Parents know the scenario: you buy your kids a new today and they end up having more fun with the cardboard box it arrived in!
Nintendo seems to be aware of this situation with its latest creation: Nintendo Labo. It's a toy kit that lets you create items out of cardboard and then bring them to life using the Nintendo Switch.
If it sounds like a head-scratcher, that's because it sort of it. That's probably the reason why Nintendo brought me and my son up to San Francisco to try it out. We were among a group of parents and kid teams, YouTubers and bloggers handpicked to play with Nintendo Labo before everyone else.
What is Nintendo Labo?
It's a toy "kit" that comes with big pieces of cardboard pre-cut so all you have to do is punch out the pieces and fold them together to create things. You follow on-screen instructions on the Nintendo Switch, which are quite elaborate. Think LEGO but with cardboard and much clearer instructions because you can zoom in and out or rotate 360 degrees to see exactly how things should look and what you should be doing.
We built a radio controlled car which used the two Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers as "wheels." When you pressed on-screen buttons, the controllers would vibrate and propel the car forward. It's pretty genius what Nintendo has done here because these toys fire on all the buzzwords these days: creativity, learning, building and even coding.
Kids will love decorating their creations. We had all kinds of arts and crafty stuff at our disposal at the special event, but none of it is included in the box. You'll want to provide some markers, stickers and other fun stuff for kids to work with - or buy the special accessory kit Nintendo will sell for $10.
Playing with the finished toys
Once the toys are built, kids can then play with them like any other toy. We also made a cardboard fishing rod, which used rubber bands to simulate pulling fish out of the water. The Nintendo Switch slides into a cardboard base which shows images of fish on the screen. You pull up on the rod and feel the tension as you try to "catch" fish. As a parent, I couldn't help but smile seeing what Nintendo accomplished here.
Although we didn't build them, we saw all of the various Labo toys in action. A house, motorcycle, piano and robot suit. They are all quite elaborate and interactive. For instance, with the house, you play little games by inserting cardboard pieces in the windows. The piano has real keys and changes its tune by inserting different cardboard plugs into sockets.
Learning how they work
In addition to making and playing, there's another aspect to Labo: learning. Each toy gets its magic through a series of integrations with the Nintendo Switch. For instance, on the RC car we built there is a little IR camera in the controller that can make the car follow you around. In the piano, kids learn that it can change tunes by "seeing" different reflective tapes on the cardboard plugs they insert.
It all sounds a little confusing but you really just have to play with it to understand. We had lots of fun building, decorating and playing with the creations. That alone is worth the experience of these toys. If your kids decide to take them to the next level and truly understand how they work and code them to do their own commands, even better.
Nintendo Labo is a really unique way to use the Nintendo Switch to play more than just your standard video game. It's also sort of hard to grasp the concept for the uninitiated. This could make or break the commercial success of it. Remember, Nintendo is famous for making unique accessories for its game consoles like the Virtual Boy, Light Zapper and Power Pad. Some of these became huge hits, others were forgotten. If your kid is into video games and building things like LEGO creations, Labo will probably be a hit in your house.
Nintendo Labo launches April 20, 2018 with two kits. The Variety Kit is $70 and includes parts for RC cars, fishing rod, house, motorbike, and piano. The Robot Kit will run $80 and includes items to build an interactive robot suit.