In the pantheon of video game companies, Nintendo has a uniquely playful ethos. While other console giants like Sony and Microsoft look to push the boundaries of what is possible in gaming, with groundbreaking graphics and complex worlds for players to explore, Nintendo’s goals remain firmly focused on the value of fun.
Nintendo’s childlike approach to creating products that ignite the imagination is what propelled the Wii to become the highest selling games console, alongside the handheld smash the DS. In their pursuit of expanding the methods of play that video games facilitate the company has also had missteps (the Wii U’s poor sales being the most glaring example) but generally speaking, the firm has carved out a niche in the space that no other company has come to challenging.
In 2014, Nintendo forayed into toy development with the collectables line Amiibo, building upon the toys to life genre with their beloved characters. But it’s their latest invention that has really started turning heads in the toys space: the Nintendo Labo, a uniquely Nintendo idea that sees players building robots, RC cars, houses, pianos and more out of cardboard. The unique toy leverages the motion controls in the Nintendo Switch’s joy-con controllers to create an interactive experience unlike any other.
ToyNews was given the chance to get hands-on with various builds of the Nintendo Labo’s ‘toy-cons’ at their inaugural London press event and even got the chance to build our own remote controlled murderous pachyderm, dubbed The Battle-Phant.
Out first introduction to the product was to build an RC car, which was built with pre-made cardboard pop-out pieces. Armed with Pritt sticks and coloured pens, we set to customising our cardboard creation which housed the Switch’s joy-con controllers. The Switch’s touchscreen acts as the controls for the RC car, utilising the controller’s rumble function to allow it to shuffle along and butt heads with other players.
Moving on to the larger sets, by far the most impressive function was the Piano. With an estimated build-time of one hour, this iteration of the Labo is ideal for parents who want to build with their kids and presents a fun way to introduce youngsters to playing music. The experience was augmented by a set of attachments that when added to the cardboard piano, allow different sounds, turning the sound into a hip-hop beat or even cat noises. The piano also offered music creation functionality, with options for different octaves and tones, allowing youngsters to write their own music using the game system.
Elsewhere, fishing and motorcycle racing games provided a fun distraction, although once the novelty had worn off, the actual gameplay functions felt thin, meaning that the real fun value of these sets lies in the making, rather than the end result.
The standout Labo model was actually the Labo House. This adorable dolls-house style model represents the most elegant use of the system's interactive features, as kids watch a cute Pokemon-style creature potter around their own customisable abode. Different attachments can be added and removed from the house unlocking not only simple minigames but also control methods such as pulleys and buttons. It's in these beautifully simple moments that the Labo shines and it is easy to see how a child would simply reason that this was magic at play.
Finally, we got strapped into the Labo Robot, a monster five-hour creation with a Ghostbusters-style backpack and controls for the hands and feet, that sees players tearing through a city, destroying various buildings and breakable objects to achieve the highest score possible.
Much like the other games on offer, the robot was a neat novelty but offered little in the way of game modes and variety. Separate from the gaming aspect, kids may have just as much fun stomping around their living rooms in the robot’s gear, which can be customised, to their heart's content. Next to the power of a child’s imagination, the video game interaction seems like little more than a bonus.