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Nintendo Labo Review: Variety Kit And Robot Kit

  • First Released Apr 20, 2018
  • Reviewed May 1, 2018
  • NS

More than cardboard.

It's very easy to dismiss Nintendo's new line of Labo build-and-play toys as merely cardboard. For adults especially, building the Variety Kit's five toys--or the Robot Kit's suit--and playing their simple games might feel like a short-lived novelty. But there's a surprising amount of depth to what you can do with the kit's stack of cardboard sheets and cutesy software. It's a remarkable educational tool and an opportunity to see your creations come to life, and that's something very special, even if the games themselves don't stand out.

The Variety Kit comes with five different Toy-Cons to build and then play with: the RC car, the fishing rod, the house, the motorbike, and the piano. In that order, the process of building them gradually increases in difficulty, with the more complicated projects expanding on the concepts introduced in the easier ones. The RC car takes around 10 minutes to build and is effectively a practice run, showing you the importance of precise assembly and how to work with cardboard without bending it in weird places. (The cardboard itself is pretty sturdy if you're reasonably careful with it.)

After the "make" portion, you move on to "play." The games are all relatively straightforward; drive the RC car, fish with the fishing rod, play piano using the piano. It's more rewarding to see how the cardboard translates to the software than it is to play any of the games at length, though they're deeper than they look at first glance. Even the most basic one, the RC car, has a self-driving function and a multiplayer battle mode; in the motorbike's game, you can design your own tracks just by moving a Joy-Con through the air. The least interesting, at least from an adult's perspective, is the house--the game there is to experiment with three insertable parts and see what kinds of rooms and mini-games they can unlock when in different combinations.

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The piano is the most impressive component of the Variety Kit, with a regular play mode and a surprisingly deep studio mode. It only has 13 keys, but there's a lever on the side that changes the octave, giving you access to a wider range of notes. You can layer recordings for more sophisticated songs, change the envelope and reverb of the notes before you record, and insert cards of different shapes into the top of the piano to change the waveform patterns. You can also create drum beats (composed of bass drum, snare, hi-hat, and cymbal sounds) using a kind of punch card that goes in the waveform card slot; the infrared camera in the Joy-Con detects the shape of the card and then uploads the card's "data" into the studio UI.

Not much of this is apparent when you first start playing the piano, though. A lot of the depth can be found in "discover" mode, where three cheeky characters walk you through the technology behind each Toy-Con, any extra things you can make or do with them, and how the games work. Like with the building process, a lot of the enjoyment comes from learning how each of the Toy-Cons works and understanding why you had to make them a certain way. For kids in particular, there are straightforward explanations of abstract physics concepts that benefit from having the Toy-Cons as hands-on aids. There are also plenty of resources on how to fix the Toy-Cons, including how to repair bent or ripped cardboard (which is good for all ages).

In addition to the Variety Kit, there's also a separate Robot Kit available. Instead of five different Toy-Cons, you build one large one: a robot "suit." The basic suit consists of a visor and a backpack with pulley mechanisms for each of your hands and feet that control the in-game robot. The visor part utilizes the left Joy-Con's gyroscope, while the backpack works using the right Joy-Con's infrared camera and reflective tape. It's a complex project that can take three or four hours to build, but the instructions are as easy to follow as they are in the Variety Kit, and it's broken up into eight steps so you can pace yourself.

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The Robot Kit's games are especially geared toward children's imaginative play. The main attraction is a destroy-the-city mode, in which you punch buildings to dust and rack up points. In addition to that, there's a versus mode where two robots can battle and a "studio" mode where you can assign different sounds to the robot's limbs and step and punch your way to a beat. You can also customize your in-game robot and unlock better abilities in a challenge mode. These games do show the different applications of the Toy-Con you've built, but they're not likely to grab you for very long unless pretending to be a robot is your jam. Like in the Variety Kit, the Robot Kit's discover mode is the place to learn more.

In both the Variety and Robot Kits, the secret endgame is the Toy-Con Garage, a mode where you can program your own games using if-then statements. You can pick an input, like "if the Joy-Con is face-up," and connect it to an output, like "vibrate," by dragging a line between them on the touchscreen. Depending on how many rules you weave into your program, you can make some decently complex games as well as mod the Toy-Cons you already made. It's both a great learning tool at its most basic level and an opportunity to challenge yourself and apply everything you've learned so far.

It's nice to have something to tinker with long after building the Toy-Cons, and that's mainly because the official games are more like demos to show you how everything works. The only one likely to keep your attention for any length of time is the piano; everything else is a jumping off point, and you're limited by how much it inspires you to create. And that's just what Labo is at the moment: a great tool for creation, rather than for playing.

Back To Top
The Good
Building each Toy-Con is a relaxing and rewarding process, with each one building on the last (in the Variety Kit)
Learning how everything works is presented as part of the fun, and that enriches the experience
Toy-Con Garage gives you more to do and create after you're done
The Bad
Games themselves generally don't have much lasting appeal
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Kallie spent around 25 hours building the Variety Kit's Toy-Cons, playing their games, learning how they work, and then trying her hand at making a Toy-Con game herself. She then spent another 5 with the Robot Kit. Complimentary kits were provided for the purposes of this review.
25 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for silverman2020

Looks like a fun way for parents to spend time with their kids in a way that’s a compromise between “good ol days” low tech craft projects and the high tech stuff that kids want. If it gets families off the couch and engages them in a cooperative and interactive task while still being trendy enough for playground excitement, I’m all for it. If you are reading this article, Labo is most likely not meant for you.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

Having seen GiantBomb's video on this, it surprised me that the objects folded and joined together are a lot more complicated than I thought that they would be.

I still find most of them unimpressive though - especially the -*pffftt*- "cars".

Avatar image for RogerioFM

I don't think this review is very honest, it's clearly aimed at kids and believe me, every kid I've seen playing it would give it at least a 9 most of them 10. I've been to a shopping mall to get some games and there was a demo which enabled kids to play, for them it was pure joy. So I don't know, I would take the targeted audience into consideration.

Avatar image for agramonte

Better to just go and get your kid $60 worth of LEGO sets.

Avatar image for Ride_Tha_Tiger

I don’t believe anything made out of cardboard has much lasting appealing.

Avatar image for macacorusso

Eu não entendo como um jogo super revolucionário como esse feito para crianças recebe 7 e um jogo super bugado e cheio de defeitos como FARCRY 5 recebe 9....

Aos que se propõem ambos os jogos, o LABO faz muito melhor!

Avatar image for gustavob

@macacorusso: É que as notas neste site são sempre dadas para jogos de videogame, e os jogos do Labo são muito muito ruins.

Se fosse um site especializado em brinquedos de montar, talvez a nota fosse mais alta, apesar de existirem outras opções melhores e mais baratas neste campo.

Pelo que eu vi do Labo, a única diversão está em montar as peças de papelão, e fim de papo.

Avatar image for macacorusso

@gustavob: Vc é adulto, novamente falo isso, claro que vai achar ruim, quando era criança eu achava magico coisas que hj acho bobo, O foco do labo são crianças e vc nem eu podemos avaliar dentro do que achamos de jogo bom ou ruim.

Avatar image for Chico86_basic

@macacorusso: Infelizmente hoje em dia a originalidade tem pouco ou nenhum peso. O que importa são os FPS e a resolução! Cinematografia prioritária ao invés da jogabilidade como meio de interação. Apesar de não ter experimentado FARCRY 5 confesso que maior parte das pessoas falha em perceber que LABO trata-se também de uma boa ideia com bastante potencial!

Avatar image for macacorusso

@Chico86_basic: Eu tenho umas 30h de FARCRY 5 e posso garantir que não merece 9, o jogo em si é muito mal executado como quase todos os jogos da UBSOFT, não a toa chamada de BUGSOFT, os inimigos quase todos tem a mesma skin, o jogo é lotado de bugs de todo tipo e a historia não cativa nem um pouco. É um jogo feito para adultos mas com uma historia rasa, já o LABO ao que se propõe, ser diversão para crianças, me parece muito inovador e divertido.

Avatar image for urbanman2004

Wtf has Nintendo created this time, OMG

Avatar image for jellyman68

I have dismissed this product as merely cardboard.

Avatar image for ivory_soul

@CallMeDuraSouka: It is a shallow pointless review. This isn't a game that should be looked at by critics, especially ones who don't have kids like the reviewer. I'd dismiss this review completely.

Avatar image for kallie

@CallMeDuraSouka: Hi! I actually worked as a regular babysitter and tutor for young kids for several years, and I considered that experience when working on the review. This review is not specifically geared toward children because this is something anyone can buy, and I tried to keep age-related analysis at a minimum.

Avatar image for ivory_soul

@kallie: Working at a daycare is not the same as being an actual parent. At a daycare, you can go home at the end of the day and forget about all the kids. As a parent, you're with them 24/7 and the experience changes. As a parent myself, I dismiss people who claim working in a daycare qualifies them for "knowing what kids want".

Avatar image for silverman2020

@ivory_soul: get off your high horse. There are professionals in all areas of child development and psychology that don’t have children.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

@ivory_soul: Some would say that being a parent doesn't qualify one for knowing that either.

There are shitty parents, you know.

Avatar image for nsa_protocol44

Kallie you should avoid Peter at the workfloor at all cost, for the coming few days.

Avatar image for Smokin105

Can anyone speak to how young of a player might be able to use this?

I'm considering the variety kit for my older son, who will be just over 4 around Christmas -- he's remarkably creative and curious about how things work and even good at some basic logic puzzles (my mother jokes that he's way more with it than I was at his age ;) But since he also like to watch the same TV show episode over and over again, I don't think we need a lot of game depth. So I'm seriously considering this as something fun to do in the cold winter months. Can anyone offer any feedback on experiences with similar aged children? Issues that people had with their kids are also welcome to help us prevent any potential pitfalls.

Thank you in advance :)

(Yes, I'll have him to other arts & crafts and plenty of other non-video game activities too, don't worry. The long winters where I live though require some significant creativity to keep their young minds engaged in new ways -- I'm hoping we might invent some garage based experiences too :)

Avatar image for kallie

@Smokin105: Hey! Our EIC Randy did a video with his 8-year-old about Labo if you're interested. From what I played and my experience with young kids (I worked as a regular babysitter for several years, as well as a tutor) I think a mature 4-year-old should be able to grasp this, though I think they'd need some help, and it also depends how patient/careful they are.

Avatar image for Chico86_basic

@og_gamerzzz: That's a pretty shallow comment you got there. People still forget you're also paying at the very least for software. I would buy you cardboard for 20 dollars at most if you make it exactly like what comes with LABO. 60 dollars are on the game and the rest of the pieces. How does that sound?

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide

@og_gamerzzz: insecure much?

Nintendo Labo: Toycon 01 Variety Kit More Info

  • First Released Apr 20, 2018
    • Nintendo Switch
    The Variety Kit includes five different projects to Make, Play, and Discover: a pair of Toy-Con RC Cars, a Toy-Con Fishing Rod, a Toy-Con House, a Toy-Con Motorbike, and a Toy-Con Piano.
    Average Rating2 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Nintendo Labo: Toycon 01 Variety Kit
    Developed by:
    Published by:
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Mild Cartoon Violence