Nintendo is a company with deep roots in the toy industry that date back well over a century. The Nintendo LABO is the Kyoto-based company’s most recent attempt to step back into a genre that both put them on the map, and eventually made them a household name in Japan. The overwhelming success of the Nintendo Switch has given Nintendo the opportunity to take a chance on providing something new and innovative to the gaming and toy market. Nintendo has always been known for taking chances and forging its own path, and while they’re not always successful they have far more hits (Nintendo 3DS) than misses (The Virtual Boy). I recently had the opportunity to attend a Nintendo LABO Preview Event with my 6-year-old son Andrew, here are my first impressions.
The Nintendo LABO is a construction-based toy platform that requires the use of a Nintendo Switch in order to bring the cardboard creations to life. The LABO will arrive in stores on April 20th in two different packages: the Variety Kit and the Robo Kit. The Variety Kit features 5 different “Toy-Con”, including the R.C. Car, the Fishing Pole, the House, the Motorbike, and the Piano. The Robo Kit includes the components to construct a mech suit, complete with a working visor that allows the user to storm through a virtual world displayed on the TV screen. We had the opportunity to try all of the Toy-Con at the preview event but unfortunately, we ran out of time and were unable to test the Robo Kit.
The preview event highlighted all three phases of the Nintendo LABO platform including the Make, Play, and Discover. We were first given the opportunity to assemble the R.C. Car, which is the most basic of the Toy-Con included in the Variety Kit. After spending about 5-10 minutes with the R.C. Car we moved on to the Fishing Rod, which took us about an hour to complete. The building process was impressively intuitive, as all the instructions are displayed on the Switch’s screen allowing creators to progress at their desired pace. While the Fishing Rod contained 5-6 sheets of cardboard and at first seemed overwhelming, the building process was simple and most importantly, fun. My son and I took turns controlling the on-screen instructions, and actually folding and shaping the cardboard into the required components. The suggested age requirement for the Nintendo LABO is 6+ with the supervision of an adult and my son had no problem navigating the software and assembling the Toy-Con. Building times range from about 10 minutes for the R.C. Car up to 2 hours for the most elaborate Toy-Con, the Piano.
After spending 90 minutes on the building phase, the curtains behind us were pulled back, revealing the play area populated with the entire lineup of completed Toy-Con. We had the chance to play with the Fishing Rod first and were impressed with how well the rod functioned and interacted with the software. Essentially, the deeper you lower your hook, the bigger the fish and challenge. The biggest surprise, and possibly my favorite Toy-Con was the House. The House contains 9 different games and is dependent on which control modules are attached. The highlight was the bowling game, which takes advantage of the gyroscopes located in the Joy-Con in order to guide the ball towards the pins. The motorbike works well and takes advantage of the Joy-Con’s HD rumble feature. When combined with the Toy-Con’s working throttle, the Motorbike provides a fun and realistic experience that plays like a simplified version of Mario Kart. Finally, we had the chance to play with the Piano Toy-Con and also got an inside look at how it functions. The ingenious design uses the Joy-Con’s sensors to determine which key is being pressed and which sound module is inserted. The sound module’s range from basic piano sounds, to hilarious human-like moans. The software works well and allows players to save their songs and play them back to an audience. Overall, we left the event impressed with how well the Toy-Con interact with the software, it remains to be seen just how deep these experiences are and if they will be able to hold players attention for more then a few minutes.
The final phase of the preview event was a quick glimpse at the “discovery” component of the Nintendo LABO in the form of the Joy-Con Garage. The Toy-Con Garage is where users can come up with their own cardboard creations and, combined with some basic coding, can construct their own Toy-Con. We were shown a video highlighting some of the possibilities and then had a chance to see a cardboard guitar Toy-Con complete with strings and chords using the Nintendo Switch’s touchscreen. There seem to be endless possibilities of clever toys that can be created in the garage and this creative component will surely add to the overall LABO package. The Toy-Con Garage could end up being the highlight of the platform and I could easily see the LABO being implemented in schools.
When Nintendo’s latest project was first announced, I was a little apprehensive about how well it would be received. I have to say that I was pretty impressed overall and we left the event excited about the release of the Nintendo LABO next month. The LABO is a great combination of toy and video game that will bring parents and children together through its excellent implementation of the Make, Play, and Discover components. We look forward to spending more time with both Toy-Con kits and you can expect a full review closer to the April 20th release date.