Not everyone on the internet is as optimistic about Nintendo’s unique pivots within the gaming space. Often derided as gimmicks (though, only when they are unsuccessful), Nintendo tends to make the most headway in shaking up the traditional gaming market while Sony and Microsoft face-off on polishing state of the art technology and dynamic software. Predictably, when Nintendo revealed their unorthodox papercraft-gaming crossover Nintendo Labo, the gaming community was split on what to think.
And while I was all-around positive on the idea of Nintendo Labo, I understand why community members (even Nintendo Switch fans) felt jaded. A fair share of Nintendo fans feel burned out on Nintendo’s often limited hardware supply — amiibo and the retro mini consoles being the chief examples. Others don’t fondly remember the Nintendo Wii era that was plagued with dozens of accessories and peripherals that clogged your gaming space. Last but not least are the Nintendo Switch gamers that are just vying for a continuation of the Switch’s great line-up and mature marketing — not another distraction to lure in Blue Ocean audiences. All three aspects converged into a perfect storm of disapproval from a swath of gaming’s core audiences.
After my ten hours with Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 01 Variety Kit (and a solid month of reflection), I find myself weirdly in the middle of both camps. While I love the inventiveness of Nintendo Labo and can see the potential in broader projects down the line, the fun often felt as paper-thin as the cardboard each toy was built out of. There’s undoubtedly a perfect market for the Toy-Con 01 Variety Kit, but there is only so much family-friendly fun you can get out of Nintendo Labo before it is collecting dust on a shelf.
But before charging into an analysis, what is Nintendo Labo’s Toy-Con 01 Variety Kit? Mentioned above, the product is a mix of papercraft and gaming. After receiving a gigantic box of cardboard and packed-in software, you follow instructions on the screen to build anything from a piano to a fishing rod. Then, with the help of the Nintendo Switch GamePad and Joy-Con controllers, these pieces of folded cardboard almost magically come to life with small mini-games and surprising versatility.
I grabbed the Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 01 Variety Kit at launch, and sat around with a group of friends (all aged in our mid-20’s). Despite being well outside the target demographic (what I imagine is teens and younger), building the bug-like Toy-Con RC Car was a really cool experience. Only taking the better part of 20 minutes as we passed around cardboard parts, we set the makeshift RC Car on a hardwood floor and thoroughly terrified my cats by this seemingly sentient robot. Controlled via the Nintendo Switch’s GamePad, the controls were surprisingly versatile with different camera options and ways to move the RC car.
With a strong start to our paperwork fun, most of the remaining toys created were equally magical in their own way. Creating a fishing pole — included with a make-shift clicking sound — that led into a near-bottomless ocean wowed me; crafting a functioning motorcycle handlebar out of cardboard baffled my conceptions of how cardboard works. The piano was exceptionally cool as a final result after two hours of painstakingly folding keys. And the Toy-Con House… was a house. Okay, that one was admittedly underwhelming.
Each Toy-Con from the Variety Kit had a different level of difficulty, with some projects taking 20 minutes and others taking well over 2 hours. Those working at a relaxing pace can easily get six hours of entertainment out of building alone — assuming you consider papercraft as entertainment, of course. If you — or the person you are buying it for — has less-than-perfect focus, it’s easy to see how each Toy-Con may require multiple sessions to complete. For instance, folding every key of a piano and carefully placing one of the dozens of reflective stickers seemed like a chore — almost like real-life RPG grinding. Worth noting, this may be a problem exclusively with specific Toy-Cons with tiny, repetitive pieces (I can’t speak to the Robot Kit), so this isn’t an issue with Nintendo Labo at large.
The other major issue, and indeed the one that gives me the most hesitation in a recommendation, is how shallow the actual gameplay is. In many ways, the game feels almost like a cousin to PlayStation 4’s free AR mini-game pack, The Playroom. Each game is enjoyable, with the Toy-Con Motorbike section — a Mario Kart 8 Deluxe motorcycle knock-off — as the broadest game in the bundle. While the games are nifty and neat in a mixed-reality way, it’s hard to sink more than 30 minutes into any of the titles. Unless you have enough imagination to do something more collaborative than whats packed in (like creating a full, makeshift band), there is only so much fun to be had with the software.
And with the software itself offers limited replayability, there isn’t a ton to be had from the cardboard once you have built each Toy-Con. Sure, they make cool pieces to put on display if you have the room for it. Otherwise, it becomes part of a peripheral graveyard in your living room. The Nintendo Labo’s inaugural Toy-Con 01 Variety Kit may suffer from this more than the Robot Kit or future projects, given the variety of projects included. However, without a dedicated space in your living room or gaming space, these toys are going to a closet or the attic.
Now, with all of that out of the way, I can’t understate enough how the Nintendo Lab Toy-Con 01 Variety Kit is more than the sum of its parts. Especially if you within the demographic, this is a perfect project for a family-fun rainy day. However, the Variety Kit will only really last that day, with so few reasons to come back once the cardboard has been folded and constructed. If a $70 price-tag is well worth a fun, productive experience for your family, then I couldn’t recommend the Variety Kit enough; however, I don’t think the vast majority of the gaming market can put themselves in that camp.
Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 01 Variety Kit shows off a lot of what makes Nintendo great: charm, ingenuity, and undefinable Nintendo magic. However, the Variety Kit feels like more of a tasting than a full-course meal; without a hook to have gamers come back after the cardboard is built, it is hard recommending a purchase of the $70 kit. However, parents looking to develop their kid’s interest in building and creativity should feel secure in this purchase.