ride it to the heavens, gaining tons of height. You can also ram the box into your back and go horizontally across any distance very fast.”

The amount of time the Guardian amiibo saves depends on the specific category of the run. Molinas reckons that in the All Shrines gauntlet, where players have to clear every single one of the 120 micro-dungeons on the map, you’ll cut an hour out of your final pace. In the lengthier, day-and-a-half 100 percent run, you save about 30 minutes. The problem is that an individual Guardian amiibo can only be scanned into Breath of the Wild once per day, which means that right now the optimal speedrun path requires upwards of 15 statues. Molinas gets around this by “spoofing” the requisite NFC chips that amiibo technology relies on. “It's much more convenient [to do that] as opposed to filling my desk with a horde of Guardian amiibo,” she says. “I definitely haven't encountered anyone interested in buying dozens of amiibo for speedruns.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

As you might expect, this has caused an ongoing debate within the Breath of the Wild speedrunning contingency. There is nothing illegal about using a Nintendo-sanctioned product like an amiibo to maximize your time. After all, speedrunning is built around cutting corners with clever, game-breaking chicanery. One of the most famous moments in the history of the scene was at Awesome Games Done Quick 2013, when Narcissa Wright showed off a convoluted sequence of glitches in Ocarina of Time’s Deku Tree that, inexplicably, teleported her dewy-eyed Link all the way to the apex of Ganondorf’s palace.

Still, many find the Guardian amiibo (and the sheer number of the statues you would hypothetically need to own) sinful. An eight page thread on the forums serves as a monument to the controversy. Some agonize over the perceived barrier of entry, because a required hunk of plastic can be a huge turn-off for anyone getting their feet wet in the scene. Some consider using an amiibo similar to using an external peripheral like a GameShark or a modded controller, which are both outlawed in most vanilla speedrunning categories. For Jacob “Jgiga” Winning, a Breath of the Wild speedrunner with the third fastest time in the All Main Quests run, amiibo usage contradicted something a little more spiritual. It felt like cheating, he says, and not in the good way.

“[I] completed both All Dungeons and All Main Quests with amiibo on stream, both before we knew about Guardian boxes,” he says. “I found myself caring much less about the runs, and not having nearly as much fun, because I felt like I was being given an advantage I didn't really need, or that made much sense. ... I feel like amiibo runs are less about gameplay, and more about scanning and launching, which makes it less fun for me personally.”

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Today, Winning records his runs without the help of amiibo, and his success proves that you don’t necessarily need an army of expensive toys to be a successful Breath of the Wild runner. That being said, a quick look at the leaderboards tells a pretty stark story. In the All Shrines stipulation, Ikkitrix used amiibo to propel himself to a first-place time of 8 hours, 31 minutes. Adam “P4ntz” Pantz says he doesn’t use amiibo for ethical reasons, and he holds a distant third at 9 hours, 49 minutes. While each run on is flagged with whether or not the runner used amiibo, the times are still sequenced in the same overall bracket. That means right now, the official record compares those who refuse to indulge in Guardian boxes with those who do, whether they like it or not.

“I am personally not OK with lumping [amiibo times and non-amiibo times] together,” says Pantz. “I run the longer categories of Breath of the Wild. In the shorter categories, amiibo save a few minutes. In the longer runs, much more. I feel the runners that don't use amiibo get overlooked as their times can't compete with those who use it, even if at a technical level they are around the same skill.”

If the Guardian boxes were discovered as an in-game exploit, or a inventive use of a specific lootable item, this wouldn’t be a controversy. But amiibo feel external, players say. They rain items onto your character as a reward for fessing up the real world cash to mount a toy on your mantle. Some people in the community like to imagine a speedrun beginning with the purity of an empty save file, not an empty save file and a dozen identical Guardian amiibo neatly stacked on a desk like some strange plastic breeding operation. However, Molinas isn’t bothered by that. She says she will use every resource she can within juridical limits. After all, she says, that’s part of the fun.

“I would ask that people who have this [negative] reaction to amiibo to understand that some speedrunners want to push the game to its limits, and since the game allows amiibo, it's a part of the tools we have,” she says. “Some people think amiibo aren't fair or good for speedruns because ‘they're cheats.’ But comparing amiibo to things like cheat codes and DLC isn't a fully functional analogy; they're all quite different. Amiibo drops are sanctioned and built into the game, rather than using unofficial hardware and add-ons to hack or cheat the game.”

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

In October, Nintendo plans to release Super Mario Odyssey, the first game in Super Mario 64’s lineage since 2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2. Super Mario 64 is the most popular game in all of speedrunning, and it’s a given that Odyssey will attract a similarly zealous community. Yet Odyssey will also support amiibo, and that’s already stressing Pantz out. Another endless, unresolvable debate about the specifics of amiibo ethics is on the horizon, and there’s nothing he can do. “As much as I would love Nintendo to consider the speedrunning scene, I know they do everything for the casual gamers,” he says. “I don’t blame Nintendo at all for not supporting the small percentage of people that are [speedrunning] their games.”

The elementary solution might be to divide speedrunning times into two separate “amiibo” and “non-amiibo” categories, similar to the way “tool-assisted” speedruns that use scripts and hacks are sequestered away in their own micro-community. But that’s more complicated than you might think. Breath of the Wild will be getting DLC patches throughout the year. Should players who don’t use the extra content get their own category too? Should that system be adopted for all other games? If Breath of the Wild runs are split between amiibo usage, which one should be toggled as the default?

As doesn't enforce these sorts of guidelines from the top down, these questions are left up to the untidy community instead of a centralized governing authority. However, there’s at least one person interested in establishing a firm precedent on amiibo. Brayden “Vespher” Haney currently holds the fifth place spot in Breath of the Wild’s All Dungeons category at 2 hours, 14 minutes, which is only six minutes off of world record time. He was an early champion of amiibo, and while he still uses them in his runs, he now considers them to be an unfortunate blemish on the scene. Haney doesn’t find the Guardian’s powers to be unethical or obscene, but he is tired of fighting about it.

“On one hand, I'm a speedrunner, and enjoy doing whatever it takes to drive times lower and lower. On the other hand, I'm not a fan of all the drama and discrepancy that amiibo have caused within the community,” he says. “Looking back at what they have caused, I wish they were never allowed. My advice to all runners of future games that may be affected by amiibo is to ban them from the start. The time save isn't worth the unsteadiness in the community.”

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