While Nintendo has been known to experiment with new ways for players to interact with video games, no one could have predicted their latest brainchild for the Nintendo Switch would be concentrated on building toys out of cardboard sheets. Acting as a fun and educational experience for kids ages 6 and up, Nintendo Labo is focused on promoting creativity and basic engineering skills in young, developing minds. Out of the two available kits at launch, the Nintendo Labo Robot Kit is easily the most challenging and involved Toy-Con of the lineup to build. Yet, it also gives the user the enjoyable experience of building their very own robot suit from the ground up that they can use to control a massive in-game mech.
Retailing for $100 CAD, the Nintendo Labo Robot Kit is the most expensive of the two kits available at launch and only includes one lengthy build, unlike the cheaper Variety Kit. Despite the difference in price, each Labo Kit revolves around three key concepts: making an interactive toy, playing with it in a digital experience, and discovering how the technology within the toy makes it come to life. For this review, I’ll be focusing on these three individual areas and how well Labo does in each to form my final thoughts.
Starting with the build, the Nintendo Labo Robot Kit was a joy to make from start to finish of its 3-hour long build time. As a guy who used to love building Lego sets and Bionicles when I was younger, this cardboard creation brought a lot of that nostalgia back, with some notable changes. First, instead of including a printed instruction manual, the user follows the build process on their Nintendo Switch. The instructions themselves are simple enough to follow along with and the builder can use the touch screen on the Switch to look at different angles of the subject to ensure what they’re doing is correct before they snap everything together in real life. Second, as I’ve already noted multiple times, the material people are using here is cardboard, not plastic like Lego. Now, while it’s a stronger quality cardboard than what you’d find in bins at a grocery store, this is still a material that can be easily damaged with minimal force. While an adult should have no problem during assembly as they crease the folds and pop out the excess bits, young kids who are prone to having fits or acting out when they do something incorrectly could quickly destroy a vital piece of the build in seconds and render it unusable. Since there are no extra pieces or replacements left behind in the box after assembly, this means parents will have to break out the tape or find the printable PDFs of their respective kit and create new replacements at a print shop if they want to continue on.
Overall, the build was definitely the highlight section for me while playing with the Nintendo Labo Robot Kit. Every one of the eight involved steps felt fun and ingeniously designed. From using grommets and multiple tabs to lock parts in place to adding weight to the pistons so the user would feel resistance when they pull the attached strings, this Robot Kit is a young mechanic’s dream and will definitely inspire their creativity and push them to build even more ambitious projects. However, what would quickly follow after the build was anything but a payoff after all the work that went into it.
Playing with the Nintendo Labo Robot Kit is boring and dull. While it was definitely fun to strap on the kit and see the in-game mech mimic my movements or turn into a tank, the novelty quickly wore off after five minutes of play. The actual gameplay that’s packaged with the Labo is shockingly shallow, which is such a massive disappointment when the developer could have done so many cool things with the super robot concept. Sadly, all that’s offered is a mindless time attack mode, a challenge mode to acquire some new moves, a PvP versus mode, and a customization hanger to change the colours of the robot and its sound effects. I was able to take in the whole breadth of content within an hour of play and had no reason to come back. Why not create a small story mode to run through? Why not add some monsters to fight? Why not add more maps to play in, or even a map editor? These are just a few of the questions I’m left with when there’s nothing worthwhile to actually experience after spending 3-4 hours building this toy.
The “Discover” portion of the Nintendo Labo experience is the software side’s only redeeming factor. The mode’s primary function is to introduce what technology went into the kit and how the Joy-Cons interact with it. While this isn’t going to be anything new or exciting for adults to discover, it is something educational that kids will enjoy learning about. The material is presented in an educational program format with some cute characters that the player gets to interact with along the way. That being said, the real treasure of this mode is the Toy-Con Garage, which is a beginner friendly programming tool that anyone can use. The user creates nodes using the Nintendo Switch, assigns them functions, and can interplay them with other programmed nodes to create new gameplay experiences or entirely new Toy-Cons. Just a couple weeks after Labo’s release and people have already begun to build guitars, drums and even the old Game and Watch ball game. This is Nintendo Labo’s best example of gameplay and one that Nintendo should definitely support with in-house build guides and other interesting projects for kids to experiment with.
The Nintendo Labo Robot Kit is disappointing. While I absolutely adored the in-depth build and the creativity behind the Toy-Con Garage, the actual gameplay included in this $100 package simply isn’t worth the price of admission. I would only recommend this kit to those who have already built the Toy-Cons in the Variety Kit and know that they enjoy the Nintendo Labo experience. Nintendo has a great concept here, but it will only reach its true potential if the Labo Kits can make their way into the classroom and if the developer plans to support its community with fun, new, ways to play around in the Toy-Con Garage.