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Thoughts on Nintendo Labo


Nintendo seems to be one of the only gaming companies nowadays to really come out with truly unique, original ideas that no one could ever see coming. Arlo (cool youtuber you should check out if you like Nintendo) calls them the Kings of Left Field, because their announcements tend to be pretty out there. No one expected that Metroid Prime 4 logo, for example. The Switch itself has a lot of elements that are really unexpected, especially in the first year’s game library and lots of surprise releases and games coming out way earlier than anyone thought they would. Sometimes their left-field-ness is a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing.

So yesterday Nintendo announced “Nintendo Labo”. It’s being downplayed by people who mindlessly hate Nintendo as “OMG THEY’RE CHARGING SO MUCH FOR JUST CARDBOARD”, which is dumb. It seems the average reaction from non-crazy people is neutral to extremely positive. From what I’ve seen even people who don’t really care about it still think it’s a pretty cool idea.

So I thought I’d give my thoughts, since I know I’m not buying it once it comes out and will never have another occasion to talk about it.

(A lot of this is about the price, surprisingly)

The Idea

So you buy one of the 2 kits that are currently announced; the robot kit and the variety kit. You get a pile of pre-manufactured cardboard and other things (like stickers which is required for functionality, and ropes and stuff) which you must assemble, and a piece of software to use the assembled cardboard with. It requires a Switch obviously, and uses the joy-cons in really cool ways.

The first thing they showed is a cardboard piano. You put in the right joy-con in the back, and, using the sensor that detects shapes and stuff, it detects reflective stickers that appear behind the keys when you press them so once you do the Switch plays the notes you’re pressing. It’s crazy. It’s such a cool thing to give functionality to something that doesn’t inherently have any.

See, I thought the sensor thing on the joy-con would be entirely ignored after 1-2-Switch, which used it for a sandwich-eating minigame. But no, Nintendo are pushing the limits of that tech and doing absolutely awesome things. If you look at the video it shows how the backpack works using the sensor and it’s so cool how the sensor detects the positions of different levers and stuff to control the action on-screen. I never thought they’d do something so cool with it.

So yeah, the idea is to build cool cardboard things, then use the game software to interact with it. If it works as well as it looks in the videos this is really unique and fun. I can see it largely being used as a cool activity between parents and kids. The Variety Kit includes a lot of different things for minigames, while the Robot Kit builds one complex thing and controls a game that seems a bit more in-depth (which seems to be the finalized form of that Wii U game that never came out, Project Giant Robot… now it looks a lot cooler though).

Do I care? What should I do if I don’t?

So I don’t care about this game, particularly. I love the idea, it’s really awesome, and I would never buy it. It looks like something that other people will get a lot of fun out of, and I might even enjoy it if I was gifted it or sent a review copy or something, but it’s not something I really want. I was almost convinced by the robot game, that looks fucking cool, but eh, I’d get bored of building the actual thing.

So I don’t particularly care about Labo. It’s something that will exist on the side and it’s gonna be very easy to ignore. And hey maybe I’m wrong, maybe one of the future kits will make me drop some money into it. But right now, eh.

The most important point is that, if you don’t care… it’s not affecting all the other stuff coming from Nintendo (which there is a lot of), and all the other Switch stuff that came out last year didn’t spontaneously disappear. It’s just another game, and like any other game, you can not buy it if you don’t want it.

Lots of people who aren’t interested are on the attack, screaming at people who think it’s cool and even people who are fairly neutral about it. Being so enraged by a couple pieces of cardboard, it’s not a good look for those people. Makes them look mentally deranged. So just do like me, don’t buy it, be happy.

Pricing (will use US prices)

I’ve been seeing people screaming that you’re paying 70 dollars for a bunch of cardboard. All the people saying that are idiots. You’re buying a game. The average game costs 60$, so we’re gonna assume that this goes for Labo as well. So the 2 Labo kits cost 70$ for the Variety kit and 80$ for the Robot Kit. 60$ for either of those goes towards buying the game software itself, which means that for the Variety kit you’re paying 10$ for the materials, and for the Robot Kit you’re paying 20$ for the materials. Each kit also includes other stuff (sticker sheets, string, sponges, rubber bands, eyelets… alongside a whole fucking lot of cardboard).

So the Variety Kit will be my main example:

  • Cardboard sheet x 28 (includes extra sheet for customization)
  • Reflective sticker sheet x 3
  • Sponge sheet x 3
  • String (orange) x 1
  • String (blue) x 1
  • Eyelet set (gray) x 1
  • Eyelet set (blue) x 1
  • Rubber band (large) x 2 + spares
  • Rubber band (small) x 6 + spares

I honestly don’t know how much getting all of that separate from the Nintendo Labo kit would be. But with the Variety Kit, it’s 10$ for the material and 60$ for the game. You totally have the option to buy the stuff separately, Nintendo said they will provide a free download for all the patterns and stuff so you can make replacement pieces yourself, or even the whole thing. Looking at prices for cardboard boxes/sheets, it’s fairly expensive but you get lots at once, then you need to get reflective stickers (probably of specific sizes), eyelets, sponge sheets (probably of a specific thickness), specific kinds of strings of specific lengths… I’d be pretty curious to see how you’d get all that for less than 10$, and that’s not counting the fact that, if you buy everything yourself, you need to print a ton of pages of patterns (probably on bigger-than-normal paper) and you need to cut up the pieces yourself instead of them being pre-cut. Plus you might need different sizes of cardboard pieces, so that’s more cardboard to buy if you don’t buy the correct sizes.

Another thing we can do is a comparison to similar products. Cardboard cutout standees are pretty expensive at ~40$ each, but that’s probably mostly licensing. So the only product I can think of off the top of my head is Google Cardboard, a VR headset for phones made of cardboard (if there’s other cool cardboard things I’d love to know). Going with official Google versions of Google Cardboard, it costs 10-15$ for a Google Cardboard (there ARE cheaper alternatives, but that just means there’s gonna be cheaper alternatives for Labo, so let’s ignore those :p). For that 15$ you get a very small sheet of cardboard (manufactured to be easy to build, just like Labo), some parts of it have adhesive tape, there’s small bits of velcro, you get a magnet and a piece of metal that it interacts with, and 2 clear plastic pieces that serve as lens. That’s substantially less material than what you get with Nintendo Labo, and it’s MORE expensive (or only slightly less expensive if you’re getting the robot kit).

So I don’t think it’s too expensive. In fact, going comparatively, it’s pretty decently priced… IF the software itself is worth the price. And I can’t judge that right now. I like that it has these interactive videos that show how to build the stuff and even shows how it works, and in the case of the Robot game the game itself looks cool.

The actual pricing problem, if you ask me, is that it requires a Switch. So for kids who want this and don’t have a Switch already, that’s asking a bit much for parents to spend in one shot. That said, Labo is a platform within a platform, there’s gonna be more stuff coming with this for sure if it’s a success. I think it’s fine.

(also I hear Nintendo will offer replacement pieces, hopefully for very very cheap)

Overall

Nintendo Labo is not something I want. But it’s an amazingly cool idea. The cardboard objects look really cool, the functionality is so creative, it seems like it’ll be a fun activity. The pricing is fine, as long as you already have a Switch. I think I’ve demonstrated that.

Really it’s aimed at a different demographic than me and a good percentage of gamers. Specifically parents who want a cool activity to do with their kids, and maybe schools and museums. Some people outside of that are clearly interested (I don’t think it would be an amazon best seller without them) due to the whole crafting thing which looks cool, and there’s people who will buy anything Nintendo makes no matter what (I’m not one of them), but overall it’s not just for the average gamer. I’m sure “makers” will be way into this, doing 3D prints of all the objects.

It’s not affecting the development of stuff I actually care about, so whatever. Gamers need to more willing to accept that games they’re not interested in exist. I am, even if I hyperbolically throw hate at games I don’t like, I don’t think games I don’t like shouldn’t exist. I just point out why I don’t like them.

I think a lot of the detractors didn’t actually watch the reveal video. Lots of people literally think it’s just a cardboard box, I’m not even kidding.

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