It’s not often that you have to fight an 11-year-old for googly-eye stickers but that’s exactly what I found myself doing at a table full of children and tech journalists in Hamburg. Nintendo had flown me to get some hands-on time with their latest creation Labo, which they describe as “a series of build-able cardboard toys, games and experiences for kids (and the young at heart) that are crafted to come to life with Nintendo Switch.” If that description seems vague, you’re not alone because, like most things that are fun, it’s quite hard to explain and only makes sense if you do it yourself. Or at least make it someone else's problem to try and explain it… like me. Thus, my presence in -2-degree weather along the waterways of Germany, sporting many, many coats, a new (and necessary) knitted fisherman’s hat and the all important Switch.
The event took place in Automuseum prototype… a fitting setting to build a cardboard remote controlled car or moving cardboard insect, depending on how you look at it. The “RC car” Toy-Con is just one of the five offerings in the Toy-Con 1 Variety kit that also comes with and a fishing rod; a motorbike handle rig; a playhouse; and a piano that plays cat noises - amongst other things.
It was the RC car that we got to build hands-on out of a sheet of precut cardboard that you pop out, fold and slot together with no glue or tape required. By following the step-by-step animated instructions presented on Switch itself, the build is easy to follow and fun. The car took about 8 minutes but more complicated builds like the piano can take a few hours and maybe a bit of help from a parent, or in my case a marketing manager.
Then after you’re done, you slot in the Switches Joycons on either side of the RC bug car and at the press of a button the little guy scuttles across the table in any direction you please. You can even take it one step further and through the use of infrared, program the little guy to follow reflective tape and move itself.
Now to get back the googley-eyed scuffle; being essentially cardboard, the Labo creations allows for – if not encourages - complete fun and customization. Myself and a room full of tiny German children squealed with delight as we taped, glued and glittered our little RC creatures to life, only to have them race and battle each other “robowars-style” in a makeshift area.
WATCH | First Look at Nintendo Labo:
Although the cardboard creations themselves are very clever and well designed what makes the Labo ingenious is how it incorporates the basic function of the Switch itself to bring the creations to life. Whether it is the vibration of the controllers that make the RC car move or having the controller pick up movement and reflection tape and translating that into sounds on the piano, Labo is able to unlock your gaming consol in a way you never thought it would. Furthermore you even get a set of “plug ins” (actual little cog-like plugs) that change the up the experiences of some Toy-cons such as the play house where depending on which plug in combination you use unlocks a whole different game in the “Playhouse.”
But as fun it was to fish, drive a motor bike or play a cat piano (and it was a lot of fun) there was one main event that had myself and all the kids queuing up – The Robot Suit. The Toy-Con 2 Robot Kit is a mythical cardboard backpack that you rig up and strap to your hands and feet and allows you to control a giant robot on your TV screen. When you move, it moves, and cities will be smashed. What’s more, at the tug -off of both hands you can fly on if you crouch down you become a destructo robot car, bringing all of your child’s (or your) giant Japanese robot “mekka” fantasies anime alive.
It is this combination of hands -on building, gaming tech and creative freedom that put the Labo on a level unseen in commercial toys before. Plus for an immersive augmented experience that doesn’t make you feel as ill (or out of pocket) as Virtual Reality, Labo appears to be the best of all worlds and a real winner. And that doesn’t even take into account that you can be taught how to reprogram the entire experience in the Toy-Con garage and encouraged to create your own Toy-Con creations. The future of play really is endless – or at least until you run out of glitter.
Nintendo Labo launches locally on Friday the 27th of April for (R999 - R1,199) respectively.