Launched at the end of April, introducing Nintendo’s new cardboard baby. Coming as a cardboard kit, the “Nintendo Labo” is half-craft, half-video game. If opinions are split on the actual value of the innovation, the idea of combining virtual and manual activities for kids has been well received, and it illustrates yet again the company’s ability to stand out with its concepts.
Between Lego and IKEA
That’s how the Huffington Post described the first stage of the game. The happy new owner of the Nintendo Labo quickly unpacks one of the first two boxes released at the end of April, coming face to face with pre-cut pieces of cardboard and rubber bands. These are the kits to construct its five toys: a piano, a motorcycle, a house, a remote-control car, and even a fishing rod. Once she has her cardboard, the player needs to steel herself with patience, partly eroded by years of screens, to assemble the different elements by following the instructions of the Switch’s software, the portable Nintendo console for which it created the game: step by step, at her own pace, the new engineer begins to create her own “Toy-Con”. One, two, even three hours of work are sometimes needed depending on age, the game aiming for children from 6 to 12 years. For the motorcycle, one starts with the horn, before assembling the handles, the throttle, the handlebars… Nothing is left to chance.
Once this meticulous work is done, perfectionists will decorate their new toy with felt and stickers. Others will throw themselves, exhausted, onto the Switch and its controller, sliding it into the cardboard, which has a built-in space for it. Thus begins the videoretro experience, on which opinions have polarized. It consists of minigames adapted to the cardboard, somewhat similar to those of the Wii Play and the game 1-2-Switch, but which reveal the full technological sophistication of the Switch – which is equipped with speakers, touch screen, infrared cameras, a gyroscopic system, and emits vibrations. Those who have tested the new gaming darling have praised the cardboard-and-rubber-band piano, whose notes sing out like magic when a player touches its 13 keys, thanks to motion sensors on the console. It’s more than a do-it-yourself game; it’s a veritable initiation to music.
Plenty of people criticize the Nintendo Labo, claiming that it isn’t really revolutionary, that it’s merely a gadget, that it’s too expensive – the 60-70-euro price might seem excessive given the lo-fi content of the box. But one has to recognize the merits of giving the video game a tangible and physical dimension, and to remember that the cardboard itself can occupy a child for several hours.
Above all, the real power of the Nintendo Labo is a somewhat-hidden and particularly celebrated option. The programming tool included in the boxes, the “Toy-Con Workshop”, lets players alter the uses of its cardboard toys, and then to multiply their possibilities. That could mean directing one’s remote-control car with a fishing rod, or even transforming one’s car into a musical instrument, for example, as a Nintendo video explains.
The other advantage is that it’s less detrimental to tire of cardboard than of plastic. And to keep its gamers on their heels, Nintendo plans to regularly release new kits. It’s already putting a second box on the market, which lets you assemble a robot! In short, the Japanese manufacturer has returned to old loves by linking paper, tech, and video in the same game, which will win over more parents than ever before.