Zany, wacky, crazy, mind-boggling, pointless, bizarre, very Japanese. I don’t get it.
These are just some of the words and phrases that we’ve heard from others when talking about Nintendo’s latest gaming concept: Nintendo Labo.
But do any of the above really relate to the company’s Nintendo Switch accessory system? We’ve spent a morning building, playing and discovering to find out.
What’s in the box?
Unlike a traditional game where you download the software and start playing straight away, Labo is different. You get some software for your Nintendo Switch, which does indeed need to be downloaded, but also a stack of pre-cut cardboard that you’re expected to build into objects.
There are two different sets to buy. The Variety Kit includes a host of different builds, including a remote controlled car, a fishing rod, a house, a motorbike and a piano. The Robot Kit basically offers the template for a huge cardboard backpack, that lets you become a robot.
A good starting point is going to be the Variety pack as it is not only the cheaper of the two but will give you plenty of different tasks and games to keep you entertained.
As we said, you’ve got to build everything to get started. You get all the cardboard in the box that you need to get going and, as you might have guessed, there is nothing to stop you from using the pre-cut templates to make more. That way you can build over and over again.
The different sets start easy – the RC Car took us around 20 minutes to make – but can become difficult with more complexities. The piano has an estimated build time of around 3 hours, for example.
Each model comes with a set of dedicated tutorials all displayed on the Switch and these can be taken at your own speed. Get the hang of a series of repeated steps and you can skip through, while complicated steps can be rewound and played back. It’s all very intuitive.
Once you’ve followed the instructions there’s no reason why you can’t go off piste and create your own take on the instructions. In our play, we turned a simple RC Car into a cute ladybird. Others in the room went for more menacing extremes, like an elephant that had felt tip pens sticking out the front to mark their victims in battle.
And that’s the point here, it’s about being able to build something quite easily, and then rebuild it or customise it how you want over and over again. If something gets torn, damaged or broken, just build a replacement or patch it up with Sellotape.
It’s a great way of expressing creativity – something that’s completely different to the way we’ve become accustomed to with toys usually. This isn’t another hunk of plastic clogging up your living room. It’s something that’s designed to be fixed and customised. Like Lego, in some respects, origami in others.
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Much of the play with Nintendo Labo is experimental. There are no levels to complete, no baddies to beat, just fun to be had.
That can be good and bad in equal measure. We say this because you’ve got to have the imagination to play without structure. To explore. That can either be great or boring depending on how you see things.
Take the RC Car, for example. You build it, use the Switch as a controller to vibrate the Joy-Cons you’ve attached to the sides and that’s it. If you’ve got another set of Joy-Cons you can battle against each other, like a tame version of Robot Wars. You effectively make a giant Hexbug.
It’s the same with the piano, fishing rod, motorbike or house. Even the more expensive Robot Kit. All are amazingly innovative and, at times, so bonkers that it can be confusing, but beyond the first 10 minutes may have you scratching your head as to what to do next.
While you may tire, however, you might also find yourself playing them for hours without realising. Kids certainly will.
The fishing game is mesmerising as you’re encouraged to catch bigger and bigger fish for your aquarium. Dropping a line into the game and then reeling it back with your catch. And that’s before you experiment with the option to make your own fish with the piano, yes, it really is that crazy at times.
Meanwhile, the piano itself is just as captivating, giving you the option to play music, create and record your own tunes, or just drive those around you insane.
Those who opt for the Robot Kit will see themselves wearing a backpack with strings attached to their feet and arms. These feed back movement to the game. Drop the visor on your head, made from cardboard of course, and you go into a first-person mode. The imagination and creativity gone into all this is intense.
Clearly realising the potential of running out of steam, there is third prong to the Labo attack: discovery. Here you are encouraged to code your own games, experiences or delights.
Nintendo gives you full access to the underside of the technology powering Labo, in what it calls the Garage. That means you can programme the Joy-Con controllers into musical instruments, or a shooting game, or anything you can think of by mashing together all the elements of the other games in the set.
Like the building element, the focus here is about coding the games. You can’t just download other people’s levels or experiments – like you could in Sony’s BigLittlePlanet – but, presumably, Nintendo is hoping that a huge community will form, each sharing their own instructions.