Nintendo Labo: a successful experiment
While Sony and Microsoft are hunting after pixels, Nintendo is doing what it does best: something completely different. The Japanese video game company’s newest invention goes by the name «Labo» and consists of two cardboard building kits that go with the Switch. The projects that are included are only the start; Labo is all about so-called Toy-Con creations- Toy-Con what? Let’s take it one step at a time.
Nintendo offers two kits (and a customisation set): the Variety Kit includes five different projects and the Robot Kit one, but an extremely complex one. There’s no printed manual, but a digital one that’s included in the game modules. And this is exactly where Nintendo lands its first stroke of genius. This kind of manual is exactly what I missed when I used to build model aeroplanes and tanks and was constantly getting the parts wrong. Nintendo provides clear and interactive 3D instructions that guide you through the entire construction process step by step and make sure you don’t get anything wrong. Zooming into a picture, looking at it from a different perspective, fast forwarding, rewinding – no problem at all. And all of this comes with a funky soundtrack. I’ve never seen a manual that’s so much fun. The only thing that annoyed me was that it’s not possible to skip a step – if a step involves five identical parts, you’ll get to see five identical animations.
Completing the projects takes between ten minutes and four hours. Having said that, it took me a lot less time than it said on the box. Nintendo’s times are probably a reference point for kids. Not to say it was easy; I had to be really careful to avoid bending and damaging the cardboard before I’d even completed the project. Labo’s definitely going to make a few parents happy.
Although the cardboard isn’t very thick, it seems to be quite robust. But cardboard is cardboard; tread on it and the fun is over. Yet, Nintendo wouldn’t be Nintendo if they didn’t offer a solution to this: The kit comes with useful repair tips.
Once you’ve finished a project and turned it into an actual toy, you can start playing with it. The kit includes a selection of toys: a fishing rod, a motorbike and a piano, for instance. These games will keep you entertained for a while and are truly fascinating: I’m amazed at what Nintendo’s engineers managed to make out of a piece of cardboard. No matter how old you are, using the fishing rod and acting as if you were fishing for a shark is sure to put a smile on your face.
The Toy-Con Piano is a truly clever project: It doesn’t only allow you to play music, you can also create and record your own compositions. Insert any Waveform Card you want (your own or ready-made ones) and create your own sound. Or put your own drum beat over your music with a simple punch card. You can even place the second Joy-Con on a cardboard box and use the vibration function to create totally new sounds.
The fun doesn't end here. The menu item «Discover» gives you more details about each toy and what you can do with it. A technical description is also included. The two Joy-Cons are the brain of this operation: Equipped with a gyro sensor, vibration function and infrared camera, they make all the different game modes possible. The piano, for example, uses the camera in the right Joy-Con in combination with reflective stickers on the keys. This is how the camera knows which button is pressed. The Joy-Cons within the glasses and backpack of the Robot Kit, on the other hand, use the motion sensor to transfer body movements to the game. The model car is also simple and ingenious: The Joy-Con's vibrations make this car move and you can even adjust the frequency to change the speed. The «Discover» section also serves as an introduction to what Labo is really about: the Toy-Con Garage.
The Toy-Con Garage is Nintendo's secret lab and programming platform, which isn’t unlocked until you’ve completed each item (including the final test) in the «Discover» menu of at least one project. This simple black screen allows you to invent and develop your own controls. Use drag and drop to select commands, conditions and actions from a list and combine them in blocks. Let's take a look at an example: As input, you might specify shaking the right Joy-Con. As output, you choose a sound or a light on the display. Every single function of the Joy-Cons is available as input and output. On top of this, there's a middle node that lets you specify conditions such as AND, NOT, a timer, etc. – the possibilities are almost endless. If I had been more attentive in my apprenticeship as an automation engineer, I’d be facing a great Toy-Con career today.
If you're not much of an inventor, you can use existing Toy-Con creations and combine their functions. How about steering the car with the fishing rod? This will require four Joy-Cons. Alternatively, you can build completely new creations from cardboard – or any light material – and control them with the Joy-Cons. If you have a 3D printer at home, you can build extraordinary things.
The programming platform is intuitive and easy to use – the sky is the limit!
My verdict: cardboard has never been so much fun
Nintendo has really delivered: Labo is an ingenious kit full of potential. From the easy and entertaining manual to the fun mini-games and the intuitive programming platform, Nintendo has created an impressive new product. The great designs of all projects will make DIY'ers happy, the various mini-games are sure to provide fun for kids and adults alike and creative minds will spend hours inventing new things in the Toy-Con Garage. My guess is we'll see and hear from lots of creative minds – I can't wait to see what inventions people all over the world come up with.
Another aspect that's worth mentioning is the potential to learn something new. Labo explains in a playful way how sound works or what an infrared sensor is. No matter how old you are, you're sure to have fun and learn a thing or two with Labo. Nintendo has proved once again that it's the most child and family-friendly gaming company out there.