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Nintendo Labo review: Video shows Toy-Con 3 Vehicle Kit in action

Nathan Spendelow Vaughn Highfield
31 Aug 2018
Price when reviewed 
60
inc VAT

Far more than just cardboard decoration, Nintendo Labo is the frontier of educational gaming

Pros 
Inspires creativity and curiosity
Brilliant family fun
Limitless potential
Cons 
Concerns around damaging cadboard
You can only build Toy-Cons once
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Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit incoming

Nintendo's cardboard-based Switch accessory has another new kit on the way. The Labo Toy-Con 3, or "Vehicle Kit", launches on 14 September and contains a bunch of new materials to build all sorts of cardboard creations including a car, plane and submarine accessories.

As with the other kits, the Toy-Con 3 includes software that works with your cardboard builds. According to the announcement trailer, you'll be able to race battle cars in-game, pilot a plane and command a submarine when the Toy-Con 3 launches. Nintendo has released a video of the kit in action, including the ability to use the cardboard controllers to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Our original Nintendo Labo review continues below.

Nintendo Labo review

To many, the Nintendo Switch is simply a console. Admittedly it’s a super-cool hybrid device that you can enjoy absolutely anywhere, but all it does is play some games.

Not anymore. Now your Switch is a piano, a fishing rod, a remote control car – it’s anything and everything you want it to be and, in some cases, even more than you could imagine. Thanks to Nintendo Labo, the company’s latest innovation for Switch, you can indulge your creative tendencies and engage your brain in ways few other games have ever done before.

At its core, Nintendo Labo isn’t simply a game, though. This is a new platform for Nintendo; a new way to inspire minds both young and old to create new things. It’s a place for learning and creation, a project designed to spark conversation and the sharing of ideas. In many ways, this is the most exciting thing to happen to the games industry since Minecraft.

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Nintendo Labo review: What you need to know

Nintendo Labo is the latest product from Nintendo’s in-house creative team. Coming from one of the minds behind Nintendo’s bonkers squid-based shooter, Splatoon, Labo is all about breaking the Switch down into its constituent parts and encouraging you to see its infinite possibilities.

Nintendo Labo is currently available in two separate “Toy-Con” packs, each one containing a set of cardboard creations you can use to interact with the Switch in a variety of ways. The Toy-Con 001 “Variety pack” comes with five cardboard toys to assemble and use, while the Toy-Con 002 “Robot Kit” comes with a single wearable robot suit to build. These kits are designed to just be the starting point of working with Labo as the intention is they’ll act as inspiration for users to come up with their own creations in the future.

If you want a more in-depth breakdown of each Toy-Con, you can find it in our Nintendo Labo explainer.

Nintendo Labo review: Price and competition

Other than picking up a Nintendo Switch, the cost of entry to Nintendo Labo’s creative potential isn’t insignificant. The Variety Pack will set you back £60, with the Robot Kit going for a cool £70. Other kits haven’t yet been announced but it’s likely they’ll be around the same price when eventually unveiled.

That may sound steep but Labo isn’t just a bunch of cardboard toys; it’s also a complete piece of software that allows you to build, customise and create your own Toy-Cons. If you factor that into the price – along with the fact that the Variety Kit is also five separate creations – £60 is actually pretty reasonable.

It’s also hard to compare it to anything else that’s on the market. In terms of video games, there’s really nothing else quite like Nintendo Labo out there. Looking towards other educational entertainment products, the nearest comparison you can make is Lego Boost – a £120 Lego kit that helps your kids understand basic coding. You could also look to a Raspberry Pi kit like the Kano Computer, but that’s likely too advanced and comes with a price tag of over £200.

Nintendo Labo review: Why our review structure sucks for this product

What makes Nintendo Labo so sublime is how it uses simple materials – cardboard – to create wonderful contraptions. It’s unlike anything on the market because it appeals to a broad range of people. Instead of simply being aimed at kids or skilled adults, it’s entirely family focused, and will appeal to kids as young as six all the way through to early teens. Heck, I’m nearly 30 and I was entranced by the folding of cardboard, the ingenuity of Nintendo’s craftsmanship and Labo’s seemingly limitless potential.

You can’t simply shoehorn it into a single category. Yes, it has cutesy characters to help you understand how everything works and impressive 3D construction diagrams you can swoop around and view from all angles. But the simple act of building cardboard models means a lot of your time is spent away from what you might ordinarily consider gaming.

And, once you’ve built each Toy-Con, the games you play form only a small part of the experience. It’s great fun zipping about on a motorbike using a motorbike controller you’ve constructed yourself, but you know there’s more that can be done. There’s a real sense of discovery here and Labo does a wonderful job of nurturing it.

Many of its best features are tucked away, hidden from the standard lineup of playable Labo minigames. Fancy catching more fish in the fiendishly difficult Toy-Con Fishing Rod game? You’ll obviously have to use the piano to scan in new shapes and customise them via its keys.

Want to create a new race course for the motorbike? Well, you’ll need to don a motorbike model for your Joy-Con and fly it around the room to draw out your course. To an adult it might seem illogical but, for kids it’s yet another opportunity to play. Just as with 1-2 Switch, Labo isn’t about spending time looking at a screen, it’s about imagining what you can do next.

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Nintendo Labo review: The secrets of Toy-Con Garage

The real meat of Nintendo Labo is tucked away in the “Discover” section of Labo’s software. In Discover, Labo’s three child-friendly researchers show you how each Toy-Con works and how to make the most of each individual game. It also provides building instructions, insight into how to repair your creations and how to customise them, too.

Discover also hides a brilliant feature known as the “Toy-Con Garage”. Just as its manhole cover indicates, Toy-Con Garage takes you beneath the surface of how Nintendo Labo works, complete with stripped-back visuals and wire-frame colour-coded nodes.

Unlike the rest of Discover, or Labo’s “Make” section of building instructions, Toy-Con Garage doesn’t hold your hand. After a brief introduction into what each constituent part is about, you’re left to create your own programs for your Labo models. Nintendo is giving you the keys to absolutely every sensor input the Nintendo Switch has and allows you to create your own set of outputs.

Nintendo’s own Labo creators built an entire band using Labo thanks to some elastic bands, a Joy-Con and the Switch’s touchscreen. In time, Nintendo hopes that people will utilise Garage as a means to generate their own projects from the ground up, perhaps even fabricate their own Toy-Cons from cardboard or 3D-printed materials.

This may sound too advanced for little ones but that’s the beauty of Labo. As they play and learn to understand how each Toy-Con is simply more than just a piece of cardboard, they’ll begin to understand how it all works. That knowledge then helps them understand how to create. As they grow older – and more Toy-Cons are undoubtedly released – they’ll be able to understand more, while the logical structure of Toy-Con Garage’s programming environment means these lessons result in transferable coding skills.

To help foster this sense of creativity, Nintendo is running an official Nintendo Labo YouTube channel as a way to showcase some of the incredible creations people have made – and to encourage others to learn from them and give it a go for themselves.

Nintendo Labo review: Verdict

Before Nintendo entered into the world of video games it was a toy maker. And while it’s left part of its history a long way behind, Labo proves that playfulness is still in the company’s DNA.

When Nintendo announced Labo, many joked it was little more than a set of cardboard toys and – on the surface – that’s at least partly true. What Nintendo has built here, however, is more than simply a single set of toys or standalone experiences; it has the potential to morph into something far bigger than the Nintendo Switch itself.

My hope is that Nintendo continues to push Labo with new Toy-Cons on a regular basis. I hope it holds classes across the country to encourage parents and kids to play and create, I want Labo to wind up in schools, helping kids to understand just how the worlds of physical design and coding can go together in wonderful and ingenious ways.

It’s undeniable that Nintendo Labo is the freshest idea to come out of the video game industry in years and is proof, yet again, that few others do innovation better than Nintendo.

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