Nintendo is making cardboard cool again. The Labo range of interactive build-and-play kits take the Nintendo Switch console and slot it into a series of imaginative designs. Play the piano, control a robot car, go fishing, or even smash buildings with your mechanical fists, all through one of six flat cardboard sheets.
“Nintendo Labo continues our longstanding mission of making people smile by surprising them with new experiences,” says Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer for Nintendo of America. “It is an exciting evolution of the Nintendo Switch platform – one designed to inspire curiosity, creativity and imagination in people of all ages.”
The Thursday reveal is Nintendo at its best. Exciting, creative, and completely unexpected. The Labo kits — reminiscent of the Google Cardboard virtual reality sets for smartphones — offer a number of imaginative “Toy-Con” cardboard designs, all of which come with relevant software:
- Two RC cars. Slot the Switch controllers into the cardboard, then use the touchscreen to control the car. The controller vibrations move the car in the chosen direction.
- Fishing rod. A rotating reel attaches string to a cradle that holds the touchscreen. Feel a bite on the line by slotting a controller into the reel and waiting for the vibrations.
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- House. Build the cardboard house, slot the touchscreen into the front, and move blocks around to interact with a creature. The house uses the right controller’s infrared sensor to detect the movements.
- Motorbike. Slot both controllers either side of the cardboard handlebars, then place the tocuhscreen in the middle. There’s an ignition button to start the engine, twisting the right handlebar activates the throttle, and tilting the whole setup tilts the on-screen motorbike.
- Piano. Insert the console into the 13-key piano and press different keys to create a song. Different assembled knobs will create different sound effects and noises.
- Robot. Possibly the most ambitious creation in the lineup, the robot is a wearable cardboard suit that contains a visor, two arms and a backpack. The two controllers either side transmit movements to the touchscreen docked to the TV, and Nintendo has created an impressive city-smashing mode for breaking up UFOs with your cardboard fists.
While the rest of the gaming world focuses on virtual reality and high-resolution graphics, Nintendo is charting a very different course. The PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X, retailing for $399 and $499 respectively, promise stunning 4K images when paired with high-end TVs. In the case of the PS4, Sony offers the PlayStation VR immersive headset as a $399 extra. Nintendo has snubbed these innovations, with the $299 Switch instead focusing on portability and motion controls with a 6.2-inch screen, docking to a TV at a moment’s notice for HD gaming.
Labo takes this unconventional approach to the next level. A variety kit, which includes all creations bar the robot, will retail for $69.99. The robot kit will retail for $79.99. A customization set that includes stencils, stickers and colored tape will retail for $9.99. Unfortunately, Nintendo confirmed to IGN France that purchase of the kits is mandatory to use Labo, and the company will not offer cardboard kits for free download.
Labo is set to launch April 20. Nintendo is also hosting two special three-hour play sessions ahead of launch for kids aged six to 12. The first, in New York City, will take place on February 2 and 3. The second, in San Francisco, will be held from March 2 to 4. Nintendo is taking reservations for both sessions until all spots are filled or January 21, whichever comes first.