Suffice to say the Nintendo Switch is a hit beyond what anyone could have expected. The versatile, modular console sold more than 10 million units in its first 10 months, and became the fastest-selling console in US history. That’s all the more impressive given Switches were nearly impossible to find in the console’s early months, as Nintendo (like everyone else) seriously underestimated its appeal.
For Nintendo, then, 2018 becomes a year of doubling down. The Switch is working, so the company’s eagerly looking for ways to extend its reach. That could come from more games, certainly, or apps like Netflix that would help the device replicate a more traditional tablet. But first, Nintendo is releasing Labo, a new line of DIY toys that attach to either the Switch itself or a Joy-Con controller to let you play completely new kinds of games.
The Labo line is two things: a lot of new games, and a lot of cardboard toys. You build the toy, attach the controllers and console, and use it as a new accessory. Think of the steering wheel you bought for the Wii’s Mario Kart game, or the gun you used to use to play Duck Hunt. This is that and then some, all made of cardboard.
Whatever you buy from Labo will come in a kit, which includes a cartridge and a series of flat, pre-cut cardboard sheets. Pop in the cartridge and follow the instructions to build your accessory (Nintendo calls them Toy-Cons), and you’re off and running. The toys themselves vary wildly: you can build a fishing rod to play a fishing game, a piano for a music app, even a robot suit with a backpack and visor that’ll make you feel like you’re the one smashing buildings. Some are incredibly simple, others much more complicated. Once everything’s built, you can just play. Stick the console on the music stand and the controllers in the sides, and you have a fully functioning cardboard piano. Build a car, and drive it around your house. The Labo line starts with two products: a “Variety kit” with several accessories for $70, and that robot suit for $80. (Being Iron Man ain’t cheap.) Both will be available on April 20.
Labo is a perfect example of what makes the Switch special: Because the console has a touchscreen, you can use it as the controller. One of the Joy-Con controllers has a camera embedded, which let it watch the piano keys to see which you’re pressing. By combining the Switch’s many components and sensors, Nintendo can come up with a near-endless set of mini-games. Nintendo’s even encouraging users to build their own controllers and try their own stuff.
Nintendo’s always been good at the games-meets-real-life stuff. The Wii Balance board was hugely popular, turning the Wii into a fitness gadget. Its amiibo accessories cleverly brought game characters into the real world. Labo is something else, though, more interactive than almost anything else in gaming. You don’t just press X to build stuff; you have to actually build it. Now, if Nintendo can figure out how to let you build yourself a Boulder Breaker in Breath of the Wild, it’ll have another sure hit on its hands.