Nintendo announced their new line of DIY Cardboard STEM toys last night: The Nintendo Labo. Its a collection of kits that include pre-punched cardboard sheets and instructions to turn them into peripherals for the Nintendo Switch. Two kits will launch on April 2oth, 2018. The first is a Variety Kit that will include the components to make a piano, a toy house, a fishing pole, a pair of “remote-control cars,” and a set of handlebars for a motorbike. The second is a backpack harness that lets players control a giant, building-smashing robot a-la the Jaegers from Pacific Rim.
The announcement was met with mixed results last night. I’m willing to throw out some of the concerns though. Single adult men don’t really get to complain that a children’s plaything doesn’t appeal to them. Comedy Writer Mike Drucker said it best in this Tweet:
NINTENDO: Nintendo Labo is for kids and those that like kid stuff!
ADULT GAMER: Okay, but what if I don’t want it?
NINTENDO: Totally fine. It’s for kids.
ADULT GAMER: Yes, but cardboard? Really? Not in my game room!
NINTENDO: It’s for kids.
ADULT GAMER: But how is it for me?
— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) January 17, 2018
With that said, I don’t think the kits are without risk. I’ve spent the last day thinking about it and have some thoughts about the risks and the potential rewards of purchasing, and playing with, Nintendo Labo Kits.
The Labo kits are made out of cardboard. All signs are pointing to the cardboard being of the thicker variety, but at the end of the day it is still cardboard. This means that these things have the chance of being very, very flimsy. I can imagine a lot of families will buy these things, build them, and have them broken after a few uses by a rambunctious child or pet. Some of the early previews from places like The Verge have said that the kits seem pretty durable, but we really won’t know how much punishment they can take until they are out in the wild.
The Variety Kit and the Robot Kit are $70 and $80 respectively. That is a lot of cash. Now, both of those kits come with a cartridge that includes software, but we have no idea what’s going to be on it. $150 for both kits is a TON of cash in today’s economy and I think that will, unfortunately, leave a lot of families out of the fun. Also, these kinds of toys can’t really be shared so the price will never come down like they do on most video games.
The fact is that we really have no idea how fun any of the mini-games will be. If the cartridges are filled up with a bunch of trash and tech demos a lot of kids will just bounce off of them and create a LONG line of resentful parents. I don’t really see that as a good look for a company that is just starting to build momentum.
The Potential Rewards
The Joy of Creation
What kid DOESN’T like building things? LEGOs and other building kits have never been more popular so this does seem like a natural success. I can absolutely see a bunch of kids getting hyped to build their own game peripherals. A lot of younger kids learned to play Super Mario Kart using the plastic steering wheels that you put Wii-motes in. These kits give them the change to build stuff that is way cooler.
The piano kit works by using the infa-red sensor on one of the Joy-Cons to detect the movement of silver tabs to play music. The remote controlled cars work by using the precise vibrations from the HD rumble in the Joy-Cons to move themselves. That’s just two of the projects in one of the kits. Kids are going to learning some very interesting engineering tricks that are being used by a company that is used to achieving miracles using relatively simple technology. The learning potential is incredible for kids who are interested in taking advantage of it.
The instructions for building the Toy-Con kits are all displayed on the Switch tablet. They are manipulated using touchscreen controls. This makes building the different kids ideal fort a two person team. I expect that a lot of parents will be teaming up to build these toys and play with them. That kind of family time is invaluable.
What do you think? What are you concerned about? What are you excited about? Sound off in the comments!