Editor’s Note – Nintendo Labo Variety Kit and Nintendo Labo Robot Kit are available now. Nintendo provided Trusted Reviews with Labo this week, unfortunately we haven’t had time to fully test all the Toy-Con to offer a verdict. However, we did get the chance to attend a special hands on with Nintendo to test all of the ready-made Toy-Con. You can read our latest impressions below, with a full review to come very soon.
Available on Nintendo Switch
I was utterly besotted with Nintendo Labo on first playing it. Innovating even while using a material often used to store your old clothes and Christmas trees, Nintendo once again demonstrated its unique ability to redefine gaming.
However, in the weeks following, and without the cardboard kit to play with, I started to question Labo’s longevity. The games – particularly those featured in the Variety Pack – appeared fleeting, throwaway, and totally forgettable. Once the initial magic of building the various structures is over, is there really enough in the fishing, the motorbike racing and robo-smashing to keep players of all ages interested beyond the build?
Having the opportunity to test the kit once more, my fears were laid to rest – as, once again, I found myself lost in Nintendo’s magic.
Nintendo Labo is a child’s toy. This is a piece of kit very much aimed at kids and families to build, decorate and enjoy together. Much of Labo’s appeal comes in experiences outside of the Switch itself, and what you do beyond the tools Nintendo puts forward.
For example, building the Toy-Con RC Car pack is an experience that in isolation can appear quite boring. You build the small kit, slide in the Joy-Con controllers, then drive the vehicle around using controls displayed on the Switch’s screen. The flat-pack includes two cars, meaning siblings and parents can join in for some battles and races, too.
So, that’s a maximum of 30 minutes of fun to be had before the cardboard car goes into a bigger cardboard box never to be seen again? Actually, if you get creative then there are more tools hidden within, providing access to many more games for everyone to enjoy.
Tapping a button on the screen unlocks an ‘under the hood’ mode, which reveals the frequency at which both controllers are vibrating. Changing this will allow you to create a more steady car that can drive better. You’ll also be able to view the Joy-Con’s infrared sensor, which the Joy-Con can follow on its own, as long as there’s a white object in front of it.
At the event, I set up a series of targets for the Joy-Con to follow, and at the close of the day we played a game with the cars hidden under a giant box, using only the sensors to guide us toward the goal – which in this instance was an amiibo.
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At home, kids can come up with their own games, and feeding this creativity is a huge part of Labo’s appeal. The greatest demonstration of this came with the piano.
I can’t play the piano. I don’t know a C sharp from a vitamin C tablet. During my first hands-on with Labo, I stopped playing with the Toy Piano and Studio software, inhibited by my own lack of musical knowledge. This time, however, become aware of exactly what Studio can do revealed the true potential of Labo, and I saw just how wonderful it can be for people of all ages.
There are two bits of software for the piano: Toy Piano allows you to simply press the keys and alter sounds into various fun noises, such as cats. You can also alter pitch and reverb using the various cardboard dials that you insert into the piano and twist. It’s a surface-level entertainment app that will happily entertain younger children. Those who want significantly more depth should look to Studio.
Studio allows you to make your own music, composing using various sound variations, waveforms, tempos. You can record different layers of music to create one complete piece. Again, as mentioned, I don’t know a single piano chord or key, so at first I began hitting random keys, then the record button, deleting the awful racket I’d made. I changed the pitch and reverb, not knowing what they did, finally becoming annoyed that Studio hadn’t turned me into Jools Holland within five minutes.
I yearned for some instruction, guidance on how to actually play the piano, even one with just a few keys. Heading into the tutorials, I discovered extensive instructions that walk you through each facet of both the hardware and software.
While it doesn’t actually teach you how to play piano, it’s able to take even idiots like me and show them how to unlock the tools and use them to put together a piece of music that they can be proud of.
It’s here that I appreciated the brilliance of Labo, and how much thought has gone into every part of the kit.
Behind the compartment where the Switch itself sits, you’ll find a small slot. Inside it you can place thin pieces of paper and card. On viewing the tutorials I discovered that cutting a curve into a piece of card and placing it inside this slot will create a new waveform, changing the sound of every key I press.
Also in the box is a rectangular piece of card with rows of hole-punched gaps; you can place and remove card as appropriate to make a drum beat to go beneath the piano you play. One row is the bass, one the snare drum, one the hi-hat, another the symbol. Learning how to place the holes to create a pleasant-sounding rhythm to accompany the music proved captivating, and more rewarding than what you’d experience in most games – it was something I was learning and immediately putting into action.
Learning through discovery is one of the most satisfying experiences, and for children the Labo will certainly feed their curiosity. With the piano I started as clueless; but I persisted to the point that it had become the only thing I wanted to do. Suddenly, I was able to make music.
It may sound ridiculous to feel proud of yourself for learning how cardboard works, but that’s exactly how I felt. Watching other people sit down at the piano for only a few minutes, then give up and try something else made me feel even more smug. I ‘got’ it; I saw beneath the surface, and was richly rewarded for it. I can only imagine watching a child’s face light up as they experience what I did.
The day ended with another demonstration of the Garage Mode, the shining jewel in an already fabulous package. Here, kids get a simplified look at coding, programming the cardboard to do different things, changing the inputs and outputs.
In the demonstration, we saw the RC car driven by the fishing rod, the Toy-Con blaster (included in the variety pack, but doesn’t have dedicated software) used to shoot down a little cardboard man.
These tools are reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet’s level design modes: I can’t wait to see what people do. Personally, I probably lack the creativity to do much with the tools. Again, though, this is for children, and having such functionality available in the kit will allow them to go wherever their whimsy takes them.
If the rest of the games in the Variety Pack – and the more expensive Robot Pack – can deliver the depth offered by the RC car and the Piano in particular, Nintendo is onto a winner. It has created something that every child will love – and, importantly, something from which every child will learn.