Nintendo once again is making the headlines with their latest innovation – Nintendo Labo. Not everyone was pleased with the announcement, and to be frank I had mixed emotions during and after watching their initial announcement about this “new way to play”. There’s certainly a lot of things that can be discussed about Nintendo Labo, so let me use my time this week to talk about it.
First of all, I can’t believe the negative reception that I’ve been seeing across the interwebs concerning the Labo. I mean, didn’t Nintendo make it clear that they were aiming at kids before they made the reveal? The Labo is not for people like you and me; this is for kids and for parents who can trust their children with an expensive gadget like the Nintendo Switch. So why all the hate, people?
Now, considering that this new innovation is for kids, I can’t tell if this is the kind of product that can get kids to ask their parents to buy it for them. I mean, kids certainly can’t afford to buy a Nintendo Switch and Labo kits on their own – someone will have to purchase it for them. I’ve been a grown up for so long, I no longer know what kids these days want. I know that kids love building things – that’s why toys like Lego and Playdoh remain to be popular today – and I think that building things PLUS using them to interact with Nintendo-designed video games should be interesting to that demographic, but I can’t definitively be sure.
Before I proceed further, what is the Nintendo Labo? A quick description for the uninitiated: the Nintendo Labo are kits that comprise of cardboard with printouts that you can cut and build into various constructs. You can then insert the different components of the Nintendo Switch into the said cardboard constructs, after which you’ll be able to play different kinds of video games. For instance, you can build a cardboard fishing rod, insert one (or two) of the JoyCon into the rod and place the Switch tablet at the end of the fishing line/hook. This would allow you to play a fishing game wherein you would need to use the rod as if it were real. There are different kinds of constructs that you can make with the Labo cardboard, the most notable ones to me are the 13-key piano and the robot kit which looks like a ton of fun.
When I saw the presentation, I had a few concerns. Some of the constructs definitely looked like a lot of fun, but not all of them. And I’m wondering about how long these constructs can engage kids because unlike other building toys like Lego or Play-Doh, you can’t deconstruct these Labo kits and turn them into something else. And I know that these Labo kits are designed to work with Nintendo software, but we have yet to see what the Labo software can do. Nintendo has been known to develop really good software like Wii Sports and Nintendogs but they’ve also come up with duds like the recent 1-2 Switch.
Another concern for me is the price; the two Labo kits that have been revealed cost quite a lot with the Variety Kit priced at $69.99 and the Robot Kit at $79.99. I’ve seen people online balk at having to pay $70-$80 for cardboard accessories but if we consider that major Nintendo Switch titles are priced at $59.99, then the Variety Kit cardboard only costs $10 and the Robot Kit costs only $20. But again, there will be concerns about the Labo software – will it be worth the full $59.99 price point or are we getting another 1-2 Switch on our hands?
It’s hard to validate the next couple of pieces of info that I’m going to talk about because I haven’t seen an official Nintendo announcement, but I’ve seen several news outlets report that (1) the cardboard kits are not required; Nintendo will make templates of the kits available online for free but you will need to buy the Labo software and (2) Nintendo will offer free replacements for any damaged kits. I’m not sure if these are accurate but if they are, then it’s nice to see some sort of warranty for the Labo kits.
Looking beyond the product though, I can’t help but see several positives about this entire concept. First, Nintendo Labo is not a separate console or device, so even if it fails it will not be on the same level as the Virtual Boy or the Wii U. I’m not sure if this is by design or by luck, but I’m glad that Nintendo didn’t announce it until this year, almost a year since the launch of the Nintendo Switch. I can only imagine the potential negativity if Nintendo Labo was announced/released before the Switch became popular with the mainstream audience – it’s definitely going to harken all the bad Wii/Wii U sentiment that Nintendo is all about gimmicks.
But what I’m really excited about is finally seeing a glimpse of what the JoyCon technology can do. I’m already aware that a big chunk of the Nintendo Switch’s SRP of $299.99 is due to the tech that went into the JoyCon; before Labo, all we’ve seen of HD Rumble, the IR Camera, and the amazingly accurate gyroscope and accelerator motion tracking technology is 1-2 Switch. We’ve paid for tech that we haven’t been able to fully utilize; seeing how this is applied via Nintendo Labo shows how much potential the technology actually has.
And lastly, and pardon me for not being able to find the source of this anymore, but I remember reading an interview of either Reggie Fils Aime or Shigeru Miyamoto wherein he talked about how children in the past grew up playing on Nintendo consoles like the NES, SNES and Game Boy and how children nowadays play on tablets instead. And this is true; generations after mine grew up with Sony and do not have the same reverence that people from my generation have for the Big N.
Fils Aime (or Miyamoto), in the same interview, talked about changing this and about making Nintendo popular again with the young video gaming crowd. Nintendo Labo is an investment towards the goal of creating a new generation of Nintendo fans; a generation that will look at today in the same way that me and my friends remember all the Famicom games that we played while growing up. So while I’m not completely sold on the product itself (I’m simply not the demographic that will enjoy this), Nintendo Labo offers a glimpse of what else the Nintendo Switch can do in the future.
I’ve heard the phrase “think outside the box” so often now that it’s become cliche; Nintendo is not only thinking outside of the box, but has deconstructed the box and turned its parts into other things. New way to play, indeed.
What do you think about Nintendo Labo? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment or two below!