Nintendo Labo Is Brilliant, Mismanaged... and Most Likely Discontinued
Abram Buehner
Mario Nintendo Labo
Mario Nintendo Labo
Nintendo Labo is easily in the top-tier of the company's wacky innovations. Essentially, Nintendo Labo is one part Nintendo Switch peripheral and one part Wii Play-style compilation. It's also a very costly endeavor that requires assembly, as the peripherals are all assembled out of cardboard. It was always an eclectic, outside-the-box idea. Unfortunately, for all of Labo's brilliance, a string of poor decisions has led to an inevitable fate: quiet sunsetting three years after release.
As many outlets have reported, the official Nintendo Labo website has been turned into a URL redirect. This leads to a page that sells Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 04: VR Kit. This seemingly signals both a desire to put the brand to rest and to move the remaining stock before entirely shuttering the brand. Nintendo Labo deserved much more than this, and it should've succeeded like Ring Fit Adventure.
After all, Labo and Ring Fit both serve the same function of speaking to a new demographic. The Nintendo Switch is so successful due in part to its ability to canvas the gaming landscape. From Animal Crossing: New Horizons to Monster Hunter Rise, so many bases are covered by exclusives alone. Ring Fit feeds into that by appealing to the Wii Fit crowd. Nintendo Labo should've spoken to children, but it didn't effectively.
Key art for Nintendo Labo
Key art for Nintendo Labo
Nintendo Labo did resonate, but not to the degree it should have. Labo found a home in the classroom, becoming a great entry-level STEM project. Labo was equally great at home as a parent-child activity. The act of building Labo's cardboard Toy-Con peripherals was tactile and inquisitive. From a piano to a VR blaster, the Toy-Con were genuine feats of engineering. Nintendo captivated the imagination by leveraging its history as a toy manufacturer. The Toy-Con are even engaging builds for adults, due to the sheer brilliance of their design.
The fun of creation was not nearly as engaging as the act of play, though. Clearly, Nintendo's resources were devoted to the wizardry behind Labo, not the longevity of its software. Nintendo failed to make Labo a replayable experience. The games themselves were painfully shallow. Once the Toy-Con were built, there was little reason to actually play with them, outside of fiddling with the associated experiences in an attempt to justify the purchase.
That justification was essential too, as Nintendo Labo was expensive. By and large, the kits retailed for around $80. The ingenuity and complexity of the Toy-Con help offset that price. But the lack of gameplay content undermined the value proposition. Nowadays, unsold Labo kits sell at clearance for a fraction of that MSRP. That is kits plural too, as Nintendo released four Labo sets from April 2018 to April 2019. However, Nintendo failed to learn much with each entry, as every kit fell into the same pitfalls.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment surrounding Labo, though, was Nintendo's inability to capitalize on cross-game support. Nintendo Labo was successful integrated into various Switch games. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe had support for many of the driving-related Toy-Con. Many titles utilized Nintendo Labo's VR goggles, from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. These were fun bonuses, but not much more than that.
Key art for Nintendo Labo
Key art for Nintendo Labo
The lack of further integration speaks to Nintendo Labo's cardinal sin: wasted potential. For instance, the Labo VR googles or the Labo Toy-Con Camera would both be wonderful additions to the upcoming New Pokémon Snap. At the same time, the particular Labo software would've been a wonderful addition to the Nintendo Switch library if the games had more content. Had Nintendo managed the Labo release calendar better, priced the kits more reasonably and spent more time on the software, the brand could've been a slam dunk.
Regardless of what could've been, Nintendo Labo is still emblematic of Nintendo's strengths. No other company would be bold enough to both conceptualize and produce Labo. This failed experiment resulted in an unforgettable experience. Building the Toy-Con was a wholly unique endeavor that Nintendo provided because the company is dedicated to invention. Of course, the excess of that invention was illustrated in the execution. Still, both Nintendo Labo's strengths and shortcomings are worth celebrating.