Say what you will about Nintendo, but one thing is for sure: they never fail to surprise. They are forever the most bizarre, unpredictable and frankly insane company out there. Where Sony and Microsoft root themselves in stubborn comfort zones with their hardware, Nintendo makes the hardware cardboard.
It’s hard to imagine any other company getting away with something like the Labo. But if we’re being honest, no other company would even dare to try it. And that’s what makes them so special.
A great number of people shared this opinion after the earth-shattering announcement. Many praised Nintendo for once again defying all expectations. At this point, I don’t know why people are even bothering to theorise what the company has lined up. It’s just futile.
Others, however, were less optimistic, and understandably skeptical. The cardboard aspect is a point of concern to many, particularly with regards to build quality. Another talking point is cost, with multiple tens of whatever currency you happen to trade in proving too steep an asking price for some.
I was far from shocked to see that one third category of opinion emerged, though. This was of course the “I’m outraged they didn’t announce Smash” and “What the *bleep* are you thinking, Nintendo?!” squad.
Nintendo made it abundantly clear prior to the release of the trailer that their core audience was not the target for this particular release. They even put it in plain English, with no ambiguity whatsoever. They called it “a new interactive experience specially crafted for kids and those who are kids at heart”.
Yet still, I saw one person complaining that they’d waited hours for a less-than-three-minute trailer which, to their horror, wasn’t even about Virtual Console. I know I should be numb to these types of reactions by now as a user of the Internet, but they still continues to amaze me.
All it amounted to was senseless outrage, and it was promptly ridiculed all over social media. Labo obviously tends more towards the kids market, and that’s what it’s aiming for. In that regard, so far it’s done an impeccable job. That is something nobody can dispute. However, I think it’s done a lot more than that.
A Wild Card(board)
The build-it-yourself element is an ingenious way to tap into the almost-universal love amongst children of crafting. The idea of personalising it with colours, stickers etc. is also novel; the prospect of making my own awesome-looking cardboard contraption is something that I can imagine kids responding to with pure, unmitigated joy.
The games, although seemingly quite simplistic, are fascinating, particularly from a technological standpoint. The RC-like experience, for instance, relies on the HD rumble capability of the joy-cons, with vibrations creating movement. The keyboard uses the IR sensor to detect which key has been pressed, identifying which note to play. It’s all so unbelievably clever.
I also love the idea that this will pave the way for more cross-generational play. This is clearly Nintendo’s effort to recapture the magic of the first time we all played Wii Sports. Parents and kids can build the ‘toy-cons’ together, and then experience the fruits of their labour by playing the games they’ve constructed.
Most importantly for me, though, I don’t see this solely as a ‘kid-only’ thing. The elitist distinction between ‘kids games’, and ‘hardcore’ or ‘proper’ games is one thing I cannot stand about the community. Games are games: whether the COD dude-bros are willing to admit it to themselves or not, racking up killstreaks and making things out of cardboard are not as far-removed as they seem.
They’re Just Toying With Us
Nintendo has always at its heart been a toy company. They’re what it started life making, after all. Exploring some of the earliest Nintendo products is like looking directly into a child’s dreams. Take the Ultra Hand, for instance, a plastic contraption used to grab objects from a distance.
The evolution from this to video games was, of course, a natural one. While the world of video games means a lot of different things today, its roots can be seen in almost everything Nintendo produces. Amiibo, regardless of man-children’s self denial, are inherently toys. Even the Switch itself, which has been picked up by countless ‘hardcore’ gamers worldwide, has the same toy-like sensibility and DNA in its landmark gimmick.
Through this lens, the idea of the Labo also being for ‘those who are kids at heart’ makes a lot more sense. Personally, I sat watching the trailer with childlike awe and amazement. Even though I know it won’t be a conventional ‘gaming’ experience, Labo appeals to me for an entirely different reason.
Will the games themselves be basic and essentially glorified tech demos? Probably. But just like Lego, a stratospherically successful toy brand which people of all ages enjoy around the world, it seems that building will provide much of the joy.
I for one can’t wait to get stuck into the challenge of building my own colourful version of that insane cardboard keyboard. It’s time people stop being afraid of the word ‘toy’. Anything that brings us joy these days is something worth our attention, and if that means making a fishing rod out of cardboard like a toddler, then sign me up.