When parents spend their entire savings on this year’s hottest “gotta have it” toy, and kids end up being more interested in the box it came it, it’s undeniably infuriating. To so many kids, the cardboard box is the best toy in the world—and thanks to the masterminds at Nintendo, cardboard is finally getting its well-deserved day in the sun. And parents can actually be happy about it.
Nintendo Labo lets kids use the technology provided by the Nintendo Switch (sold separately) and some pre-cut cardboard pieces to build, play, and discover. The inaugural Nintendo Labo Variety Kit takes kids step-by-step through five different Toy-Con creations. Kids will start with a pretty basic R/C car and work their way up to a more sophisticated 13-key piano and a high-energy motorbike.
Labo includes more than 20 pieces of printed, labeled, color-coded perforated cardboard. The Nintendo Switch game will walk kids through each Toy-Con project, letting them build at their own speed, going forward and backward as often as they like. The steps could not be any clearer, and the game even warns kids when they might need assistance from an adult, or if a step requires some extra finesse. IKEA could learn a lot from Nintendo.
Nintendo Labo does not require ANY outside materials (other than your Nintendo Switch, of course). No glue, tape, scissors, screwdrivers, batteries, box cutters, dog whistles, Dixie cups, Ziploc bags, or Borax. As a girl who spends a LOT of time assembling toys and completing DIY kits that require half the items in my baking cabinet, I can tell you that this is an extremely huge selling point. Just open the box, insert the cartridge into the Switch, and you have everything you need to build (also maybe factor in a pinch of patience).
And unlike arduous, thick books full of color-coded building instructions, Nintendo Labo greets kids with whimsical and energizing music, engaging animations, and quippy jokes to keep their attention. Building feels like the first game in this interactive world—and it’s a lot of fun. That’s right: Following instructions is fun.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once kids construct their cardboard creations, they get to play with them, and this playtime is rooted in simple experiments. Build up an RC car and change the vibration frequencies of each Joy Con to see how it affects the speed and direction. Spend an hour crafting the perfect fishing rod and discover how fish differ as you dive deeper down into the ocean. Kids can enhance key STEM skills, like cause-and-effect, problem solving, and so much more. Each Toy-Con is like a mini experiment in itself, and the games that result from each finished product bring in even more challenges.
The Nintendo Switch has so much built in (read our full review here), and Nintendo Labo utilizes its incredible features in unique ways. With motion detection, rumble vibrations, cameras, and even just the sheer ability to separate the Joy Cons to perform different functions, in addition to the versatility of the main Switch unit, kids can go so far beyond the five included creations, just by using their imaginations and all the awesome tech at their fingertips.
The durability of the cardboard is also impressive. We didn’t rip or tear a single piece in the Variety Kit. While some pieces required a bit more force than others, overall the tabs fit pretty easily, and the folding is a breeze thanks to the perforations. They might not be able to withstand being stepped on, but if carefully stored, kids’ creations can stand the test of time. Best of all: All of the Toy-Con can be created at the same time. No pieces overlap—for example, you won’t need to snag a piece of cardboard from the piano to create the house. The Switch unit can obviously only be utilized for one project at a time, but kids don’t need to disassemble any of the cardboard pieces in order to move on to a new creation.
This physical and digital gameplay experience provides kids with hours of entertainment. And parents who may be hesitant about buying their child a video game can feel great knowing their kids are learning just as much as they are having a blast. The Variety Kit is designed for ages 6 and up, but rest assured that older Nintendo fans will have a blast exploring everything it has to offer.
Nintendo Labo seamlessly fuses physical and digital gameplay. We have seen so many products fail at this hard-to-perfect feat, and yet Nintendo has cracked the code to create a fun, engaging, one-of-a-kind experience. So often with these types of digitally-enhanced play systems, kids either get bored with the physical element and divert to the on-screen gameplay, or, the marriage between the two worlds is flimsy from the start and kids quickly realize they can easily enjoy one without the other. But with Labo, you need both aspects from beginning to end.
Nintendo’s latest invention celebrates kids’ natural sense of curiosity and the power of imagination. Through the fusion of high and low technologies, physical and digital gameplay, and fun and learning, Labo paves the way for the next generation of engineers. I can’t wait to see what’s next.