Nintendo Labo Aims to Bring Childlike Wonder Back to Gaming

Nintendo Labo First Look - Screenshot - H 2018
The company continues to move the needle of the gaming industry in terms of unique choices.

Remember being a child at Christmas and having just as much fun playing with the box your toy came in as with the new gadget itself? Nintendo does.

With the Nintendo Labo, the Japanese gaming giant has taken an innovative leap forward while simultaneously harking back to the most rudimentary of designs. The new product, set for release on April 20 with a price tag of $69, allows gamers to craft three-dimensional designs from cardboard sheets. The announcement trailer for the Labo features such creations as a piano, a wearable backpack and a fishing rod. Once constructed, the user then slides their Nintendo Switch into a specific slot and what was once a simple corrugated board representation of an object is transformed into a functional musical instrument, towering robot or fishing tool.

What makes the Nintendo Labo so revolutionary is just how simple the idea is: Give your audience a chance to create their own game and then bring it to life.

After all, a cardboard box can be anything: a robot or a prehistoric cave. The potential for creation, for self-expression, is unlimited. 

Nintendo has proven over the last decade that it is not afraid to be innovative. The Wii, released in 2006, pushed the gaming industry into motion controls and laid the groundwork for VR's rise. The company’s handheld 3DS console brought three-dimensional visuals not only to gaming, but to a mobile system (it also featured a sliding scale that let users adjust the level of 3D visuals). With the Switch, Nintendo yet again broke new ground, offering a console that was simultaneously a mobile system and an at-home experience, allowing gamers to pick up their console and hit the road without stopping their game.

While industry competitors such as Sony and Microsoft are rolling out AAA titles and their own exclusive IPs (with varying levels of success between the two), Nintendo continues to really move the needle of the gaming industry in terms of unique choices. The company is targeting children for its Labo (it is offering a hands-on demo lab for kids aged 6-12), and its reputation for catering to children has seen it derided and dismissed by more mature gamers many times over the years. Yet Nintendo, which was founded in 1889 and has been making electronic games since 1972, continues to thrive.

The Nintendo Labo may not be the biggest commercial success in Nintendo’s storied history (though a $69 price tag on cardboard won’t hurt the bottom line if it moves a lot of units), but it signifies something more important than commercial success. It is yet another example in a long list of innovations from a company that isn’t afraid to draw criticism or push the boundaries of what a video game is.