Nintendo Labo, It's Not Just Cardboard
When Nintendo announced Labo there was a somewhat mixed reaction online, for starters people often like things to be aimed at them, and with this kind of product it is natural to assume that it is aimed at kids. The process of building the various Toy-Con is a huge part of the enjoyment that you get out of the product, it brings to mind playing with Lego when you are younger. Having had a hands on today and with more information, it is clear that while the start of Labo may be cardboard, the potential is so much more.
The Toy-Con come in two distinct packs, with both having slightly different software as well. The first one, the variety pack has a vast array of different things to create and then to play with. The simplest of which is the RC Car, which takes about ten minutes to make compared to the hour or two some of the others require, the car has the most real world impact, naturally you can make it move around as you want using the vibration of the Joy-Con. It gets more interesting as you go though, for starters you can adjust the vibration frequency, this allows you to change how much of an impact the two controllers are having on the movement on the fly. More interesting is the IR camera in them, it actually allows you to drive the car using what is effectively night vision, this can make for some fun games at night with the lights completely off. Along with the night vision you can also turn on an Auto mode, this makes the car chase down objects it picks up on the camera and drive towards them.
Next is the Piano, which serves more purposes than you might think, naturally you can use it to make music. In fact the keys can make different sounds depending on which plugins you are using and whether or not you are twisting them to change the sound. You can actually record music with this one, it is a really interesting bit of kit and takes it beyond being just a game branching in to actually teaching about notes and then being able to make the most of that. This will be a favourite for every musical child in your household, plus anyone else that wants to make cat noises in any more melodic way.
Weirdly the Fishing Rod is linked to the Piano in what can only be described as something that only Nintendo would think of. The game itself involves what you would expect, you send your hook down to the depths and then catch fish. Pretty logical, it feels good to play and the reactions on screen to your movements are impressive for sure. At this point you may be wondering, how is a Fishing Rod linked to a Piano, which sounds a lot like a quote from Lewis Carroll. The answer, of course, lies in the Aquarium. The fish you catch with the rod go into the aquarium for your viewing pleasure. Conversely, you can use the Piano to make your own fish, the customisation options include things like colour and pattern, but using the Piano as a sort of old timey theatre you can make different shapes for it too. These fish then end up in the fishing game and the cycle continues, these are the sort of things that will give Labo longer lasting life and really give it that Nintendo feel.
Next up is the House, which doesn't seem like it would be a game but it house an adorable, if slightly disconcerting little creature that you can run through mini-games and earn it some treats. It changes colour based on what you feed it and there are a few things to do outside of the games you can play with it. You can change the little things home by putting in two plug-ins at once, these are what allow access to the mini-games. We can recommend putting it to sleep and then just waiting until it wakes up, it is a really interesting little setting despite it's cute appearance. If you think along the lines of a Tamagotchi then you are more or less there, but again, the ability to build and then customise the house is a lot of the fun.
Finally for the Variety Pack is the Motor Bike, which sees you racing around a few different courses at differing speeds in order to set good times and beat the computer players. This feels by far the most gamey of the bunch and has things like boosts, the slip stream mechanic from Mario Kart as well as little jumps and some sharp turns. The time trial aspect will give it long legs and then there is the fact that you can make your own levels, including using the IR sensor to scan in hands, cats or your own built courses to keep the fun going.
The last thing is the Robot, which has it's own pack and is a complex system of strings, pulleys, and the technology available to the Switch. The gameplay is you stomping around a city trying to rack up combos and score as many points as possible. You do this by stomping and punching your way around, or you can drive about as a car and shoot guns, or you can fly up and slam down on things as you land a la Blast Corps. Doing this allows you to unlock new abilities to help aid your city destroying, plus you can customise your robot to look how you want it to. In the event you and a friend both have the cardboard backpacks then you can play a versus mode too.
One final thing on the products you can buy is the Customisation Pack, which comes replete with stencils, Labo tape and a selection of Nintendo stickers with which to make your Toy-Cons your own. Though they are quick to point out you can do whatever you want with them, use googly eyes, glitter and pipe cleaners to make it look however you want. Building them is a big part of the satisfaction of playing the games at the end of the process.
It is important to address the thing that will give Labo the tail that no doubt Nintendo want to encourage, and that is the Garage. This is the part that allows you to program things you want into the system and other Joy-Con as a result. It works best with two sets of Joy-Con which may be a limitation for some people of course, but is very impressive if you can manage it. You can use a variety of different inputs to have different effects, for example, a magic trick was demonstrated where the inputs of one Joy-Con had been programmed to trigger a specific reaction from the two Joy-Con in the magicians pockets, allowing them to tell you what you were doing with the controller while facing the other way. They also programmed in a sound board of sorts in order to boo or cheer our questions as we asked them.
This is the kind of thing that Nintendo really want to encourage, this is the kind of thing they want to share, the creativity usually reserved for games like Minecraft or LittleBigPlanet is potentially available in the real world with the tools that have been provided. Granted you might not be able to recreate FFVII levels, but the possibilities are certainly vast, and in order to make sure everyone can keep up with all of it there is a YouTube channel just for Labo. It could be a very exciting time for real world gaming and Labo may well be the thing leading the charge, well, that and the millions of creative people that can get there hands on these tools. Cardboard is only the beginning.