Nintendo Labo Variety Kit (Switch) Review

Thinking Outside the Box

Nintendo is historically a toy company, originally known for releasing playing cards and inventions like the Ultra Hand. Now, the big N manufactures video games, but it still continues to revolutionize within that field – Wii Sports, for instance. The company’s latest innovation is the Nintendo Labo, which combines cardboard box building with the technology of the Nintendo Switch.

 

 

 

Check out the Video Review for a more hands-on look at Nintendo Labo!

The Nintendo Labo Variety Kit features five primary projects, also known as Toy-Cons, named after the Switch controller, the Joy-Con. The projects include: a remote controlled car, fishing rod, house, motorbike, and piano. The package contains all necessary building pieces, which mostly consist of large perforated cardboard sheets, plus the software that makes it work.

Nintendo Labo Cardboard Toy-Con.jpg
My Cardboard Creations!

With the exception of the car, which takes ten minutes to build, each project takes about two to four hours to complete. Building was the most relaxing part for me, and I didn’t mind sitting down for hours tinkering away at toy crafting. Nintendo effectively streamlines the process so that younger builders and non-DIY types like me can construct with relative ease. Although each project is a diverse endeavor, they all consist of punching out perforated cardboard pieces, folding creased lines, making 3D shapes, and inserting tabs into holes, so the tasks eventually become second nature. While this is a great project for children to hone their fine motor skills, they may need some assistance with certain actions like tying knots or applying rubber bands. In this way, Nintendo Labo functions well as a family or group activity.

Those worried about the daunting construction will be glad to know that the Switch tablet displays incredibly thorough step-by-step directions. Additionally, the interface shows detailed 3D images that can be rotated and zoomed using typical smartphone finger gestures. If you ever need to suspend crafting, the game saves your spot. Alternatively, you can jump to any step you’ve completed or rewind the instructions.

Nintendo Labo Instructions.jpg
Hexagon is the GOAT.

It was fascinating seeing how each step contributed to the whole project, and the finished products delivered a huge sense of accomplishment. Before detailing each project, I’ll note some general thoughts. First, I actually enjoyed building more than playing with the toys. That’s not to downplay them; the Toy-Cons are extremely clever, interacting with the Switch controllers’ hardware to function as playable cardboard models. It’s seriously bonkers that they actually work. Nonetheless, the toys are shallow in terms of gameplay. They skew towards younger children, their intended demographic, who might rather play around as opposed to fiddle with deep mechanics.

That being said, the cardboard, while fairly sturdy, is a fragile product. Even during building, there were some moments when I thought the cardboard would bend or break apart. Repeated use will likely wear them out. Consider also that the toys require the expensive Nintendo Switch console and Joy-Con controllers. I was already uneasy sticking my tablet in and out of the cardboard tools.

Nintendo Labo Discover Mode.jpg
The three characters who teach you are Plaise Allatyme, Gerry Riggs, and Lerna Lotte. Yup…

Older builders may be more impressed with the inner workings of each Toy-Con. Thankfully, Labo comes with an informative “Discover” mode, a series of in-depth explanations of how each toy works, presented as a conversation between three cartoon characters. It also offers troubleshooting tips and ideas on how to further utilize each product, such as creating your own imaginative minigames or decorating your toys. I admire how transparent Nintendo was in revealing Labo’s secrets, making it an incredible learning tool for both kids and adults. It brought so much insight into the Joy-Con’s intricacies, and I’d believe it if you told me that Labo was in development before the Switch came to be.

Nintendo Labo Toy-Con.jpg
Why not start with the RC Car (alien bug thing)?

Now, here’s a brief overview of each Toy-Con. First, the remote-controlled car is by far the simplest, both in build difficulty and design. It barely resembles a car; instead of wheels, the Joy-Con’s rumble feature vibrates the cardboard piece along, which is admittedly pretty smart. The car’s most clever application is its auto-drive function, achieved using the Joy-Con’s IR camera and reflective stickers. But the car is more of an introductory project than anything. At least the variety pack lets you build two so you can play with a friend.

The motorbike is more substantial to make and play with. By crafting a bike handle, you can use the Joy-Con’s gyro motion controls to compete in races. It’s a neat combo of arcade bike sims, Excitebike, and Mario Kart’s steering wheel peripheral. Unfortunately, the tracks and bike speeds are limited, so the gameplay isn’t deep. But the track editor mode is interesting. You can either form a track as you drive or construct tools that let you scan real objects to create the terrain. Although the editor is fun to explore, it grows stale without real multiplayer support.

Nintendo Labo Motorbike
Excitebike Switch?

The fishing rod was one of my favorites to build, incorporating real string and pulleys to simulate the pastime. Interestingly enough, most of the physical parts are for show, such as a tab that only exists to produce a crank noise. It demonstrates how much thought was put into each toy. The fishing minigame plays out like a simple, relaxing arcade game. You can extend your line down into the deep ocean floor, tugging and reeling in any caught fish, which you can transfer into a virtual aquarium. The simulation works well thanks to the Joy-Con’s gyroscope, and there’s a satisfying challenge in catching ‘em all.

Nintendo Labo Fishing Rod
But how does it compare to Monster of the Deep?

The most unique Toy-Con, the house, hosts a virtual creature inside, which you can feed like a Tamagotchi. The house itself isn’t difficult to build with its big parts, but the smaller interactive devices are tricky. What devices, you ask? They consist of a button, crank, key, and link cable. Each device performs various actions when you insert them into the house’s openings, like changing day to night or filling the room with water. The real highlights are the nine minigames that you unlock through certain device combinations. For instance, you can discover bowling, shooting gallery, and minecart minigames. Don’t expect anything more than light 30 second experiences, but the variety of bitesize games are great for kids.

Nintendo Labo House.jpg
Good news: you don’t have to clean after it.

The last Toy-Con, the piano, was the most time consuming to put together, but the end result is one of the deepest to experiment with. You can simply play music on the toy piano, or tinker with a studio mode that utilizes the toy’s more complex functions: recording music, pulling a lever to change octaves, scanning paper to adjust pitch, and conducting with a baton. The piano is surprisingly versatile, despite only having 13 keys. It’s obviously nowhere near as effective as a real keyboard, but it’s not bad for a pint-sized piano.

Nintendo Labo Piano Studio
Go ahead – play the Super Mario Bros. theme.

The final, hidden feature of Labo, the Toy-Con garage, is a perfect sendoff that essentially transforms its users into programmers and engineers. Within, you apply everything you’ve learned and code programs on your Switch – for instance, a program that vibrates your controllers or plays a sound when you press part of the touch screen. By combining this surprisingly deep mode with your cardboard toys, you can create whatever your imagination inspires, from guitars to cardboard people. I look most forward to seeing what novel ideas Labo stimulates.

Nintendo Labo Banner 2.jpg
My headcanon is that each Toy-Con is a different Power Ranger Zord.

Conclusion

I was skeptical coming into Nintendo Labo, but I ended up enjoying the building and learning processes. The variety kit’s five Toy-Cons may keep kids busy for a while, but their lack of depth will eventually bore older gamers, who may find more excitement from the other Labo kit, the cardboard robot. Regardless, Labo can work as a family project as it fosters teachable moments and valuable skills like fine motor, following directions, and making connections. However, the high asking price may be a deterrent. As neat as the mechanics are, it is cardboard and won’t last forever – not to mention you need a Switch, making it more expensive than other DIY kits or STEM products. All things considered, kids, kids at heart, and creative crafters will find the innovative Labo more worthwhile. Truly, Nintendo has once again thought outside the box.

Score: 7/10

What do you think of Nintendo Labo? Is it ingenious or a waste of cardboard? Which Toy-Con looks most interesting to you? What Toy-Con would you like Nintendo to make? Please share any thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

For more on Labo, please be sure to check out our Hands-On and Unboxing Video of the Variety Kit!

 

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12 thoughts on “Nintendo Labo Variety Kit (Switch) Review

  1. Wonderful review as always! I especially liked being a part of it hehehe! 😉 I have to say, despite my doubts about mixing DIY cardboard toys with expensive electronics, Labo is an extremely clever concept and a cool throwback to Nintendo’s toy-making days. It’s very neat to physically interact with levers or keys and see the effects on screen. It’s even more fun to play with after building it yourself, and I had a lot of fun building together and playing afterwards! I wish the materials themselves were a bit more durable. We almost accidentally stepped on one of the toys and actually ended up breaking the box… Oops! Storage is an issue too. I wonder where to put these things! Anyway, Labo makes me appreciate the Switch and Joy-Con technology, so I’m glad we tried it out! Now I’m curious about the giant robot…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha thank you so much for your support and encouragement as always! I literally wouldn’t have been able to do this review without you, so thank you from the bottom of my heart! 😀 It was fun and novel for me incorporating real world footage into this “video game” review. It would be interesting to see more Toy-Con or even more Nintendo toys like the Ultra Hand. Maybe more plastic toys, just because these cardboard toys, as fun as they were to build, are not durable. Yeah…I broke one of the boxes hahaha, but thankfully, it was just the Labo package box as opposed to the actual toy. But I agree that now not only do we have to somehow take care of them, but we have to store them.

      Did someone say giant robot?! We can be Gundams!!! Or Gurren Lagann? ;D

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was hoping you’d do a follow-up video after your Pandas At Play vid last week, and you didn’t disappoint! This was very thorough! I can’t believe they actually made a piano too! That’s insane! Does that fishing rod work at actual ponds? Don’t answer that, I’ll try myself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your incredibly kind words and support as always!! It still blows me away that the piano works, and then it seems so simple once it’s explained in the Discover mode. You know, maybe with some alterations, I could make the fishing rod work at ponds haha. Catch some koi. As long as I don’t get my cardboard wet…

      Like

  3. How the car moves is simply genius! I really respect the amount of thought Nintendo put into this, but I can see younger fans easily destroying the fragile cardboard parts while playing with them. The programming mode seems neat! This isn’t something I’ll ever buy, but I enjoyed reading and seeing your thoughts on it 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much as always for sharing your kind words and thoughts! As funny as the car looks, I don’t think I could have thought of using vibration to move it. Nintendo’s got some smart people working on Labo haha! Yeah, I also see younger kids destroying the parts whether accidentally or intentionally. I mean, I already accidentally broke the box that Labo came in… So yeah, I wish it were more durable. I hope the next Labo toy is building an amiibo by the way! Then I can finally have my BoxBoy hahaha! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great look at this kit. I had heard rumors that schematics for each of the kits would be printable so one could make their own replacement parts with their own cardboard, and a box cutter. Is this true? Also I wonder what possibilities those with 3D printers will discover with this series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot man! I appreciate your kind words!! Yes, it’s possible to print them now, actually. For reference, it’s here: https://www.nintendo.co.jp/labo/parts/ – but Nintendo is also selling the parts, like cardboard and stickers, separately as well. Hopefully, I never have to get replacements haha!

      There are so many possibilities with 3D printers, thanks to the programming mode. I wish I could 3D print so I could try some of those things out with Labo. Though, I have no idea what I’d make! Is there something you’d want to make if you had the opportunity??

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I was thinking in terms of replacements. Like a printed plastic house, or printed plastic piano. Though I suppose one could do any number of things using the gyroscopic functions.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ooooh, I think that should be possible. A lot of the technology is just based on the Joy-Con’s hardware, like the gyroscope and IR camera, so as long as all of the other parts were in place, one should theoretically be able to make plastic versions of the toys. The motorbike, for sure, doesn’t even technically need the cardboard peripheral to operate, though it’s harder without it. I would definitely love having durable versions of the more fragile cardboard toys, so I’d be on board for this.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much man!! I appreciate it! 😄 Kiddos are definitely the target audience, and playing with them is likely the best way to play. I also enjoyed playing Labo with other kids at heart/people interested in how the Switch works haha!

      Liked by 1 person

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