Introducing Nintendo Labo: A Parent's Guide

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If you own a Nintendo Switch, chances are you’ve heard about Nintendo’s latest gadget—the Nintendo Labo. If not, you’re in for a surprise! (Hint: Nintendo has found a new way to wrestle your credit card from your wallet.)

Labo is Nintendo’s new accessory for the Nintendo Switch, and expected to be a big hit when all is said and done.

First, a little background.

Nintendo has had a long and complicated relationship with peripherals:

The R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) for the original Nintendo 8-bit, for example, was a great idea, but only supported two games.

Then, the Power Glove gave 8-bit gamers the ability to start “playing with power,” but was later written off as more of a gimmick.

Still, that hasn’t stopped Nintendo from continually innovating in the video game space to create more unique and realistic ways for players to engage in the onscreen action.

Enter Nintendo Labo—Nintendo’s latest peripheral which turns your Nintendo Switch into a STEM maker lab.

What is Nintendo Labo?

Nintendo Labo is a creator platform for games and construction toys that work together with the Nintendo Switch. Each Nintendo Labo kit comes with perforated cardboard panels and accessories (like stickers and rubber bands) that players assemble to create “Toy-Cons.” These Toy-Cons use the Switch console and controllers (also known as Joy-Cons) to interact with the game included in the kit.

Have a look:
 

 
Think of it as the IKEA model of video games… Nintendo designed Labo to help teach STEM principles.

What is included with the Nintendo Labo?

Aside from the Game Card, each kit has pre-cut sheets of cardboard (the Variety Kit has 28, while the Robot Kit has 19), a bag of stickers, colored string, plastic grommets, fasteners, rubber bands, and straps.

Kits also come with a Switch card, instead of a download code, for game data.

How does Nintendo Labo work?

As mentioned, each Nintendo Labo Kit comes with a Game Card and sheets of perforated cardboard templates to build Toy-Cons. Users are guided through the Toy-Con construction process, step-by-step, with interactive instructions that are included on the Labo Kit Game Card.

Here is a more in-depth breakdown:

 

 

Once the cardboard Toy-Con is built, the player then inserts the Nintendo Switch display and one or both Joy-Cons into the cardboard housing.

Labo uses reflective stickers and other input devices to enable the Joy-Cons to “sense” and work with the cardboard Toy-Con.

The construction kits use the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons to sense motion and other features like the Joy-Con HD Rumble and infrared (IR), where pressing a key on the piano Toy-Con plays a note (which is done by reading the right Joy-Con infrared sensor) or swinging your arm moves a robot.

The Nintendo Labo game also shows users how the Toy-Con works with the Switch, in the example above, the software gives users a explanation of the fundamentals of infrared sensors.

Who came up with the idea for Nintendo Labo?

Nintendo asked their employees to come up with creative and interesting ways that Switch’s Joy-Cons could be used. From all the ideas submitted, prototyping toys from sheets of cardboard surfaced at the top of the pile.
 

Download our 2018 brochure to learn more about getting your child started making their own video games. Or, continue reading about the Nintendo Labo!

According to Shinya Takahashi, the General Manager of Nintendo’s Entertainment Planning & Development, building cardboard toys is “extremely fun” and common with Japanese children, who enjoy the trial and error process of making something.

Nintendo’s developers also wanted to create something that utilized Nintendo Switch’s unique features, and thus something no other console company could copy.

Why cardboard? Are the Toy-Cons kid-proof?

When it was in development, Nintendo’s Labo dev team held “prototype parties” and used a 3D printer to create prototypes. However, developers found the 3D printer couldn’t keep up with the fast-paced prototypes they were pumping out at the parties. It was for that main reason - and several others - why Nintendo decided to use cardboard.

Plus, cardboard is more environmentally friendly than plastic (less expensive) and yes, while it will wear out over time (depending on use), Nintendo sells replacement parts for the Labo (including the cardboard templates) online.

Here's a better look at the cardboard construction:
 

 
Is anything kid-proof? Not really; Labo isn’t either, and while the cardboard used is thinner than what you might see in an Amazon shipment box, it is surprisingly durable once you have a Toy-Con assembled. Depending on how rough your child is with their playthings, the Toy-Cons could last a few months, weeks, or (gasp) a few days. In our experience though, the Robot Kit took a beating and held up great.

Is it worth it?

In a word, yes.

In more words, while most of the games and demos are shallow, (remember how long Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort kept you occupied?) it’s a wholly unique video game experience.

To quote Nintendo of America’s president, Reggie Fils-Aimé, "Labo is unlike anything (Nintendo has) done before."

Labo was created to encourage discovery, and per Fils-Aimé, "specifically crafted for kids and those who are kids at heart."

Looking at Labo’s tagline of "Make, Play, Discover," it delivers on that promise on several levels:

First, it delivers fun video game experiences. Remember when you got your Wii, and were showing off its unique aspects to friends and family? Sharing the magic is almost as fun as playing the games themselves!

Second, the product is educational and inclusive—Labo explains the technology behind it in both a fascinating and useful way.

Third, it’s expandable. With a feature called “Toy-Con Garage,” players can create and program their own Toy-Cons using a basic programming interface and their own materials.

For parents who are looking for video game that is smart, educational, and teaches STEM concepts, Nintendo Labo is a home run.

Nintendo Labo Variety Kit (Nintendo, $69.99, Rated E)

Assembly Time: 5-6 hours for all the Toy-Cons in the kit

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Nintendo Labo Variety Kit includes five Toy-Cons:

  • A fishing rod that rumbles when you catch a fish
  • A working mini piano that changes styles depending on the cardboard “peg” inserted
  • A motorcycle that “rumbles” and accelerates when you twist the handle
  • A little house kit that reacts when you turn the cardboard knobs and handles
  • An RC car kit with two cars that can be played like Battlebots

Here's a look at the Variety Kit:
 

 
Because of the variety and immersion the kits offer, the Nintendo Labo Variety Kit is the most fun by far. My favorites? The Piano and Motorcycle Toy-Cons.

The Piano Kit (2-3 hours to assemble) is intricate and parents will need to help younger Nintendo Labo makers assemble it (and most kits). The Motorcycle Kit is the most fun and dare we say it, arcade-like.

Nintendo Labo Robot Kit (Nintendo, $79.99, Rated E)

Assembly Time: 6-8 Hours

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ever dreamed of being a giant transforming robot? I know, who hasn’t?

With this kit, makers build a robo backpack, strap it and a visor on and control an on-screen robot. Players can transform into a tank, smash buildings with their robo-fist, and generally cause all sorts of robo mayhem by romping through and crushing cities.

Gameplay is as close to virtual reality that Nintendo Switch gamers will get, and in some cases is better than most VR games.

While all the pieces are pre-cut and pre-creased, the kits still take time to assemble. Between the two, the Robot Kit takes the most time and effort.

Here's a look at the Robot Kit:
 

 
Kits also have limited parts, so if you lose a piece (like the screw that holds part of the visor together) you’ll have to order replacement parts to complete it. (Nintendo does also provide tips for fixing Toy-Cons, too.)

For this reason - it takes a while to put this thing together - and because of the shallowness of the game (punching grows tedious after about an hour of play and the mini-games don’t serve to extend the experience much), the Robot Kit excels in concept but falls a little short in execution—from both a building and gameplay standpoint.

If you’re a parent that does not have a lot of time and patience but still want to get your kids into Nintendo Labo, go with the Variety Kit.

In the end, Nintendo does it again.

Overall, Nintendo Labo is a very LEGO-like experience, but better! You see things coming together throughout the process, and when you’ve finally completed the Toy-Con, there’s a feeling of great accomplishment.

The games (while not very deep) are signature Nintendo: they’re very fun to play. Even more intriguing is the expandability—we spent hours tinkering around in the Toy Con Garage to see what else we could build.

It is an explorative and creative experience, all at the same time. We could see kids getting lost in here for hours on end, especially since the programming experience is very similar to programming with Scratch which a lot of kids are already familiar with.

It’s quite a feat of engineering to create something that innovates in the video game space, inspires kids to complete a DIY project, and teaches the core concepts of STEM. But Nintendo - as they always do - have done it.

And don't forget—a summer with STEM!

If you’re looking for a creative, collaborative, and inspiring STEM experience for your video game-loving kids, consider sending them to iD Tech this summer. iD Tech programs deliver in-demand skillsets like coding, robotics, artificial intelligence, game development, and more so students can innovate like the pros.
 

A photo of Vince

Vince has worked as a camp director for iD Tech. Previously, he spent over 20 years in the video game industry, working for companies like Sony, Microsoft and Disney. Vince has his nerd card fully stamped, with his favorite stamps including: Pokémon, D&D, comic books and of course, video games.

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