I’ll be clear about one thing up front: I don’t think that Labo for Nintendo Switch is going to fail, nor do I want it to. The game company’s new suite of cardboard peripherals is strange, entirely new and the best way I can imagine to get me to pay for sheets of cardboard. Essentially, Labo is a set of 25 DIY cardboard peripherals with instructions on how to build things like fishing rods, remote control cars, pianos, cameras and more, as well as the software to use them in what look like little mini-games. It’s clearly aimed at kids, though the prospect of some intense modification that should appeal to the other end of the gaming spectrum. It’s far from the announcement I expected Nintendo to make yesterday, but I suppose we’re all getting re-used to surprises.
But could it fail? Definitely. Labo is unlike anything we’ve seen before, and there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. The sets might be flimsy, or too frustrating to put together. The software might be lame, the motion controls might be too unreliable to make the games work. People could leak the designs online or find other ways to break the things on their own. Maybe kids just don’t want to build cardboard fishing rods, I don’t know. As far as reliable income goes, Call of Duty: Adjective Warfare it is not. That’s what’s great about it.
We remember for a second that the Switch could have easily failed as well, and plenty of us thought it would. We also remember that the Nintendo Switch exists because of the Wii U, and not just for the obvious reasons of the Switch being a largely refined version of the Wii U’s core concept. The Wii U was a symbol of a gaming company willing to try new things, just like the Wii before it: the Wii U didn’t work out so well, but only the company that made that console would have made something like the Switch. As Microsoft and Sony continue to make cost-effective powerful boxes designed to sit under the TV — nothing wrong with that, of course — Nintendo remains fixated on creating the unexpected. Which is clearly how we’ve arrived at Labo.
Labo feels completely different from the gaming landscape today, but it doesn’t look so weird in the context of Nintendo’s history. This is the company that brought us the Power Glove, R.O.B., the Virtual Boy, the Game Boy printer, even the bongos from Donkey Konga. Even the Wii, which had people plenty confused when it first came out. Nintendo has always been interested in incorporating things that look like toys into things that look like games, and Labo represents a very interesting way to continue that story while slashing the cost of such peripherals for the company and incorporating an additional construction element while they’re at it.
I don’t really know what to expect from Labo, but I’m excited. I’m excited that not only has the Switch proven to be an excellent platform for traditional games, Nintendo is clearly not willing to let just keep doing that. If this is what we’re getting a year in, it makes me what we’ll keep getting two and three years in.