Labo: Nintendo's Augmented Reality Comeback

Nintendo is back to thinking outside the (cardboard) box

George Boatfield
25th January 2018

Following on from Nintendo’s success with the Switch in the core gaming market, it is now setting its sights on a new audience. Labo, the company's latest product, is an augmented reality game that turns cardboard constructions into game peripherals.

Nintendo describes Labo as “a new interactive experience for Nintendo Switch that’s specifically crafted for kids and those who are kids at heart.” This goes a long way towards diversifying the audience for the Switch’s second year, especially appealing to "those who have never touched game machines" according to Nintendo's president Tatsumi Kimishima.

Labo is all about using pieces punched out from sheets of cardboard to construct various interactive objects. The Nintendo magic touch to this arts-and-crafts set comes through with the augmented reality (AR) implementation. Unlike how AR on devices like the 3DS use markers to project a game field onto an otherwise empty space, Labo uses the Switch’s screen and Joy-Con controllers to enhance the physical cardboard creations. The interactivity of these objects at a game level as well as a construction level is the real innovation here.

Assembling each cardboard creation ranges in complexity, though instructions displayed on the Switch console take players through the building process. A simple bug design with the two Joy-Con controllers slotted in can function like an RC car, buzzing across a surface when controlled with the touchscreen interface on the Switch console. Alternatively, taking the time to construct handlebars (in which slots 1 Joy-Con and the Switch screen) and a pedal (for the other Joy-Con) results in a makeshift motorbike for a driving minigame.

These two examples show the range in the complexity of the projects, but the minigames associated with each of the constructions is not just limited to driving. A fishing rod with a working reel accompanies a fishing game, and a cardboard house serves as a way to interact with the inhabitants displayed on the Switch screen.

Some have criticised Labo’s $70 price tag (no UK pricing at time of writing) but considering this is a full cartridge-based game already, paying $10 more for 25 sheets of cardboard projects seems like a fair deal to many. This is particularly the case when some of the projects, such as the 12-key piano, take approximately 2 hours to build before the interactions with the game even begin.

While some of their past efforts have felt fairly empty beyond the initial buzz (Wii waggle, anyone?), it's the ones like Labo that have the potential to encapsulate the essence of childlike creativity

Beyond the first Labo kit, known as the variety kit, Nintendo has also announced a robot kit, where a backpack construction with pulleys operated by arms and legs is used to play through several different minigames. The fact that the first two packages in this series contain so much scope can only be a good sign when thinking further ahead with the concept. Indeed, ideas that have already been shown off in the announcement, such as the steering wheel and bird, aren’t included in either of the current kits.

Now that the Switch's core user base is well and truly established, it's clear to see that Nintendo feels comfortable to once again branch out into accessible, more casual ideas. While some of their past efforts have felt fairly empty beyond the initial buzz (Wii waggle, anyone?), it's the ones like Labo that have the potential to encapsulate the essence of childlike creativity and serve as a reminder that many of us are indeed 'kids at heart.'

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