Nintendo Labo lets you craft your own toys out of cardboard, and then use them to play videogames in a uniquely physical way.
Labo is probably the Nintendo’s craziest experiment yet: it’s a “game” where you build toys out of cardboard, then use your cardboard creations to interact with the Nintendo Switch in a variety of creative and uniquely tactile videogames.
Honestly, this is going to be more of a toy review than a videogame review. Labo shares a lot more with Lego than it does with Super Mario – aside, of course, from the sheer amount of joyful imagination its creators poured into the design.
Right, so on to the review: let’s open a box of Labo and see what’s inside! (Hint: it’s a lot of cardboard.)
First, a quick note: Labo actually refers to the overall DIY cardboard/toy/videogame system that works with the Switch, just like how Lego refers to a system of plastic bricks.
If you’re out shopping, you’ll want to ask for a specific Labo product (which are boxed kits called “Toy-Cons”), and you only have two to choose from at the moment.
Toy-Con 01 is the Variety Kit, which contains everything you need to build a cardboard RC car, fully functional piano, fishing rod with a fishing game, quirky interactive “doll house”, and motorbike racing game.
This is the kit I’d recommend you start with, especially if you intend to play the Labo with your children/nephews/nieces/surprisingly intelligent pets.
Toy-Con 02 is the Robot Kit, which contains materials for building your own suit of robot armour which lets you stomp around as an in-game transforming robot.
Yes, okay, this sounds way more fun, but trust me, you’ll want to start with the easier Variety Kit so you can learn the ropes of working with cardboard.
Every Labo project can be divided into three stages – Make, Play, and Discover. The Make stage, of course, is where you actually build your cardboard toy by following an interactive video on your Switch.
Each step of the process is actually easy to perform: the cardboard pieces pop out and fold easily so you don’t need scissors or glue, and the instructions move at the pace you dictate.
I enjoyed this stage the most, as I’d go into a Zen-like trance as I folded cardboard pieces like I was folding an origami animal, only to later realise I spent two hours performing some incredible feats of mechanical engineering with interlocking cardboard pieces.
Of course, your experience may differ – if you’re someone who likes jumping straight to the end result to start playing, this stage may be the most mentally taxing as it requires you to be careful.
Just remember, you’re working with cardboard here, not adamantium – it’s not an indestructible material.
The Play stage is where all your hard work pays off, and it usually starts with you putting your Switch and your Joy-Cons (the controllers) into the toys that you just built.
When I slotted my Joy-Cons into the fishing rod I just made, it struck me: (the realisation, not the rod – I’m not that clumsy) I was actually building my own personal “arcade booth”.
The cardboard accessories added a tactile dimension to the game controls that hitherto could only be found at videogame arcades.
The fishing game, for example, had me physically spinning a cardboard fishing reel to reel in digital fish, and a mechanism of strings and rubber bands made it feel like the fish was pulling back as I tried catching it.
Admittedly, the games for each toy are very simple interactive experiences (in fact, “mini games geared towards younger players” would be a better description), but I nonetheless found them satisfying to play, in no small part due to the fact that I’m playing with accessories that I created myself.
Of course, this raises the obvious question: if the real sense of gratification comes from building the toys, what happens when you have nothing left to make?
Well, that’s where the Discover stage comes in. The more I played with the Labo, the more I realised that the system is aimed towards younger minds who are filled with imagination and curiosity.
Once you’ve completed your project, whether it’s a doll house or a motorbike, Labo encourages you to find your own ways to play and have fun.
The software that comes with the Toy-Cons are packed with hints on how to customise your toys (for example, advice on how to paint your cardboard creations) and, interestingly enough, in-depth guides on how the mechanics of each toy works.
Some of these guides are downright educational, explaining the functionality of gyroscopes and accelerometers in a way that’s understandable to kids.
Combined with the flexibility of the Toy-Con Garage – a part of the software that lets you program your own mini games – I can see the limitless potential for people to make their own fun with the Labo system, not unlike Minecraft’s creative mode, or Lego bricks.
Of course, I can’t speak for the fertile imagination of kids and what they might come up with, so I’ll just speak for myself: I’m trying to invent a Labo back massager using nothing but a Joy-Con, cardboard and rubber bands. It has gone as terribly as you might expect, but I’m still enjoying myself!
Making your own fun
If the idea of building and playing with your own videogame toys sounds fun, that’s because it is but be aware that the amount of enjoyment you get out of Labo is directly proportional to the amount of creativity and imagination you put into it.
If you enjoy working with handicrafts, have a playful imagination, or have kids that do, then you absolutely should get a Labo Toy-Con kit just to experience the unique joy of building your own toys.
If not, hey, don’t sweat it – if Labo teaches us anything, it’s that we can always make our own fun anywhere we want to.
Pros: Making your own toys is awesome, and you get to play what you build; it’s like crafting your own tiny arcade booth; this is origami for the future, isn’t it?
Cons: I hope you know how to be careful around fragile cardboard; nobody mentioned how much storage space I’d need after I built these toys.
Toy DIY kits for Switch
PRICE: US$69.99 (RM275) for Toy-Con 01; US$79.99 (RM315) for Toy-Con 02
RATING: 5 stars
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