In an age of ever progressing virtual reality, the days of steering wheel and fishing rod video game controllers seemed to be a thing of a past (do you member? I 'member). That is until Nintendo announced the Nintendo Labo (projected to launch April 20, 2018) the first series of build-to-play interactive video game controllers.
The concept behind the Labo is not unlike the days of my youth, using cardboard to venture to the unexplored depths of space. But this time around, there is little to no imagination involved. Say goodbye to transforming that old refrigerator box into a time machine and say hello to instruction manuals telling you how to make a piano out of corrugated materials.
It encourages creativity through cardboard in a way that Calvin and Hobbes would never have dreamed of. No longer would Spaceman Spiff have to pilot a repurposed box to unknown galaxies. Instead, he could follow the meticulous instructions of the Nintendo Labo kit and build a motorbike to place his Switch controller in to.
Now instead of utilizing imagination, children can stare at a screen mounted into an intricate piece of cardboard. Why step outside and fish on a beautiful lake when you could instead build an augmented reality that simulates the same thing?
That's not to say that the idea behind the Labo is altogether bad. It offers consumers a new way to interact with their Nintendo Switch. Which means additional hours of fun for the user and more money for the manufacturer. More money means more games, which means additional hours of fun, which means more money. So on and so forth.
I also must admit that the Labo offers a far safer option for "virtual reality" than any of the current VR headsets could ever offer. There is no noise canceling, spatial audio headsets and no view impairing goggles. This means even while immersed in the worlds that Nintendo's build-and-play kits create, you're still aware of your surroundings.
Producing a controller that is made from recyclable materials that the user has to construct themselves is likely to keep costs low. Surely that means that Nintendo can afford to sell it at a reasonable price, right? Hardly. The Ninento Labo kits start at $69.99. I've never been tempted to pay so much for cardboard in my life.
Perhaps the unique way the various kits augment gaming will make it well worth the price point. And while some assembly is required, it's likely that when you're climbing inside of your recyclable robot, you'll have a sense of accomplishment. After all, you were the one who constructed it! Keep your fingers crossed that the Labo kits are easier to assemble than the Hejne storage unit from IKEA.
Another concern arises when using a material as fragile as cardboard. What happens when the kit is damaged? Will a little elbow grease and a few layers of duct tape do the trick? Can you patch a tear with masking tape? Will there be repair kits sold separately? Or, will you have to contact Nintendo customer support and go through the arduous process of replacing the product?
There's still a slew of questions to be answered before the Nintendo Labo kits hit store shelves. Such as, will I be able to download the kits and print them using my 3D printer? Will there be multiple configurations for certain kits?
Hopefully, Tatsumi Kimishima will offer us answers to put our minds at ease before April 20, 2018. And while I am approaching Nintendo's newest "toy" with apprehension, I have extremely high hopes. It certainly feels like a step in the right direction when it comes to augmented and virtual reality.
But, until the Labo kits can be purchased at my local game store, I'm climbing back into my repurposed Amazon box and taking a trip to Mars with my stuffed tiger. Spaceman Spiff, out!