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Thursday, January 18, 2018

What Nintendo Labo Is, and Why You Might Care

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - A new product line from Nintendo.

Yesterday, we gave our live reactions on Nintendo's brand-new product line releasing in three months: Nintendo Labo, presumably pronounced as the “labo” in “laboratory.” Specifically, our reactions to the three-minute introductory trailer. If you didn't watch it (and all you have to do to get up-to-speed is click that hyperlink), Labo, per Nintendo's accompanying press release, is a series of “new line of interactive build-and-play experiences designed to inspire kids and those who are kids-at-heart.” The experiences are a physical kit made of materials like special cardboard, string, and tape, that work with the Nintendo Switch.

Since then, Nintendo has been marketing the Labo as three components: MAKE, PLAY, and DISCOVER. That's how I'll organise this article to explain what the Labo really is. But first, I have some words to say about what people thought Nintendo were going to announce, because I think people's weird expectations have a lot to do with how the Labo was received.

EXPECTATIONS Leading Up To Nintendo Labo

Nintendo announced yesterday morning that they would announce a new interactive way to experience the Nintendo Switch, directed at kids. Apparently this lead some Nintendo fans to expect a Nintendo Direct for T-rated franchises like Metroid Prime or Super Smash Bros. Not only did they not temper their expectations, but they developed ones designed to fail. Now they're disappointed.

I was coincidentally reminded that morning of that time in late 2015 when Nintendo announced that something big would be announced, and every Nintendo faction thought it would be the exact thing they wanted, and then it was Minecraft on the Wii U. (The reminder was from some shitty website that wrote some Minecraft article I didn't even read and they wanted me to include a link to their site in that Wii U Minecraft article and they promised they'd promote it to their “thousands” of social followers. I told them that their article would add no value, and we don't want an article covering an announcement of a game we don't like on a dead console promoted anyway, but here I am hyperlinking to it the next day.) Based off that in my head, my expectation was that they were going to announce a Minecraft expansion pack on the Switch version, or maybe something to do with amiibo and Minecraft.

They DID say the experience would be “crafted for kids”, after all. Craft being the key word, and we know from history how much Nintendo likes to use the word craft to get the ears of kids.

If it would've been a Minecraft announcement, then obviously I had no expectations going into this thing. Rawk was expecting “1-2 Switch 2”. (Which isn't far off...)

MAKE With Nintendo Labo

Nintendo Labo MAKE

There are two SKUs released of the Nintendo Labo. Each project is ingeniously called a “Toy-Con”. Kit one, the Variety Kit, sells for $70 and includes materials for 2 RC Cars, 1 Fishing Rod, 1 House, 1 Motorbike, and 1 Piano, plus Nintendo Labo Variety Kit software. Just so you actually understand what those materials are, they are a bunch of cardboard sheets, reflective sticker sheets, a sponge sheet, differently-coloured string, “eyelet sets”, and rubber bands. Kit two, the Robot Kit, sells for $80 and builds a robot suit (a cardboard backpack, some kind of weird head-goggles, and string that exists to limit your movement because otherwise the robot is too overpowered). Plus, Nintendo Labo Robot Kit software.

In other words, the MAKE part is like any kind of arts-and-crafts project. The difference is that the instructions are presented on the Nintendo Switch screen itself. Nintendo is bringing their anti-physical-instruction-manual philosophy from their gaming business to the DIY (do-it-yourself) crafting business. Anyway, actually putting these together can take hours depending on which Toy-Con you're working on, so if you ask me, there is a lot of room for error. But, hey, error doesn't mean you're doing it WRONG... just DIFFERENTLY! Putting your own custom spin on it!

If you want Nintendo to give you customisation ideas, Nintendo will also be selling a customisable sticker pack, stencil sheets, and tape rolls for $10. As you may expect, this is a total profit centre, and Nintendo will not be giving away their cardboard for free which some people thought they would.

PLAY With Nintendo Labo

Nintendo Labo PLAY

As indicated by the Joy-Con in the PLAY logo in the picture above, you need a Nintendo Switch to actually play the software that comes with the Nintendo Labo packages. You basically use what you made as a peripheral controller for whatever the game is. From what I've seen, these games have the amount of depth as a tech demo, gameplay concept (and they have no shortage of those), or something from 1-2 Switch.

Or, in the case of the Robot Kit, it's a repackaged version of that terrible “Giant Robot” “game” we saw from Shigeru Miyamoto from E3 2014. “Project Guard” ended up being part of Star Fox Zero (as Star Fox Guard, which is apparently better than the actual Star Fox Zero) but “Giant Robot” disappeared. Until now. So, rather than trash this boring and failed game concept that was made for a discontinued console, I guess it's returning as an $80 package and rebranded as a children's product.

DISCOVER With Nintendo Labo

Nintendo Labo DISCOVER

The DISCOVER part of Nintendo Labo is all about how the technology works. Apparently, technological explanations are built-in to the software package or something. They seem to revolve around the Infrared capabilities of the Joy-Con that no one ever really talked about, and how strips are hidden within the cardboard. Essentially, the DISCOVER part of Nintendo Labo is like explaining a magic trick, but with technology and science.

Do You CARE About Nintendo Labo?

Nintendo Labo, first and foremost, is able to exist because of the success of the Nintendo Switch. A Nintendo Switch system is required to enjoy the Nintendo Labo (from MAKE to PLAY, and it makes DISCOVER actually somewhat meaningful). If no one had a Switch, then making a complementary product you can't enjoy without it is pointless. (As opposed to amiibo, which are collectible items in their own right and do not have their value tied to the Wii U.)

Second, this is pretty much a Satoru Iwata-esque idea, so it's nice to see that his spirit lives on. I'm not saying that makes Labo good or bad, I'm just saying that people scared that Nintendo would lose its magic after 2015 are off.

I never got to play with arts & crafts as a kid, and I have no idea how much this stuff is supposed to cost. I also have no desire to figure out what I missed out on. You might be a kid reading this (good for you, fella!) and you might be interested. Or maybe you're a parent of a child that is at least six years old (it's rated E for “Everyone”... not EC for Early Childhood!) and you want to teach your kid some STEM values, since this is kind of engineering and technology. This might actually be a cost-efficient way to do that, for all I know. Better than sending them to a crappy summer camp. It's not a virtual reality experience or an augmented reality one, either. You're just building your own controller with infrared strips on it, while using an interactive digital service manual during construction.

A lot of people keep thinking that the Toy-Cons are inherently flimsy and that kids will destroy them, and the thought didn't cross my mind while watching it. (If you want proof, notice how I didn't bring it up in yesterday's live reaction log.) I don't think these will be as destructible as some people are making them out to be, and if they are, well, that's why Nintendo says “parental supervision is recommended.” Still, if your kid is out to destroy an expensive product and you are worried about that, then why do you own a Nintendo Switch to begin with?

I obviously can't tell you if you care or not. I don't care about Nintendo Labo (or, at least, I care but not in an “I want to buy it!” sense). Don't let that stop you from caring.

Just remember: The way division of labour works, the very existence of Nintendo Labo doesn't take away from other Nintendo projects you may wish to see. I have no problem with the existence of the Labo.

...It's better than a Minecraft expansion pack. 

An alternative etymology for Labo is “labour”, referring to all of the work that has to go into constructing a Toy-Con. Let Ludwig know what you think of the labour he put into constructing this article, along with your calm, rational thoughts on all things Nintendo Labo!

A month later, Nintendo releases much more details on each of the two kits and the Labo in general.
Don't buy the Nintendo Labo. You should care deeply about it... care about opposing the Labo!
Ludwig is off-base when he said it's not a virtual reality experience.


  1. "Better than sending them to a crappy summer camp."

    Yeah, I avoided all that as a grade school child. I already got bossed around at school, why do I want to be bossed around by counselors doing stupid activities as well?

  2. I think that the concept is ingenious and will bolster the sales of the Switch. Although I am about 10 years older than the main demographic, I will admit that the DIY aspect would have been very appealing to me when I was a kid. Shortly after the presentation, the Labo kits have received a ton of praise from the media and have already risen to the top on Amazon's video games best-seller list. The Switch will only benefit more by catering to a wider audience. While some fear this is just another gimmick like past Wii controllers, I believe that this is a fresh spin on maker toys and will turn out to be a financial success.

    1. I dunno, I don't think that people who wouldn't otherwise get a Switch would get a Switch for this. I see this as a "get more money from existing customers" play than "get new customers."

  3. i would rather do taxes then buy this

    1. Taxes are fun when you don't work.

    2. I commend your time management expertise!

      In that case, you definitely don't need KoopaTV to hire you. :)

    3. I do since my time management is so good.

    4. I don't think you know wot "need" means?


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