Nintendo's Labo is amazing, as long as it doesn't collect the Wii's dust

Nintendo's Labo is amazing, as long as it doesn't collect the Wii's dust
From Mashable - February 5, 2018

I brought my mom along to check out Nintendo Labo. What a trip.

She's never been a fan of video games, and always put harsh restrictions on my access to them as a kid. But she came away from the experience coveting Nintendo's new cardboard creations and plotting a Switch purchase. A shocking turnaround.

And that got me thinking. It's 12 years ago, late 2006. My sister and other members of my familynone of them fans of gamingwere jazzed about Nintendo's Wii. The motion control gimmick, the ability to play tennis and toss bowling balls from the comfort of a living room, it all had them sold. They were lined up on launch day alongside video game geeks like me.

A few months later, the fad had passed. Dormant Wii consoles gathered dust in the bowels of my family's entertainment centers. It may be one of Nintendo's most successful products to date in terms of sales, but for all the units sold, my own family's experience suggests the thrill did not last.

The Wii launch was a lightning rod for getting a mainstream audience interested in video game consoles, but the storm passed quickly.

Now we have Labo. The Switch is already a soaring success among Nintendo-loving gamers, and Labo feels like a bid to widen that audience. Setting aside the high cost of entrythe two launch kits are priced at $70 and $80, respectivelythere's an all-ages appeal to these homemade cardboard constructs and the elements that make them interactive.

As a newly married man who's talking about starting a family, I ca not wait to share Labo with my future kids. For my mom, a longtime elementary school educator with a deep personal interest in making STEM/STEAM programs integral to classrooms, Labo seemed like a thrilling taste of the future.

Sitting side-by-side with her at Nintendo's hands-on event, we assembled the Labo's R.C. car kit Toy-Con (that's what each creation is called) as well as a portion of the fishing pole Toy-Con. Although the cardboard sheets feel flimsy at first, the process of folding them into shape leaves you with a surprisingly sturdy finished product.

We learned very quickly that not all Toy-Cons are created equally. The R.C. car is simple, spanning two perforated cardboard sheets and only one multi-part step. The fishing rod, on the other hand, is much more complex: In the hour we had to work on it, we only managed to get through two of the five steps.

Building these things is lots of fun, and an integral piece of the overall Labo experience.

Neither of us cared. Building these things is lots of fun, and an integral piece of the overall Labo experience. Thank Nintendo's smartly designed, interactive "how-to" tutorials, built into the Labo software. Interacting with nothing more than the Switch screen, you can rotate and zoom in/out on animated looks at each step in the building process, and fast-forward or rewind whenever you like.

The actual cardboard pieces are also a delight to work with. They are all clearly marked with fold lines and visual flourishes that help differentiate one side from another. There's always a risk of accidentally ripping one, or creasing it in the wrong spot, but observant builders have no need to worry about mixing up similar-looking pieces.

Picture the instructions for a piece of Ikea furniture. Now, imagine someone turned those instructions into an app, and that each piece of the item you are building came with clear, easily identified markings. That's what building a Toy-Con feels like: Nintendo made Ikea blueprints user-friendly.

The "game" portion of the Labo experience is harder to get behind at this early stage, and that's where my Wii flashback is relevant. There are five different Toy-Con experiences in one kit (R.C. car, fishing rod, house, motorbike, and piano) and one more in the elaborate robot kit.

I spent a brief amount of time with each Toy-Con. Fishing was the most fun for me; you lower a hook into the water, pull the rod back sharply to snag a fish when you feel a rumble, and tire your catch out as you slowly guide it back to the surface while keeping your line intact. It's simple, but satisfyingly kinetic.


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