While Sony and Microsoft have gone futuristic with the likes of VR and Kinect, Nintendo have taken a step back in time to embrace the simplicity of cardboard as a Switch peripheral with Labo. Does it stand up, or fold like a house of cards?
A standalone Labo set, the Toy-Con 02 Robot Kit allows you to turn yourself into a chicken. No! A robot, of course. Well, sort of.
Open the box and you find a game cartridge (in a proper case – excellent) and a whole mess of flat cardboard sheets – 19 in all.
Pop in the cart, power up your Switch – and with a build time of some four or five hours we suggest dragging the power pack over to your building area or recharging between sessions – then run the accompanying software and you’ll be guided through the construction process. It must be advised at this juncture that if you dislike dodgy puns and endless chirpiness, then the Labo experience isn’t for you. BOOP!
Luckily we dig questionable punnage, so it’s origami time! Pop out varying shapes of cardboard, remove superfluous (or are they?) bits and fold your way to robot heaven. Bite my matte cardboard ass!
This isn’t a job to knock up quickly, as it requires both care and a decent chunk of time. Beyond bending cardboard to Nintendo’s will you’ll be fitting grommets and washers, along with stickers, strings and straps via eight stages. You variously build a visor, backpack, two “hands” and two “feet” as part of your soon-to-be transformation into mechanical form. It must be noted that the engineering is superb on the cardboard sheets, with all parts popping out easily, and no unwanted rips. Plus, only one paper cut (that’s still throbbing like a mofo).
Now, with building complete it’s time to jam your Joy-Cons into the Toy-Cons – one in the visor, one in the backpack – wedge the visor on your bonce, wriggle into the backpack and adjust the arm and leg strings for your size. At six feet in height we were a bit concerned that it wouldn’t fit, but it did. There’s no stopping us now!
Now, fire the main game up and you’re essentially turned into a mechanised Godzilla, stomping around a minimalistic city scoring points for crashing, smashing and otherwise decimating anything within your fist-shot. Punch in real life and it happens on screen. Tilt to the left and turn your head and you head left. The same for right (but in reverse, natch). Crouch down and become a tank. Spread your arms and fly like Gigantor (who we probably should have used as an example instead of Godzilla, although he was good and you’re kind of bad here). It’s awesome fun – at least for 10 minutes or so.
Luckily there’s more depth to proceedings. Elsewhere in the “Play” zone various challenges delve into the incredible levels of control that you actually have over your mechanised avatar, as you’re tasked with increasingly more precise actions such as corkscrew kicks and charged punches. You can faff about in the Hangar tweaking your creation with big cardboard screws, or pop into the Robo-Studio and turn your fists and feet into a one-man band (or assign other sounds). If you have a Labo robot kit-equipped friend you can even go head-to-head in classic Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots style. All the while you can track how many calories you’ve sent packing into the ether, too.
Next is the “Discover” area. There’s info on decorating your creation, Joy-Con basics, getting to know your robot and possibly the biggest jewel in Labo’s robo-crown – the Secret Lab. It’s here that you learn about Toy-Con Garage, the core control system of Labo wherein you can totally get your repressed Dr Frankenstein on. With simple drag and drop movements you can reprogram your cardboard wonders to do different things, providing much-needed extra content possibilities. The software is actually quite similar in operation to LEGO’s Boost Creative Toolbox, and it’s a brilliant introduction to basic programming for kids.
Yes, ultimately Labo is for kids, but any adult who hasn’t completely succumbed to spending all their time squashed by mortgage stress will find lots here to enjoy, especially in the Toy-Con Garage.
Labo is much like LEGO meets Ikea via Nintendo’s genius for taking the everyday and making it amazing. We have reservations about the ability for these cardboard creations to survive the rigours of regular use (sticky tape is your friend), but we have no reservations in recommending Nintendo Labo as a truly innovative – yet wonderfully old school – way of melding gaming with creativity, that’s mostly only limited by the user’s imagination.
Nintendo Labo is available now on Switch.