Nintendo Labo Harkens Back To Company's Toymaker Roots
January 17, 2018
Nintendo has a new product that uses its popular Switch console as something of an accessory instead of the main attraction: Nintendo Labo, a series of cardboard sheets that assemble into toys and gizmos. Think of them like Lego bricks for the engineering fan in all of us (but mainly kids). Due out in April 2018 starting at a MSRP of $70, the Labo kits (dubbed Toy-Cons which is a delightful bit of wordplay on the Switch's Joy-Con controllers) fold and bend into real life working interactive toys such as a piano, a fishing rod, and a robot. Slip the Joy-Cons into the assembled contraption, attach the Switch screen, and the fun begins. Powered by Switch and the included game card, the Labo kits look to be the next big thing from Nintendo and a sign that we're moving into the second phase of the company's plan for Switch world domination. Keza MacDonald at The Guardian breaks it all down.
Inside the Nintendo Labo box are 25 sheets of thick, brown, branded cardboard, and a little cartridge that pops into a Nintendo Switch console. Following Lego-like instructions on the Switch screen, you punch out the cardboard pieces and assemble them into contraptions of varying complexity. The first project, which takes maybe 15 minutes, is a simple little bug-like radio-controlled car; slot the Joy-Con controllers into its cardboard sides, pull up the controls on the Switch’s screen, and the vibrations send it juddering across a flat surface with surprising speed.
The more complex constructions are a telescopic fishing rod with a working reel, attached to a base with elastic bands and string for realistic tension; a cardboard model of a piano with springy keys; an abstract motorbike, with handles and a pedal; a little house. Each contraption is made out of cardboard and string, and transforms into a digitally augmented toy when you slot Joy-Con controllers and the Switch screen into it. The piano, especially, is quite amazing, and takes about two hours to build. The infrared camera on the Joy-Con controller can see reflective strips of tape on the back of the keys, which come into view when a key is pressed, telling the game software to play the right note. Cardboard dials and switches modify the tone and add effects to the sound.
There's a lot to unpack here, but Labo is going to be big. The idea reaches back to those third-party plastic Wii remote shells from the Wii Sports craze of 2006-2008 or so when people believed that snapping a tennis racket or a bowling ball toy on to a Wii remote would somehow make the game easier to play. Instead of cheap overpriced plastic that adds nothing to the experience and was destined to collect dust on a shelf, Nintendo opted for cheap cardboard that can be easily mended when damaged and recycled at the end of its life. Nintendo will also offer replacement cardboard if Labo parts are mutilated beyond repair, so there's no need to rebuy entire kits. And yes, while on the surface the Labo kits look like a $70 box of cardboard, remember that the package includes the Switch game needed to make it all work (which itself includes interactive instructions to guide users on assembling the toys). Given the proper promotion, Labo is going to be huge for the holidays with parents who want to give their kids a Nintendo product that educates (everything from basic principles of mechanics to the "some assembly required" experience of putting it all together) as well as entertains (be a robot!).