Nintendo Labo: Innovation or Just Expensive Cardboard?

After the wild success of the Nintendo Switch in 2017 and an epic lineup of games, the Japanese video game giant has pulled, well… they’ve pulled another “Nintendo” on us. They are the only company that keeps making moves nobody would expect or think of. The first look at Nintendo Labo on January 17th showed us a new way to interact with your Switch. On April 20th this year, Nintendo Labo will launch worldwide and will feature different packs of games and cardboard accessories that you must put together yourself.

Take a look at the video below:

Since then, Nintendo scheduled a few events for fans to try Labo and see what it’s all about. While I haven’t tried it yet myself, I believe that this new path might work well for Nintendo. I ultimately see Labo as an extension of Nintendo’s quest to bring joy to their consumers in new and innovative ways. That said, Nintendo is certainly not the first company to produce products out of cardboard — just look at Google Cardboard, for example. It’s something that has certainly worked elsewhere.

Despite this, there is a divide in the Nintendo community as many question whether Labo will offer genuine value to them or their children. One major critique, for instance, is the price of the cardboard packages. As a lifelong Nintendo fan, I would like to discuss some of the issues here and see what you think about them as well.

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Nintendo Labo — The Concept

There are two parts to the idea of Labo. On the one hand, you have the software that comes with the cartridge. On the other hand, you have the cardboard that serves as a peripheral to enjoy the programs on the cartridge with. The Nintendo Switch operates as the screen for the instruction manuals and the games. In some cases, it’s used as the controller with its touch functionality. The joy-cons are used as additional assets with their 3D-rumble and sensor-sets to support the applications.

From what we’ve seen so far, you could potentially create almost anything from this base with enough creativity. You could create a remote-control robot, a bike simulator, a piano, or a fishing simulator, as shown in the product video. There are also more ambitious plans in the making, like offering a full body set that lets you control a virtual colossal robot on your TV screen that mimics your movements.

While the concept itself targets kids, the technology aspect of it could be very interesting for adults as well. Knowing Nintendo, they want to bring a unique bonding experience to families that includes exploration, crafting, and fun. The crafting part of this would likely be a family activity as siblings and parents work together to get the cardboard setup properly.

It all comes together in a wonderful package that only Nintendo could have thought of. If you are interested in what Nintendo’s overall mission is, check out their current CSR report for 2017. It’s a short and interesting read. It also touches upon their design philosophy for the Switch. You can find it online here.

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Adding new physical layers to virtual experiences

The first association I had while viewing the video was that the cardboard folding reminded me of origami (the art of paper folding). I tried my hand at origami last year, building some basic figures, and I found it to be a very meditative and relaxing experience. Coming from Nintendo’s strong background peripheral-wise (looking at the Wii and all plastic-based special first and third party controllers), the new approach seems environmentally friendlier than past products and more fun at the same time. Some parents might still be against the idea of video games, but Nintendo seems to have found an elegant way to bring an experience to the market that will encourage them to leap into a new ecosystem with the Switch.

As a mature gamer, I also find this philosophy appealing. Buying and playing games has lost a lot of its appeal for me in the last decade. There are very few games that connect emotionally with me or stay with me the way games did in the 90s when I was in my prime. Nintendo Labo may offer a new way to explore games that will help people like me reconnect, as it offers a new way to interact physically with a digital IP. Although I’m not a fan of creating massive cardboard sculptures since my living space is limited, I’m excited to try out new ways of interacting with my Switch.

Pricing

Is it justified to pay top-dollar for a collection of mini-games and some (admittedly well-designed) cardboard? Well, yes and no, and it depends a lot on your preferences. Things like in-game purchases have been under heavy fire lately, and most titles are backing away from smaller DLC options to enrich their games. There are far more unreasonable things in the gaming market than Nintendo Labo — I think we can agree on that.

We could argue for days about how much time and work must have gone into designing the cardboard layouts that are central to Labo, but at the end of the day whether the package is worth it or not depends on you. We can’t know whether the pricing is unreasonable, but we can decide whether the product we’re getting is worth what we’re paying for ourselves or our kids. And bear in mind that a lot of this will become clearer once Labo actually launches and reviews become available, much like how it was with certain VR headsets when they first became available.

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A lot of it also has to do with the long-term plans of Nintendo and if they’re looking to allow others to design Labo products. Labo is a new Mario Maker, if you will. They could create a marketplace for people developing software and viable cardboard concepts to go along with their games. This sort of continued expansion would make the initial purchase of the full Labo package much more worthwhile.

More to come in the following months

I'll be sure to continue covering Labo and any new developments over the next few months. I’ve already pre-ordered the Robot Set, so I’ll definitely be reviewing what’s to come!

What’s your opinion on this newest innovation by Nintendo? Are you all in, or are you skeptical? Are your kids already begging to get their hands on Labo? Let me know in the comments below!