Platform: Nintendo Switch
Category: Interactive Model Kit
Release Date: 20th of April, 2018 (JP & NA) & 27th of April, 2018 (EU)
Nintendo Labo, it’s more than just cardboard, it’s all the possibilities you could possibly imagine!
I will never forget the day I first laid eyes on Nintendo Labo. It was January 17, 2018, and the trailer for Labo had just dropped. My internet sucked and I was experiencing some serious lag, but then I saw it, a piece of cardboard on a conveyor belt. More cardboard swiftly appeared and bewilderment spread across my face like wildfire in a forest. The words “this is a joke right?” sprang to mind, but then the cardboard started to take shape and before I knew it, there was a piano, a camera and even a motorbike.
By the time the trailer ended, I was on the edge of my seat, with my mind torn in two. Either I had just witnessed the greatest thing Nintendo has ever done, as it is Nintendo at its finest, or that the Big N has gone officially insane, due to the Switch’s success driving them all bonkers and convincing them that if they can sell us cardboard, they could sell us anything. Now, I realise this is a bit of a weird way to start a review, but it is relevant to a point I wish to make and why not have a little fun with this review? Labo itself is very fun, but we’ll get to that a little later. For now, let’s resume with the point that I’m supposed to be making.
In the months that followed since the reveal, when it came to Labo, I was constantly in two minds. Not everything Nintendo will make and release, will appeal to everyone and Labo was proof of that, but just as I was about to write off any interest I had in it whatsoever, there was a screaming voice inside my head that told me to give it a chance. Despite my tendency to be unnecessarily serious, for every waking second of each day I live and the fact I have no children to call my own, I knew I owed it to myself to give it a try and see what all the fuss is about. Now, my copy may have arrived late, but there is something I can’t help but blurt out at this very second and it is this, Nintendo Labo is simply incredible! Or, to say it how a certain Prince of Saiyans would say, “Mondo cool.”
Believe me, I am well aware that Nintendo is packing cardboard into cardboard boxes and selling it to us at rather high prices, but what you don’t realise is, there is more to Labo than just what you see with your eyes. To try Labo, is to make a Toy-Con and watch it spring to life in your hands, as all of a sudden those mundane pieces of cardboard and string, are now a fishing rod you can hold in your hands, with a working reel that comes complete with sound effects. Naturally it’s not just cardboard that plays a role in the magic of making the Toy-Con work, as the Joy-Con are vital, but so are the little rubber bands that need to be placed just right, so when you pull back on the throttle of the motorbike Joy-Con, the rubber band is automatically trying to get the throttle to return to its default position. So, not only do these Toy-Con look like the real thing (to a certain degree, but they act like it too.)
Anyhow, as much as I would like to talk about how it all works and plays that is neither here nor now, as the first step of Nintendo Labo is to Make, so before we get to the really fun stuff, let’s start with the initial set-up. Feeling like almost everyone looking to do a Labo review was going to review the Robot Kit, I decided the Variety Kit is how I would spend my time, (it also didn’t hurt that I’ve been waiting to play the Song of Storms on the Toy-Con piano since I first saw it.) Plus, there’s the fact the Robot Kit can take about 5 hours to put together whereas the Variety Kit has a 5 types of Toy-Con (the house, the piano, the motorbike, the RC car and fishing rod,) for players and parents to make and to my own surprise, it only took 6 hours to do the lot. (Admittedly for the first 2 hours of the 2, I had help, but for 4 hours, it was just me on my Jack Jones, with one hand focused on folding cardboard, whilst the other was skimming through the controls.)
Now, during the construction period, which went a lot smoother than expected, the more I looked at the sheets of cardboard, and began to worry about just how fragile it might all actually be, due to how thin it appears, I quickly took note of some of the spare parts Labo comes with. By no means does Nintendo expect you to tear every piece of cardboard, but they have seen to it that there are enough spare parts and left-over cardboard that can be used for repairs, in addition to whatever you have lying around your house. (There’s also templates that are available for free on the Nintendo website for those who really get stuck.)
So, deciding to take comfort in the fact that is a certain substance did hit the proverbial fan, it’s quite alright, because it wouldn’t be all that hard to rectify it, which is a relief to any parent. Whether intentional or not, adults and children, especially adults who are children at heart, do have a tendency to break things, but with Nintendo having taken into account almost everything that could go wrong, off I went, eager to engage in a little Arts & Crafts, which is something I haven’t done in close to 2 decades.
Like I said, everything did go smoothly, which wasn’t due to me, but due to how brilliant Nintendo is. As you would expect, it’s not just Toy-Con that make Nintendo Labo work, it’s the Joy-Con and the software in which comes in cartridge form, packed as part of the Labo kit you purchase. Still, it’s not just games the cartridge possesses, but some of the greatest sets of instructions we have ever seen supplied with any project either. From lines of dialogue, to an interactive video that can be sped up, rewound and even rotated so you can see how everything comes together, at another angle, Nintendo have truly thought of everything to make construction a simple process. In fact, going through it all, smiling as I went, it literally felt like Nintendo wanted to make the damned Toy-Con as much as I did so I could start playing and pretty soon, I was.
I thought I would despise the fishing game, due to the fact that it is fishing and the premise is simple, yet, I didn’t hate it. In fact, I found myself being so absorbed by it that 30 minutes had passed and I still hadn’t caught the shark lurking in the deep. (Editor’s Note: I still haven’t caught him, but I am getting closer. It will happen soon, I’m sure of it.) The fish I did catch however, are then able to be viewed in the game’s Aquarium mode, which is accessed via the Play section of the game. Not only will the game allow you to see the fish you create though, if you’re using the Toy-Con Piano, you can actually scan in a fish of your own creation, then alter its colour and give it eyes, thanks to the piano’s keys and touch-screen controls via the Switch’s home-screen.
Talking of the Toy-Con Piano, it is everything I thought it would be. With two modes of its own to support it (Toy Piano and Studio,) players can ever choose to mess about and have a bit of fun, or get serious with the studio. With the Toy-Con piano featuring support for you to scan in rhythm cards and waveforms, as well as dials that can change input sounds and open up Acoustic Mode, there is plenty you can do with it. Still, on top of being able to change octaves via the raising or dropping of a lever, players can even record what they play, for up to a minute. Granted it’s nowhere near long enough for a song, but, the option is there and so is the option to create a Toy-Con Baton that you can wave in front of the piano. (Why be Beethoven when you Herbert von Karajan instead?)
Although, the fishing and piano Toy-Con are something of a solitary experience, so if you want something you can play with a friend, or your child can play with a sibling/friend, the RC car is perfect for you. Not only does Labo’s Variety Kit give you the means to make one car, but you it gives you the means to make two and both cars (provided you have 2 Joy-Con for each one,) can be controlled via the one Switch unit. What you do with them, however, is up to you, as you can either do battle in a sumo fashion, complete with a Sumo ring to fight in, or you can race. If you’re really lazy though, Labo will allow the cars to drive themselves. No, I’m not kidding, the cardboard cars that run on vibrations and HD Rumble, can drive themselves and go as far as you want them too, provided the path for them is paved with marker stickers, aka Labo’s secret weapon (The IR Sensor detects their particular size, position and movement, which results in the varying actions such as piano keys being played, keys turning and more.)
Should the cars lack the high-speed action you’re after though, why not go for a ride. Be it on a course already made for the game, or one you make yourself using the main motorbike or the Racetrack Toy-Con. (With the Joy-Con inserted in either one, the Toy-Con will allow players to trace a course of their own creation that they can play on and yes, time of day can be changed and so can how steep each turn is.) Another sweet gimmick you can do as far as the motorbike game is concerned, is create a little gun/scanner that the right Joy-Con slides into and scan anything you want with the IR Sensor and have it added to your custom stadium, which in itself is a neat trick. You know what else is neat, drifting and boosting and yup, you can do those too. The bike game might be no Mario Kart, but it is NintendoLand version of MarioKart, if NintendoLand for the Wii U, made use of cardboard.
As for the other Toy-Con, which is the one that will appeal to younger players the most, it’s a lot like a gigantic Tomodachi. There is a digital animal you can interact with and a house with many rooms, provided you take the time to make up each of the Blocks (Button, Crank and Key) and have fun inserting them into the house. Whereas one button might have a singular effect, using two or more will cause the room to change and allow you to play a mini-game depending on what area you’re in. You can even make things really interesting with Cable Blocks and watch the little on-screen critter get sucked up and spat out, if that’s your kind of thing. (Or just shake the house, as that’s pretty effective too.) But, long story short, the house and its many functions are impressive, but they are not what I like most about Labo.
What I like most, can only be found in the game’s Discovery section and what I discovered, was incredible. I know the Variety Pack doesn’t come cheap as it has an asking price of $79.99, but like I said, it’s more than just cardboard. In Discover, there aren’t just interactive tutorials on how to fix certain issues, but it is an eLABOrate course on the ins and outs on how everything works. Nintendo are only ever open, when they want to be, but with the Nintendo Labo Variety Pack, it’s like the Big N is throwing it all out there, including their dirty lingerie, for all the world to see and they just don’t care.
From detailed statements, explanations and even videos on how the Joy-Con, which actually stands for Joint-Controllers, make each thing work and why, by the time you get to the end of it all, Nintendo actually turn round and encourage you to take all that you have learned and expand on their creation, which is where the Toy-Con Garage comes into play. All of the lessons aren’t just so you can publically steal trade secrets, get better at each game and discover new things you can do with them, but Nintendo actually want you to make Toy-Con of your own, which you can program. The actual lay-out itself might seem daunting at first, if you have no experience with coding and programming, but if you have the time and patience to invest into it, you could very well go on to make something truly Labo unique that no one else has thought up, yet. Should you wish to avoid the Toy-Con Garage, it’s not an issue, as although it’s an important aspect to Labo and could have you realise how much you like making your own cause and effect creations, it is just one singular part of an incredibly impressive package that only Nintendo could give us.
Cardboard or not, just because the games aren’t overly great due to their apparent limitations, but when it comes to making, crafting and customisation, the only limitation, is your own imagination. Nintendo Labo is Nintendo opening up a Joy-Con LABOratory and we’re all invited. Granted we have to pay for the privilege and it does seem like something intended for kids, but that is not true. Labo is for anyone who has a creative side to them, regardless of what form it takes. Labo is for the child, the parent, the inventor, the artist, the engineer and the cat! I know it’s been said quite a bit, but cats really can’t get enough of Labo and since they can be a rather intelligent creature, maybe we should take a leaf out of their book. Don’t be a sheep, be a cat and buy Labo. Even if you did ultimately regret it, it won’t nearly be as much as you’re expecting it will be!