Labo is more than just Nintendo Cardboard

Labo’s Nintendo cardboard might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly more than a few cardboard models…

In recent years, I’ve come to realise that I really love following instructions. I’m not sure if it’s a hint that I’m on the spectrum (combined with many other personality traits of mine), but I find a real catharsis when I’m given a task and I complete it. I love hunting for Achievements/Trophies in video games, I will happily build plastic model kits or flat-pack furniture for hours, and in my ,day job I work best when I set myself a list of tasks and tick them off. The compulsion to see a list of things to do and then add them to my mind’s internal completion list is very much apparent.

Which is why Nintendo’s Labo experiment utterly ticks my boxes. It combines two of the pastimes that get me on such an endorphin high – Video games and making stuff; and since I got the Labo Variety pack, one of two initial Labo packs, my wife and I have been slowly going through each of the flat-packed toys, savouring each crease and the satisfaction of pushing tabs into slots. And it’s been such an enjoyable process that I’ve almost forgotten that you actually play games with these handmade experiments.

Nintendo Cardboard Piano

I mean, I put £50 of money on the Labo Variety Pack, fully aware that this is all ultimately, a gimmick, but after spending over a week and countless hours on building pianos and motorcycle handlebars from sheets of thin cardboard, I realise that this is a gimmick that I’m more than happy with. It’s different, it’s interesting and above all: fun. And I haven’t even seen and built everything.

It’s not money for Nintendo cardboard, as many would say. Yes, there is a lot of cardboard in the box, and initial impressions would suggest that the software itself is little more than digital instructions. But scratch down to Labo’s surface, and it’s the playful presentation that hides a much deeper experience if you choose to check it out. And by the way, those digital instructions for making each model are brilliant – It’s so great to have a 3D model of what you’re making, with clear instructions and the ability to rotate the camera to see exactly what needs to be done. It also helps that there’s a bit of personality in those instructions, in true Nintendo style.

There’s the Play part, where you actually use the toys you’ve built, and they’re as clever, but ultimately as shallow as you’d expect in terms of digital experiences. The biggest criticism you could say of Labo is that the time and effort of building absolutely dwarfs the amount of time likely spent playing. I would certainly appreciate some deeper purposes related to these cardboard peripherals, maybe even full-length, “proper” games.

But it’s the Discover part of the software’s three main functions (alongside Make and Play) that have engaged me the most outside of building models. For every model, there is a short presentation of sorts, that shows you the engineering and technical side of each toy and how they work in tandem with the Switch Joy-Con’s features. If you ever forgot that the right Joy-Con has a built-in IR Camera, you’ll be amazed at what can be done with it, and once again it’s presented in an entertaining way through a text conversation with some quirky characters.

There is nothing groundbreaking about the technology used in Labo. It’s very much the latest product from Nintendo’s “Lateral Thinking With Seasoned Technology”, where old and cheap tech is utilised for new and exciting ideas. IR Cameras, vibration and accelerometers are nothing new, but to see them used in such weird and wonderful ways is tantamount to magic. I’m not the target audience for Labo, and I never assumed that I would be – But in lifting the curtain and showing you how all of this stuff works, Nintendo has managed to deliver an incredible sense of wonder in a 33-year-old male.

Nintendo Cardboard Fishing Labo

And I haven’t even delved into the Toy-Con Garage, where it’s possible to make your own Labo devices using a simple visual interface to program the Joy-Cons. Seeing what some people have done already on the internet has been a lot of the fun, from someone making a simple digital clock to another, recreating Game & Watch Ball by putting a cardboard stencil on the Switch’s screen.

Labo is not going to please everyone. It’s for families and most likely children, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. It’s Nintendo trying to do something fun and new with their latest console, and video games would be a much worse medium it there weren’t outlandish ideas like this around.

Yet, the thing I will take away from Labo is most definitely the building process itself. I spent this past Bank Holiday weekend sitting on the sofa with my wife, taking turns to build parts of Labo’s final model, the Piano, trading “Oohs” and “Aahs” as we realise the purpose and deliberate cleverness of each individual model. And it’s moments like that, which will stay in my mind long after these cardboard models degrade.