Cardboard. It keeps our purchases safe during their commutes from Amazon warehouses, and lets you turn your smartphone into an affordable VR headset, among other practical uses throughout day-to-day life. And now it lets anyone build new controllers and accessories for their gaming consoles; well, at least that’s the way Nintendo sees it. Last Friday, Nintendo finally launched its Labo cardboard construction kits, and after a weekend of building and putting them to the test, we’ll be seeing if the company’s latest is a flop or a look into the future of console accessories and STEM-oriented toys.
We’ve been highly anticipating Nintendo’s foray into education do-it-yourself kits since Labo was teased back in January. After a getting a brief hands-on look back in February, we’ve been even more excited for Labo’s release so we could see the full picture of what Nintendo envisioned for the future of gaming accessories. And following the time we’ve spent with the cardboard construction kits so far, it’s safe to say that Labo embodies everything Nintendo has set out to accomplish with the Switch.
For those just getting up to speed on Labo, Nintendo’s DIY accessories come in two different sets; the Variety Kit and Robot Kit. Each of the bundles include a Switch game alongside several sheets of specially cut cardboard runners and other pieces like plastic stoppers, reflective stickers and rope.
When first meeting up with Nintendo to try out Labo, they heavily stressed the importance of the cardboard set’s tagline “make, play, and discover.” The hands-on time at Toy Fair gave me a taste of what Nintendo meant by this, but it wasn’t until after getting my hands on the real deal that it really started to sink in. The amount of times things just clicked for me during assembly was crazy, from being wowed by the Robot Kit’s pulley system to the fishing rod’s authentic sound effects.
This kind of discovery is paramount to Labo, as the kits go out of their way to highlight how each of the builds accomplishes their impressive features, whether its reflective tape, complex weight systems or perfectly placed cardboard tabs to add sound effects. This not only helps you understand how each of the creations work, but also opens your mind up to how you could create other accessories with Toy-Con Garage, which we’ll fully dive into later. The creations are then brought to life by the Joy-Con controllers and Switch itself, which are configured in a variety of ways to suit each of the builds.
The cardboard creations take anywhere from just a few minutes all the way up to two or three hours to assemble. On the quicker end you’ll find the RC Car build, which can be punched out of its cardboard runners and pieced together in a matter of 10 minutes.
The Fishing Rod and Motorbike are next in line, with an estimated assembly time of around an hour each. And lastly in the Variety Kit, the Piano and House clock in somewhere over an hour or so each. Jumping over to the Robot kit, you can probably expect to complete and don the robot backpack in under three hours, depending on how fast you work.
As the name suggests, the Labo Variety Kit includes several different builds, ranging from the simplistic RC Car to a fully featured cardboard Piano. Each of the five different creations tout different themes and emphasize different mechanical structures. For instance, the fishing rod gambit is made up of motion controls paired with the cardboard build’s ability to turn the reel for catching those deep-sea creatures.
In terms of getting the most out of your money, the Variety Kit is certainly the way to go. With five different builds, you’re not only looking at a significantly longer build time than the Robot Kit, but also more replay value from the games and more ways to mess around in Toy-Con Garage.
Unlike the Variety Kit, the Robot Kit on the other hand packs just one main build. But where this kit falls short on versatility, its strong suit lies in the wow factor of being able to control a giant, transformable fighting robot. Centered around a pulley-based motion control system, donning the constructed backpack allows you walk, punch, fly and transform all like you were really piloting the mecha.
The Robot Kit certainly harks back to the days of the Wii, and given that it is made almost entirely from cardboard, it is kind of amazing Nintendo was able to pull off something so impressive. But if robots aren’t your thing, then it is probably a safer bet to opt for the Variety Kit if you’re looking to dive into Nintendo’s cardboard creations.
Actually assembling the creations is half the fun with Labo, and Nintendo has paid the same level of attention to walking you through this facet of the kits. I’m used to assembling LEGO kits with static, printed pages of step by step instructions. While they do the trick most of the time, I occasionally find myself wishing I could rotate or zoom in on the build to see exactly where that new piece is supposed to go. Nintendo must have been reading my mind, as Labo’s instruction implementation lets you do just that, and is an utterly impressive as well as fantastic upgrade to traditional assembly guides.
The instructions are part of the game itself, which render each step of the build as a 3D model, meaning you can spin it to get a peek at any angle you can imagine, zoom in to double-check how a connection works and more. Aside from the visuals, text guides you through as well, giving brief overviews of what you’re currently making, as well as naming pieces that’ll come in handle later. The assembly guide is rounded out by interactive controls that make it easy to fast forward through repetitive steps, go back to make sure you didn’t skip punching out a piece from its cardboard sheet.
Some of the kits are pretty intricate and include steps that are actually somewhat challenging to get through. This was more the case with the Robot Kit given its size, but some of the creations found in the Variety Kit also had me doing double takes to make sure I was sliding everything into place correctly. All this being said, the builds are mostly straight-forward and shouldn’t be an issue for younger fans to assemble.
For the most part, the games that headline the Labo kits are mainly arcade-style experiences. They aren’t basic by any means, but you won’t find anywhere the same replay value that you would with other hits like Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild. Younger Nintendo fans will definitely be captivated by what the games have to offer. They’re an equally whimsical experience to the Toy-Cons and do fantastic jobs at showcasing how the physical build can interact with the digital games.
Each of the games pack a lot of nuances commonly found in Nintendo creations; for one, the markings on the robot’s backpack mirror the physical one strapped to your back as you play. In the fishing game, you can design and catch your own fish and the vibrations in the motor bike game are as authentic as a cardboard set of handles can be.
The more intricate the cardboard creation, the more in-depth the game tends to be, with the Piano being the most complex. While the cardboard accessories are a blast for people of all ages to assemble, the games are definitely geared more towards kids. There’s nothing wrong with that, but something to keep in mind for adults.
If you’re feeling underwhelmed on the software end of things, worry not, as Toy-Con Garage delivers all the thrills you’d expect from Nintendo. If the games included with each kits are the appetizer, Toy-Con Garage is the software main course. While the Labo games are fun, Toy-Con Garage is just an absolutely blast to tinker with.
Super extensive, and even if the games themselves we’re enough to justify the pricing, Toy-Con Garage packs enough to keep people coming back. The games are a flashy way to demonstrate the interaction between the cardboard hardware and software, but don’t do much in terms of furthering your creativity.
Earlier we mentioned Labo’s tagline of “make, play, and discover,” and Toy-Con Garage is really where it shines. Building the kits and seeing how they interact with the games is one thing, but being able to remap your creations, build your own programs and more is just an amazing feat by Nintendo.
Toy-Con Garage offers a simple interface that is a perfect companion to its physical cardboard counterpart. The blueprint-like design is easy to follow and intuitive to quickly begin creating your own actions and routines. What’s even better is that Nintendo allows you to take a look into how each of the respective games functions, making it even easier to begin crafting your own complex programs.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of what Toy-Con Garage is capable of in our time, and we will definitely be revisiting it. From my time though, it is safe to say that Nintendo has a home run here with its attempt to merge gaming with programming concepts. It isn’t as advanced as Swift Playgrounds, but would serve as a perfect introduction to these core concepts.
Toy-Con Garage is clearly what Nintendo has focused on from a software perspective, and it definitely paid off in my book.
Because Labo is in fact made out of cardboard, one of the biggest questions on your mind may be how well they hold up over time. Since assembling and testing out the kits, which all took place in the span of 3 days, it’s difficult to say how well the Labo kits will hold up in the coming months.
We’ve spoken to how intricately and solid the folding and construction techniques are, but only time will tell how they handle continued usage and wear.
Anecdotally, both of the kits were able to hold their own when put to the test by myself and several other college students. Should you damage any of the creations beyond repair, Nintendo has announced that it’ll be offering replacement pieces.
The Final Verdict
Coming in at $70 and $80 price points, both of the kits may seem like a hard sell given that they’re primarily cardboard. But thinking of Labo as shelling out that kind of dough for just a few cardboard accessories is entirely misguided. Picking up a new game for the Switch would typically run you $60, so think of each of the Labo kits in the same vein as 1-2 Switch, a game that showcases what Nintendo’s console can offer. Then it’s really up to you if paying an additional $10 or $20 for the cardboard accessories is worth it.
And if you’re can’t tell, it entirely is in my book. After my time with Labo, it is easy to think of Nintendo’s latest as a top-notch way to teach programming concepts paired with fun, interactive games and cardboard accessories and you’re set. At first glance it’s hard to see why you’d want to spend $70 on cardboard, but with the attention to detail that Nintendo has put into Labo, it’s clear you’re getting a whole lot more than a few cleverly cut boxes.
The only issue I have with Labo is figuring out where to store the kits after completion. Both of the kits stack up to pretty sizable builds, and those with limited storage may find that keeping the Labo creations is pretty tough.
All-in-all, Labo is an utter delight to build and packs the usual Nintendo charm alongside a surprising amount of content. Both young and old fans alike will get a lot out of their time with Labo, be it from just assembling the creations and enjoying the arcade-style games to diving into crafting your own uses and more in Toy-Con Garage. If you’re looking for a fun and familiar way to learn programming concepts, Labo is simply a must.
Lately it seems that all of Nintendo’s new initiatives have been incredibly well-received and influential, a trend that continues with Labo. I can’t stress how big the cardboard kits will be for introducing kids to programming concepts and critical thinking.
Even after just spending 4 days with Nintendo Labo, it is everything I hoped it would be. And I certainly haven’t had this much fun assembling and playing with cardboard before. So if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go try to lock in another high score with the Robot Kit.