Hands On with Nintendo Labo
By Gary Gray
When Nintendo first unveiled Labo back in January, it initially made me a little uneasy. 'Cardboard plus expensive gaming system' was a formula that made me slightly nervous. Just the thought of sticking my Switch into cardboard holders made me fear for the console's safety.
Fast forward a month and I’ve now had a chance to go hands on with the most raved about cardboard since, well, Google Cardboard. I got to make, play and discover Labo – to borrow a phrase - in real life. So does it work, or is it a bit of a flat pack?
The day started out with an introduction to Labo and a brief chat, before we got totally hands on building our own little Toy-Con RC car. Following on-screen instructions is incredibly easy. It gives you a 360 degree look at what you're making, allowing you to rotate the model so you can see exactly what you need to do next. There's a few written instructions included too, though I didn’t really need them. The emphasis on a visual guide really makes Labo extremely open and easy for anyone, of any age, to follow (as well as saving the localisation team some work).
After creating the RC car, we then got to play around with it. There were a few different applications too, including a sumo-wrestling style two player mode, straight-forward racing, and also a way to use the IR camera to guide the RC car automatically. In terms of content the RC car is a little paper thin (excuse the pun) compared to the rest of the variety pack, but it's still a lot of fun.
Moving onto the Labo bike, it's apparent that this is more of a game than anything else in the variety pack. Nice and sturdy, the Switch sits in the middle of the handlebars, while the JoyCon are slotted into the handles. Brakes, a horn and a start engine button, all made out of card, work perfectly, while twisting the right JoyCon housing acts as a throttle just like on a real motorbike.
Vibrations rumble through the bike's body into your chest and hands and become more aggressive as you give the bike more power. This was surprising to me as it's quite strong, but it works incredibly well. Software wise there's quite a lot more to the bike than the RC car, and even though it's definitely is its own thing, it also feels close to Mario Kart in multiple ways.
Without going into too much detail, you race around different tracks (that are all visually similar) against other bikes, collecting boosts on the way, and drifting around the corners to get the edge on your opponents. From what I could tell the races were split into collections of a few per cup, spread across multiple speeds, also called CC like Mario Kart.
Hold The Line
Along with the RC cars I also got to build the more complex and incredibly detailed fishing rod. In just under and hour it was complete, again with the easy to understand instructions making even the trickiest and most fiddly parts a breeze. It's not all cardboard in Labo, and the fishing rod was a great example of how string, eyelets and elastic bands all come together to make a working, extendable fishing rod, with a line and fully-functional reel that actually clicks as it turns.
So enough about the construction of the fishing rod, how's the software? Well it's pretty cool! The relationship between the fishing rod and Switch unit is really clever. As you lower the line down into the stand that holds the Switch, the line in game starts it's descent into the waters. Lively and full of a large variety of fish, it's your task to make sure they get the bait and then reel them in for the catch. The deeper you go, the bigger and harder the fish are to snag. Simple? Yes, but that's always been the beauty of fishing games; they never have to go over board with anything as long as you're enjoying yourself.
Hitting the right notes
The Piano is very impressive in it's construction, but loose, wobbly keys with hardly any resistance mean they definitely don't feel like a real set. This however really doesn't matter in the slightest, as they are still as responsive as you'd like them to be.
There are four different blocks that can be inserted to make different sounds or change the effects of the keys, while the the piano housing has a whole bunch of different buttons on it. Some bend the pitch, while others let you record and play back those recordings, and if you're really creative, there's even a slot in the top where you can insert paper strips cut to your own design, to adjust the sound of the keys. Other than that there's not much else to say. It's a fantastic combo of hardware and software that will last for as long as your imagination.
Home is where the house is
Living in a house made of cardboard is a little pet of your own, but it's not just any normal pet. Not a dog, or cat... or anything known to man for that matter. Instead, it's a new but strangely cute animal. Using the touch screen you can interact with the creature's abode, or insert attachments into the three slots on the house to activate other little mini games. There's a push button, a crank and a dial that make different things happen with each different combination. Where I can definitely say that the house wasn't my favourite, the kids at the event totally loved it, and I can see why. If you're planning on picking up Labo for a younger generation of children who love the idea of having pets, then they are going to love this one.
The second Labo pack features the robot suit. I got to see how it works, and have a rough idea of how it's put together. It's easily the most complex and thought through of all the different Labo projects. With arm and leg movements tethered to stings, it feels kind of strange at first, but becomes increasingly intuitive.
You punch and stomp your way through a city destroying everything in sight. I'm sure that there's tonnes of other modes in the software too, but this was the only one I got to play. Basically it's a score attack mode, and it's pretty fun. It's not all flailing arms and stomping either; putting your hands by your side and leaning over makes the robot fly, whereas crouching down turns the robot into a tank. These add different gameplay elements that help make it more of a game, rather than an exercise in who can wave their arms around the fastest.
One the biggest surprises is that the visor actually works. Flicking it down across your eyes activates first person mode. It's neat that it's been considered as an option at all, and I love it!
All in all Labo is a total treat, from it's construction to the games themselves. The demographic that it's aimed at (mainly kids or construction lovers) are going to really love it. Hardcore gamers... maybe not so much. I really can't wait to see what other people make themselves though, and I can envisage 3D printed kits and all sorts appearing. I really like the Variety Kit and can't wait to get my hands on it when it launches.
Gary is the co-founder of and writer for Nintendo Village, and also hosts multiple shows including Topic Nintendo. A fan of not only Nintendo, but all things gaming. However, the GameBoy is where his love first blossomed. His favourite game is The Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening.