Five years ago today, Nintendo told the world to get creative and create pianos, fishing rods, and — eventually — a giant cardboard VR headset. That’s right, Nintendo Labo is half a decade old, and as we look back, we’re feeling a little bit fond.
Debuting in April 2018, this quasi-toys-to-life creation may have essentially been pieces of cardboard that came with instructions to create fun ways to interact with Switch games, but it’s unabashedly Nintendo. It’s unique, promotes play and creativity, and no one else has tried it yet.
The cardboard is a lot sturdier than you might expect — though we maybe wouldn’t test it out with a very needy kitten — and many first-party titles could be played with these creative controllers. Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey (among other games) both got a VR mode for the headset (which launched the following year), and the motorbike Toy-Con was the perfect accompaniment for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
The real magic comes with the software that came with the Labo kits. Toy-Con Garage allowed you to create and program your own Toy-Con and experiment with basic programming commands. You didn’t need to use the Labo kit either — you could use your own materials to create some truly unique and beautiful creations. We even had a go ourselves! And back when the Labo first launched, Nintendo ran a competition to see who could make the best brand-new Labo kit. And the results are wonderful.
Nintendo even partnered with the Institute of Play in 2018 to bring Labo kits into elementary schools and help teach the basics of programming, engineering, and building. Four kits were released, but we haven’t had a new one since 2019. Is now the time for a new Labo kit, Nintendo? Will it return on a new platform, perhaps?
Today, Labo might seem like an unusual experiment, but there are a lot of fans who are fond of the creative building aspect, and we don’t know it yet, but Toy-Con Garage may well have inspired a whole new generation of game developers. Nintendo obviously saw the appeal and 2021’s Game Builder Garage builds on the user-friendly programming concept introduced to Switch gamers with Labo. That game has gone on to sell over one million copies so far, and many player-programmers recreated their favourite retro games in the software.
So yes, we may have all thought Nintendo was a bit nuts selling us kits of cardboard — and some of us here at Nintendo Life Towers may have made a joke or three about recycling — but like we said above, this is emblematic of what Nintendo does as a developer; making magic from the most modest of tools.
As kids, we’ve all used our imagination and our creativity to try and create the coolest things out of random materials, particularly cardboard. This was just the next, interactive step in that creativity — harnessing it to build a wholly unique experience.
Come and reminisce with us about the Nintendo Labo in the comments below and vote in our polls. Do you still have your Labo kit(s)? Do you think we’ll get any more? Unbox your thoughts in the comments once you’ve placed your votes!