Ever since Nintendo unveiled the Switch about one year ago, one message was immediately clear: The ability to interact with the console in a variety of different ways — docked to a TV, held in your hands, or propped up on a table — was going to be the device’s distinguishing characteristic.
Nintendo is now taking that idea one step further with the announcement of Nintendo Labo, a new line of do-it-yourself products that lets Switch owners build interactive cardboard add-ons for the console.
Nintendo Labo involves sheets of modular cardboard cutouts that when assembled can take the form of various Switch accessories. The company calls those accessories Toy-Cons, a reference to the console’s Joy-Con controllers. The $69.99 Labo variety pack comes with five different kits, including two RC cars, a motorbike, a fishing rod, a house, and a piano. A separate $79.99 kit lets Switch owners build a wearable robot suit. Both the variety pack and the robot kit will be launching on April 20.
Nintendo Labo works in conjunction with an app that walks players through assembling a Toy-Con. The app also includes games specifically designed for the Toy-Cons, as well as interactive graphics explaining how these cardboard-crafted accessories function. As such, the accompanying app is divided into three appropriately named sections: Make, Play, and Discover.
The Make category’s video tutorials are as delightful as they are helpful, which I learned while assembling the RC car and fishing rod Toy-Cons. The walkthroughs are detailed enough to accommodate players of any age or skill level; users have the option to fast forward through certain steps to speed up the process. The videos are filled with flourishes that make them amusing to watch, such as a zipper-like noise that sounds while the tutorial reminds players to fold the cardboard along the defined creases.
Most interestingly, the Labo kits work with the Joy-Cons’ built-in sensors to function. A player can, for example, actually drive the Labo’s RC car around a table or desk by pressing buttons on the Switch tablet’s touchscreen. When the Joy-Cons are inserted into the RC Car, their HD rumble sensors get the cardboard vehicle to move around.
The fishing rod Toy-Con takes advantage of the Joy-Cons’ motion and HD rumble sensors in a similar way. After constructing the rod, which even includes a rotating wheel, players insert the Joy-Con into the fishing pole’s reel. The Toy-Con then syncs up with a fishing game on the Switch. To win, players must deploy their line and then quickly yank it up and crank the handle to reel in fish. A small vibration indicates that a fish is biting.
Of the three Toy-Cons I played with, the piano was the most impressive. The cardboard instrument includes 13 playable keys when fully assembled. The right Joy-Con’s motion IR camera reads the back of each key in order to tell the piano which note to play. The kit also includes cardboard pegs that change the piano’s sound — one peg turns all the notes into different cat meows, for example.
Nintendo is hoping its new Labo kits will broaden the Switch’s appeal to new audiences, particularly do-it-yourself hobbyists and those interested in arts and crafts more so than traditional video games. Efforts like these could be particularly important for the company to sustain interest in the Switch as excitement around highly-anticipated games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey begin to subside.
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It’s unclear exactly what Nintendo has in store for Labo beyond this initial launch, but it’s easy to imagine ways in which Toy-Cons could fit into other Switch games and experiences. For now, however, the company remains focused on introducing the core concept.
“Can [the Toy-Cons] be incorporated into other forms of gameplay? Certainly,” Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told TIME. “But right now we think if we effectively communicate the power of the idea with Nintendo Labo [and] really enable players to make their creations, personalize them, and enjoy the [inherent] gameplay experiences . . . We think that’s going to be a great way to start and then progress down the path.”
When asked whether or not Nintendo plans to allow third-party partners to create Labo kits, Fils-Aime had a similar viewpoint. “While there’s nothing to announce today, certainly if we’re successful with Labo, it can create future opportunities,” he said.
Nintendo Labo is also evidence that Nintendo is thinking about the Switch as a general entertainment device rather than a traditional game console. In a sense, Labo brings the Switch back to its roots: One of the first games Nintendo announced for the console was 1-2 Switch, a party game that encourages face-to-face interaction and involves using the Joy-Cons as a Swiss army knife that can function as almost any tool, ranging from a Ping-Pong racket to a sword. Labo is very much an evolution of that concept, and much different from anything being offered by the other top consoles on the market.
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