A couple of days ago Nintendo announced Nintendo Labo, a DIY toy combining cardboard cut outs and the hardware of the Switch, in conjunction with software, to create new play experiences. The real question is, who exactly is this aimed at?
Typically I wouldn’t cover toys, but in this case they are firmly tied to the Nintendo Switch and it’s hardware, so I feel it is relevant. In addition the gaming side of the internet exploded, and I wanted to discuss that a bit.
I know this is a couple of days late as I took time to try and pin down how I felt about the product and even deleted this draft multiple times, not sure if I needed to share an opinion that would exist in a sea of noise and likely be torn apart by one group or the other as this is an extremely contentious topic right now.
The easiest way to explain Nintendo Labo is not to explain it at all, the video is extremely good at getting the idea across. Go watch it and then come back, don’t worry I’ll wait.
Now that you have the general idea firmly planted in your head I’ll break it down a little further. The Variety Kit primarily shown includes five projects to build and the software needed to enjoy them, at a whopping $69.99. These include a fishing rod, a doll house, some motorbike handlebars, 2 RC “cars” (which are definitely just Hexbugs), and the one everyone seems to talk about: a piano.
No you didn’t read that incorrectly, they are charging nearly seventy U.S. dollars in order to play with cardboard. On the face of it the video is bright and enticing and the message is extraordinarily clear. However, once you dig into it things start to get a little muddled and confusing.
The Hexbug copycat “cars” will have you inserting the rumbling Joy-Con into both sides and press either left or right on the Switch screen, making the corresponding Joy-Con rumble and the toy rattle in that direction.
All of these work in similar ways with another set being available for $79.99 that has you putting together an incredibly complex looking cardboard robot set complete with ropes so it can read hand and foot motions back to the software on the Switch screen, using the Joy-Cons motion sensing for movement.
Originally there was an article by IGN France claiming that the designs for these would be made available for free so you could print, but they’ve since retracted that and the information doesn’t appear anywhere on the official site. A lot of fans seem to be also claiming the replacement kits, which Nintendo says are coming, will be extremely cheap equating the bulk of the cost of the starter kits to the software (at a standard $60 video game price point) and extrapolating from there that the cardboard must be cheap.
At the time though the only other product listed on the official site is a Customization Set, retailing at $9.99, that includes stickers, tape and stencils so you can customize your creation. So at this time we really have no idea how much the replacements cost.
Nintendo fanboys, the ones among us that have a hard time not defending anything Nintendo does, has jumped to their defense most ardently and have all but obliterated anyone who had an opinion opposite of theirs, which is extremely unfortunate. It seems on these forums and Facebook groups you are one of two things:
- A whiny mouth-breathing man baby who is throwing a tantrum about a toy not meant for you.
- A foaming at the mouth raving Nintendo fanboy who would buy a turd in a box if it said Nintendo on it.
I’ve even see people go so far as claiming that an individual is a terrible parent and that their kids are awful, just based on a statement that a product designed out of a generally fragile material might be torn up easily by children eager to play. The environment was so toxic on both sides that I dropped out of multiple Facebook groups I had recently joined hoping to meet more Nintendo fans.
It’s a problem because of all the noise nobody can have a real discussion about it either way, so let me give you a middle ground voice that tends to be drowned out elsewhere.
I have children myself, a 12 year old boy and a 5 year old girl. They are respectful of their things, but they are also children encouraged to play with their toys and sometimes those toys can get broken, depending on what they are. The most beloved of their toys are subject to the most wear, and even the most well made toys treated with loving care will take a ding or two over repeated play.
The concern then is that toys made of cardboard will easily be broken, and surely that is Nintendo’s main intent here. I’ve printed off and made papercraft before with the care of a 35 year old Nintendo fan, and have still managed to tear the tabs of cardstock or ruin a print out because of a bad bend in the wrong direction. How well will a material that has been used by people my age when they were children as an affordable toss away toy that we could craft armor and spaceships from, hold up against repeated use of children?
In addition some of these sets, the ones most likely to garner the most attention like the piano and the robot, seem far too complex for my youngest child and the robot set looks to be complex for even an adult to put together, with rubber bands (which easily snap and break) going this way and that across the toy like a paranoid conspiracy theorists string board.
The main draw of the toys isn’t that they are creative or made of cardboard like so many people continue to suggest, it’s that they can be used as DIY toys to life in the software included with the starter kits. The problem compounds further when you diagnose that portion of it as these games are extremely simplistic and look like high quality versions of free phone games.
This also isn’t some genius idea that Nintendo has come up with in general, cardboard craft toys that incorporate electronics like your phone are nothing new or revolutionary in the play space. Kits that are designed to be built solely to spark creativity have been done before as well, just saunter down near the arts and crafts section in Toys R Us.
The question then is who is this for, since the rallying cry of Nintendo fanboys is that it isn’t for you?
Is it for my kids? Sure, they saw the trailer and were delighted by what they saw, as they would be with a lot of toys. I easily see this becoming a problem quickly, with an exuberant robot stomp or swing of the arm, likely to happen during the fun, rips out a rope, breaks some rubber bands, and tears the cardboard and leaves Dad scrambling for tape for a 30 minute repair session (or as I’m sure Nintendo desires, to the store for a replacement kit).
Not only that, these seem complex for children and incorporate a $300 dollar device and $80 dollar accessories to use in the way the trailer shows. That’s a lot of tech to let a 5 year old cart around, I don’t care how respectful they are with their things.
Either way I can easily see them growing tired of this quickly and me dealing with a pile of abandoned torn cardboard, because as I stated, the software seems simplistic and boring past the initial hype: similar to 1, 2, Switch. The “toys” themselves aren’t really something that a child would play with outside of the game (other than the robot and motor bike maybe).
So is it for parents?
Absolutely not, it certainly isn’t made in our interests. Anyone who recognizes that Nintendo is a company that is out to make money and not a brand that wants to hold your hand and skip through the tulips having fun, would recognize that this is a possible gold mine for them that is borderline predatory in nature.
- Put out a flashy and colorful trailer that they know their ardent adult fan base will defend.
- Get the adult fans to buy these things up in droves to claim they are extremely popular.
- Have kids get their hands on their product that seems inevitable to break causing a constant source of revenue by having to buy replacement kits.
- Rub hands villain like and roll in piles of money.
Adult Nintendo fans? Certainly that is who is riled up right now the most, jumping on anyone who dare speak out against the idea, even the ones using moderate impressions and tone.
Ultimately, the product is just ok, not masterful or genius, just ok. It is cardboard that is made to tear easily and thus have replacements purchased and that is just what business is. Will I buy it for my children? I might, as it is $70 for 5 toys and a piece of software, but I also know that a week after purchase it’ll be just like 1, 2, Switch and almost never be played with.
What I think is truly problematic is that fanboys (not fans, fanboys) will ardently defend it for the company for nothing other than brand loyalty (which in and of itself is a silly thing). This tearing down and separating of people into two piles does nobody any favors.
I think my final impression is either buy it or don’t, just quit attacking each other for your opinion on either side, especially if your ire is driven by some odd devotion to a brand.