LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nintendo Co Ltd offered the first glimpse at interactive figurines of Mario and other characters on Tuesday at video gaming expo E3, aiming to fire up sales of its two-year-old Wii U console, which have fallen far short of targets.
The "amiibo" models, which mark Nintendo's entrance into the "toys-to-life" category popularized by Activision's "Skylanders" and Walt Disney Co's "Infinity," contain a chip that activates and trains characters in the games when placed on the Wii U GamePad controller.
Around 10 figurines will be introduced with the release of "Super Smash Bros. 4" for the Wii U in time for the end-of-year holiday season, Nintendo said. The models will also be made compatible with other existing games, such as the recently launched "Mario Kart 8," in the future, the company added without providing details.
Nintendo has come under pressure from investors to change tack after booking a third straight year of losses on disappointing Wii U sales but has so far resisted calls to put its games on smartphones.
However, the company is moving to lessen its dependence on the volatile and cyclical game console market, with a health-related platform and a low-cost machine for emerging markets in the works.
The amiibo figurines are part of an effort to increase the appeal of the console, which has suffered from a lack of hit games to match the fitness- and family-oriented titles that made its predecessor, the Wii, a bestseller.
Nintendo said it would release a peripheral device for its handheld 3DS console at a later date to make it compatible with the amiibo figures, which will include characters such as Pikachu, Donkey Kong and Link from the Legend of Zelda.
The company also announced a new eight-player action game, Splatoon, for release in 2015. Created by the same team that developed the Mario and Zelda titles, the game features squid-like characters that compete to cover as much space as possible with colorful ink.
Other games in the pipeline include "Bayonetta 2" from Platinum Games, for release in October 2014, and a new iteration of "The Legend of Zelda" for the Wii U scheduled for release in 2015.
(Writing by Sophie Knight; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)