Nintendo Labo Made Me Feel Like a Kid Again

Like the Switch itself, Nintendo Labo is pure, imaginative joy.

Nintendo's upcoming cardboard toy kits let you build all kinds of cool accessories that give you new ways to play the company's already versatile console. Labo launches on April 20 in two flavors: the $69 variety kit that lets you build a piano, RC car, fishing rod, house and motorbike, and a $79 robot kit.

I spent the better part of an afternoon trying them all at a special New York preview event, and was grinning ear to ear just about the entire time.

Cardboard Construction

Nintendo's Labo demo area was set up like a kids' classroom, with big tables, tons of crayons and markers, and a bunch of little snack boxes that I indulged in probably more than any of the small children in attendance. After popping some M&M's and Goldfish, it was time to build.

I started by piecing together the RC Car Toy-Con, which was the simplest of the bunch and also one of the most fun to use. I was immediately impressed by the Switch's Labo app, which gives you clear building instructions that you can read at your own pace. The app even provides as 3D models of whatever you're building, which you can rotate and zoom in and out of to make sure you've got everything right.

After folding a few pieces of cardboard and sliding my Joy-Cons in, my RC Car was complete -- now it was just time to make it my own with some markers and stickers. While customizing your Toy-Cons isn't essential to enjoying them, there was a raw, childlike sense of joy to grabbing a marker and going to town on what I'd just built.

After following all of the building steps, the Labo app connected to my Joy-Cons and opened up a set of touch controls for my RC car. The whole thing was very intuitive: press one button to turn left, one to turn right, and both to go forward. The app even taps into your Joy-Cons' built-in cameras to provide night vision and infrared views that you can see on your Switch's display.

I then moved on to building the more complex fishing rod Toy-Con, which I didn't even finish within the allotted one-hour time limit we had (I blame my own lack of skill -- plenty of the youngsters in my demo got theirs done). Despite the more intricate construction, the Labo app continued to do a great job making every step clear and easy to understand.

The Joy of Toy-Cons

After doing some building, it was time to let loose and just play. My favortite Toy-Con by far was the Robot Kit, which consists of a backpack, visor and hand and foot grips that work together to allow you to control a virtual robot with your actual body. The experience felt like a more immersive version of Arms, as I could walk in place to move, adjust my arms to fly, and gleefully destroy a bunch of buildings by simply punching.

Crouching turned my body into a tank, while flipping my visor down allowed me to enjoy a first-person view. I'm sure I looked like an absolute fool playing with the Robot Kit, but I was having too much fun to care.

The piano Toy-Con blew my mind. Somehow, this tiny cardboard piano in front of me was fully functioning, thanks to nothing more than the Joy-Con sensors and a few IR stickers attached to each key. I was even able to enable new sounds by dropping different cardboard pegs into the piano. It all felt way too high-tech than a piece of cardboard had any right to be.

I also enjoyed actually playing with the Fishing Rod Toy-Con, which allowed me to catch fish on the Switch's screen by moving the rod around and rotating the reel once a fish took the bait. The surprisingly cool House Toy-Con turns the Switch into a cardboard dollhouse, as you can pop different pieces in and out to enable various mini-games.

The only Toy-Con that didn't grab me right away was the Motorbike. Maybe it's my general lack of skill with driving games, but twisting the throttle to gain speed and turning simply didn't feel as intuitive as I'd like it to be.

After our hands-on session, Nintendo also teased Toy-Con Garage: a special application that essentially allows you to create your own Toy-Cons by putting together custom commands within the app. For example, you can program your RC car to be controlled by anything from your motorbike handles to your fishing rod. One Nintendo employee even showed off a custom Toy-Con guitar. Toy-Con garage seems like it'll give Labo tons of potential beyond what you get out of the box, and could double as a way to teach kids basic programming.

Bottom Line

I came into Nintendo's Labo event intrigued, and left overjoyed. Nintendo has taken its knack for unique play into the physical space, creating a set of cardboard toys that are simple and fun while also leaving the door open for limitless creativity.

A variety of customized Toy-Con.

A variety of customized Toy-Con.

That said, I do have a few concerns and apprehensions. As much fun as I had playing with each Toy-Con game at the event, I wonder how much replay value each app will ultimately offer. And considering how long it took to build a fishing rod, I can only imagine how complex building the robot and piano kits might be -- though that seems like a good problem that creative kids will be willing to solve.

I look forward to spending many more hours building, playing, and making a total fool of myself with Nintendo's cardboard toys come launch day.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.