Nintendo Labo Review: More About the Journey Than the Destination

When the Nintendo Labo was announced, it was … different, to say the least. Labo is a brand new peripheral for the Nintendo Switch that allows gamers to build contraptions out of special cardboard and use them to play minigames.

It’s a unique concept that encourages learning and teamwork, and really  is an outside the box way to play games. However, it’s unclear whether this is a kids’ toy or something more for adults and that may ultimately affect your decision to buy these pricey games.  

MORE THAN CARDBOARD

I was invited to a Nintendo Labo demo in New York City back in February and was pleasantly surprised by the cardboard’s durability. All the folding and creases involved (especially when working with kids) facilitate a need for sturdy material and that’s what you’ll get with Labo.

While it’s not clear how long the cardboard can last after hours of play time, I feel it can take a beating. However, at the same Labo demo event there were incidents where overzealous  children caused some of the projects to not work as intended, like the keys on the piano.

After hours folding, connecting sheets of cardboard and adding rubber bands and other knick knacks made me appreciate how much time the development team must have put into Nintendo Labo. Each step is simple and purposeful, and really shows the ingenuity of what people can do with mundane objects like cardboard.

Switch_NintendoLabo_ToyCon_VarietyKit_04a_Piano The Piano works great but don't be too rough with it. Nintendo

BUILDING IS THE BEST PART

My time building with Nintendo Labo has been unexpectedly chill. Taking time out to just sit with the cardboard sheets laying around and methodically build and put together the various parts to make your desired project felt therapeutic in a way. Being able to stretch your brain muscles and get a sense of accomplishment as your project begins to take shape is pretty great. It’s an experience kids and adults should have.

Labo has a suggested age of six, which tells you how involved these projects can be. While some projects like the RC Car are easy and kids can do it themselves (with adult supervision), others like the piano and robot are not. This offers a lot of opportunities for parents to cooperate with their children while also teaching them how to follow directions and pay attention to detail.

The Nintendo Labo software, which teaches users all there is to know about how the various projects use the infrared sensors on the Switch Joy-Cons and other mechanisms, teach you using helpful interactive directions. Users can move at their own pace and rewind to see a certain step over again. You can also rotate the pictures to see how each crease is supposed to look, and enlarge to see where pieces of cardboard are supposed to connect. The software, like the pieces themselves, is well thought out and user-friendly. However, I had some minor gripes with the software.

You are forced to go through all the steps of building projects before you can actually play with them. When you first build a project this is not a problem, but if you are bringing the piano, for example, to a friends house who owns a Switch and you want to show them how it works, you can’t skip the building step if you use a different Switch. You’re forced to fast forward through the steps (and with the bigger projects you sit there for a while) until you can actually play with something.

Also, certain projects call for the same steps to be done over and over again. The keys to the piano are all pretty much built the same way, and after the third one you’ve memorized how the pieces fold and connect together. But the directions force you to sit through instructions for the remaining keys like it was your first time. The software should allow you to skip certain steps, so hopefully a future update adds this feature.

Toy-Con_Piano (1) nintendo labo Assembling the Piano could take some time but is really fun to use. Nintendo

GAMING ASPECT LEAVES A LOT TO BE DESIRED

Now that the building step is done, it’s time to play the various mini games. Unfortunately, Nintendo Labo is an example of when the journey is more fulfilling than the destination. While the minigames aren’t terrible, they don’t offer a lot in terms of gaming. Once you’ve experienced them a few times, veteran gamers will easily get bored. How children react to the minigames will be different, and they’ll definitely get more out of fishing and messing around with the Labo House. If you’re looking for more substantial games you won’t find them with Labo, but, then again, the experience is really what sets these peripherals apart.

Switch_NintendoLabo_illustration_RobotKit_01 The Robot is one of the more time-intensive but fun projects. Nintendo

I personally enjoy the piano for what it can do. Being able to play music on cardboard is a trip, and seeing other users play covers of songs is something I enjoy listening to and trying to learn. But adults will get more out of that project than children. I also really liked the robot. It’s built well and the minigame is the most involved and most fun. It’s the closest the Labo gets to a virtual reality experience and users of all ages will have a great time punching, flying and blasting lasers all day.

The Toy-Con Garage should be receiving a lot more attention. Being able to take cardboard and your Joy-Con controllers and come up with different ways to use them is amazing. This is where the creativity of the Labo is at its peak. You can use the Toy-Con Garage to create new instruments or vehicles by assigning different functions to the Joy-Cons. The possibilities are seemingly endless on how you can use the Toy-Con Garage, but, again, adults will probably get the most out of this complex feature.

Toy-Con-Garage-3 nintendo labo You can create a treasure chest that plays music with the Nintendo Labo Garage mode. Nintendo

VERDICT

The Nintendo Labo delivers a learning experience that adults and kids can enjoy. The building aspect of Labo is the best part, and offers up a lot of opportunity for parents and their children to bond during teachable moments.

While the gaming aspect of Labo doesn’t give adults much to do, children can still get a lot of joy out of it. The robot kit is the way to go if you’re looking for something more game intensive, but if you’re worried about pricing or having more to do and build, the variety kit is a better option.

It’s not clear whether Nintendo intended Labo to be a “kids” toy/game, but I feel adults will get the most out the various projects and especially the Toy-Con Garage function. If you have the disposable income (Variety Kit $69.99, Robot Kit $79.99) Labo is definitely a unique experience that adults and kids can appreciate.

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