Nintendo has a long history of bizarre choices involving peripherals, external hardware, or other unconventional methods of gaming outside the usual box and controller. Sometimes it works, and the company ends up with the Wii or DS and millions of dollars. Other times we see things like a Virtual Boy, or a Wii U, or a bunch of goofy Wii Remote attachments and Animal Crossing amiibo figures nobody wants. Often the external stuff is expensive, only performs a couple of functions, and is nearly impossible to repair or replace. The stuff is also never marketed in a way that makes sense. But with the Nintendo Labo, we are perhaps seeing even more solid evidence that Nintendo has learned from its past, proof that is even more substantial than the Nintendo Switch and its mighty success.
The first sign of Labo being a slam dunk was its original announcement. Nintendo didn’t present the Labo line as a new piece of gaming content, hardware, or what have you. It was announced after a Nintendo Direct, for one thing, and not even presented as a video game. It was almost as if its presence on the Switch was more of a coincidence, or a small detail rather than a selling point. Nintendo offered the Labo as something interesting, specifically for children, rather than part of the normal video game stuff. That sort of thing matters!
Now, the Labo being presented as its own thing is also, well, literally a part of the actual reality of the line. Labo isn’t just the software, or a single package like some of the other weird Nintendo stuff ended up being. Labo is multiple pieces of software, and multiple kits. It’s an actual line, a sort of subsection of Nintendo content that lives in its own world. There will likely be further releases, and even more to do with Labo than is already shown off in the current kits. This thing has a lot of potential, and potential can be a great selling point as long as there’s a trickle of evidence to go along with it.
Also, when Labo was set to launch, many people wondered about the whole cardboard gimmick. How can a cardboard DIY kit be something appealing to anyone? Are we really paying this much money for cardboard? What if peoples’ kids mess the cardboard up?
First of all, it’s not that hard to teach kids to take care of their stuff. I know from experience.
Second, Nintendo made many of those fears go away pretty quickly on launch day when it finally revealed the Labo section of its online store. Not only is everything parted out, but everything is totally, surprisingly reasonably priced. You don’t have to slap down another $50 just in case you step on your piano or something. But even more interesting is that Nintendo also hosted PDF blueprints for the cardboard parts. That means that for customers who have the means to do the printing themselves, Nintendo is totally fine not squeezing that extra$5-15 out through mandatory, full replacements.
Having not actually picked up and played the Labo myself, I can’t speak to if I think it’s really good or not. I have seen some pretty awesome videos of people doing wild stuff with the kits already though, especially beyond the confines of the basic stuff. But what I can speak to is how well Nintendo has sold this stuff, in ways the company has historically fumbled on. The messaging, the clearly targeted audience, the reasonable support and replacements, all of this stuff speaks of a company that has gone through multiple missteps and finally said, “let’s not do that again.” It’s an interesting time, especially following the doom and gloom of the Wii U’s lifespan. Let’s see where things go from here.