The new Nintendo Labo is part video game, part construction set and is the company’s take on the growing world of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) learning and programming. It’s run on video-game hardware, but provides an immersive experience, signaling a new direction for a company that is always innovating. With Nintendo Labo, Nintendo once again has changed how consumers think about video games. This time, it’s not just all about consumption, but instead is about getting the user to create, imagine, and dream big.
Coming in a massively oversized package, the Nintendo Labo breaks down to a video-game cartridge, a lot of cardboard, and some reflective tape. The cardboard is the main focus. All Nintendo Labo creations, at their heart, are nothing more than a bunch of cardboard folded in very specific patterns all nicely placed together to form an object.
The reflective tape stays out of the limelight and under the hood of all Nintendo Labo creations, but it plays a very important role: It is with this tape that the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers’ infrared sensors interact with the game, transmitting important location and distance data to it. This reflective tape is the key to making Nintendo Labo work.
The game cartridge runs the program that the users interact with, not only to build their own Nintendo Labo creations, but also to control the unique mini games that can be played with the creations. The games found within the cartridge do a great job of showcasing the wow factor of what you’ll be making, and the digital instruction manuals found on the cartridge are not only a masterwork in user experience, but also provide some cute and enjoyable cut scenes along the way.
The Project Kits
Nintendo Labo released two kits in April 2018: a Variety Kit and a Robot Kit. The Variety Kit is the introduction to the world of Nintendo Labo—it contains five projects that span all ages and technical levels. Most impressive is the piano. Right down to the weight of the piano keys and the actual playing experience, Nintendo got this right: It feels like you’re playing a real instrument. It is with this creation that users will feel the most “magical” after finishing the build of it. The cardboard cutouts, physics, engineering, and placement of the reflective tape all come together and leave you thinking, “Wow, just how does all of this work?” before launching into your own Nintendo Labo jam sessions. It’s a tremendous amount of fun. (See it in action here.)
The Robot Kit offers a more immersive experience in which users build wearable elements that transform them into a robot they can control on screen. Pieced together with cardboard, reflective tape, and some strings, the Robot Kit all comes together after some intense building by really making users feel like they’re a giant robot. It’s amazing what some basic household items and imagination can do. (See it in action here.)
Nintendo Labo at the Library and at Home
Once library staffers have invested time in building all of the projects included with the Variety Kit (it could be a great team-building exercise for staff development), they’ll want to check out Nintendo Labo’s Toy-Con Garage section with their patrons. The Toy-Con Garage gives users the chance to make, tinker with, and fully develop their own creations. This requires some in-depth investigation by users, but with enough tinkering, some amazing things can come out of it. GameXplain compiled a video of 10 amazing Toy-Con creations, but a quick scan of YouTube will result in even more examples from around the world. The Toy-Con Garage is a tool that youth services librarians will really want to dive into, as it could unlock the potential for some really fun and immersive STEAM learning programs at the library.
Over the past few months, my family and I have slowly been putting together our Nintendo Labo kits. (See the photos in the upper-right corner of this article for a glimpse of our experiences.) The cardboard cutouts are easy to remove, fold, and place together. The digital instruction manual is very specific on where to put the reflective tape, and my sons (ages 6 and 9) clearly understood how to accomplish these tasks. Some of the projects were completed in about 30 minutes (the Toy-Con radio-controlled cars were the easiest), while others took upward of 2–3 hours (the Toy-Con piano and the fishing rod were the most time-intensive). Throughout the building process, I reminded myself to be patient and enjoy that part of the experience, as the build of the Toy-Con kits is what Nintendo emphasizes as Nintendo Labo’s main focus. The eventual reward of getting to use the finished projects provided us with a few hours of fun, but it was the exploration of new avenues using the Toy-Con Garage and the actual building process that we, together as a family, found the most rewarding.
Nintendo Labo finds the company at a very innovative and fun stage in its history, one that moves forward by continuing to merge play with experience, but this time adding in a dash of education. The end result with Nintendo Labo is a platform that looks like it has some lasting power and endless scenarios for new kits that encourage creativity, learning, and fun through video games.