July 27, 2021

So, Nintendo Labo. That’s A Thing…


I do love Nintendo and I love it’s left-field, blue-ocean thinking.

The Switch has been a massive hit because it is so different – as a hybrid, it may not play games the absolute best but we live in a market where people are still buying Destiny 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront II despite the many, many people nursing ruined underpants on the other side of the queue. I mean, jeez, if that’s what you’re waiting in line for – Tinder. Just sayin’.

People don’t care about the best games because if they did, you’d be raving over Grandia rather than Final Fantasy 7, Resident Evil 7 would have been buried under a mountain of valid criticism for its design and business rather than upheld as a paragon of horror because “oh look you can play this in VR!” and Streets of Rage would be on its 50th damned instalment right now. If it’s good enough, and they can play it on the go – congratulations, you win, which is why the 3DS kicked the Vita’s ass from here to Amarillo and back again. It’s why Call of Duty always outsold the far superior Battlefield (at least, until EA dumbed it down to compete), it’s why Final Fantasy 15 sells more than Xenoblade Chronicles X and it’s why people will buy Street Fighter 5 again because apparently people prefer the safe mediocre crap over daring to try anything new and/or better in the last few years.

But the Switch now has cardboard “toy-con” things, thanks to Nintendo Labo!

My first thought was – eh? I don’t get it. I mean, building a piano is kind of neat but here’s a tip; if you have a kid interested in music, get them lessons early and get them lessons often and invest in it because it’s a lifelong skill they can fall back on. $70 for a cardboard kit with a piano? A 13-key piano at that? Hmm. Seems steep.

Though it may be a good starting point.

… and then, the IR Camera – that thing you forgot is in the right-hand joycon – came into play.

The cardboard toys have black and brown surfaces which the IR Camera can read; so it knows if it is being rotated, swung and stuff like that, which means that a series of games can be played via the Labo software that interact with these creations in unique ways, like fishing or driving a motorbike and stuff like that.

My rant about “good enough” was not a side track either – Labo’s cardboard creations would be kind of cool as cheap plastic accessories, but the creation side and the relative inexpensiveness of cardboard means that “good enough” is the order of the day here; the toys won’t last too long in vigorous hands, and they wouldn’t last in most grown-up hands either, but they’re good enough for the kids in which this is aimed at and the collectors who will doubtlessly be buying these sets and putting them away – or the few who’ll make the stuff and put it on a display shelf because that’s what they like to do.

And with likely free software updates and additional creation kits, Labo could be pretty remarkable.┬áThe whole Labo thing is a great idea, even if the name is the dumbest thing since Wii U. Come on, we can admit it. It’s dumb, isn’t it?

Of course, Labo is not aimed at me. I’m a middle-aged gaming guy with arthritis, the shakes and one useless eye. It’s like VR; at some point, you do have to point out that basic and obvious issues will deprive a portion of your intended audience the joys that everyone else gets. Not everything has to be aimed specifically at you – I mean, that SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy was essentially a waifu fighting game for filthy little ‘gaijin’, and I laugh because it’s clearly going to end up in a Dead or Alive situation where all the actual largely male audience will want is to take their clothes off. Prove me wrong, you dirty boys. Prove. Me. Wrong.

I concede Labo has a lot of potential – not just on a Nintendo front, either. Updates could be pushed that allow you to, say, build yourself Star Wars ships in cardboard and do some basic space battles. I’m guessing a lot of Disney properties could get used in this in a variety of ways. And that makes it very much a “gender-neutral” thing – well, not neutral, but it will have elements that appeal to little girls and little boys of whatever persuasion. Nintendo can even have say, future Yoshi stuff that makes use of Labo.

This is surely way too obvious…

Is it, however, the new Meccano or Lego? Eh… I doubt it.

Meccano and Lego have had a lot of time to cement their positions as creative tools. Right now, Nintendo is pushing the Labo stuff slightly in that direction but mostly they’re going back to the kind of kits people like me bought when we were say-high with our pocket money, though I remember my little planes mostly being made of that lightweight foam. But that’s the real market Nintendo is going to supplant or subsume here – toys and things built from pre-cut corrugated cardboard, folded and slotted together. I don’t think this is going to end up like Meccano or Lego purely because right now, it doesn’t look like it will work outside of the Labo software as it were.

What I mean by that is – with Meccano or Lego, you can tear something down and make something entirely new from the materials you got back. This continues to enhance your skills and creativity. Labo is… well, pre-cut cardboard. What you make is what you’re always going to have, until someone sits on it and you have to recycle the collapsed mess and go out to buy a new thing. Labo’s weakness is wholly in that element – once the novelty wears off for one creation, you can’t strip it back and do something else. You have to go out and buy a new kit, and hope that novelty sticks around long enough.

Labo is certainly going to find its market – not least in the fact as one assumes recycled cardboard, it’s very eco-friendly (which should get the Greenpeace people off its back). And there are loads of sets that will come along; and it will probably be a massive success. But it is limited, and it is going to get costly, and whilst we may not like Lego – at least stepping on them – the plastic is, at least, reusable. And the steel Meccano can be durable enough for more interesting outdoorsy toy creations.

You’re not going to get major Labo-Con things where people show off their complex self-made creations. It is going to be restrictive. And that will be fine to a point, but kids will grow up and some may want something a little more permanent to play with. The question is – do you go through the simple tutorial stage with Labo, or throw your kids in at the deep end with more complex things?

But no, seriously parents, if your kid has any interest in music – nurture that seed early and get them lessons. It is ALWAYS a fall-back skill even if the fall-back does essentially amount to busking.

If your kid was more impressed with the piano… just imagine how they’ll react to a half-decent keyboard..


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