Nintendo has always made a name for itself by doing what other companies won’t, sometimes despite industry trends. The original NES helped resuscitate a waning home console market, the Nintendo 64 introduced the analog stick, the Nintendo Wii defied all expectations, and the Nintendo Switch is proving that no one knows what gamers want more than Nintendo with what will potentially go down as their most successful game system to date.
So why then is Nintendo, a company known for pushing new boundaries, turning to hunks of cardboard for their next bold vision with Nintendo Labo?
Back to Basics
With the Nintendo Switch, the Japanese gaming giant found something special. The console combines portability, ingenious design, and strong underlying hardware with an accessible lineup of indie darlings and first-party powerhouse releases. It’s quickly becoming the must-have game platform of this era.
This isn’t to say that everything Nintendo touches turns to gold, necessarily. The Nintendo GameCube, despite being a staple of my own personal childhood, is statistically not known as a very successful console. The Wii U is one of the company’s worst commercial failures of all-time and, no matter how many amazing Zelda and Mario games they continue to make, there will always be a franchise that fans feel is wrongfully neglected or mishandled *cough* Metroid *cough.*
Sometimes though, innovation is at its finest when you strip away complexities and just get down to what’s actually fun to do and use. While Labo might just be hunks of cardboard, if you look at things literally, when combined with a Nintendo Switch and the creativity of a child, it can be anything you want it to be.
Right now it’s being sold in two primary kits: the Variety Kit and the Robot Kit. The Variety Kit includes the parts to create two RC cars, a fishing rod, a house, a motorbike, and a piano. All of that will cost you $69.99, which seems expensive, but when you consider how much comes in the box for someone that already has a Switch that’s actually quite a lot of toys. And that’s an important to distinction to make: this is a toy kit.
Kids have been playing video games, building things, and creating small toy model replicas of cars and planes for decades — Nintendo Labo combines all of that together in one package.
Sense of Ownership
Anyone that’s ever spent any amount of time with a kid in recent years knows that there is an insane obsession with games like Minecraft and Roblox. It’s really no mystery, it’s the natural evolution of things like LEGOs and Lincoln Logs, without the post-play cleanup.
Creating something in a game is lots of fun and limitless, but you can’t replace the tactile experience of manipulating things with your own two hands and enjoying a creation in the real world. 3D printers bridge that gap a little bit, but Labo feels more like playing with the box your toys came in than a toy itself — and that’s the point. When you open up a Nintendo Labo kit it will include instructions and guided materials to help you fold and bend and piece together hunks of cardboard to create all manner of creations. I’m especially excited to see what new creations Nintendo will release in expansion packs over time.
How many kids have you seen play with a box? Did they just poke at it and look at it sitting there, empty, devoid of use? Or did they view it as a blank slate, full of possibilities? I remember building forts and caves and tunnels and suits of armor using cardboard and now, fueled by Nintendo’s creativity and smart marketing.
The Variety Kit includes five different creations (six if you count both RC cars) for $69.99, while the much more complex Robot Kit — which allows players to control a giant robot — is a bit pricier at $79.99. I expect the Variety Kit to be much more popular given how many activities it includes, with the Robot Kit reserved for gamers. Both kits come with the Garage section, which allows for further creation.
As a new father, I can’t wait to raise my son in a world where Nintendo Labo lets him become a super-powered robot, build a working remote control car, or go fishing. Part video game, part construction set, and all STEM-fueled creativity, Labo feels like it may very well end up being this year’s surprise new toy must-have. Just as long as you’re okay with wrapping a box of cardboard with pieces of cardboard inside as a gift.