Nintendo surprised us all this week with their announcement of a new way to use the Nintendo Switch – Nintendo Labo.
Essentially selling sets of cardboard, that are folded and shaped into various 3D models that then house the joy cons or main Switch tablet itself to emulate specific actions and settings. Think of it as a more intricate and flexible version of the various Wiimote plastic add-ons you could buy – like fishing rods or steering wheels – and you’re halfway there.
Check out the full reveal video below:
And as ever with a new Nintendo innovation, opinion has been split on whether it’s a cheap gimmick, an extortionate expansion of what’s currently available, or genuinely innovative and a step forward.
But for me the answer is simple, the fact that even when I watch the above video again now, a few days later I’m still smiling should be testament to a simple truth; with Labo, Nintendo have demonstrated they haven’t lost sight of what makes things fun. As I re-watch that trailer for the umpteenth time, I’m full of a child-like sense of wonder and joy that – with the exception of Super Mario Odyssey – I haven’t felt from gaming in years.
But outside of gaming it’s something I’ve felt consistently at one time of the year – Christmas.
I’m going to randomly interject here with a quote from the Oxford Dictionary. It may seem a bit pompous, but this definition perfectly conveys the point I’m making. Oxford Dictionary describes “wonder” as:
A feeling of surprise and admiration that you have when you see or experience something beautiful, unusual, or unexpected.
The above is exactly how I felt when I saw the Labo reveal, and it still is, furthermore it’s how I felt as a child (and to a lesser extent now) at Christmas. The enigma of Santa Claus, the unknown contents of the presents under the tree, the little surprises you didn’t foresee, the memories you’ll only make this time of year, all of these make Christmas so truly wondrous, literally by definition and it is why so many of us look forward to the end of the year.
Another Nintendo-related case in point in case any of you needed reminding:
So I think it’s clear that Nintendo Labo and Christmas are reading from the same hymn-sheet in terms of the being surprising, wondrous and unexpected. But for me that’s not the main reason why I think the two go hand in hand. For this part I’m going to focus on the materialistic aspect, why the giving and the receiving of Labo at Christmas just makes so much sense.
It’s important to remember that both parties get something out of a gift being well received. I always enjoy the smile on a family member or friend’s face if they are happy with what I’ve bought them, I’m essentially sharing in their pleasure. And as Christmas is very much a communal, social gift-giving experience, this opportunity for mutual joy is ramped up more than most other times of year.
So why do I think Labo is a nailed on winner at Christmas? Well for me it’s because it taps into a multitude of different pleasurable experiences. Firstly there’s the creativity aspect, not only in the building from scratch part, but the personalisation aspect with colouring your creations in whichever way you wish to express yourself. Secondly there’s the good old satisfaction of a job well done. Some of these Labo kits look like they can get quite involved, requiring a few step by step instructions to get to the end result. Essentially a child version of successfully completing that hefty piece of IKEA furniture. And then finally at the end you get a new game and experience to enjoy, rather than the “normal” Nintendo Switch experiences.
In reality you’re combining the appeal of Lego, a colouring book, an Airfix kit and a games console all into one unique present. Now if that doesn’t sound like the type of thing a child will enjoy opening, then I don’t know what does.
And that’s not accounting for the fact that there’s no real reason adults can’t also enjoy these experiences, either alongside the children or completely separately. I can see the fun to be had from adults assisting their children in make and decorating their Labo kits, and at the same time I can also see me and other adults enjoying the finished product as a new interactive impulse activity whilst the turkey and pigs in blankets gently digest in our stomachs.
Believe me, I do acknowledge the word “impulse” in that last sentence. I understand that the longevity of these experiences may be questionable. That the cardboard material itself doesn’t necessarily lend itself to repeated use (although that’s just a guess at this stage). Where I can see this succeeding though is being an activity that excites a group of people over the Christmas period, either in the building or in playing with the end result. Everyone trialling the Nintendo Switch in a way they won’t have done before, and that unexpected experience by definition will provide wonder.
Labo proves Nintendo is continually challenging the way we think about fun and games, and has created a package of near limitless potential. At this stage it’s clear they’ve tapped into our sense of wonder and excitement. We’ll have to wait and see just how far this experience can run and run, but needless to say the journey will be a fun one.
It’s why I believe that whilst Nintendo Labo may not be for life, it will definitely be for Christmas.